A Caribbean Country Missed by Mass Tourism
Grenada's most respected nature guide, Telfor Bedeau, is a knowledgeable 72-year-old nature ambassador with a lifetime of stories to share.
There are two things that potential visitors should know right up front: Grenada is actually pronounced gre-nay-da, and it is not a city in Spain (which is spelled Granada and pronounced gre-nah-da). Even those with only a sketchy appreciation of where this 3-island nation bobs in the southeast Caribbean do vaguely recall its brief notoriety in 1983 when the Marxist Prime Minister and 16 of his followers faced a firing squad execution by members of his own party at an historic fort in the capital, St George's. A week later, U.S. Army and Caribbean forces occupied the country for one year until new elections could be organized. Since then, Grenada has rested peaceably in the deepest shadows of global tourism, a repeat destination mainly to those who would like it to stay that way forever.
In fact, most travelers I met on my Spring trip to Grenada were from Britain and Continental Europe with only a thin sprinkling from the U.S. and Canada. With long, deep French and British historical connections and some easy charter access from Europe, perhaps Grenada is not so easily confused there with a holiday in Spain. However, some new seasonal and year round direct flights from Canada and the U.S. will no doubt encourage exploration by those looking for alternative Caribbean horizons and something more stimulating than the dangerous art of sunbathing.
Hiking with the Nature Oracle
For the environmentally-conscious traveler, Grenada offers many hiking trails, pristine beaches, rainforests, waterfalls and sustainable activities. Development in Grenada has been deliberately unobtrusive; with none of the country's hotels (all family owned) exceeding the height of the palm trees, allowing for unobstructed views of beautiful surroundings. One ninth of the nation is dedicated to wildlife sanctuaries and rainforest parks.
Grenada's beach fronts like Grand Anse are pristine, often dotted with more colorful fishing boats than visitors.
I got a good dose of Grenadian rainforest during a challenging hike to the Seven Sisters Waterfall with Telfor Bedeau, a 72-year-old nature ambassador who has spent a lifetime hiking, sailing, and rowing around his precious islands. Physically fit doesn't even begin to describe this soft-spoken man who gallantly assisted me as required across streams, up and down slippery slopes, and through potentially treacherous scree without ever making me feel inadequate. Along the way, we talked plants, birds and animals, and how to realistically steward them on these fragile islands.
Only with considerable prompting did Telfor share some of his extraordinary feats, like rowing nonstop around Grenada in a ten-foot rowboat, the last time when he was nearly 60. Or the way he celebrated his 70th birthday by climbing to the top of Mount St Catherine, the island's highest volcanic peak at 2,757 feet/890 meters, for the 165th time...and breaking his own time record doing so! He does guide small groups and individuals who share his passion for nature, best contacted through the Grenada Board of Tourism.
Grenada Tickles the Taste Buds
The country is proud of its nickname, The Spice of the Caribbean, and there is certainly no exaggeration about that claim. With its own micro-weather and volcanic soil peculiarities, Grenada has near-perfect growing conditions for nutmeg, allspice, mace, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and bay leaves. The only thing that periodically clobbers the crops is seasonal hurricanes, like the infamous Ivan in 2004, which have certainly taken their toll on spice production in recent years. After Indonesia, Grenada is the world's second largest producer of nutmeg and mace (growing bright red on the outside of the nutmeg). Odds are very high that back home you are seasoning your food with something grown in Grenada.
With a countryside abundantly sprouting both cultivated and wild fruit and vegetables, the visibly robust health of Grenadians of all ages says a lot about the quality of diet accessible to all. While international cuisine is certainly available, there is a real emphasis on using local produce and showcasing local dishes. For most Grenadians, their delicious, healthy Callaloo Soup, conjures up "home." Starting many meals, its base is the large heart-shaped leaves of the taro plant, with a little of this and that thrown in to create a bright green, smooth or chunky dish for which each cook has signature variations. The national dish with the rather unappetizing name of Oil Down features salted meat, salted fish, coconut milk, breadfruit and a whole variety of herbs and spices. How could you go wrong?
Indeed, fish is a large and healthy part of the average Grenadian diet. Where better to sample a traditional "Fish Friday" celebration than wandering the antique streets of Grenada's fishing capital, Gouyave? As dusk sets in, dressed-up locals from across the island browse dozens of stalls for creatively-cooked, super-fresh seafood delivered in newspaper or on paper plates. The young ones flirt, dogs bark, and everyone chats up a storm like they haven't seen each other in ages, when it was probably just last week. Visitors are always welcome at this authentic local event.
Agri-tourism richly-laced with history is one of Grenada's most attractive features. Best sampled with a rental car, visitors can easily spend several days discovering authentic countryside properties that offer deeply educational tours and free tastings, product gift shops and local-menu restaurants. Not to be missed are the Dougaldston Spice Boucan, and Belmont Estate's cocoa/chocolate operations.
Dating from 1785, Grenada's oldest distillery still produces potent rum from sugarcane year round.
Carriacou and Petite Martinique
Despite the French having given up colonial ownership to the British in 1763, Grenada's two smaller islands, Carriacou and Petite Martinique, have retained more of a visible French heritage, not only with their geographical names but also with the patois language and even a certain je n'est sais quoi style that the more internationally-connected island of Grenada has partially subdued.
My initial desire to visit these smaller islands had been met with a skeptical "Why?" I did not have an answer, so I boarded a high speed catamaran ferry for a 2-hour ride to Carriacou (pop. 5,000) to figure it out. Then, two days later, I boarded another ferry for a 20-minute day-trip to Petite Martinique (pop. 1,000) because it was there and, after all, petite.
Welcome to Petite Martinique, arriving by ferry from Carriacou for the day.
Colorful characters like Linky (Carriacou) and Coco Boy (Petite Martinique) have cobbled together a living by providing local taxi service on call and serving as guides to international visitors. Small though these islands may appear, getting around on narrow, unmarked, hilly roads is not easy, and I was grateful not only for their local knowledge but for their driving skill. While sharing time with these mini-van warriors, their cell phones ever at the ready, we picked up local people and dropped them off along the way, or we simply stopped at someone's house to collect a package or some baking to pass on to a friend or relative further along our route.
My headquarters for a two-night stay on Carriacou was the Grand View Hotel (www.carriacougrandview.com) owned by an island couple who have spent most of their adult lives working in the U.S. and raising their children before returning to their roots to try to make a go in tourism. Not an unusual story. Owner, Shirley Stiell, is the perfect hostess, anticipating every need in North American-style, even cooking up a delicious hot breakfast to order in the hotel's gleaming kitchen. There is no hyperbole associated with the accommodation's name...it does have the grandest view on the island, each floor stacked half way up a steep hill above Carriacou's only town, Hillsborough , and I had the top corner room that proves it. Though modest in size and over-stuffed with furniture, Shirley tells me that my room #1 is favored by Grenada's Governor General whenever he visits Carriacou.
It's Sunday, my second and last day on Carriacou. After consulting with Linky, I discover that no attractions of tourism interest are open on a Sunday and locally-recommended restaurants are closed too. It is the people's day to rest and play, Linky tells me. So I drop my international tourist agenda to make the best of what could be an unproductive day.
"Where are the local people?" I ask. "I want to meet them."
"In church in the morning and then eating and hanging with family in the afternoon, maybe on Paradise Beach," he tells me.
Linky has plenty of Sunday morning bookings for taxiing to and from various churches, but he fits me in for a drive to the 150-year-old Anglican church, whose incense-fragrant service is still among my familiar childhood memories. I am startled by the greeting at the church door, "Happy Mother's Day!" Far from my own adult children and husband, I have quite forgotten. I join in the common greeting while 200 parishioners flow into the wooden pews. I can't take my eyes off the women, some into their eighties and nineties, dressed in their best flower prints and topped with creative, whimsical hats that would impress Queen Elizabeth at her annual garden party and cost big bucks in a North American shop. I am definitely drab with no hat either, and one of only two foreigners there. We are a very visible minority.
At the end of the service, I ask polite questions about the church's history before taking my leave. Later on this day of rest, after walking the length of a fine-sand beach aptly called Paradise and feasting on lambi (conch) fritters with the locals at the open-air Hard Wood Bar & Snacket, I return to my hilltop accommodation. Hilda, a lady from the church had tracked me down there, leaving a slim paperback on the church's history as a gift at the front desk.
During the ferry ride back to Grenada next day, I lean on an outside railing chatting with Wendall, a dreadlocked reggae and Sova musician just returned from the Canadian festival circuit. He tells me he has been invited next to perform in Germany and Poland, adding, "I go where there is love and respect." That seems like a pretty acceptable measure for choosing to visit Grenada too.
For more information
Grenada Board of Tourism. Helpful site with information about all current health and safety protocols and necessary COVID information. With a population of 100,000, Grenada is English-speaking, but it is a charming challenge to try to follow the French-African-English patois often spoken between local people.
Getting There: Air service to Grenada is available from the Caribbean, and from a few North American and European cities. In pre-pandemic times, there were less than 140,000 visitors a year arriving by plane, cruise ship and sailing vessels. Air Canada Vacations offers seasonal direct flights from Toronto to Grenada (December to April), while American Airlines now operates non-stop flights from Miami to Grenada, and Delta and Air Jamaica fly non-stop from New York (JFK) several times a week. Other airlines fly either to Barbados or Trinidad, often with poorly-timed connecting flights with LIAT The Caribbean Airline into Grenada.