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Nikes and Nature in Grenada's Grand Etang National Park
By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie
Although hiking boots weren't on my packing list when making plans for my trip to Grenada, they sure would have come in handy while hoofing the hills in Grand Etang National Park.
Red volcanic slime squishes under the soles of my white Nikes and I slither to and fro while mastering nature's stairwell that descends to the bowels of the forest. An interlacing network of protruding roots, and giant rain puddles need to be frequently navigated, and steep-sided slopes, falling away to no-man's land, call for some mighty fancy footwork. My hands feel clammy, heart rate does double time, and sweat drips from my brow. Although it could be due to the humidity that hangs heavily in the air, my gut feeling tells me it's more from my increasing trepidation.
"No worries, Ma'am. I'll lead you down, safe and sound," my guide, Paul, says with an optimistic sense of calm. His coal black body is Olympic athlete lean and in spite of his choice of flimsy plastic sandals, he's as graceful as a gazelle on his feet. "Just follow me, in the steps of righteousness," he bellows out. And after taking a few more steps, he stops short in his tracks, and belly laughs at the creation of his original gospel masterpiece. The singing then continues and as it soothes my soul, we plod on.
The people of Grenada all seem to have these spirited gifts. Maybe it stems from the love they feel for their country and that their relaxed, laidback lifestyles don't know the meaning of stress. Or possibly it's because the minimal tourist trade hasn't tarnished their unspoiled homeland.
The paradisiacal island of Grenada, (pronounced gre-NAY-da) is located in the Eastern Caribbean, just one hundred miles north of Venezuela. It boasts 133 picturesque sq. miles (440 sq. km.), one sixth of which is preserved as parks and natural wildlife sanctuaries. As well as being the island's central focal point, Grand Etang National Park is home to a 13-acre lake in a volcanic crater 1,740 feet above sea level, and to numerous hikes, such as this one, leading to Seven Sisters Waterfalls. Henry's Safari Tours have been instrumental in literally leading the way through the dense tropical rainforests for nearly twelve years, and as I discover during this journey, our guide's easy rhythms are matched by his trustworthy leadership.
Paul shares his vast knowledge of the abundant flora that embraces our route, and rattles off tropical flower names as if they were his best friends. Towering mahoganies and giant gommier trees unite with broad-leafed ferns and vine-draped Fijis. Bunches of bamboo shoot skyward like piles of pick up sticks, trunks of banyon trees fan out like well-played accordions and countless towering palm fronds billow far above in the sultry breeze.
As well as hosting opossums, armadillos, mongoose, and Mona monkeys, the lush vegetation provides shelter for frogs and chameleon-like lizards that can grow to four feet long. Although we aren't privy to any sightings today, Paul's authentic cries of the wild are certainly close enough for my liking.
There's a special hush about the rainforest that infuses an inner peace, a definite tranquility and oneness with nature, and during the trek I feel a sense of awe, and the realization that I'm just a small part of the universal picture.
We saunter on in our own quiet thoughts, and in just under an hour, we reach our aquatic destination.
Clear emerald water funnels through a narrow gorge, and from a steep precipice, plunges into the white froth pool. The torrent cascades over a second smaller rocky embankment, before spilling into another pond that lures me in for a dip. Other than one other couple and a school of tiny fish, there are no other intruders at this place that epitomizes paradise. Included in Henry's tour package is a basket lunch from The Flamboyant Hotel, which Paul has kindly offered to pack along. There's fried chicken, sandwich fixings, bananas, oranges, papaya and enough other delectable delicacies to feed a hoard of hungry hikers.
We picnic in silence on river boulders and reflect on the surrounding beauty. Sunshine filters through the lush overgrowth, and glistens off the clear plunge pools. Vibrantly decked out tropical birds twitter and tweet from abundant forest flora. And after absorbing it all from this view-boasting perch, I will soon leave with Nikes that look more like muddy galoshes and a new found feeling of humility.
Idyllic, undisturbed, untarnished, just as it's always been. Seven Sisters Waterfalls…another Grenadian treasure.
Grenada's Other Waterfalls
Easily accessible and located on the outskirts of St. George's.
This is a grouping of three picturesque waterfalls. The first stage is easily accessible by road and is very suitable for swimming. The second and third stages, known as Au Coin and Fontainbleu respectively are only accessible by foot, but well worth the journey. At Fontainbleu, the water cascades down a 65 foot cliff into a crystal clear pool.
Easily accessible by foot and located at the foothills of Mount St. Catherine in the parish of St. Mark.
Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website - www.janecassie.com.