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There's A Little Carib In All Of Us
By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie
His smile is alive, revealing a full set of pearly whites that contrast with his ebony-rich skin. A razor-edged machete slips through the belt loop of his sun-bleached shorts and balancing on top of his twisted dreadlocks is an unwavering bag of cocoa beans. He saunters barefoot, showing no urgency about getting anywhere (or at anytime), and the slogan on his shirt depicts him to a tee. 'There's a little Carib in all of us,' it proudly portrays. Although the catchphrase is a highly promoted advertisement for the island's local beer, by the end of our visit to Grenada, it also signifies a much deeper meaning.
Grenada (pronounced gre-NAY-da) is one the three Windward Islands located in the Eastern Caribbean, just north of Trinidad and Tobago. Although larger than its two sister islands, Carriacou and Petit Martinique, at only 133 square miles (440 sq. km), it's considered to be one of the smallest independent nations in the Western Hemisphere.
Lush rainforests drape the volcanic core of this tropical oasis and pencil thin roads weave over its mountainous terrain like well-played accordions. River size gulches flank the route, and as our little red minivan hugs tight to the tarmac we virtually live on the edge during this week of island touring. We jostle over crater-sized potholes and swerve around brown-eyed cows, tethered goats and dozens of dogs that languidly graze along the roadside. Jerrybuilt homes, supported by stilts of bamboo, hug up to one another and teeter like tipsy sailors. And their occupants lounge about on sun-baked verandahs, just waiting for people and time to pass. The lifestyle is laid-back, the needs are simplistic and stress doesn't appear to be a known commodity. "There's no rush, Mon," our driver shares, with a toothy grin. "It's always island time on Grenada."
We scoot over hill and vale, bisecting the verdant terrain, where fragrant spice trees and tropical flowers border our path. Towering mahogany and giant gommiers hug up to fruit trees that hang heavy with mangoes, nutmeg, sea grapes and indigenous breadfruit. Prickly pineapples cavort with sixteen breeds of bananas. Stands of bamboo shoot above broad-leafed callaloos as coconuts clump between billowy palm fronds.
It comes as no surprise that this Caribbean dreamscape has been dubbed the 'Isle of Spice,' and we discover that it's second to Indonesia for the global export of nutmeg. History unites with the bountiful harvest at Dougaldston Spice Boucan where, on tour, we get a glimpse of the traditional preparation of cocoa. After fermenting for six days in a sweathouse, the beans are splayed on sun-baked trays and, with the help of shuffling feet, are rotated every hour until they dry to perfection. "The process may seem primitive," our guide explains, as we witness a young Grenadian woman go to work, "but it's been done this way for centuries and it still works today." The soles of her feet look as tough as leather as she tromps through the maze of beans, and in spite of the tedious process, she declares her joy by wearing a gleaming smile. After the shells are pealed, the cocoa is molded into balls and when mixed with a bit of boiling water and sugar, they transform into a yummy hot drink.
Others may prefer to spike the concoction with a shot of over-proof rum, which on Grenada, is never too far away. As well as a number of modern-day processing plants we check out the River Antoine Rum Distillery where they've been brewing the conventional way since 1785. A massive water wheel powers the mill that crushes sugar cane and extracts the precious juice. It's then channeled through to the boiling house, on to the distillery, and bottled at a potent 75% proof. "Mixed with a pinch of Grenada's cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla," our guide exclaims, "and you'll have the ingredients for one very wicked Christmas Cake!" Although the spiked spirit is only sold for island consumption, plenty of bottles find their way into the independently operated rum shacks that line the main streets throughout Grenada.
Our road laces through mountainous interiors where waterfalls plummet, pinnacles ascend, and parks beautify, then descends to a scalloped coastline that shares powder beaches, living reefs and quaint townships.
The fishing village of Gouyave, and seaside city of Grenville are a just a couple of populated landmarks that we pass through before heading to the island capital of St. Georges where colonial architecture lends a historical feel.
Although it's difficult to imagine any strife in this now peace-loving nation, it was not always a pretty picture. Like most West Indian islands there had been an ongoing battle between the native Arawaks and Caribs, then by Caribs and French, and finally in 1795 by French and British. Nearly two centuries later, upheaval fell on Grenada's shores once again when the US troops invaded in 1983 to successfully overthrow a Marxist government. Today, Grenada is an independent democratic nation, a member of the British Commonwealth and, is as peaceful as it is picturesque.
The evening sun ricochets off the red-roofed warehouses and storefronts rimming St Georges' horseshoe-shaped harbour. It casts a golden sheen over pastel homes that cling to the hillside, sugar fine sand that fringes grand Anse Beach, and regal schooners that bob in the bay. Seductive spices permeate through the air. Steel band music resounds over the congenial tooting of horns. And while soaking in Grenada's sites and sounds at the end of our stay, we also affirm, 'There's a little Carib in all of us.'
How To Get To Grenada:
Air Canada Vacations operates a weekly service from Toronto to Grenada mid-December though to April
The flight departs Toronto at 8:40 am and arrives Grenada at 4:00 pm
Easy connections are available from Vancouver, Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa
Web site: www.aircanada.com
To Get Around Grenada:
Henry's Safari Tours
Web site: www.spiceisle.com/safari/
Where To Stay
True Blue Bay Resort
Website: http:// www.truebluebay.com
Check out Grenada online at:
Jane and Brent freelance for a number of publications
Jane is president of BC Association Of Travel Writers http://www.bctravelwriters.com and can be contacted at email@example.com
Jane and Brent Cassie are a travel writer/photographer team. Follow their other adventures on their website - www.janecassie.com.