There are two road maps of Grenada, the Tourist map and a very detailed Government map. The tourist map is totally worthless and only shows about five major roads. You cannot get anywhere interesting with this map. The government map is a gem and is prized like treasure once you find one. Even though it was published in 1985, it is still highly accurate. It has EVERY road on the island on it. We usually carry two or three of the government maps with us because if a tourist sees us looking at one, they run over and start negotiating to purchase it. We always give them away or sell them at cost, but I’m convinced we could make a good side business out of marking up the price.
Most roads do not have any signage so I need to depend heavily (and completely) on the map. It is extremely accurate and shows every curve in every road so as we travel along, I’m tracing our path with my finger and watching for buildings that might have a town name on them. This way I can confirm where we are and we only get slightly lost if we are in unfamiliar territory. I find a town name, notice it’s not on our way and we turn around or I realize we are further along or not quite as far as I thought and recalibrate. This year, I’m proud to say I’ve hardly used the map. I know my way around and can usually figure out how to get somewhere I haven’t been to before with little trouble, but let’s be clear, I NEVER drive without maps in my purse and in the car. We are even successfully taking shortcuts now! Grenadians are often surprised that I know where their hometown is, even if it is way off the main roads or out in the country. We’ve driven everywhere and probably to some places most Grenadians have never been to!
The government maps show 4 kinds of roads. Thick red roads are major arteries – two lanes, YOOHOO! Orange roads are secondary roads and are whimsically thought of as 2 lane roads – if there is nothing on the sides and both cars are creeping along, you can pass each other. These roads may also be major ways to get between 2 places. Next, are Yellow roads. They are one and half lane roads, are usually paved (but not always, and not in all places) and then there are the little red roads – my personal favorites.
Little red roads mean ADVENTURE – tourists rarely travel these roads, the roads can stop at any time or they can take you to the best places – deserted beaches, tiny villages where you can find wonderful things and have a chance to talk to people for hours, old plantations, waterfalls, rivers, etc. Little red roads start out with concrete or blacktop, then become broken up pavement, then grass, then small boulders and might go over small streams. It’s reminiscent of the old print advertisement for either Range Rover or Land Rover that shows their vehicle bumping down a rutted road in a muddy stream and says “in some parts of the world, this is not off-road driving”. YES, my kind of road – particularly when Michael is driving, bless his heart. I didn’t really realize what I was putting him through until I started driving and my better sense would say – don’t go down that road, you might never get back and realizing he always did AND we got back. That’s my wonderful guy.
The best little red road story starts one day when we went into the rain forest looking for an old plantation that had been turned into a delightful plant nursery. This lovely place is a whole different story, but as we were coming back I saw a significant shortcut to get to St. Georges that would cut off at least 30 minutes of driving. So off we go. The road turns from concrete to blacktop, the blacktop begins to break down, the road then turns to dirt, then to two furrows of dirt with grass growing up in the middle, and, finally, really tall grass is growing in the middle. All this time we are driving up, up, up to go over a mountain with St. Georges directly on the other side, tantalizingly close. As the road goes up, it keeps getting narrower and we begin to wonder if it will go all the way through, but there is no one to ask – no shops and no houses except a really tiny shack hanging off a cliff a ways back, but it was all closed up and no one was home so we couldn’t ask for directions. I keep thinking if we just go a little further we’ll be good – it’s like a mirage. It would be OK to keep driving on if we were sure it went through, but we didn’t know if it will just stop or get wider and head down the other side of the mountain.
Finally, Michael has had it – the first and only time he says we’re turning back. This is a figure of speech. The road is way too narrow to turn around. In fact, I can touch the mountain on my side and Michael is inches from the steep drop off. I wiggle my way out of the car – I can hardly get the door open a foot and I contort and then inch my way to the back of the car, leaning hard into the side of the car and feeling the bush brush my back. I then begin directing Michael back down the mountain – 2 inches to the left, three inches to the right, as he slowly descends the curvy road. Finally, I see someone driving a pickup truck up the road near the shack we had passed. I tell Michael to stay put and I run down to meet him. Even before I open my mouth, he gives the answer to my unasked question when he says, “Darling, what are you doing in this godforsaken place?” The “road” ahead hasn’t been navigable by car for over 10 years. Oh well, we continue to inch back down the mountain until we get to the shack and can turn around and drive normally. My shortcut only took an extra hour and a half, but what an adventure!
The Government map is great navigation tool, but I also have to be very vigilant since the main roads and the secondary roads that lead off of them often look the same size and both are well-traveled. And because the roads are so curvy, it’s often hard to determine the direction of the main road. Often I’d look at a junction and tell Michael to go straight because looking at the map and then the roads it was obvious to me which way to go to stay on the main road. He’d bellow in amazement that straight wasn’t an option (he’d be right) and I soon opted for saying ‘go up’ or ‘go down’ because left or right was often not accurate either. You are always going up or down in Grenada, almost nothing is flat anywhere.
In addition to curvy, narrow roads, Grenadians have built roads straight up that make you dizzy just looking at them – forget actually driving on them. They are that steep. First you wonder how anything can drive up or down the road. Then you get brave and try the road and are afraid your car will flip backwards before you reach the top of the hill, never mind that the road might curve right at the crest and if you could actually see something besides sky, you would know to turn your steering wheel sharply to the left or right to follow the road as you go over. We were on one such road a few years ago and it began raining really hard. We stopped for a moment and the car started slowly slipping backwards because we couldn’t get enough traction on the scored concrete with our balding tires to stay in one place. So, what did Michael do? He just slightly turned the wheel and let the car keep slipping until we backed into a wall, then turned around and inched down in first gear. The seat belts were the only thing keeping us from falling into the windshield. Unbelievable!
There are a couple of roads close by that I’m getting my courage up to drive over because I want to see what is at the end. On one, I can see a group of houses and this is the only road in and out so someone is definitely driving on this road. I almost had a heart attack watching a full-sized cement mixer head down with a full load the other day – inch by inch. I never saw him come back up but I’m hopeful he’s not still down there. (There is actually another place that has a large construction truck stuck at the bottom and odds are it will rust out there since they can’t get it back up the hill.) The very steepest roads are often not 2 lanes wide (although they accommodate 2 way traffic by having one person pull over to let the other person pass) – if there is room to pull over. Otherwise, one car has to back down part of the way until they reach a spot to be able to pullover so the other person can pass. This can be a common occurrence depending on where you are driving and is nerve-racking to say the least.
My other favorite driving story is going down a narrow, curvy road and trying to inch around parked cars at a popular bakery. This road had huge, deep drains on either side to move the immense amount of water that comes down during a big rainstorm. I’d estimate the drains to be about 16 inches deep and 12 inches wide. None of the drains have grates over them, you are just supposed to stay out of them. As we were inching by, trying to follow the other cars, we dropped our front left tire into the drain, effectively bottoming out the car. (This was probably because Michael was trying to keep a complete 2 inches of clearance on his side.) Michael and I looked at each other wondering how we would ever get out of this situation while a bunch of Grenadians stood by laughing. Then 8 or 9 men walked over, picked up our car, set it gently on the road, patted the trunk and we were on our way. Amazing! (They have since widened this road because the big trucks travel on this road, but now everyone parks along the sides so if feels just as tight as it used to.)
I’m laughing as I finish writing this because I’m wondering if anyone will drive here after this description, but we do it all the time, day and night, and other than being on hyper alert, it’s a Grenadian experience in and of itself. This year, due to the economy, there are less drivers on the road. The price of gas is just too high for most people to be able to afford it – so their cars sit and wait for better times. I’m sad about this, but thankful because this makes it that much easier to get around. I’ve been driving a lot by myself this year because Michael has had non-stop photo shoots and I’ve gotten really good and relaxed about driving . I’m hoping my ability to navigate tight spaces and my increased confidence will make driving easier when the roads fill up again next year, “please God”, as the Grenadians say.