A husband-and-wife team are breathing life back into the Pirates Caves site in Bodden Town to give tourists and locals a place to relax and have fun.
Caymanian Kellian Aashikpelokhai, a paralegal by profession and currently attending law school while working at Intertrust, and her husband Ikoghene, a Nigerian doctor who works at CINICO, have leased the property for the next 10 years. They say they have made it their mission to turn the site on Bodden Town Road into a family oriented, fun place that everyone can enjoy for free.
While the caves themselves will not be open, the site surrounding them will include food stalls, a play area, an art gallery and a mini-zoo. After being closed for more than a year and a half, the site reopens Friday, from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.
Legend has it that pirates came ashore there to hide their treasure and bury their dead.
“We are going to have music, nothing loud, nothing lewd. Some Teddy Pendergrass, Peabo Bryson, Kenny Rogers … somewhere after a long week, where people can come, sit, relax and enjoy some healthy eating,” Mrs. Aashikpelokhai said.
The reopened attraction will include a food stall where visitors can buy natural smoothies, coconut water and juices, as well as ice cream and cookie treats for the kids. There will also be a roasting pit, serving up roast jerk or barbecue along with roast yam, corn and potatoes.
Also planned is a cultural art gallery featuring pictures of what Cayman was like back in the day, and a souvenir shop offering local gifts.
The site already has swings under shade trees, a resting area, picnic tables, local plants and a mini-zoo.
Eventually, Mrs. Aashikpelokhai said, the couple hopes to make enough revenue from the sale of food and drinks to get liability insurance and reopen access to the caves to the public.
Over the years, the establishment, which was a dream of the late Spencer Bodden who saw it as a cultural landmark and a way to highlight Cayman’s history, fell into neglect.
Now the Aashikpelokhais want to see it restored to its original condition or better. They have been getting help from the local community, as well as some assistance from the inmates of Northward Prison. As it is considered a community project, the Prison Service agreed to help out.
Help has also come from other local businesses, with Woody Foster of Foster’s Food Fair IGA donating pallet boards to be turned into seating, and Cayman Coating donating paint.
It is an ambitious project that Mrs. Aashikpelokhai admits has been a bit of an uphill struggle. Since leasing the property, Mrs. Aashikpelokhai said working on fixing up the site has been challenging but rewarding.
“Mind you, we started off with $20,000 and thought we could make this dream come true. Oh, were we wrong,” she said.
Already, she said, they have spent more than $85,000 getting the place up to standard.
She hopes that once it reopens, the site will become a place where the community can get together. “If nobody comes through the gate next week at the opening, I will still feel good because I know that the schools are already calling for the children to come in, so they can really know about their heritage.”
She remembers visiting the Pirates Caves when she was younger and having such a wonderful experience, getting to see what a Cayman agouti or what certain plants looked like.
She said when she came behind the Pirates Caves and saw the rundown condition it was in, she knew that if the late Mr. Bodden had still been alive, it would not have fallen into such disrepair. When Mr. Bodden was alive, she said, he would clean the site every morning before heading to work at an insurance firm.
Since leasing the property, she said, she has learned about the history of the place and how it was handed down to Mr. Bodden from his grandparents Fifi and Haig Bodden, and it is now owned by Mr. Bodden’s sons.
“We want to bring back what Spencer Bodden had in a new era with a new flair,” she said. “We really don’t believe that when tourists come here, they want to see the commercial part of Cayman. We want them to enjoy here, sitting on stones, seeing the culture and enjoying the way we do things.”
She added, “Not only that we want to cater for the Bodden Town public. The district is a bit ‘still’ after 7 p.m., and I do really believe if we created a family friendly environment, everyone would enjoy it.”
She said her husband told her the area reminded him of his home, with its natural charm and beauty, and they hope to eventually turn it into a place where children can come and play.
Around summer time, she said, her husband noticed a lot of children loitering on the streets, and his remarks were “Kellie, when you see children not having a place to channel their energies to, that’s why there are so many burglaries and petty thieves around.”
“We need to give them a place to explore and something to do and channel their energy. It can be a place for them to come and play on their iPads,” Mrs. Aashikpelokhai said.
“Kids come to the barber shop next door to get their haircut, their first place to come is out back, and they don’t want to leave. We see how their eyes lit up when they saw the animals, they started to play and explore the grounds; that is what we want to bring here.”