Exploring Grenada: do as locals do

Of all the Caribbean islands to visit, Grenada is arguably the most out of the way. A little time in St. Maarten and Grand Cayman piqued my interest in island life long before I found myself out of the way, far away, hanging out in Grenada: a 133 square mile island with a population of 110,000 just northeast of Venezuela.

Before taking off for the trip, my father and my boyfriend’s father, and maybe even some other fathers I’m dismissing from my memory, cracked a joke or two about the relationship with Americans they assumed Grenadians would have.

“Careful out there! They’re probably not too happy with Americans after that invasion”.

But if there was any truth lurking in these cautions, I found no trace of it during the week I spent in Grenada. Murals and praises for Barack Obama and the U.S.A. graffitied more than a couple walls I spotted while driving around on my own (Note: Grenadians drive on the left. Accidentally reverting back to driving on the right is a bad idea). These painted walls are still damaged from Hurricane Ivan–a calamitous Category 3 hurricane that hit the island directly in 2004. The storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island. A much less severe Hurricane Emily followed Ivan in 2005 and caused an estimated $110 million USD in damages despite her modesty. Although Grenada has recovered impressively from these blows, the skeletons of buildings torn through still stand, exposing their disillusioning vacancy as an ongoing reminder: life can end at any moment, so live each day to the fullest.
%Gallery-114506%Grenadians embrace this concept naturally instead of intentionally. The island way of life is engrained in the psyche of Grenadians–they seem to be predispositioned to relax. And who can fault them? I’d relax if I lived in a tropical paradise, too.

With a pungent distaste for tourist clusters and an insatiable desire to submerge ourselves in the island way of life, photographer Ben Britz and I set off to explore Grenada our preferred way–by following the advice of locals. And this required renting a car.

If you’re planning a trip to Grenada (pronounced greh-NAY-duh), the island of spice, do yourself a favor and leave the beautiful, but obvious, Grand Anse Beach. Here’s where you should go instead:

1. BBC Beach
BBC Beach is just around the corner from Grand Anse. Literally. You can walk from one to the other. The difference is an important one, though: BBC is a local treasure; Grand Anse is a tourist Mecca. BBC Beach is properly named Morne Rouge Beach and that’s how you’ll find it identified on maps. But locals call it BBC after a popular night club, now called Fantazia, that once operated on the beach. You’ll have these (predictably) teal waters all to yourself and a few locals at BBC, where the water is warm and calm. Grab a drink from Fantazia and enjoy vacation the way it’s supposed to be… peaceful. Tip: Bring your own chairs/blanket. Also, if you buy a drink, the nice people of Fantazia will let you park in their lot.

2. Patrick’s
If you want to eat some local homestyle cooking, Patrick’s is the needle in the haystack you’re seeking. Birthed from the mind and palate of the late Patrick Levine, his spirit lives on in his recipes. Although he never wrote down a single recipe, he trained the present owner, Karen Hall, in person, and she has creating this soulful food down to a science. For less than $25 a person, she’ll serve up local dishes that are, no exaggeration, perfect.

Breadfruit fritters and crab legs are just two of the twenty-some dishes they serve at Patrick’s for this low but all-inclusive price. Without even a modicum of good-restaurant haughtiness to match the good food, dining at Patrick’s is a delightfully casual experience. And lucky for you, the cottage-style restaurant is conveniently located in St. George’s. Tip: Call early and let them know the size of your party, especially if it’s a big one. Patrick’s is cozy in the only-a-dozen-or-so-people-can-fit kind of way, so you’ll want to be sure there’s room for all of you.

3. Gouyave Fish Fridays
You don’t want to miss this. Even if you have to stop in multiple towns along the winding dark road up to Gouyave asking porch-sitting folks for directions to the ‘Fish Fry’, directions which they’ll only disclose if you promise to bring them back a piece of fish, it’s well worth it. The town of Gouyave closes off streets and sets up for a charmingly raucous party every Friday–one that’s mostly meant for and mostly attended by locals.

Gouyave is a fishing village about 45 minutes away from the hotel district near St. George’s. From 6pm to around 1am every Friday, locals fry, grill, bake, steam, stir, and serve up seafood your taste buds won’t forget. St. Francis and St. Dominic streets line up with vendors ready to feed you and, by all means, let each of them feed you. A palatable aroma of freshly prepared seafood fills air. Fish cakes, shrimp, kebabs, lobster, conch, barbequed snapper… they have something for everyone.

Tropical juices, beers, and even Grenadian Chocolate ice cream are also available, ready to be paired with the meal of your choosing. If you want to experience a rollicking Friday night like a local, don’t miss out on the fish fry. Tip: Make the drive up in the daylight if possible. Kill some time in Gouyave before the frying begins. Why? Because driving the twisting waterside roads that lead there in the island’s pitch black is, as it turns out, kind of scary.

And finally, in closing, I leave you with this general tip for traveling in Grenada: Don’t be (overly) alarmed by the men who walk around carrying machetes. Sure, sometimes they’re used as weapons, but more often than not in Grenada, they’re used as tools.

[photos by Ben Britz]

The Spice Isle: Making the most of a cruise stopover in Grenada

It’s official — the cruise season in Grenada has begun. Actually, the first day of the season fell on a day when I was there recently. I might’ve missed the influx because I was across the island during most of their 12-hour stay, but I saw the big boat sail in during my breakfast, and sail away during my dinner.

Ideally, you’d want several days on the island where you could see waterfalls in the inland mountains, leatherback turtles off the northern beaches, and French and British influences in the capital town of St. George’s. But if you plan it right, you can see some amazing things in the short amount of time.

Get out on the water:
I know. You might be thinking that the last thing you want after being on a cruise ship is to get on another boat. But a Grenada Seafaris boat isn’t just any boat. When it powers at full-speed, it’s a fun wind-in-your-face ride. And it stops for snorkeling at the underwater sculpture park, designed by Jason de Caires Taylor. The 2.5-hour tour also includes off-coast stops up the west coast and discussions about conservation and local marine life.
Enjoy the market in St. George’s:
Meandering through the two-block stretch of market in St. George’s is my kind of Saturday morning. It’s actually on every day, but Saturday is the most bustling.

One portion focuses on products and catering to tourists, selling spices, T-shirts, and hats. The other portion sells produce, mostly to locals: yams, onions, okra, oranges. My favorite finds seem to be exotic items in abundance: a cart piled high with young coconuts (and a floorful of tops that were chopped off), and overwhelming bundles of plantains.

I’d recommend taking the time (and eschewing any shyness) to talk with the vendors — that’s how I learned how to ripen the cherry-sized governor plums (roll them around in your palm for half a minute). Get to the market early to avoid the crowds and heat.

Let an expert show you around:
After arriving in a new port, it can take a half-day to orient yourself. In the same amount of time, you can let a guide drive you to some of the must-see sights.

Several tour guides — including Mandoo Toursand Sunsation Tours — are available with great half-day itineraries that hit these hot spots:

Concord Falls — A medium-sized waterfall and pool that makes a good choice for a swim
Dougaldston Spice Estate — An historic plantation/museum where cocoa and spices are grown and processed
Grand Etang — A national park in the inland mountains of the island that’s home to a rain forest, hiking trails, and lake

Walk the island’s longest beach:
The two-mile white-sand Grand Anse Beach offers up plenty of opportunities to enjoy the waterfront, whether you’re dipping your toes in the Caribbean-blue water, sitting on the sidelines of a game of beach soccer, or watching the sun set just behind Quarantine Point. If you make your way down the beach, you can check out one of the hotels along the stretch or see the work of craft artisans at the vendor market.

It’s easy to get to from St. George’s. Just catch the #1 bus (small, private minibuses, really) in either direction for EC$2.50 (US$1).

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.