Destination Focus: Grenada

Grenada is a perfect Caribbean destination, with all that a visitor can hope for and much more to be discovered


ON THE ROAD

If a rastafarian is identified by dreadlocks, what happens when he loses his hair?

I wondered about this as a tall, balding man walked past me, his long, graying dreadlocks swinging from halfway down his head.

Perhaps it was the rum punch and the heat. I’d just had a delightful fish lunch at the Coyaba Beach Resort in Grand Anse, and instead of stretching out in an air-conditioned room as good sense suggested, I went into St George’s. Heslyn, my taxi driver, took me along the narrow streets of the city and onto the Carenage, the horseshoe-shaped inner harbour where schooners, tourist ships and fishing boats ply their trades. Then he drove up to the Grenada Police Headquarters, with its breathtaking view over the town and the ocean.

Something about this land called to my spirit. Maybe it was the dreams of the “revolution”, or the resilience of the small population; perhaps it was just the steep contours of the land, something rugged and determined — I don’t know. But I was charmed. The scent of nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, cloves: it didn’t just hang in the air, it was everywhere, from nutmeg ice cream and cinnamon jelly to fruit punches and spicy stews. I drove up into the hills; I played pool in Casablanca, the club adorned with Bogart and Bacall pictures (I hadn’t played for at least a decade, but luckily my opponent was more than a little rusty himself).

One day I came upon a motorcade which was planning to drive around the island to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the University of the West Indies. It started from St George’s and crossed to the eastern side of the island before heading along the coast to the north, where we stopped for lunch at Sauteurs. I walked through the small cemetery until I was standing at the edge of Carib’s Leap, the steep 100-ft cliff above the swirling sea where many indigenous Carib Indians leaped to their deaths rather than surrender to the French colonists in 1651. The smaller islands of Levera and Carriacou lay hazy in the distance.

Then we headed slowly down the west coast, past the fishing villages, through Gouyave with its prolific breadfruit (which Captain Bligh of the Bounty introduced to nearby St Vincent) and papaya trees. All this time, the politician heading the motorcade kept up a flow of shouting through the megaphones; curious villagers came out to cheer on the parade, children ran alongside the cars, shouting and clapping.

As the familiar red roofs of St George’s came into view, the convoy seemed to find a new spurt of energy, arriving in the capital with blaring horns. We had been on the road for about eight hours. But the politician was a seasoned campaigner, as he’d boasted when I’d remarked on his powerful vocal chords; he was still in high spirits. As we turned towards the Carenage, his voice came wafting back to me. “Grenada is your country, and we are getting ready for the 21st century.”

– Vaneisa Baksh

 

NEW AND OLD

The road slopes down to Gouyave on Grenada’s western coast. In the mid-morning heat, the sun sparkles on the water. Two lines of people stand at either end of the beach, playing tug-of-war with an unseen presence far out at sea. The ropes are pulled taut, the tension strong, but the figures tilting backwards with the effort — mostly men but a few women too — seem quite relaxed. No sign that they’ve been in that position since early morning and aren’t finished yet.

Their ropes are attached to a huge fishing net that spans the bay. As time goes by, the people move closer and closer, slowly closing the net. “When they meet up,” says Frank, my host for the day, “that’s when it’s time to pull in the net. If you want to see fish, come back in about two hours.” By then they would have heard all the latest news, told the morning’s jokes, bemoaned the latest woes, and hauled in the fish that give them their daily bread.

Here on this beach, Grenada’s first settlers, Carib Indians, once told their stories and launched their canoes. Just off the road, high above the patient figures on the beach, they etched drawings on a giant rock; you can still see them today. The petroglyphs show two faces. Up in the hills several miles away are more drawings cut into another rock. Evidence of Grenada’s Amerindian past has been so easy to find that little children used to unearth zemis from a midden at Pearl’s, the site of the old airport, and sell the clay figures to tourists for a few dollars

Further up the road, in Gouyave itself, the Nutmeg Processing depot is busy with the slow work of getting Grenada’s famed spice ready for distribution. It’s an long, intricate, archaic process. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the heady smell of millions of nutmeg, let alone the amount of work involved. The nutmeg is brought in by the farmers; the red mace is separated, and everything is graded, sorted, dried, tested for quality and size and oil content, and sent out into the world. Most of the work is done by hand in a building full of racks, trays and sorting areas made of heavy wood. Men and women, hauling, picking and chatting, are quite accustomed to working while visitors are taken on tours of the plant.

The nutmeg processing station is not an isolated relic from the past, but part of Grenadian history taking its place in the present. Visitors to the Dougaldston Spice Estate will find the same labour intensive operation there, with the different spices laid out to dry in the sun on enormous trays. A retractable rolling device hides the trays under the building if rain threatens. In the same way, the 200-year-old River Antoine Rum Distillery gently grinds sugar cane, with the help of a water wheel, as it has been doing for so long. This is how it has been for generations, and this is how it continues to be as Grenada heads towards the 21st century.

The Amerindians, and the later waves of Grenadians who came as slaves and labourers in the colonial era, were always tied to the land, and to the sea that so lovingly caresses the island. Today, Grenadians still plant, fish, repair nets and boats, working hard at age-old occupations. They have planted forests of spice trees and thousands of mango trees — never have I seen so many mangoes, dripping off the trees, spilling over from drains, everyone carrying mangoes to friends who will in turn give them mangoes to taste. In country areas and in towns, it is not unusual to see even old people climbing steep hills with loads on their backs, going to or coming from their gardens.

There’s evidence of a newer past scrawled on the walls and culverts around the country — Maurice Live; When Aligned to a Slogan, prepare for the backlash; Thank you, US; La lucha continúa. It seems that, while life goes on placidly, Grenadians know exactly what part everyone played in those tragic events in 1983, when the “revolution” self-destructed and the Americans landed. People tell the stories over and over again, reliving those times; but they don’t live in the past — the stories are left as part of recent history, where they belong. Last summer, Cuba’s Fidel Castro visited Grenada, in a renewal of ties that pleased some Grenadians (“We didn’t think that this would have happened in our lifetime” . . . “He did a lot for us and helped us build the airport so we are glad he came”) and angered others (“Why bring this back again, after all the suffering he caused in this country?”). Perhaps the visit finally closed a chapter in Grenada’s long story.

Certainly, Grenada has moved on. Today, the island is awash with chic new restaurants and hotels, new interests like diving and jazz, sailing festivals and Carnival. “Our vision,” says C. Nigel Gravesande, director of tourism at the Grenada Board of Tourism, “seeks to forge links between tourism and agriculture, fishing, craft. The agricultural workers, the fishing villages, everyone benefits from tourism, and that leads to optimism.” Grenada’s diversity is the basis for its tourism plans — fabulous beaches close to St George’s; tropical rain forest; sailing, diving, festivals, wedding and honeymoon packages. There is plenty of development going on — water and sewerage improvement, state-of-the-art telecommunications, road works.

The Minister of Tourism, Senator Joslyn Whiteman, says that tourism is being developed “in an organised way” in Grenada, “to protect the integrity of the town, and to make sure we do not over-use or damage our resources.” Carriacou and Petit Martinique are also benefitting from these plans, and with help from the European Union, desalination plants are planned for the riverless islands where cisterns are the traditional system of collecting water. And there are some big new projects in the works, which will help to change the face of Grenada in the next few years: the Resort at Levera, a Ritz Carlton Hotel and Bel Air Plantation Hotel, a Ministerial Complex in St George’s, a National Stadium.

– Skye Hernandez

 

CANUTE, CARRIACOU

Ah meet de mermaid in Tyrell Bay, combing she hair. She hair right dong to she foot. Is she give me my gift. She plunge in de water when she see me. After one week she come in a vision dressed in pure white. She’s God sister. She told me not to frighten or run when I see she again. Yuh soul had to be bless to see she.”

Octogenarian Canute Calliste sits in the small wooden cabin he calls his studio, in the Carriacou village of L’Esterre, recalling the fateful meeting of more than 70 years ago. Before the mermaid, he could neither read nor write. “They sen me to school. I din learn nuttin.” But after that encounter at Tyrell Bay, “I teach meself to read an write, to play the violin.” At nine, he began painting. “I have a gift,” he says. It’s a statement of fact rather than a boast.

The mermaid rises from the waters of a canvas, her long black hair complementing her tail flicked backward above the waves. In each hand she carries a flower.

Canute is stylish in his soft camel cap and turquoise shirt. He still paints every day. His supposedly “naive” style has long been known internationally. Calliste paintings are sold in New York, Paris, Germany and Scotland as well as Guyana, Bequia and St Lucia. But his wooden cabin is a timeless world where spirits manifest themselves. Calliste is the living embodiment of traditions which travelled to the Caribbean from Africa. Most of the slaves brought to Carriacou, Canute explains, were from the Ibo nation. They brought with them the Big Drum dance which is unique to the island: nowadays it’s danced at weddings and christenings and festivals, but one of its significant functions is “to drive away evil spirits.”

Canute is also a self-taught musician. Besides the violin, he plays guitar, banjo, cuatro and mandolin. “I’m de only person (on Carriacou) who plays quadrille,” he announces, reaching for a burnished violin which he tucks under his chin.

European dances (quadrille, mazurka, square dance) underwent a vibrant sea change after arriving in the Caribbean. The slaves and their descendants infused these polite forms with African rhythm and passion. The music pours from Canute’s violin. Drawn by the music (and curious about strangers) several of his grandchildren peer through the open window. He explains there are 16 sets to the quadrille, including the Castillian and the Breakaway from Dominica, and then proceeds to play them all. He seems set to play till sundown. After the quadrille comes a waltz. His daughter Clemencia and her daughter Cleddie overcome their bashfulness and dance. The small cabin is bursting at the seams with music. “Me feelings get so wild I cyan understan dem,” Canute remarks. “I put de violin behind me neck (he demonstrates) or under me leg.”

He doesn’t want to let us go. He accompanies us down the road. “Ah go miss yuh, partners. Come back for de regatta, yuh could stay by me.”

– Simon Lee