Come Down to Grenada & Carriacou

Alister Hughes describes the pleasures of the Caribbean's spice isle, while Frances Kay relaxes on the sister island, Carriacou

Boat building is a way of life in Carricou, and a launching involves the whole community. Photograph by Jim RudinCarriacou: if nothing much happens, that’s its charm. Photograph by Jim RudinFort George, the oldest structure in Grenada. Photograph by Chris HuxleyGrenada’s August Carnival is a highlight of the year. Photograph by Merle GunbyMarket Hill, St. Georges’s. Photograph by Chris HuxleyNo traffic lights in St George’s: the policeman does it all. Photograph by Chris HuxleyNutmeg: Grenada and Indonesia are the world’s major producers – this is what makes Grenada “the spice island”. Photograph by Jim RudinSunday morning in Grenada’s Grand Anse beach. Photograph by Jim RudinSunlight on water: Westerhall, Grenada. Photograph by Jim RudinThe 70- foot Mount Caramel waterfall. Photograph by Jim RudinThe Botanical Gardens on the edge of St George’s. Photograph by Jim RudinThe Golden Eagle bar in Hillsborough Carriacou; the mail boat and an “engine” boat from Union Island in the background. Photograph by Frances Kay

There’s much more to Grenada than sea, sand and sun, though there’s a plenty of that: it would be hard to beat Grenada’s powder-white beaches (like Grand Anse) or its sailing calendar, it’s sunny breeze-cooled climate or its watersports. But there’s also a grandeur about Grenada’s steep green hills and valleys, an excitement about it summer carnival (this year, August 6-10) and its festivals, a warmth to its hospitality, that brings its visitors back again and again.

The truth is, Grenada oozes atmosphere. It breathes an aura of centuries-old charm. And because today’s tranquility belies a stormy past, you can trace much of the island’s story through its historic landmarks and monuments.

Lying 90 miles north of Trinidad, Grenada is near the southern end of the Caribbean necklace of islands; more than two centuries ago it was a valuable prize fiercely fought for by the French and English. Time after time, revolution and war rocked the foundations of its life; in the ruthless empire-building of that era, both nations paid a high price in blood.

You’ll find relics of that struggle and the flavour of those times everywhere: ancient fortifications, 18th-century cannon, monuments, church plaques and cobble-stone lanes.

Grenada passed finally into British hands in 1783 and became an independent, English-speaking nation in 1974. But place names like Piedmontemps, La Sagesse, Mon Repos, Beau Sejour and Lanaux Epines testify to the continuing influence of the French who were the first Europeans to colonise the island some 350 years ago.

They did it “legally” too. They “bought” the island from its Amerindian people with a couple of hatchets, some knives and a bucket or two of pretty glass beads. They even threw in a bottle of brandy for the Carib chief. However, when the brandy ran out, the deal turned sour. Fighting began, and the Caribs’ bows and arrows were no match for French guns.

Except for a few survivors, these original, Amerindian Grenadians were wiped out. You can still visit the site of that tragic slaughter (Caribs’ Leap). Driven by the French to the northernmost tip of the island and surrounded, the Caribs perished as they flung themselves headlong from a precipice into the sea.

Exploring Grenada is easy. The island has an excellent road system; you can drive all the way around in a few hours, if you like, but you deserve more than that. Give yourself time to savour the environment. Plan leisurely excursions and visit some really interesting places.

For instance, in the heart of St George’s hotel area, is Fort George. Built by the French in 1706, it is the oldest structure on the island. Here, from observation platform, you have a splendid panoramic view of the city (don’t forget the camera).

Spread before you will be the outer harbour where the larger cruise liners anchor. The picturesque inner harbour nestles at the base of low rolling hills speckled with the varicoloured roofs of the city. There’s an illustrated plaque indicating all points of interest in view.

Ten years ago, the island’s 1979-83 “revolution” began to reach its traumatic climax at Fort George. And from the fort you’ll see another location with strong connections to an earlier revolution: the Anglican Church, readily identifiable by its castellated clock tower a few hundred yards away.

Two hundred years ago, after Grenada had passed into British hands, French settlers staged a near-successful, bloody uprising in an effort to retain the island. They captured the British Governor and dozens of other important people, and held them at a fortified camp high in the mountains. The camp was attacked by the British general, Sir Ralph Abercromby the rebels were defeated, but monuments in the Anglican Church tell the chilling story of the fate of their prisoners and of those who were spared.

It is an adventure to explore St George’s on your own but, if you like, trained guides will take you on walking tours to the major points of interest: historic buildings, ancient cannon, cobblestone alleys, sedan-chair porches, fine 18th-century Georgian architecture. You’ll see the colourful market-square and boutiques with duty-tree prices on jewellery and china, Grenadian art, craft, paintings and carvings, batik clothing and tie-dyed garments. The National Museum displays a fine collection of objects and artifacts of the island’s history and culture.

Outside St George s, Grenada has some beautiful waterfalls, with crystal-clear pools ideally suited for swimming, which make an ideal destination for an easy-going excursion. Mount Carmel Falls, in the east-coast parish of St Andrew, is the most spectacular, with its twin falls plunging more than 70 feet. It calls for a 30-minute walk through cocoa and nutmeg plantations, but it’s easy going and well worth the effort.

Annandale Falls, set in a well-tended tropical garden of flowers and spices, only 15 minutes from St George’s, is accessible by car, while Concord Falls, on the west coast, also accessible by car, is just the place for a picnic.

Another excursion should be to the crater lake which lies nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, surrounded by rain forest, near the centre of the island. It’s part of the Grand Etang National Park where there’s an Interpretation Centre with information on the island’s wild- life, vegetation, forestry, history and culture. You can be there in less than 30 minutes from St George’s; for the energetic and adventurous, hikes can be arranged to the lakeside and along nature trails in the rain forest to nearby mountain peaks.

Levera National Park in the north of the island is at sea level. Perhaps the greatest attraction is the wild contrast of this region to the sheltered hotel area in the south. The by-way into Levera beach is bumpy but it’s a short ride and well worth a special excursion. At the park, there’s a fresh-water lake with blinds for bird watchers.

At Levera and its sister beach, Batway, the sea rolls majestically in from the Atlantic and coconut palms sway in an unspoiled tropical setting. Broad-leafed grape-trees give restful shade for your picnic lunch, while the trade winds sweep the sloping hill side vegetation into permanently flattened outlines, as if adorning nature with a becoming brushed-back hair-do. It’s surf bathing at both Levera and Batway, but at Batway a beach rock barrier creates a calm, clear swimming-pool with safe bathing for kids and the not-so-young.

You’ll enjoy excursions also to the Nature Centre at La Sagesse, the River Salle boiling springs, the spice-processing plant in Gouyave and the Botanical Gardens in St George’s. The River Antoine rum distillery has a gigantic water-wheel as well as rum, and you can still see the primitive art of the first Grenadians at Amerindian petroglyphs at Victoria and Mount Rich.

M any of the highlights of the Grenadian calendar are packed into the last quarter of the year, spilling into the early weeks of the new year. In addition to the August carnival and the Rainbow City festival in Grenville, there are several regattas, an international game fishing tournament and an international triathlon. Off world-famous Grand Anse beach, with its calm blue water, there are lively dinghy match-races and lots of entertaining watersports.

If you want to get into the marine act yourself, several watersports operators can help you. Qualified scuba divers will take you to a dramatic sunken wreck; you can snorkel on the reefs, water-ski, windsurf, parasail, go sport fishing or simply loaf around the bay on a pedallo.

Away from the water, most hotels have tennis courts and there is a public court at Grand Anse. A nine-hole golf course is close to the hotel area, and bicycle or horseback riding and hiking tours are easily arranged.

Two big events take place in the last quarter of the year. The first is Thanksgiving Day, 25 October, when island-wide celebrations and beach festivities recall the “rescue mission” mounted by United States and Caribbean forces in 1983 after the collapse of the “revolution”. The second, the Parang Festival towards year-end, is a stimulating addition to the usual Christmas revelry, with lively Spanish-based songs accompanied by traditional instruments.

In and around St George’s and the hotel area, there’s a wide range of continental, international, French, Indian, Chinese and Italian cooking to choose from when eating out, all enhanced by the spicy flavours of the Caribbean. Outside St George’s you’ll still be well catered for at restaurants around the countryside. Once you’re on the road, don’t miss lunch at Mount Fendue Great House in St Patrick’s where traditional Amerindian-style pepper-pot is a specialty.

For entertainment, don’t expect Las Vegas, Broadway or the West End. However, Grenada has two amateur theatrical companies which have had excellent receptions in North America. Productions are staged several times a year, highlighting folklore, drama, comedy and dance. Many hotels provide steel- band music for entertainment and dancing. Watch for news of performances by local and Caribbean artists, and unusual events like crab racing. There are several night clubs near St George’s. A holiday in Grenada is not complete without a visit to the sister island of Carriacou, the largest of the Grenadine islands. Grenada has 120 square miles of mountains and valleys, while Carriacou, just 20 miles to the north, is 13 square miles of low sprawling hills. Agriculture is Grenada’s big thing (especially bananas and traditional nutmegs and spices), but in Carriacou emphasis is on the sea. Boat building is a tradition, and there are said to be more vessels per capita in Carriacou than anywhere else in the Caribbean.

These circumstances have produced fine seafarers who are found world-wide, serving the merchant marine; those who stay at home carry cargo and passengers between the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. By sea, you can travel from St George’s through the picturesque Grenadines to Carriacou in less than four hours. If you prefer to fly, it’s a 15-minute hop from Point Salines International Airport.

And there’s yet another option: you can wend your leisurely way through the Grenadines, enjoying one of the finest cruising areas in the world. Any one of several professional yacht chartering services will make your arrangements for skippered or bareboat facilities.

You’ll find attractive white-sand beaches in Carriacou, car rentals are available, and picnic trips with snorkelling can be arranged to uninhabited near-by cays. Carriacou’s Historical Museum, housed in the rebuilt ruins of a 19th-century cotton ginnery, has attractive arrays of Amerindian artifacts and relies of the island’s historic connections with Europe and Africa.

Carriacou was once a primary producer of sugar, so you’ll see the ruins of sugar mills and the windmills which were their source of power. Interesting, too, are the Dover Ruins, site of the first church built on Carriacou centuries ago.

Believe me, you deserve a Grenada vacation. Look at how much Grenadians enjoy their island. Where am I! Well, just look around. I’m one of those contented-looking fellows drowsing on the beach under the coconuts.

YOUR GUIDE TO GRENADA

WATERSPORTS

Whether you want to scuba dive on the wreck of the tourist liner Bianca C which sank off the island some 30 years ago, or parasail over the sparkling waters of world-famous Grand Anse Bay, Grenada offers a wide variety of watersports, including windsurfing, snorkelling, sunfish sailing, skiing, day sailing or riding the pedallos and water scooters. Yacht charters, bareboat or skippered, are easily arranged, and there are day and moonlight cruises along the calm west coast.

SHOPPING

There are good bargains in locally made handicrafts, leather craft, batik, screen painted items, jewellery, paintings and wood carvings. Perfumes, jewellery, crystal and gift items can be bought at duty-free shops, and duty-free liquor is available at the airport both on arrival and departure. Also available in the shops are tie-dye clothing, souvenirs and straw work. Be sure to take home some of the attractively packaged spices for which the island is famous, and check the supermarkets for locally made jams and jellies, especially those made from nutmeg.

GETTING AROUND

Tour operators offer trips to points of interest around the city and into the countryside, and several agencies offer rental vehicles, including cars, mokes and jeeps. Bicycles and motor cycles also are available. You must present a valid driver’s permit to the Traffic Department to obtain a local permit for EC$30 (about US$11). Drive on the left. Be on the look-out for traffic signs indicating one-way streets; drive cautiously, and give way to traffic on your right in the roundabouts; in St George’s, uniformed police-men control the traffic flow at intersections. There are no scheduled bus services but, during daylight hours, the hotel area, St George’s and most parts of the country are well served by independent mini-bus operators.

NIGHTLIFE

Many hotels have steelbands, pianists and local or regional bands for dancing and listening. There are performances by cultural groups, calypsonians and reggae artists. Nightclubs provide disco music and local and visiting artists. Amateur theatrical companies sometimes perform at the Marryshow Little Theatre at the University of the West Indies Centre for Continuing Studies in St George’s.

EATING OUT

Grenada offers a wide selection of restaurants. International fast foods and spicy Caribbean rotis are widely available. In and around St George’s and the hotel area, there is a choice or Chinese, Italian, Indian, French, Creole and international cuisine. In the countryside, the choice is limited to creole cooking, but look out for the Morne Fendue Plantation Great House restaurant in St Patrick’s. In Carriacou, you’ll find creole fast foods and a choice of international, creole, French and Italian cooking.

CURRENCY

The local currency is the East Caribbean (EC) dollar, with a fixed value against the US$. At the banks, you’ll get EC$2.67 for each US$1.00 in notes and EC$2.68 per US$ for your traveller’s cheques (hotels, shops, taxis and restaurants may change travellers’ cheques at a lower rate). The value of other currencies fluctuates. Barclays Bank will accept cash and travellers cheques for sterling, Canadian dollars, German marks, French, Belgium and Swiss francs, Dutch guilders, Swedish and Danish kroner and Australian dollars. They will accept yen in traveller’s cheques only. Other banks will accept cash and travellers cheques for Canadian and US dollars and sterling only.

CONVENTION FACILITIES

Several hotels offer convention facilities, ranging from a seating capacity of 300 at the Grenada Renaissance to Blue Horizons which seats 45. The Coyaba Resort can accommodate 50, Villamar and Calabash 60, Camerhogne 75, Spice Island Inn 80. All are located in the hotel area south of St George’s. For further information contact individual hotels or the Grenada Hotel Association, P.O. Box 440, St George’s; tel. (809) 444- 1353, fax (809) 444~847.

GETTING MARRIED

Several hotels will arrange a romantic wedding. You will need valid passports, birth certificates and, if under 18, written consent from parents; you must be resident on the island for three working days before the wedding. All civil and religious arrangements can be made for you, with a wide choice of extras including the bride’s bouquet, reception, wedding cake, steel band or guitarist, intimate candlelight dinner, champagne breakfast, photographer, video and a sail into the sunset. Allow about a week to finalise everything. For details, contact the Grenada Hotel Association, P.O. Box 440, St George’s; tel. (809) 444-1353, fax (809) 444-4847.

YACHTING

Grenada and the Grenadine islands offer one of the finest cruising areas in the world. There are two marinas with facilities ashore. To visit the smaller coves and harbours, get a free-of-cost coastwise clearance from Customs. There are three ports of entry: St George’s, Lance aux Epines on the south coast and Hillsborough in Carriacou.

HEALTH

Water from the mains supply is safe to drink and health standards are high. Mineral water can be found in the supermarkets. Two hospitals in Grenada and one in Carriacou are movement owned and operated; there is one privately owned clinic.

MEDIA

There are four weekly newspapers, two AM and two FM radio stations and two TV stations. Many hotels have satellite TV, and cable TV is available.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

The Grenada Board of Tourism, The Carenage, P.O. Box 293, St George’s; tel. (809) 440-2279/2001, fax (809)440-6637

United States:

820 2nd Avenue, Suite 900D, New York 10017; tel. (800) 927-9554, fax (212) 573-9731

Canada

439 University Avenue, Suite 820, Toronto, Ontario M5C 1 YS; tel. (416) 595-1 339, fax (416) 595-8278

UK/Europe

1 Collingham Gardens, London SW5 OHW; tel. (071) 370-51 64/5, fax (071) 379- 7040)

 

MONDAY MORNING IN CARRIACOU

Grenada’s sister island, Carriacou, with its population of about 6,000, has been called a place where nothing ever happens. That is its charm. Hillsborough, the only town, moves slowly. The official time for businesses and shops to open is 8 a.m., but it is unwise to try and get anything done before nine.

But on Monday mornings the pace steps up. This is the big day in Hillsborough. Nine o’clock openers have their shutters down by 8.30. The governments subsidised mail boat and other vessels are due to leave for Grenada at around ten, and “engine” boats come across from Union Island, which is visible across the water, with long shopping lists. The mini-buses coming in from outlying villages are crammed. There are even traffic snarls. Monday is the one day you won’t see chickens in the streets: they know there is no survival on Mondays.

If you are a visitor in Carriacou you come to town, of course, to see the action. But if you have listened to good advice you avoid the two banks. The lines in front of the tellers’ windows may not look too long; but there are no simple transactions on Mondays. An elderly woman, in a cotton print dress with straw hat and jogging shoes, has three tattered air-mail envelopes. The first has a US$10 bill, support from a son in Brooklyn. The next holds $20 Canadian, a gift from her sister in Toronto. The third has a five-pound note from her brother in Huddersfield, who sent it to pay his land tax. The teller must convert three different currencies into EC dollars and make up the deposit book. The necessary conversations and paperwork may take 10 or 15 minutes. That is if the lady does not decide to take some of the deposit in cash.

But going across to the post office may not be the best idea either. It is just before 9 a.m. now, when the outgoing mail closes, and a dozen people are in line, frantically buying stamps. They start to shuffle their letters and calculate how many are for the US, Grenada, St Vincent etc. only when they reach the stamp window.

So put your postcards away (“Having a wonderfill time”).

The hotel can mail them. Or you can come back later after a visit to the Botanical Gardens and the Museum (which won’t be crowded even on a Monday). At eleven the post office will be deserted. So deserted in fact that you may have to wait, since no customers are expected now. One of the postal staff may have gone across to the market to buy a watermelon, the second may have stepped into the adjoining office to make a phone call, the third will be leaning over the counter talking to a member of the opposite sex.

But relax. You’re not in the city rat-race now. Enjoy the view through the window of the sea just outside, small boats bobbing on the brilliant blue. One of these young people will give you a smile just now (the one with the watermelon may even offer you a piece if your eyes are greedy enough) and sell you your stamps.

By now you recognise that you have the symptoms of a growing thirst. There are at least 15 places in three blocks of Main Street alone where this can be satisfied with hard and/or soft drinks. (This is an island of one gas station and over a hundred rum shops.)

There is a venue to suit all tastes. The new modern bakery has juice, ice-cream, hard-boiled eggs, fried chicken wings (bread too) and tables under an awning. Across the street, if you thread a precarious way between two small shops, you can find a roofed concrete platform on the beach, where the owner sits contemplating the sea. He will sell you a beer or a soft drink and give you a wealth of information about Carriacou.

Near the lumber yard is a rum shop whose clients are usually on the sidewalk, since there is practically no space inside; beers are quaffed as early as 7.30 a.m. Upstairs, at the comer of Main Street and the market, is a bar-restaurant for those who want to be a bit above it all. It has an excellent view of what is going on in the police station, and in the courtroom on the third Monday of every month.

My favourite is the Golden Eagle Refreshment (House), more commonly known as Billy’s. This is a minute building strategically located on the beach, where from the window you can see the fishing boats come in, and the jetty with the Union Island boats. From the door you can see the market, and the line of people outside the upstairs courtroom when the magistrate from Grenada is attending, and the line-up of mini-buses waiting to take passengers home again. Being right next to the incoming fishing-boats, people here can intercept their jacks, bonita and barracuda before they reach the fish market.

Old-time Carriacouans sit at the bar and two tables drinking jack-iron with water to chase it. This is the national heritage and can be ordered by the shot glass, or an “eighth” or a “fourth” (these come in three and six ounce Listerine bottles). People catch up on the news. People come in and leave packages. People go out and check on their buses. People look out of the window to see if they have time for another drink before the Union boats finish loading (theoretically they leave at noon, but I have never seen one do so).

The tempo picks up. People dash in and pick up their packages. Drinks are gulped. Money is thrown on the bar. There is a rush for the doors.

By noon the market square is empty of buses. The post office and the shops are closed for lunch. The action of the week is over. Hillsborough goes back to drowsing till next Monday.