The Spice Isle
10.02.2009 - 22.02.2009 29 °C
Plunked between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, the nation of Grenada is made up of 3 islands: Grenada, Carriacou and Petit Martinique. Like many of the Caribbean islands it changed hands, mostly among the New World English and French, many times before becoming the smallest independent country in the Western hemisphere in 1974. The nation's political history began on shaky ground. After years of coups and corrupt leadership the tension erupted into a battle of split alliances that resulted in kidnappings, unwilling prisoners and executions. The climax saw 12,000 US Marines and soldiers from other Caribbean countries landing on the shores of Grenada and nearly 200 people died in the fighting that followed. The US Government has since withdrawn its troupes but has committed millions of dollars to help develop a new court system and government restructuring.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated Grenada. The economy was ruined, towns decimated and staple crops like nutmeg and cocoa were eliminated. 5 years later gutted buildings and empty lots are a constant reminder of the severity and destruction that such an event can cause. However, Grenadians saw a positive where many only saw despair. With financial support from neighboring islands and countries afar, the rebuilding began with enthusiasm and a new found vision for the future. Infrastructure is now bigger and better and has incorporated sustainable practices and larger, sturdier floorplans. A general awareness has developed here. Political infamy and a natural disaster were sobering experiences for islanders-forcing their culture to grow up. People are proud of their tiny nation, take care of it and genuinely welcome those who wish to visit it.
The capital of Grenada, St. George's, is a strange fusion of colonial buildings and cobble stone streets with bright Caribbean homes and vibrant culture. Although weekly cruise ship visits pollute the narrow streets and pleasant shops, there still remains an authenticity in the harbor front city. Just north of the city, under the waters of Moliniere Bay, is the most unique art gallery you will ever visit in a swimsuit! Life-sized sculptures eerily sit on the ocean floor, collecting coral and fishy residents. Floating above the collection is surreal and so worth the effort.
To the south of the island, 2 beautiful beaches dominate the landscape. Grand Anse, the tourist epicenter has soft white sand stretching on for miles. Hotels, restaurants and a market provide plenty of entertainment if swimming in the warm waters and tanning doesn't suffice. Mourne Rouge Bay is just down the road but because it is harder to reach by public bus and is sheltered from the bulk of tourist invasions, it is quiet and pristine and arguably a better beach experience.
The mountainous and forested interior is often surrounded with misty clouds and is a refreshing escape from the surf and sand of the popular coast. The hills are a tangled world of rain forest, lakes and waterfalls, brimming with wildlife and exotic plants. Several trails crisscross the Grand Etang Nature Reserve and the cool breezes make for pleasant hiking.
Gouyave, along the east coast of Grenada, is a tiny fishing village making a big splash with its hospitality. Fish Friday is a bustling street party that offers visitors a taste of local food and music. Vendors sell steaming bowls of Callaloo soup, deep fried dolphin fish and spiced lobster while a steel pan band invites the crowd to "whine" the night away.
Touring the island by car with 2 new friends, Cecil & Laura, provided a chance to explore lesser accessible sights. One of the most interesting was a tribute to hundreds of Caribs who leaped to their deaths from the cliffs of Sauteurs Bay rather than submit to the French colonists. In Grenville, we may have been the only tourists meandering the busy streets filled with pounding Reggae and Soca music and the alternating odors of sweet and stench.
A catamaran ferry took me to the island of Carriacou. Alex (see couch surfing) met the boat in Hillsborough. The decidedly milder pace of this island is reflected in the nature of its largest town. A few streets loosely center around the pier where most of the action takes place. A surprising stretch of decent beach lines the shore adding to the general laid-back feel. For 5 days I indulged in the fact that everyone knew everyone on the island and because of Alex, I had an instant group of friends and a chance to taste real community life.
In Bayaleau I visited a cemetary on a beach that had been partially submerged in sea water because of erosion due to sand mining in area. The sand is used to make cement for construction of houses and roads. The graves sat somberly, being battered by waves, surrounded by enormous dead trees, uprooted and paling in the hot sun.
One day, Alex informed me that in Tyrell Bay, a conservation group (www.kido-projects.com) had purchased 8 large sea turtles from local fisherman that had either been caught in fishing nets by accident or as supper. These endangered turtles are considered as a regional delicacy. That day I quickly evolved from casual photographer to turtle rescuer. I was directed to jump on a boat and to splash the stressed reptiles with sea water as they were lifted on board. I happily and aggressively fulfilled my duties until the turtles were transported a few miles from shore and thrown overboard, swimming happily to a hopefully new and long-lived life.
On Carriacou I was also exposed to the music that is insanely popular in the Caribbean. Alex and her friend Jessica play in a steel pan band and I became a groupie of sorts, following them to their various gigs. The band mostly consists of oil drums cut down and pounded into different sizes and tones producing the rhythm and percussion of a a truly unique sound. Soca music uses the energetic basic beat of Calypso but speeds it up and adds risque lyrics and wordplay. The music dominates the airwaves and during Carnival, sets the mood for street parties.
Grenada has left a lasting impression on me. A strong and proud nation that moves to it's own friendly beat.