Strange things happen when you’re away from the pressures of life in the big city. There’s time to do all the things you’ve been day dream.
And this sense of luxury travel doesn’t take too long to discover that being in Grenada, one of the Caribbean Islands, is like having a full time massage not only on the body but on the brain. For those who have been to a few of the Caribbean island beach escapes, Grenada is different. This sovereign state with approximately 100,000 people is the largest of the 5 surrounding South East Caribbean Islands offering everything from romantic or tranquil getaways, to long walks on the unobstructed 2 miles of fine white sand on Grand Anse Beach. Imagine walking along the shores first thing in the morning before the sun’s rays make it too hot. However, not far from the white sugar fine sand are beaches with fine black sand. It’s an island where water sports is like breathing and eating is part of the enjoyment of life usually made with food and produce from trees, bushes and the sea. Then there’s the beat of calypso to rap and the local accents are so lyrical with the mix from various countries that it sounds like singing. And best news for the wallet is there’s a hotel in every category.
Considering the Grenadians have experienced two devastating hurricanes, Ivan in 04 that really wrecked this charming Spice Island and Emily in 05 which was less traumatic , the force of both, created a completely new lifestyle for many. Unemployment is widespread in the double digits which, naturally has caused great deprivation to families, homes and businesses. And along with all these traumas, tourism, Grenada’s number one industry has dwindled. The good news is that there is a visible upturn.
But even with setbacks that would usually have the population complaining, the proud Grenadians still smile. I’d be hard put to say I saw any beggars. Is it because the warm, balmy nights are inducive to sleeping outdoors since so many houses were totaled ? Can it be that no one goes hungry since wonderful fruits and vegetable can be easily picked from roadside trees and bushes and the sea is filled with delicious seafood? But let me insert that I’m not suggesting this as an alternative to pre- storm Grenada. Hardships often split families and lower self esteem and that isn’t a pretty picture. It’s that this is a nation of unselfish, self reliant, proud people who seem to look after each other and literally ‘weather the storm’. They have made the best out of a really awful scenario.
Colorful bus stop
However, they are back to their fun loving selves with many annual festivals, their Friday Night Fish Fries, and bars filled with mega menus of rum drinks. Sure there’s crime but it’s minuscule compared to some other Caribbean islands. And for tourists who are lucky enough to be able to afford the luxury of travel, this is a paradise and The Spice Island Beach Resort, recently re- opened after almost two years of renovations of the storms’ damages, is one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve ever had the opportunity to stay in. But that’s another column.
But it is back to ‘accommodations mode’ as the hotels after many months are up and going strong again. “Snow birds” would welcome the daily sunshine and guaranteed warmth during the frosty northern winter months
Even the islands’ history and the islanders’ survival makes you want to applaud. After years when they were conquered by the French in 1650, ceded in 1763 to the United Kingdom and in the late 1800s made a crown colony. The influence of these occupiers left their signature with a strange patois that isn’t French though I understood a few words mixed with English and their local slang which is a head scratcher. Also the remains of those who had settled or conquered can still been seen. Like the British they drive on the left side and their government is like that of the British style Parliament. The French traits are the love of food and the superior French educational system.
Jessie of Veroncia’s Vision wearing one of her nutmeg designed t-shirts
And it isn’t called The Spice Island for no reason. Once sugar was its main export but now they produce cinnamon, cocoa, cloves, ginger, mace, allspice, world coffee and export 20% of the world’s supply of nutmeg, the second largest producers after Indonesia. However, their national dish is Oil Down , a stew of sorts, which is cooked in coconut milk, pigtails, pig’s feet, salt beef, dumplings, breadfruit, green bananas, potatoes and sometimes toss in some local callaloo leaves and other veggies that happen to be in the larder.
With the’ what are we going to do’ type traveler, a good start is at Concord Waterfall. It’s no Niagara Falls or Victoria Falls but in this lush forest-like area you can still swim at the cool refreshing base of the falls. Because of the scarcity of rain, while I was there, the falls were narrow but flowing and I was assured by Roger, a most admirable and intelligent guide, that during the rainy season, the falls are wider and more forceful.
There’s a budding entrepreneurial spirit that seems to be growing among the younger set. A clever youthful women, Jessie, has opened a boutique, Veronica’s Vision, and her theme and various hand screened prints on all her clothing for men and women, is the nutmeg. Although different designs they are still of nutmeg on dresses, hand bags, hats. She also sells a variety of nutmeg products in her premises which was originally a spice factory. Roger was extremely envious when one of his colleagues turned up one evening wearing one of Veronica’s Vision shirts in off white with brown.
Spice plantation processing centre
A section of Belmont Estate’s Restaurant
Since spices are really the signature and the success of the island, it’s reasonable to expect to visit a process station. The tour through Douglaston Estate, the oldest spice plantation is certainly worth a tour and an introduction to where the spices come from and how they are used . Here Roger showed his great knowledge about the variety and tested our sense of smell and taste to see if we could identify some of the leaves. Lunch, at the Mormon restaurant. Belmont Estate, an authentic 17th century spice plantation about one hour from St. George’s, the capital city, was an opportunity to taste some of the world famous The Grenada Chocolate Company’s organic dark chocolate which is exported to major chocolate manufacturers internationally and the perfect dessert at this hilltop open-sided restaurant.
The marina/harbor in St. George’s
Mother Nature left her mark at Grand Etang, famous for its crater. Gouyave is known as the town that never sleeps. That’s true at the weekly Fish Friday which starts at dusk and although I didn’t stay, continues until dawn. It’s where locals and tourists mix and experience inexpensive food prepared while you wait as the music blasts and everyone starts dancing, even those with two left feet.
We drive passed many houses on stilts and concrete blocks and learn that the under part of the house is used to dry clothing, feed and house the animals and in case of a flood, the house isn’t flooded during hurricane season. Along the tortuous narrow highway, Roger points out avocado and mango trees. As we near St. George’s, the market is bustling. There are stalls and stores where you can buy produce and clothing or just walk near the harbour, head to one of the forts which overlook the city. So much to do, and there’s still that two mile stretch of beach to walk before the sun goes down and it’s time to eat.