To Hell and Back on a Bus
An Odd Name that Stuck
Upon disembarking from a cruise ship docked in the harbor of Georgetown, capital of the Cayman Islands, passengers are greeted with a sign introducing Grand Cayman as the Haven of the Caribbean which is an apt description.
It is then somewhat surprising to then look at a map and discover, a few miles north of Georgetown a place named Hell.
It is not uncommon for the original settlers of an area to come up with an odd, but very descriptive, name for their new settlement. Over time, as the community grows and becomes more developed, civic and business groups, like Chambers of Commerce, usually lobby for a more conventional name to replace odd names. After all, who wants to move to or do business in a place named Hell?
I Wanted to Find the Story Behind the Community's Name
I first heard about the town of Hell from a table mate during dinner on the ship on which we were cruising. Frank and his wife had visited Grand Cayman years before and he mentioned both Hell and a turtle farm.
I was immediately intrigued, figuring that there must be a story associated with the naming of Hell.
Knowing that Grand Cayman was a British West Indian Island and that many of these islands had first been used a bases by buccaneers and pirates it was not surprising that a community would be named Hell.
Buccaneers were private British sailors (and sailors of other nations as well) who made a living attacking Spanish shipping. With Britain being almost constantly at war with Spain in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the British crown frequently issued Letters of Marque which allowed buccaneers to legally, as far as the British were concerned – the Spanish still considered them to be pirates, attack Spanish shipping.
Pirates, on the other hand, were those who had crossed the line and made their living attacking any ship that appeared to carry valuable cargo.
These were rough men who had no interest in maintaining a community's image so, in addition to names like Bloody Bay and Rum Point, it was no surprise to discover a place named Hell.
I immediately began thinking about how to include a visit to Hell during our ship's scheduled ten hour stop in Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island. There was a story here and I wanted to hear it.
Hell Turned Out to be Located not far From Where Our Ship Docked
As luck would have it, Hell, like Georgetown, is located on the west end of this approximately 22 mile long island and is only a few miles north of Georgetown.
Better still, the municipal bus headquartered in Georgetown serves the entire island and the fare for most destinations is only U.S. $2.50.
Finally, and best of all, Hell is just north of the Boatswain's Beach / Cayman Turtle Farm which both my wife and I planned to visit.
Views of the Old Hell Post Office
The Name Comes from the Rock Formation and Not its Location
Hell is best described as a hamlet or a little unincorporated community.
It has its own post office and is thus the address for the surrounding community.
It's name comes not from it being a hellish place to live in the past or present but, rather from the large field of limestone behind the post office.
Formed and built up by the decayed shells and bones of ancient marine creatures and then, over eons, carved into a field of jagged shapes many of which look like fiery gray flames.
Looking over the field one can easily envision a fossilized section of the flames of the real Hell.
Upon arriving in Hell, one first notices a small red building with yellow lettering sitting in a small parking lot. The lettering on the building and on the signs in the parking lot welcome visitors to Hell and informs them that this is the original Hell Post Office.
Signage on the building also informs visitors that stamps can still be purchased here along with souvenirs.
However, business must be slow in Hell as a small sign on the door informs visitors that, effective March 18, 2008, the original Hell Post Office would no longer be open on Saturdays and we were visiting it on a Saturday.
Looking at the Rock Formation One can Easily See how Hell Got its Name
Just behind the parking lot are a couple of wooden platforms with which visitors can view the strange rock formations that give the place its name.
There is no charge to view the rock formations and I suspect the limestone field behind the building is public rather than private land.
It is also protected with no entering of the field allowed and definitely no removing of the rocks.
While the ban on physically entering the field is for preservation reasons, there is also a common sense safety reason in that the jagged, and often sharp, rocks offer ample opportunity for bodily damage ranging from cuts and sprains to broken bones or worse.
Hell is a Small Community
The bus dropped us off at the old Hell post office and given the vegetation, one could easily conclude that this and the rock field behind it was all there was to see in Hell.
However, going past the narrow row of trees on the far side of the parking lot, one comes to another parking lot in front of what is called the Official Post Office with three souvenir shops.
The official government Hell Post Office was closed but the three souvenir shops next to it were open and had stamps to sell to those wishing to mail, with a post mark from Hell, the post cards they purchased in the shops.
Like the Original Hell Post Office, the official Post Office has a place in the rear to view the rock formations.
Just beyond the Official Hell Post Office is the Club Inferno which is apparently only open at night.
Beyond the rock formation and its adjoining two post offices, club, souvenir shops and service station is a quiet little bedroom community of neat homes and no reference to Hell beyond the name of the street on which they are located.
One Can See All of Hell in an Hour or Less
The buses run every fifteen minutes which is enough time to see the rocks and take a few pictures.
Or, for those who wish to browse the souvenir shops and take a stroll down Hell Rd. an hour in Hell is more than sufficient.
Location of Hell in Relation to Georgetown on Grand Cayman Island
A Tour of Hell
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