The island of Grenada, situated between the warm Caribbean Sea and the cold Atlantic Ocean, is popularly known as the Isle of Spice due to the fact that it produces a third of the world’s spices. Being a volcanic island, the landscape is mainly mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, with a vegetation of dense tropical forests, most of which are planted with bananas, avocadoes, citrus, sugarcane, corn and cocoa.
I visited Grenada recently, for the first time in my life, and was awestruck by the beauty of the island and its people.
I stayed at the Flamboyant Apartments, on the South West coast of the island, with the expanse of the famous Grand Anse beach clearly visible from my balcony. The view – miles of spotless white sand, with green trees on one side, and clear sea water on the other, was breathtaking. Across the ocean towards the horizon, a fusion of sea and sky, interspersed with fishing boats, yachts and cruise-liners, was an amazing sight to behold.
The beach was almost deserted, with only a dozen people or so in sight on a busy day. A variety of activities took place on the beach every day, but the beach was never crowded, whether there was a party in full swing, a video shoot, or a group of tourists taking a break from their cruise.
Compared to the beaches I have visited in the UK and in Europe, this was an unusual experience for me. I had always thought that any beach, on a sunny day, would be packed with people jostling for a spot, with your sand neighbours continuously encroaching on your patch each time you go for a dip in the sea – a patch you would have gotten up at 5 o’clock in the morning to claim. At these over-crowded beaches, any attempts at private conversations with your companions are almost impossible as they are completely drowned out by the noise.
Walking along Grand Anse beach at a lazy and slow pace each morning, everyone I met said, “Good morning”. In fact, everywhere you go, the local people acknowledge you and greet you with a smile. They are laid back, casual, and they go about their daily business in good cheer, with no hustle or bustle.
In the United Kingdom, it is not uncommon to look at someone with an intention of saying “Hello”, only to be verbally attacked with “What are you looking at?” As a result, everyone tends to walk briskly, looking straight ahead, avoiding eye-contact with anyone not familiar to them.
While frolicking in the warm surf of Grand Anse one afternoon, I spotted a young man nearby, scrubbing a pot with the fine sand on the beach, oblivious to everything else going on around him. He had obviously just finished serving his customers (both locals and tourists) the Grenadian traditional dish known as oildown. Oildown is a kind of stew, made with an array of meats (salted beef/pork/fish), breadfruit, dumplings, vegetables and spices, all mixed together and boiled in coconut oil. It might look “messy” to the uninitiated, but it is full of flavour and is very filling.
Cooking his special dish by the side of the road, and washing his pots by the beach, is normal practice for the young man, unlike in the UK, where such “behaviour” is sure to give some health and safety officer a coronary.
In order to appreciate the full Grenada experience, one has to travel further afield than Grand Anse. I travelled along the steep and winding road to the Grand Etang Forest Reserve which is situated in the middle of the island. The Grand Etang (Great Lake) is set in a magical nature park, and the view is post-card perfect – a volcanic lake surrounded by palm trees, orchids and ferns.
It was almost comic to see, in this protected area, four soldiers in full uniform, using some unconventional method to pull fish out from the lake, and putting them in an old plastic bucket. I wondered if this was a legitimate part of their duties. My suspicions were that they had probably decided to take a break and get a snack.
On a day trip around the island, I took time to visit some of the other tourist attractions like La Sagesse beach in the South East, the turtle breeding grounds of Levera Beach in the North, and places of historical significance like Carib’s Leap. Carib’s Leap is a vertical cliff, hundreds of feet deep, situated at the northern tip of Grenada, where, hundreds of years ago, remnants of the local tribes jumped to evade capture by invading European forces. It is a poignant place, more so as it is located at the far end of a cemetery, and one has to walk through the graves to read the plaque dedicated to the souls who chose to lose their lives rather than succumb to their oppressors.
Half way up the eastern coast of Grenada, at about mid-day, I decided it was time to have something to eat and was desperate for some nice cold beverage to quench my thirst. My guide and driver, a wonderful man who likes to call himself “a small island boy” - with the “small” referring to the island, and not the boy - (in reality, Zac is a towering mountain of muscle and charm) - announced that he would take me to a nearby restaurant for lunch.
About 5 minutes drive from Grenville town, we left the main road and turned right onto an uneven and dusty dirt road. I was intrigued. The road looked like it was leading to nowhere. A cow stopped grazing and inquisitively stared at us, a family of chickens flew around in a rage at our intrusion, and a tethered goat or two nibbled at the green grass by the roadside. A quarter of a mile down the road, we arrived at The Estuary Bar and Restaurant.
At first, I did not realise that we had actually arrived at the restaurant. On our right-hand side was wasteland, on the left was what appeared to be a large abandoned wooden shack, and straight ahead was the roaring and mighty Atlantic Ocean. Just as I was wondering if we had gotten lost, an announcement by made by a bemused Zac that we had arrived at our lunch destination.
The building (and I hesitate to describe it as such) looked like a pile of wood deposited by Hurricane Ivan which battered Grenada in 2004. The island still bears visible scars from the hurricane, and one could be excused for concluding this structure was one of the victims of “Ivan the Terrible”.
Getting out of the car, I looked around me. The sound was thunderous, the salty smell intoxicating and the sight of the waves crushing against the rocks mesmerizing. The wind was strong, clouding my glasses with salt deposits. I clutched onto Zac, terrified of being blown away into oblivion, but of course there was no possibility of that happening, as the restaurant gardens are a safe distance away from the edge.
On the far left, the calm waters of the Great River flowed swiftly and silently into the ocean, to be immediately swallowed by the dark menacing waves.
After taking in these remarkable sights, we walked into the building. Like they say, do not judge a book by its cover. Just inside the entrance was a beautiful pond teeming with tropical fish of all shapes and sizes. There were tables and chairs set for lunch on one side of the spacious room, with relaxing seats and on the other side, and a huge TV screen hanging on the wall above.
We were greeted by owner and gourmet chef, Earl Lewis. Dressed casually, with a glass of wine in his hand and a smile on his face, he led us to the bar and offered us a drink from a surprisingly wide selection. I ordered a chilled fresh fruit juice, which was a much welcome pleasure.
For lunch, I asked Earl what was on the menu, and he said he could prepare anything I wished to eat. I settled for a chicken salad, which came exquisitely laid out, and was the best I have ever tasted. Priced at an average of twenty Eastern Caribbean dollars (about £6.00), the food was unbelievable value for money, not much more than one would pay for lunch from one of the numerous urban roadside “restaurants”, although, come to think of it, the food served by these roadside chefs (clad in complete chefs’ outfits) is mouth-watering portions of flavour.
The Estuary Bar and Restaurant has to be experienced to be appreciated. It is an unforgettable and unique discovery on the Grenadian country-side - stunning views, succulent food, and of course, the affable Earl.
The colours of the Grenadian flag sums up this beautiful island: red for harmony and unity of spirit, yellow for sunshine, warmth and friendliness of the people, and green for fertility of the land and lush vegetation.