Winter, 1986 – Imagine landing in a third world country at 9:30 at night after traveling 12 hours on 3 airplanes, making 6 stops and finding the rental car you reserved nowhere in sight, the airport personnel turning off the lights and locking up as you stand, stranded at the curb. We are the last of the few people who arrived on the plane and everyone else has been picked up. Still no sign of the rental car that is supposed to be waiting for us. I walk back to the pay phone (no cell phones in those days) and try to call a taxi, squinting at the faded number scrawled on the phone booth wall – oh, and did I mention all the lights were off? Welcome to Grenada.
Now imagine a few minutes later – a gregarious taxi driver coming to our rescue, knowing how to get to where we were staying (later we would find out everyone knows everyone and everyplace) and dropping us at the driveway entrance where 3 yellow Labradors come bounding up to welcome us and the resort owner, Joe Gaylord, is following fast on their heels. He takes one good look at us, asks us if we’ve eaten (no) and tells us to leave our bags in the driveway, loads us into his car, and drives us to a restaurant close by. He introduces us to the owners and asks that they feed us even though it is now after 10 PM and they have stopped serving. Joe gives us his number and says to call him when we are finished and he’ll drive us home. Little did I know then that home is exactly what Grenada would become for us. Welcome to Grenada!
We have a GREAT meal, head back to the hotel and Joe escorts us to one of his small, sweet apartments. He’s already brought in our bags and shows us an extensive listing of food products that he has stocked in our kitchen. He says to look over the list in the morning and anything we don’t want will be picked up and we can pay him for the rest at the end of our stay. He’s bought everything we need for the next 2+ days and has added a quart of his famous homemade Rum Punch to welcome us. I’m enchanted.
8:00 AM the next morning (I think it was Sunday) and there’s a knock on the door. A contrite car rental person is standing in the doorway and is apologizing for not meeting us at the airport the night before. He thought we were coming in today. The taxi driver had evidently called him to let him know we had arrived and where we were staying. He had brought all the paperwork which we completed in the comfort of our living room – how bad is that? Welcome to friendly, accommodating Grenada.
Actually, it just keeps getting better. On Monday, we meet our housekeeper. She has cared for this particular apartment for over 10 years and I feel like I am a pampered guest in her home. She makes us breakfast, including fresh squeezed juice and a salad of local fruits AND lunch (I still remember the Pumpkin Soup) AND will cook dinner for us and place it in the refrigerator for us to heat up later. A few days later, we leave our sneakers (that are caked with thick, red rainforest mud) outside the apt. so we don’t track in the muck and a couple of hours later, they are in our closet and they are cleaner than when we arrived. The price for this apartment including housekeeping and cooking is $100 per night. Welcome to Grenada, our secret paradise.
Progress passed by and around Grenada. Even today, when we speak about Grenada, all most people know is that the US “invaded” Grenada in 1983 to help remove the Cuban influence that was overtaking the country. As a result (as you can well imagine) tourism slowed way back after 1983. This is good and bad. The bad is the economy suffered tremendously since all Caribbean islands depend desperately on tourism. The good is that Grenada has had a chance to see how tourism has developed on other islands and is trying to take a more measured approach to protect and highlight the beauty of the country. There is a rule that no building can be taller than a coconut tree that is being “tested” – it’s hard for a small, poor country to make too many demands of large international hotel chains who have a different vision and Grenada needs the money that tourism brings in. Still, they are working hard to preserve the old Caribbean feeling where they can.
When we first arrived, there were hardly any cars on the roads and all the locals walked everywhere. It was also very safe and so it felt OK to pick up people walking on the road. This was an unintended bonus for us. Grenadians are very friendly and want to show people their beautiful country. So, if we picked up someone who was walking to work and it normally took them 2 hours to get there but with us they’d arrive in 20 minutes, their thought was to use the hour and 40 minutes gained to take us to some off the beaten path to see something wonderful. We met many great people and saw many wonderful sights this way. The only “scary” time was when we were driving a local man to work who had a heavy accent – we both kept having to repeat ourselves, back and forth, as we tried to make ourselves understood. At the end of the ride, we dropped him off at the airport – He was an air traffic controller! YIKES!
I have two other great rider stories that have stayed with me all these years. One was when Michael and I picked up an elderly woman. She walked 3 hours, each way, every Sunday to visit with her sister. She had just started her journey when we pulled over and asked if she would like to be picked up. She said ‘Thank you’ about 100 times! The other was one morning when a small crowd of kids called out to us as they were going to school. We stopped to see what they needed and they all piled into the back seat of the car. We were frozen in fear – all these kids were under 8 years old and I wondered if we’d be arrested. We relaxed when a local man smiled and waved at us and the kids. Welcome to friendly, trusting Grenada.
There is a culture of friendliness here – everyone says hello to you and it is considered rude if you walk by someone and do not say hello. An English friend said that when she moved to Grenada, she realized that even if she was in a bad mood in the morning, that by the time she was greeted by everyone at the bus stop and then every person on the bus said good morning, that her mood had changed. Welcome to Grenadian friendliness.
Grenadians are proud of their country and are always ready to share it with visitors. One day, Michael stopped at a roadside stand for a ‘pop’. There was an older woman standing outside and, of course, they got into a conversation. 30 minutes later, Michael got back into the car with an invitation to her home the next day to meet her son who would show us the hidden Grenada. So the next day, we’re driving down a road to the town of Marquis, looking for a green house and asking for Eddie Calliste. And amazingly, we found it and him – of course, with a little help from our Grenadian friends.
Eddie took us out on a boat he rented that had a huge hole in the bottom that was stopped up with a large black plastic bag. Eddie assured us that it wouldn’t sink as long as one of us bailed as he rowed. The day was beautiful and the water was warm so I figured the worst that could happen is that it would sink and we’d swim to shore, so off we went. At one point, Eddie suddenly dove overboard. Michael and I just looked at each – Now what? Then Eddie surfaced with sea anemones that he cracked open for us to eat. Salty! Luscious! He got back into the boat, rowed us to a small island offshore and showed us how to capture lobsters in the rock crevices.
Later, we went ashore and he led us to a beautiful waterfall that could only be accessed by walking through the rainforest. Eddie was barefoot and as he walked, he kept cutting fruits for us – star apple, soursop and he “walked” up a tree truck to get us a fresh coconut. If the path was steep, he cut out footholds for us with his cutlass (machete). We got to the waterfall and he showed us how to fish for crayfish with metal cages and chicken necks and then Michael and Eddie swam right under the waterfall and got their heads pounded. I’ll need to dig up these pictures when we get back to the States and post them at some point in the future.
On the way back, Eddie pointed out spices to us. In addition to Lemongrass, and Bay leaves, he showed us Nutmeg. Nutmeg fruit looks similar in size and color to an Apricot with a soft fleshy fruit that has a nut shell in the middle. The shell is covered with red, lacy Mace and the Nutmeg is inside. Grenada harvests a third of the world’s Nutmeg and it is considered the best because it is so moist and fragrant. Eddie also cut a pieces of bark off a different tree and gave it to me to smell – it was fabulous – earthy, sensual and heady. My first thought was this would be a decadent perfume and I loved it so much that I had it under my nose the whole way back. Eddie called it Spice and when we got back to his house he pointed out some more Spice that was drying – it was Cinnamon! No matter how good you think Cinnamon smells dried or when it is in a tea, it pales in comparison to fresh Cinnamon. Someday I’m going to try to make a Cinnamon perfume. World watch out. Welcome to Grenada, the Spice Island.
There are so many more experiences that I could share with you, but this is a taste of why we love Grenada and the Grenadian people. And if you can come when we are on island, it would be our pleasure to welcome YOU to Grenada, our second home.