Driving at night is another challenge. 95% of the roads have no signs so it helps if you already know the way to where you are going. There is no such thing as a center line to imply two sides of the road, often no streetlights and I never realized how much I relied on the white line on the side of the road to provide a clear boundary. Here, the edge of the dark road fades into more darkness and you never know what is lurking a few inches off the side of the road. Is it an uncovered drain, a sharp drop off, a sleeping dog? Are there potholes lurking (usually) or people walking (of course)? It’s the things that move – people, cars and animals that are most scary and have the most potential for disaster. Often a dark person, in dark clothes, is walking on a dark road while oncoming cars are blinding you with their headlights. Getting around at night, on foot or in a car, is not for the faint at heart.
The windshield is always blurry, covered with years of road grime and rubber from ancient windshield wipers. I know it sounds like an easy fix, to just wash the windows, but experience tells me it won’t help. We’ve washed our windshield multiple times this trip – with Windex at first, then vinegar and newspaper, then a green scrubber with a lot of elbow grease and a mixture of grease solvent and bleach – and the windshield doesn’t even look marginally better. So, as headlights are coming at you and are refracted by the dirt and therefore blinding you, you try to instantly memorize the curves and obstacles ahead, keep your eyes slightly diverted from the glare and remember, once again, how convenient that little white line on the side of the road would be in keeping you safe and on track, if only there was one. Driving at night is a series of starts and stops with many slowdowns in between and we always sigh with relief when we pull safely into our driveway.
If you are not inclined to drive, you can always opt for the shotgun seat. This is the Seat of Terror. You see and experience all the same views but with no control over the outcome. I first realized this when Michael’s Mom came to visit. Being polite, I seated her in front on the way home from the airport so she would have an unobstructed view of our beautiful island. The next time we went out, I offered the front seat again and she recoiled in terror and loudly proclaimed that she absolutely did NOT want to see where we were going, thank you very much. I think if I had a blindfold available she would have gladly taken it. Now I still offer visitors the privilege of the front seat but with more caution.
Grenada is a volcanic island and there is a beautiful dormant crater in the center of the island, high up in the rainforest. Of course, since this is Grenada, there is also a treacherous road that weaves its way up and over the mountain to the other side of the island linking the 2 largest cities – St Georges, the Capital on the west coast and Grenville, a large fishing and commercial center on the east coast. Since these are the two largest and most populous cities, and this is the only major road through the mountains that connects the two coasts, this is also the primary bus route between these cities and to other towns on each side of the island.
Buses are privately owned and operated and the more trips they make in a day, the more money they earn. This encourages trips at literally breakneck speeds over curvy, wet mountain switchbacks. If you are in front of them, they relentlessly tailgate you, inches from your bumper and constantly try to pass on the wrong side of the road, swerving back as a car comes around the next curve – and they also beep at you to speed up. Conventional wisdom says just pull over and let them pass – even if you have to do this many times. The only problem with this idea is there is often nowhere to pull over. Once in a while, you’ll see a place where the road is marginally wider but no sane person would stop – and you do, anyway. Finally relieved that the maniac behind you is leaving you in their dust, you start up again and within minutes there’s another bus taking its place. Buses don’t run on Sunday so that’s the most “relaxing” time to drive over the mountain and to enjoy the rainforest and the Grand Etang Lake at the center of the country. Recently, Grenada has tried to introduce the concept of a bus schedule which has slowed the busses down considerably. Now they are only a hair-raising nuisance on this treacherous road.
It’s a tossup on whether you want to be on the mountain side or cliff side of the car. On the mountain side you can literally reach out and almost touch the wall as it whizzes by. If you are lucky enough to be on the cliff side you have two choices – looking out the side window at the sharp drop off, inches from your door, OR watching out the front window and seeing the places where the road surface is disintegrating and falling away down the cliff. Otherwise, you have the pleasure of looking face to face with the driver careening towards you from the other direction, on a road you are sure is too small for both of you to fit. On each trip, you get to experience both sides and after many trips I sadly think the inside wall is only marginally better. The upside is the breathtaking views of the rainforest, other mountains, valleys and vistas all the way to the seas, every way you look.
In either case, you often get a wet, slippery road. It is the rainforest after all. Believe it or not, this is a ride I look forward to each year and encourage others to take for its dramatic beauty. You only get to enjoy the view if you are not driving. There is no time to take your eyes off the road for an instant if you are the driver. And as the navigator, you still need to be watching all the curves and side roads so you can make instantaneous decisions on which is the “main” road.
Then there is the concept of guard rails – be careful what you wish for. There are very few guard rails in Grenada. When you do see one, you notice it because it usually means the road has rotted away and they are trying to give you a chance of not completely falling off the road. The road is narrower at this point and often just a little bit soft as you drive by. Lovely. Guard rails are overrated anyway.
In one of our earliest trips to Grenada, when we were going from St. George’s to Grenville and back in the same day, I got us lost on the return trip. It would be way too easy if there was only one road, but no, there are multiple roads that veer off towards tiny villages. These roads often don’t look any different from the main road. Plus, on this trip, when I realized we were off the main road (about 30 minutes later), I thought we could take an alternate road to St. Georges, based on the map. Of course, after following it for another 30 minutes or so we realized it was no longer useable so we had to backtrack for an hour and start again. By now it was getting dark and we were probably over an hour away from the edge of St Georges if you were driving in daylight, 2 hours in the dark – if we don’t get lost again. With a trusty flashlight, reading our map, I try to navigate Michael to safety. The only thing possibly scarier than looking off the cliffs during the day is seeing your headlights disappear in the darkness at night and trying to figure out where the road is going to turn next. Buses are still whizzing by, but too fast to use them as a beacon to follow for more than 1 or 2 curves, then back to the blackest black. Where are the guard rails and that little white line on the side of the road to guide us?
Finally, we pass a group of men and stop to check that we at least are on the right road and one person offers to jump in the car and direct us. We hesitate – do we want to pick up a stranger in an unknown place, when we don’t really know where we are going, or continue on our own? Michael and I look at each other and I open the back door to let him in. Of course, he is a great guy. Most people in Grenada are delightfully wonderful and the people are the main reason we loves this special place. He leans way into the front seat between us and directs us left, right, left, right, left, left, down, down, down the mountain and into town. After dropping him off, we head back to our villa. It is about 8:30. Michael has been driving on and off since about 10 AM, with the last 2 hours driving in the pitch black. He just sits in the driveway, staring into space while I try to pry his fingers off the steering wheel. No exaggeration. We go inside, I make him a Gin and Tonic and he doesn’t speak for 30 minutes. I still remember this trip in full detail 20 plus years later. I’m sure he does as well. We have never made this trip at night again.