GRENADA - A FEAST FOR ALL SENSES
Located 160 kilometres east of South America, the spice island of Grenada is a feast for all senses. Be it the fragrance of spices, the red splash of flamboyant trees, bougainvillea and orchids in full bloom, the smooth rich taste of dark chocolate (an island speciality), or the swish of the wind in palm trees, it is a place that exudes tranquility, mystery and romance.
Purchased for a pittance from the Carib Indians in 1650, Grenada is one of the world’s primary sources of nutmeg. A few nutmeg trees in the luggage of a doctor from the West Indies started today’s profitable industry. Along roadsides, in rural gardens, on well-ordered plantations, hills and small farms, the nutmeg tree flourishes in a climate perfectly suited to its needs. Realizing a value in the past that rivaled gold, the nutmeg now ranks second to tourism in bringing foreign currency to the island
During my recent visit I heard from local gossip that Martha Stewart, doyenne of fine dining, visited by helicopter to sample Grenada’s spices. She shopped at Miss Gloria’s spice stall in the market stocking up on sugared tamarind balls (her favourite, I’m told) and visited The Nutmeg restaurant.
I too enjoyed Grenada’s market. From stalls crammed beneath coloured umbrellas, vendors sell everything from massive bunches of bananas, to CDs, clothes, bread fruit, star fruit, papayas, oranges, callalou….and of course, spices. Strolling along a narrow alleyway, Miss Sabirah dangled a fragrant spice necklace close to my nose. “When the fragrance starts to die just soak it in warm water. It’ll be as good as new” she coaxed. Miss Bernadette, hair in rollers covered with a black hairnet explained that cinnamon “can be found under the tree bark”. To view spice en masse and the Grenadians at their most persuasive, the Saturday morning market in St. George’s is the place to go.
On an island peopled for centuries by the Spanish, French and English, today the progeny of West African slaves reign supreme. Their exuberant natures and vibrant, colourful culture bring a throbbing excitement wherever they gather. Drum dances are a popular event during the long hot summers. Child chilling tales about a mischievous spider-god called Anancy, Ligaroo a were-wolf and La Diablesse a glamorous she-devil, are all part of their West African story-telling tradition.
Grenada’s spicy cuisine is a combination of West Indian and Creole cooking. Nutmeg enhances the taste of almost everything from jerk sauce to gingerbread scones, even ice cream, candies and rum. “Oil down” cooked in coconut milk is the island’s national dish. Its ingredients include salted pigtail, pigs’ feet, beef or fish with fluffy floury dumplings served with breadfruit, green bananas, yams and potato.
An essential stop-off for seafood lovers is Gouyave’s Fish Friday. Every week starting at 6 pm, thousands gather in Gouyave fishing village for a party. Vendors set up stalls on a huge grassy arena where they sell every imaginable kind of fish. Initially started as an event to help the local fishermen, Gouyave Fish Friday is now an undreamed of success, generating around $60,000 every Friday night.
Where there’s food and Grenadians there is music and entertainment. Escorted by our guide Roger Augustine, we, a group of four Canadians, enjoyed an unforgettable evening of reggae. We listened to homespun poetry, the songs of local calypsonians and marveled at the amazing gyrations of dancers accompanying the world-class drumming of the Tivoli entertainers as they celebrated Grenadian culture. Although not a tourist event, tourists are welcome.
Rum made from cane juice is the favoured drink of islanders…..the stronger the better. We visited the Rivers Antoine Rum Distillery, a somewhat dusty enterprise operating in the 21st century with equipment and distilling methods dating back to the 18th century. Our first tasting was a brown spicy rum – very pleasant. Our next tasting could be likened to a whack in the gut. In the words of Tin Thomas, an enthusiastic rum drinker and one of our group….”One sip and my teeth nearly melted”. I too took a sip and it felt as if my tongue was on fire. I gasped as one of the most potent brews in the world – 150 proof - trickled down my throat. Surrounded by the sweet smell of fermenting sugar cane and the stifled laughter of Junney our guide, we eventually gained our composure and moved on.
Between March and July on the far north-west tip of the island, Levera Beach is where expectant Leather back turtles – weighing up to 800 kilograms – emerge from the ocean in search of prime locations for nest building and laying their eggs.
Thirty turtles were seen on the beach the previous evening. But nature is fickle. At 11.30 pm there were still no turtles. We were about to leave when one of the guides called us over. There on the vast and lonely sands of Levera Beach, with a blustery wind blowing and our only light, a sky splashed with stars, a three-inch long baby turtle had hatched. We followed carefully, as intent upon his destiny, his tiny flippers propelled him towards the sea. Preceding him, two well-intentioned, but I think ill-advised Ocean Spirit workers cleared the way – smoothing out sand hills and pulling away tendrils of beach creeper that might impede our little Star. Eventually reaching the waterline, a wave rippled ashore, lifted him and carried him seaward to an uncertain future where only one in a thousand hatchlings survive.
Riding a catamaran to Carricou for a day’s exploration gives one a panoramic view of Grenada’s beaches. Predominantly pristine, snowy white, narrow and edged by an aquamarine sea, the beaches encircle the island. As we neared Kick ‘Em Jenny, an active submarine volcano, the sea turned rough. The locals say that gas bubbles spewing forth from this volcano rob the seawater of buoyancy. Any vessel venturing near could be sucked down within minutes. Local sailors believe this story and give Kick ‘Em Jenny a wide berth.
On Carricou island at the village of Windward we met a man of Scots ancestry, the local boat builder. Coral reefs surround the island. Whales are sometime visitors. Sandy Island, a narrow white sand spit with a sprinkling of palm trees is the place for great snorkelling. It felt as if we were marooned on a desert island as we sat beneath a palm tree surrounded by chunks of starry coral littering the sand. Floating face down nearby, our companion Lori explored the wonders of the deep.
In 2004 Grenada was decimated by Hurricane Ivan. There is still much work to be done on severely damaged homes, but even that cannot detract from the dramatic beauty of Grenada and its sister islands Carricou and Petit Martinique.
WHERE TO STAY
Maca Bana Villas
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
+1473 439 5355
Magazine Beach, P.O. Box 496, Point Salines, St. George's, Grenada
Rates start at about US$300 plus taxes.
Delightful self-contained villas on a cliff-top surrounded by a tropical garden with frangipani, orchids, lobster claw, palms and brilliantly coloured bougainvillea. An infinity pool overlooks the beach and the sea; a fabulous view.
The Gem Beach Resort
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
+1 473 439 3421
Morne Rouge Bay, St. George's, Grenada
Rates for a double room with garden view start at about US$110 plus taxes.
A mini resort fronted by one kilometer of white sand beach just 15 minutes from St. George’s.
WHERE TO EAT
The Aquarium Restaurant and Bar
Email | Website | TripAdvisor
1 473 444 1410
Magazine Beach, Point Salines, Grenada.
Dine beneath palm trees overlooking the ocean. The food is excellent, the ambience great.
Don’t sit under coconut palms that have ripe nuts. They can do severe damage if you’re underneath when they fall.
A tree called the Manchineel produces fruits that look like green apples. To avoid blistering don’t touch fruit or sap. Centipedes are known to shelter in these trees and their bite is painful.
Sea urchin spines are painful. Protect feet by wearing flops in the sea water.
MORE TRAVEL POSTS: