Oceania’s Insignia docked right on time in Grenada. Today marks our third visit here and this time we were determined to have a proper tour of the island on an excursion we booked ourselves through the Grenada Tourism Authority.
On our first visit, back in 1986, our Sitmar vessel—remember that cruise line?—docked at Carenage, a perfectly shaped natural horseshoe harbor and one of the most beautiful in the Caribbean. Our 3- and 6-year-olds stayed on board with staff in the children’s program so we allowed ourselves only a short walk along the pier to watch fishermen bring in their catch, selling to locals right off their boats as they still do today. On our second visit, with the Royal Clipper just a year ago, we took a taxi to La Luna, a 16-cottage resort overlooking Morne Rouge Bay, the next beach over from the two-mile-long curve of lovely Grand Anse. La Luna’s restaurant is open to cruise passengers as is its Bali-inspired spa—if you book ahead. We still remember our couple’s massage as an hour of bliss.
But Grenada is renowned for its natural wonders and we had seen none of them. Oceania’s Insignia docked at the island’s newest cruise terminal, a tunnel away from Carenage and at the foot of the old town in St. George’s, the capital. Here we met up with Roger Augustine who regaled us with tales of growing up in Grenada, the island’s economy, politics and general state of happy well-being. What little crime there is, he said, is petty crime. The prison was destroyed when the island suffered hurricane Ivan in 2004, so prisoners were released to check on their families. After the island recovered, a public service announcement ordered the incarcerated to return, and all came back to serve out their sentence. Everybody knows everybody here, Roger said, so there’s no escaping.
As we drove up the west coast of the island, with the Caribbean Sea lapping at black- and white-sand beaches along the shoreline, we passed a group from the Insignia bound for the ship’s kayak excursion. Glass-bottom kayaks allow paddlers to view an underwater sculpture garden, named the 25th wonder of the world by National Geographic. Hmm. Another reason to come back to Grenada.
In anticipation of independence day, islanders paint curbs, barricades and bridges in the colors of Grenada’s flag: yellow, red, green. Roger slowed his van long enough for us to admire a hillside covered in old tires painted in the patriotic colors and surrounded by flowers and greenery. Farther along, we saw bus shelters and buildings with images of the popular prime minister, historic figures and celebrities. Colonized by the French, then ruled by the British, a revolution in 1979 established the island’s independence. A bloody coup in 1983 prompted an invasion by U.S. military forces ostensibly to rescue American students at a university here, but really to restore democracy. Elections a year later re-established a government that has been stable ever since.
Leaving the main road we headed up a winding back road into the rainforest around Concord Falls. The three-tier cascade cuts through black, volcanic rock overgrown with lush greenery. An athletic young man stood ready to jump from the top of the falls for tips. He earned his money.
Bill and I were happy to have Roger behind the wheel, navigating twisting paved back roads narrowing to one lane at regular intervals. He stopped to point out some of the 32 species of bamboo on the island, a huge nutmeg tree, cocoa pods hanging heavy on their branches and bunches of bananas swinging almost into our path. Farmers carrying machetes walked along the road on their way to and from their gardens. While nutmeg is the “black gold of Grenada” it takes a long time to reap its rewards. The trees don’t reach their prime for 30 years so in the meantime farmers grow cash crops–bananas, tomatoes, potatoes, papaya, corn–sold on the roadside or at market in St. George. I’m betting some of this fresh produce will appear on my dinner plate in Insignia’s Grand Dining Room tonight.
At the Dougaldston Estate we saw cocoa beans laid out on huge wooden platforms to dry in the sun. Women shuffle through the beans, using their feet to stir and aerate them. When completely dry they are shipped to a chocolate factory. Grenada makes some of the world’s finest chocolate, and unlike in some other parts of the world, no child labor is allowed. I’ll remember that when I pass by the chocolate confections on the trolley rolled through Insignia’s Horizons lounge at tea time.
Inside Dougaldston Estate, Roger showed us examples of some of the spices grown on Grenada, making the point that on the island spices are added for flavor but not necessarily for heat. Cracking open a nutmeg pod, he showed us the red nugget inside, the “lady in the boat with the red petticoat,” that’s processed as mace. An array of leaves, seeds and branches lay before him yielding cinnamon, bay leaves, turmeric and allspice. The room smelled like Christmas, just as Insignia’s public areas do this week decked out in pines and gingerbread for its holiday cruise. Roger demonstrated how islanders add local white rum to a jar of spices, age it for six or eight weeks then use the essence to flavor food and drink. Some sip it straight for medicinal purposes. He said his great grandmother had a shot in the morning and one at bedtime and lived to 105. I wish Insignia would list this home brew on its menu of after-dinner liqueurs.
We took a short tour of the nutmeg processing cooperative in the fishing village of Gouyave to see how the nutmeg beans are aged, sorted and graded. A 140-pound sack brings about $1,200 U.S. before it’s ground.
Another twisting, steep road leads us up through the rainforest to an altitude of 1,900 above sea level where Lake Etang unfolds before us. The lake, normally cobalt blue, fills the inside of an extinct volcanic crater. Today, though, gray skies have turned the lake the color of slate. If we had more time we’d hike its perimeter, explore the flora and fauna of Grand Etang National Park and take a peek at Annandale Waterfalls. But Roger’s trained eye sees a heavy rainstorm is brewing, so we skedaddle back to St. George and the Insignia.
Turns out there’s more to see in Grenada than our time allows once again. Luckily Oceania, and plenty of other cruise lines, make “The Spice Island” a regular stop on cruises through the West Indies.
Photos by Katherine Rodeghier