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I think I've figured it out. The absence of road signs on this stunning Caribbean island is something akin to a cunning job creation scheme. The unsuspecting visitor gets hopelessly lost when venturing more than a couple of hundred yards from the sanctuary of his or her lodgings, throws in the towel and ends up with a dozen strangers cloaked in best got-dressed-in-the-dark, once-a-year tourist garb, on a minibus taking the organised tour. Gosh, there's a Colombian Emeralds store here too, darling. Or, when a jeep has been hired, there will be no shortage of obliging locals willing to act as unofficial guides. When you manage to tune your ears in to the shouts as you pass through a village, all becomes clear. "Horse," yelled one porky fellow, as we sped past, top down, map sticking to reddening knees smeared with sun cream, "Do you want a horse?" I queried this with my wife, Sandra, "What was all that about, we've got a jeep, what would we want with a horse?" "Oh, I see, he said 'host'. Now I get it."
Five years of marriage saw to it that I was thoroughly dissuaded from executing a quick about turn and returning to enquire about the horse, how much, how many hands, how old, can I see its teeth? Come on Sandra, it'll be fun, a beer or two and a laugh with the locals about my silly misunderstanding. OK, we'll carry on heading up the coast shall we?
So, we didn't take the tour, didn't take an unofficial guide on board. We hired a jeep, got as basic a map as you'll find outside of the kiddies' fun pack in your local burger shack, and headed up. Because in Grenada most of your time is spent climbing gradients that your maths teacher used to tell you were impossible. Except when you're bracing yourself against the windscreen as you come back the way you first came and wonder how the hell you got up there in the first place.
The south west of the island, and Grand Anse Beach in particular, is the major area for accommodation and facilities. The capital, St George's is close by. We stayed at the Spice Island Beach Resort, which is an intimate, yet spacious hotel with 66 rooms. We took the all-inclusive option, but found three courses at breakfast (approach the delicious but massive apple pancake with caution), three for lunch (excellent crab-back), and five at dinner to be more than we could manage without buying whole new sets of clothes two sizes bigger for week two. Breakfast offers many choices: good sausage and bacon, eggs perfectly
cooked to order, continental bakery basket, seasonal fruits, and local specials. However, even I, who have been known to eat some oddball items, balked at the thought of salt fish, onions and peppers at 7.30AM.
Dinner is taken overlooking the Caribbean, and is beautifully prepared and generally delicious, although the buffet evening was not a success. Dress in a casually elegant fashion--no shorts at dinner. Maybe it's my age, but I like this rule. Not keen on the muzak, though. Styled as the top hotel on the island, the Calabash is renowned for fine dining and its wine cellar. The Calabash has more of a reputation as the destination for the rich and famous than the Spice Island Beach. However, it lacks that cooling breeze, and those nights at the bar sipping cocktails can get awfully sticky.
But don't stay within the cosy confines of your chosen resting place. There is much to reward you on the island. At the top end, the north to those Grenadan map-makers, is a sheer, 100 feet or so-high-it-makes-no-difference, cliff. Known as Carib's Leap, this is where the original inhabitants, the Caribs, elected to hurl themselves to untimely deaths in 1651, rather than submit to the rule of the French colonists. Head for the town of Sauteurs, to the rear of the police station, up the hill, past the church, through the graveyard, and there it is, this historic and affecting site. But persevere, and ask for directions, because.....well you know by now.
To the east of Carib's Leap, on the spectacular Atlantic coastline is Levera National Park. Hiking is a good way to enjoy the scenery here, although we found the jeep to be as good a viewing point as any, and rather easier on the feet.
There are many beautiful bays and beaches sprinkled down the east coast, although a visit entails taking a chance on following a dirt track, which may, or equally may not, lead to some secluded Robinson Crusoe-style beach. You might find yourself on a single-track road with steep inclines suddenly dropping away from you on both sides, as you discover you're now driving on the sharp bit of a razor blade. Oh, look, here comes a truck and he wants to get by. The question is, do you feel lucky?
In keeping with the imposing nature of the nature on Grenada, the centre of this hat-shaped island is reached by precipitous roads from every direction. This is home to Grand Etang Forest Reserve. Stuffed full of thick green vegetation (the altitude here means that there was an ever-present cloud over Grand Etang for most of our two week stay), stunning views, and waterfalls. Concord Falls consist of three cascades. Although you can swim in the fresh water pool at the bottom, it was described to me by one who had taken a dip in it as, "one degree colder, and it would have been solid."
There is a man at Annandale Falls who offers to climb to the top and then dive in so you can take an interesting action shot. Self-styled as the only member of The Annandale Diving Club, with T-shirt to verify the claim. When I find myself on train on Monday mornings, I often say to myself that there must be an easier way for me to make a living. My lesson, well learnt now, is that someone, somewhere has it much worse than I.
On the south coast, La Sagesse Bay is worth a detour. The turning is opposite La Sagesse Natural Works, past the sports field, and you continue down, yep, the old dirt track. A 4x4 vehicle is essential on Grenada, and, unless you are particularly proficient with manual gears, insist on automatic transmission. It could save lot of heartache. A lot of "should I be in a lower or higher gear now?" and, "How come we're going backwards?" Or, "Oops, mind that chicken."
The beach at La Sagesse is peaceful, wrapped as it is in the arms of the bay. There is a small bar/restaurant overlooking the bay, which is a fine spot for a cold drink and a head-scratching session over the map.
Moving inland, the trip to Laura's Spice and Herb Garden is relatively uneventful. There are even a few signs, independently placed by the owners, to direct you. Up a few steep hills, but we were getting used to that by now. And for a couple of dollars, our guide showed us around the garden and its many plants. Nutmeg, cocoa, thyme, basil, fantastic lemon rosemary, and too many more to mention. Many of these are used to make teas which are said to act as herbal remedies.
On the way back to the Spice Island Beach we stopped off at the Westerhall Rum Distillery. We soon discovered that rum was no longer distilled here, it was more of a bottling operation. We were taken around the old workings for an hour by a long-serving employee. This turned into one of those hours that seem like you could have watched Titanic twice, walked home, and still had time to boil an egg. There is a lot of water around in the old open-air rum and sugar vats, so if you are still determined to take the tour, wear long trousers and plenty of repellent. Maybe it's the lingering booze, judging by the bites, those mosquitoes are either fighting-drunk or meanly hungover.
The Carenage is the point where most aim for in St George's. The harbour area mixes business and pleasure. Fishermen, townspeople and tourists congregate for a cheap and cheerful lunches at the lively Nutmeg or the Tout Bagay.
Other points of interest in St George's include Fort George, which was built in 1706 and is a popular lookout. The Grenada National Museum is a must for anyone wishing to know more about the background of the island, although anyone hoping for enlightenment about the attempted coup in 1983 should perhaps look elsewhere. The museum's offering seems to be more of a smokescreen than a newsreel.
There is a fine new sports arena, The Queens Park National Stadium, and for those interested in such things, the Market Square. Personally, since someone made me a cash offer, and then a proposed trade involving illegal substances for Sandra in Mombasa, Kenya, I have cooled somewhat on the whole market experience, however, for those who wish to visit, I am told that it is good fun.
Grenada has well-established industries in fishing and agriculture, so does not depend as heavily on tourism as some of the other Caribbean islands. However, they do cater well to visitors. It was a nice touch to be greeted by the owner of the Spice Island Beach Resort, Mr Royston Hopkin, CMG (Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George - awarded by the Queen of England for services to tourism), on our arrival. The old chestnut of the hotel's Monday cocktail party was given fresh spin once a month by being held at Mr Hopkin's palatial home at True Blue Bay. Cocktails on the cliff top at sunset. Truly a magical sight.
Early on our first morning in the jeep (A white jeep. Why white? Because, as the rental man told us, the dents and scratches show up so much better on white paint), picnic courtesy of the hotel chilling nicely in a coolbox on the back seat, we had a couple of false starts in our search for La Sagesse. As we pulled over to the side of the road by a three-way junction to try to make sense of the map, a pick-up truck stopped alongside and two young men asked if we were OK. "You're not lost, are you?" Overly paranoid about the perils of accepting unsolicited assistance, and not yet sufficiently attuned to the relaxed customs of the island, we denied being lost.
"Oh," came the reply, "It's just that I've seen you turn round twice."
We came clean, got some spot-on directions, and learned to trust the delightful people of Grenada.