The Spice Isle: What the Grenada guidebooks might not tell you

Grenada is so off the radar for a lot of Americans that it leaves a lot to be learned about the country. (For one, how it’s pronounced. Answer: “Gren-ay-da.”)

But here are some of the more practical tidbits that I learned while in the island country that might also serve you well on your visit:

Keep your swimsuits to the beach. An indecent exposure law forbids it elsewhere. Cover up, even if it’s just a little bit.

Don’t wear camouflage. It’s illegal to wear it in any color or format.

Ask before taking that photo of someone.
It’s good tact in any situation (although goodbye to spontaneity), but I especially felt the need to in Grenada. In fact, a few people called me on it when I didn’t. My instinct was to snap photos left and right at the market, but I intentionally stopped to talk about and buy produce first.

US money. Yes, you can use it and businesses accept it.

Go SCUBA diving. Grenada has the most wreck dives (sunken boats) in the Caribbean.

%Gallery-77695%Drive on the left. (Also means walking on the left-hand side). But first, you have to get a local driving permit from the traffic department at the Central Police Station on the Carenage. Present your driver’s license and pay a fee of EC$30.

No need to rush the spice-buying. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to buy spice and all of the variations of spice products — for cheap, too. Consider buying it from the shopkeeper that you’ve just enjoyed a great conversation with.

Say yes to insect repellent. Mosquito bites ended up being the majority of my souvenirs.

Keep some cash on hand for your departure tax. The airport doesn’t accept credit cards for the payment. You can use either American or Eastern Caribbean cash. Adults: EC$50 (US$20). Children ages 2-12: EC$25 (US$10).

Stick to one elevation at a time. Grenada is blessed with wonders from the depths of the ocean to the heights of a 2,000-foot-high mountain. But it’s such a distance that you’ll want to avoid going SCUBA diving and seeing Grand Etang in the same day — you’re sure to get decompression sickness (the bends).

Wait to buy chocolate until later. No doubt you’ll want to bring chocolate home (Grenada Chocolate Company makes an especially good kind — plus it’s organic and made small-batch). But if you’re like me you don’t have a refrigerator in your hotel room, the chocolate is sure to melt, so pick it up at the end.

Hydrate. It’s easy to forget that you need to drink more than usual because of the weather — even when you don’t feel thirsty.

Do as the locals do. Go to the beach on Sunday for an authentic Grenadian experience — you’ll find local families lounging on the beach, and kids starting up soccer games.

Keep an ear to the local slang. For one, “bon je” (jai/jay) is used as an exclamation of awe. That said, understanding the local patois can be as difficult as learning any new language.

Alison Brick traveled through Grenada on a trip sponsored by the Grenada Board of Tourism. That said, she could write about anything that struck her fancy. (And it just so happens that these are the things that struck her fancy.) You can read more from her The Spice Isle: Grenada series here.

Big in Japan: Camouflage yourself as a Coke machine

Afraid of walking the mean city streets at night? Not sure what to do if you’re being followed?

Fear not as Aya Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer from Tokyo, is about to start selling her new line of urban camouflage.

At a fashion show earlier this week, Ms. Tsukioka shocked the audience by removing a large sheet of red cloth from beneath her skirt. She then proceeded to show how a woman being pursued by assailants could easily disguise herself as a vending machine.

Japan never ceases to amaze, eh?

Although street crime is virtually non-existent here in Japan, personal safety is never taken for granted. The Japanese public is increasingly becoming more and more concerned about crime, even though statistics suggest that rates are actually on the decline.

Perhaps this is why Ms. Tsukioka’s clothing is expected to be such a huge hit.

At the fashion show, she also revealed plans for kimono that folds into a vending machine as well as a manhole shaped bag that can be laid down on the street to hide your valuables from would-be muggers.

While Americans are more partial to self-defense devices such as mace, pepper spray, tazers and even pistols, Japanese sensibility calls for a bit more tact.

Don’t believe me?

Consider the fact that one of the most popular items on the market here in Tokyo are knife-proof high school uniforms made of Kevlar!

According to Ms. Tsukioka, Americans want to protect themselves while Japanese favor camouflage and deception. “It is just easier for Japanese to hide,” Ms. Tsukioka said. “Making a scene would be too embarrassing.”

She then proceeded to explain how her vending machine disguise was inspired by the ninja, who used to cover themselves in black blankets at night. Since vending machines are so common on Japan’s streets, Ms. Tsukioka realized that she had stumbled across the perfect design motif.

To date, Ms. Tsukioka has sold about 20 vending machine costumes for about 100,000 yen or $800 each. If you think it’s a bit pricey, consider the fact that each disguise is printed and sewn by hand.

And of course, can you really put a price on your personal safety?

For the little ones, Ms. Tsukioka is also planning on rolling out a special children’s line of disguises, which will resemble Japan’s diminutive red mail boxes.

After all, it’s never too early to teach the kiddies to take care of themselves.

Ms. Tsukioka concluded her press conference by discussing Japan’s willingness to indulge the imagination. “These ideas might strike foreigners as far-fetched,” she added, “but in Japan, they can become reality.”

Perhaps there is some truth to that, though I’m sorry to say that these costumes wouldn’t quite cut it in New York City or Los Angeles, unless of course you were to weave them out of Kevlar.

Special thanks to my friend Michele for always keeping an eye out for the latest and craziest Japanese trends!

** Photos were taken by Torin Boyd/Polaris for The New York Times **