The small Caribbean Island nation of Greneda is made up of three islands: Greneda, the largest one, Carriacou, a two hour ferry ride from St. Georges (capital of Grenada) and Petit Martinique, a further two hours by a smaller ferry from Carriaccou. Grenada declared it’s independence from the British Empire in 1974, and the elected Prime minister was usurped by a Cuban supported armed revolution in 1979 lead by Maurice Bishop who was himself toppled and then executed by his former co-revolutionary in 1983. A subsequent military coup resulted in ‘Operation Urgent Fury’, a US led invasion under Reagon to stop ‘the domino of commies’. The invaders bombed a mental hospital, mistaking it for a military fortress, killing 18 patients, one of which was Ricky’s mother. Ricky was our tour guide, who had a cynical view of the American conquest of his Island. These events were later immortalized in the 1986 movie ‘Heartbreak Hill’, by Clint Eastwood. Ever since the ‘liberation’ Grenada has struggled to attain some kind of modern status in this competitive world, relying on the World Bank and some generous donor nations. Mother nature interfered In 2004 when Hurricane Ivan destroyed 85% of Grenada’s structures and the entire Nutmeg Crop, followed in 2005 by Hurricane Emily which ravaged the island’s north end.
When we arrived at our hotel in Grenada, a short five minutes from the airport, we asked how long the bar and restaurant would be open. A lazy shrug of the shoulders: “It’s island time mon, as long there is people, it’s open.”
I liked that. Island time, meaning everything else slowed down considerably, including the service. I was about to mix my own drink when the waitress finally appeared and with a big grin informed us they were out of coconut juice; so no piña calada and also that the cook isn’t feeling well; so no more hot food. Instead of food we had an extra rum punch, the islands signature drink.
We ordered a cab for 8AM since we had to be on the Osprey ferry which was on a serious schedule. “No problem, mon.”
We were still waiting for the taxi at ten past eight, getting rather fidgety and nervous. This island time was not agreeing with me quite yet.
“Where is the cab ?’ I asked one of the hotel employees sweeping the hotel entrance. He gave me a quizzical look and started dialling some numbers on his oversized smart phone. “It’s coming.” He then assured me. Another five minutes later I started to perspire. Mind you it was about a balmy 28 degrees already so sweating didn’t seem out of place. I finally spotted the receptionist from the night before who started checking her phone. “It’s Monday.” She pointed out..
“Monday ?” I said, not understanding the reasoning.
“Well, yeah, everybody had the weekend off and it’s a slow start on Monday morning. Or maybe he had to bring somebody to the hospital.”
“Island time ?” I said, rather cynically.
A cab finally arrived and after the driver had a pleasant, leisurely chat with the receptionist we were on our way, stuck behind a gravel truck. We got to the ferry terminal just in time but nobody except us was panicking.
“So what if you miss the boat, you spend one more day in paradise,” was the laconic response from the dread locked cabbie.
The seas were rough and the 60’ catamaran slammed through the white caps spraying showers of foam over the bow and downstairs windows. Betty was fortified with Gravol, curled up on a bench and I enjoyed the wild ride over the turquois Caribbean seas from the upper deck. Carriacou grew larger by the minute looking like King Kong was about to stride out from its volcanic, green jungle peaks. (We could have also taken a short haul flight from Grenada with LIAT Air, an acronym for Leave Island Any Time Air, but the boat ferry was just as convenient.)
Carriacou is about 34 km2 (Bowen Island is 50 km2 and Raratonga in the Cook Islands is 24 km2) and has between six and eight thousand inhabitants, half of whom are kids and youth and. most locals are descendants of a brief and failed experiment in slavery in the early 1800’s. There is a hint of Rastafarian sub culture, some dread locks and plenty of reggae and Bob Marley tunes but spliffs and ganja are strictly prohibited in Grenada. “We don’t want to turn into another Jamaica,” was Ricky’s explanation.
The locals go by cool names like Bubbles, Bonny, Joy, Boston, Bubba, Connie, Pastoria, Dexter or Papa Polo and everybody is super friendly and personal, greeting each other all day long. “Good morning, good afternoon and good night.” They call the big island of Grenada the mainland and refer to each other as family. Everybody is a cousin or a niece or nephew and a lot of locals have one mother and multiple fathers. It’s the island way, mon.
Our days go something like this: We have coffee and breakfast on our balcony and watch the pelicans fish. They plunge into the water, very ungracefully, like dive bombers, and the seagulls try to snatch their catch right out of the pelican’s beaks. The backdrop is the turquoise calm expanse of the Caribbean ocean, the deserted long, fine sandy beach sweeping away in an arced bay lined with palm trees, the gentle surf washing onto the strand in a timeless rhythm. Then we go for an hour’s walk along the shoreline, followed by a leisurely swim in the temperate water. We fill the rest of the morning with reading and relaxing. Around noon we saunter on over to the jetty in the heart of Hillsboro, the main town on Carriacou. Every day, except Good Friday, the Osprey ferry arrives around noon and takes off around four; this routinely turns the dockside into the main hub of activity twice a day.
Along the side walks we pass the local women behind table sized fruit and vegetable stalls, calling out “hey honey” or “hello handsome” enticing us to buy some home grown produce or fruit, fresh eggs or whatever they grow in their gardens. The rest of our groceries we buy at ‘Ade’s Dream’, Yvette’s Super Market by the Coconut Bar or the Carriacou Marketing Board. We check our e-mails at the open wi-fi in the quaint, air-conditioned tourist center or the Mermaid Hotel and maybe step into one of the many rum shops or clap board restaurants which are at every corner, They serve the local specialty called ‘roti’, which is a wrap filled with spicy conch known as ‘lambi’, barracuda, chicken (with the bones) or just curried vegetables. One of our favs is the Kayak, overlooking the jetty and run by Sally, a British woman who fished the waters off the Pacific West, sailed a couple of times around the world and lander in Grenada some five years ago, was wiped out by a hurricane and kind of washed up here. She serves a proper, organic burger, the best rum punch smoothies and generous lobster salad. She is a real trooper, battles cancer with a shrug of her thin shoulders and keeps on living, “because it’s the only thing I know how to do.”
I was curious about the local standard of living and this is what the salaries are: Professionals like teachers and nurses, equivalent to Can$ 600 to 800 p/month; builders Can$ 50 – 70 per day; waitress, Can$ 300 per month plus tips. (10%). University tuition in Grenada, Can$ 22’000. Price of gas Can$ 1.70 L. Beer, Can$ 2.50 for 275ml bottle. This is not an affluent society, neither is it an impoverished one and the islanders are a happy and content lot, confident, funny and helpful. A large part of the economy comes from the money the diaspora sends back home, houses are built, grand parents kept afloat, kids sent to University either to England, the US and of course to Cuba which offers free university education, even for foreigners.
Rum is the Island’s main drink,. It’s imported from Barbados, Jamaica and Grenada. We always go for the dark rum since the clear distillate, called Iron Jack is 100% proof and I’m afraid I might go blind. Ice cubes do not float in Iron Jack but sink right to the bottom of the glass. We like our rum punch or two, with a pinch of nutmeg, which goes down easy but comes up hard, usually resulting in an overwhelming desire for a nap.
The afternoons we fill with limin’ * on our balcony, reading and watching the pelicans fish and the bay fill up with sail boats which stay a day or more and then drift on to a different islands. Maybe we read or visit with our friends, some of whom live right next door or a 10 minute mini-bus ride away at Paradise and Sunset Beach. There are a handful of long term visitors here and we got to know most of them, either at the Lambi Queen on Friday’s or at the Wednesday night bonfire and bb’q at ‘Off the Hook’. Some days we hire one of the local lads with his boat to take us to Sandy Island or White Island for snorkelling. We rate the snorkelling according to Allan’s Scale: Visibility-Coral-Fish on a scale of 10, Sandy Island came in as a 9-5-7 while Black Sand beach scored a fantastic 9-8-8.
A late afternoon swim just out front, floating around in our water toys we brought all the way from Canadian Tire. Around six it’s time for a rum punch, to accompany the daily spectacle of the fire ball sliding over the Caribbean horizon, after which we usually head out to one of the many island bars and restaurants for dinner with names like ‘Lazy Turtle’, ‘Kayak’ , ‘Coconut Shack’ ‘La Playa” or ‘Reef Bar’. Or we meet at Mama Joy’s Hardwood Café on Paradise Beach. The daily menu varies according to availability but usually contains fish or chicken or pork, and more rum, with ice please.
And then there is the Carnival. First the crowning of the Queen followed by five days of Soca, Calypso, Jab Jab mayhem, mass drinking and dancing in the streets. Boomboom all night long until Ash Wednesday when it all disappears like a crazy dream.
The languid days blend into each other seamlessly and the days grow into weeks and months and suddenly it’s time to pack up and head back to our sophisticated society, better known as the First World. We leave behind the balmy weather, the turquoise sea, the proud islanders who keep their struggles and woes well hidden behind an easy going disposition, a sunny smile, always welcoming, always pleasant. We promise to be back, have one more rum punch and board the Osprey.
*To lime or limin’ is to chill out, laugh, talk, drink, eat and be merry, don’t do anything that feels like work and don’t be in a hurry or check your watch or e-mail. Limin’ is a very popular pastime in these latitudes and locals as well as tourists indulge in this popular leisure pursuit.