Exploring Grenada, the Caribbean’s Island of Spice
Being woken up by air stewards marching up and down the aisles spraying a toxic smelling chemical is not the way I expected my ten-and-a-half hour long haul to the Caribbean to end but such was the case, prompting me to realise i’d never really been anywhere exotic. As I took a look at the people around me I noticed a distinct contrast in attire, everyone was wearing shorts and summer hats and there I was in woolen trousers being engulfed by the wall of heat that pours over you when a plane door is opened. “Once I make it to my apartment I can dig out the only pair of shorts that I was 85% sure I had brought and apply the factor 50… let’s do this, Grenada.” I thought.
Amazingly I was greeted at the airport with a goody bag and a taste of the local rum, the latter of which I would become rather accustomed to by the end of the trip. I was booked in to stay at the cottages in the L’aux S’Epines area, the southernmost part of an island that checks in at just over 134 square miles; which to put in perspective, is more than four times smaller than the area of Greater London. This small island was to be my home for the week.
I was dropped off at my apartment by idiosyncratic tour guide, Edwin, who it also turns out will be my dinner date for my first evening. The Lance aux épines cottages are simple and homely, they are built with no glass windows, each hole in the wall is covered with a mosquito net. I immediately realise that this is not only to let the breeze pass through but to allow you to soak up the sounds of the outside. I’ve always loved the ocean but hearing the gentle sea waves crashing onto the sand just seconds from your front door is possibly the most relaxing way to live, you wake up to it and you fall asleep to it, you’re that close. The other press guys on the trip are dotted around various swankier looking hotels on the island and while it may be a slightly more sophisticated way to enjoy a holiday, i’m completely blown away by how utterly zen I am when lounging around my place.The itinerary for the trip was tightly packed with activities so I was picked up early doors and driven around the ‘Spice Island’ initially by Edwin but eventually by another charismatic fellow named Roger, who was particularly absorbing and has a real knack for storytelling. My first day with Roger began at the nutmeg plant, a busy, fragrant place bustling with workers playing their part in one of the island’s biggest exports. All the work achieved in this plant is done manually, so there’s no huge machinery whatsoever and when you put that into context is pretty astounding. Before the devastating Hurricane Ivan hit the island back in 2004, the Grenadian nutmeg industry was responsible for supplying the world with 40% of the fragrant spice and, while it’s not had the chance to fully recover from that, it still contributes hugely.
Following a quick pitstop at the beautiful Concord Waterfalls we headed to the Belmont Estate, a 400 acre farm and plantation site complete with a restaurant serving the food produced on site. The freshness of the food is one thing I noticed consistently across the island, you can eat a great variety of meals without having to look for imports, for such a small island Grenada produces a whole wealth of food and it goes straight to the local restaurants.
Another highlight of the trip and something I suggest as a ‘must do’ is taking a hike through the rainforest with Grenada’s very own Indiana Jones, Telfor Bedeau. Telfor, first and foremost is an utter inspiration, at 60 he built a rowboat from scratch and sailed it two laps around the island without stopping. That was over 15 years ago now and at 77 he’s contemplating taking up kite surfing as a way of replacing his current hobby, kayaking. His positivity and lust for life is not slowing down and with this experience behind him, Telfor happens to know these parts of Grenada inside out. He exercises his knowledge by pulling edibles from all directions, handing them out for sampling as we progress through the wonderful terrain (think Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs). Among the more recognisable fruits and foods we stumbled across were the wax apple, pineapple, almond, mango, nutmeg, banana, avocado, coriander, cocoa and papaya. These fruits are big business for the island so foraging is carefully monitored with a ‘feel free to take one’ but don’t take anymore rule. And with the farmers all carrying machete’s it’s not worth risking a finger for a fresh mango, no matter how juicy it looks.
Having Roger at hand to drive you from place to place is a real must, he’s not only very knowledgeable but the roads can be quite challenging. For one they are very narrow and, secondly due to the heavy rain season, they also have quite steep guttering at either side meaning if you move slightly too far to let someone past you could easily say goodbye to a hire-car deposit. So get a tour guide, even for one day. You get taken on the best routes around, he’ll stop in at his buddy’s bar so you can get refreshments or he’ll stop anywhere you like so you can get a picture. He does all of this with his cheshire cat smile, I asked him about this upbeat outlook on life and he quipped “life’s too short to be sad, man, you’re only gonna end up dead.”Roger dropped us off along the Grand Anse beach for what would be a highlight of the trip, a beautiful two mile stretch of golden sand and Caribbean sea. For the beach dwellers amongst us, this is the place you dream of when you’re sat in your office job staring miserably into the abyss of your computer in mid-November. But beach lounging wasn’t on the agenda this afternoon as I was scheduled to visit the underwater sculpture park. I’ve always had a thing for underwater shipwrecks and objects that have been left over time to erode naturally and, for me personally, it puts things in perspective and feeds my existential tendencies. I was in for a blast. Captain Howard Clarke – a northern English man in the Caribbean living the dream – took me out on his ‘Grenada Seafaris Powerboat Adventure’ to Moliniere Bay to see the incredible sculptures designed by artists Jason deCaires Taylor and Troy Lewis. The pieces range from a ‘Christ of the Deep’ to the ‘Ring of Children’, the latter is an eerie looking circle of children holding hands, looking outwards into the depths of the sea. The experience is both surreal and calming as you’re open to snorkel alone, swimming freely with marine life while exploring the underwater marvels. It was a unique experience only marred by being stung by a jellyfish, luckily Howard was on hand with an unlabelled bottle of fluid which I was instructed to pour over my arm to help ease the soreness.
Across on the Eastern coast is La Sagesse Hotel and a spot that would be one of my favourite meals of the trip, the location is perfectly nestled in La Sagesse Bay and was voted one of the ten most romantic sites in the entire of the Caribbean. Granted I was on a press trip with seven other journalists who I had previously never met but still, the sentiment remains! I ate the restaurant’s special, the Lambi Creole, a dish I had been meaning to try for the whole trip as it’s an island favourite and also something I had seldom come across. For those of you wondering, Lambi is a tropical marine mollusc more commonly known as Conch and it’s delicious. It was washed down with two particularly tasty rum punch, something I’d gotten used to ordering by this point having being laughed at for ordering a Bloody Mary the day before, how very British of me.
I could sit here all day long writing about the food and the people because that is the core spirit of the island and for a place so small it has such a rich history. The Grenadians have, historically speaking, been through a lot and this shines through in their defiance, togetherness and positivity. It’s a real joy to be surrounded by the natives and I felt welcomed with open arms. The Spice Island is a place I couldn’t recommend highly enough.