Grenada is an island country in the southeastern Caribbean Sea – it may not be as well-known as some of the other Caribbean islands but in my mind, it is definitely one of the more interesting ones to visit. Grenada is known as the Isle of Spice as well as “that place which was invaded by the USA during the 80s”. With that mix, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I visited in 2008.
In 1649, some Frenchmen from Martinique founded a settlement on Camerhogne (original name of Grenada). Of course, those already living on the island didn’t appreciate this so the next few years saw many a conflict between the French and the Kalinago (more commonly known as the Caribs) people. One of those conflicts ended with a group of Kalinago who jumped off a 40m cliff. Ever so tactfully, today, that cliff is known as Carib’s Leap and the town is called Sauteurs (“jumpers” in French). By 1654, the French won the day and the island. In 1762, the British came along and captured Grenada but the French took back the island in 1779, during America’s War of Independence. However, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1783), they had to give it back to Britain. Grenada gained its independence in 1974. And the history making didn’t stop there.
1979 was the year of the coup. It was led by a guy called Maurice Bishop and his “People’s Revolutionary Government” party. Over the next few years, he led the country through
some socialist changes. However, the Communist Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and his followers deemed Bishop not-socialist enough. So the hardline communists staged their own coup in 1983. Bishop was arrested but the people rose up, forcing Coard to release Bishop. Then Bishop made the fateful decision to reclaim power – it didn’t end well for him. He and seven others were arrested and executed by firing squad. And this is where the Americans came in – Operation Urgent Fury (I want the job in naming operations). In a “flagrant violation of international law” (as per the UN General Assembly – one wonders when they’ll realize the USA doesn’t care what they think), they invaded Grenada supposedly to “liberate” it from scurrilous Communist rule. There was a cleansing and democracy was ushered in, basking in the cheers of a newly freed people…right…
Today, Grenada is known for more than its coups. It is now also known for its nutmeg, hence the nickname of Isle of Spice. The country produces about 40% of the world’s annual crop of nutmeg and mace…though that has taken a hit, thanks to Hurricane Ivan of 2004. Ivan was a Category 3 hurricane and it damaged or outright destroyed about 90% of Grenada’s homes and severely crippling the agricultural industry. When I went in 2008, the nutmeg industry still hadn’t recovered as the island has to wait until the new nutmeg trees grow and mature. Time is the only cure for that. Grenada also produces other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger. And chocolate. So yes, food is quite good in Grenada!
The island is a beautiful one and it’s made interesting by its ruggedness. It is a volcanic island (though no active volcano, unlike Montserrat) so the soil is very rich, enabling gorgeous plants and trees to flourish. It is also quite mountainous with lots of waterfalls and rivers. As such, eco-tourism is strong in Grenada but those wanting a simple beach holiday, you’re in luck – there are many from which to choose, and you even have choices between white, brown, and black sand! Grand Anse Beach in St. George is considered by many to be one of the best beaches in the world. Did I go? Nope – personally, I feel awkward going to a popular beach by myself. It is one of the few aspects of solo travel I actually dislike. Though, if a beach is quiet/deserted, then I’d go!
Driving around the island is a feast for the senses with the dense nature, thriving towns, and picturesque villages. There are many things to see and places to visit that you’ll definitely want to hire a car with a driver or rent a car yourself so that you can explore to your hearts content. In fact, I think Grenada is a great place to do a road trip. So, why not? Let’s take a road trip right now!
St George’s: This colourful city is built around a horseshoe shaped natural harbour and the buildings are a sight to see with practically all colours of the rainbow being represented. Even many a roof is red-tiled! It is well worth a few hours to just wander around the town to take in some of the architecture and to walk along Wharf Road that runs along the harbour. If you want a great overview of St. Georges, climb up to the fort.
Fort George: This fort dates back to about 1706. It is elevated so you get a great view of the city, the harbour, and the sea. Fort George has the unfortunate history of being the site of Maurice Bishop’s execution. However, today it is the police training school so not the entire fort is accessible to visitors. But there be canons!
Grand Etang Lake / Nature: The volcanic mountains of Grenada create some dramatic and beautiful scenery around the country. Some mountains have ancient crater basins and one of these has a large lake known as Grand Etang. The lake is over 1700 feet above sea level and is surrounded by verdant forests. Prime location for hikes and other nature related activities.
Grenada Co-Operative Nutmeg Association: One of several places where you can obtain a tour to learn about nutmeg production. It was pretty sad when I went as the country was still reeling from the destruction by Hurricane Ivan – there was barely any nutmeg to be processed. But learning about the nutmeg and mace production process was rather interesting and it was intriguing now it hasn’t really changed all that much in a very long time.
River Antoine Rum Distillery: This place is quite fascinating. Rum produced here is made pretty much the same way it has been made since the 18th century! There is very much the air of “bootleg” but it really is all legitimate. The focus here seems to be more quality rather than quantity. And it works – this place is the oldest still-functioning distillery in the Caribbean. Of course, after the tour, you will get a taste of its 138- or 150-proof rum.
Caribs’ Leap and Sauteurs: Standing in the same spot where people actively chose death over subjugation (or death by the French) is pretty thought-provoking. Sauteurs is a small town near a beach – great to wander around to see life in Northern Grenada.
Sunsets: Don’t forget to appreciate the sunsets and the sunrises here!