Wednesday, December 7, 2011: St. George, Grenada
As the steel drum bands played, we arrived into St. George, the captial city of Grenada, the next stop on our Southern Caribbean itinerary. Today, our plan is to take the Spice Plantation tour route with Mandoo Seales, our superguide for the island. As we got our group together (about 8 of us in the van), we headed out to the parking lot where the cars, taxis, and buses were packed in to the lot so tight, pointed in a variety of directions and configurations, so that one car could move, 8 others had to make some sort of adjustment. It was a somewhat comical situation that only provided us with only a very short 5 minute delay for our day.
As we slowly drove through the congested streets of St. George, Mandoo mentioned that the island would like to have many more cruise ships in port to support the economy and to help with the rising unemployment rate (the result of hurricane Ivan in 2004 that devastated over 90% of all the buildings on the island). However, in looking around, the unfortunate reality was that it seemed that the parking lot scenario above, along with the traffic and hustle and bustle of the downtown area of St. George that even more one cruise ship would be one too many. Hopefully, there is a long term plan to address both the need to increase tourism as well as to provide the necessary infrastructure to make that a reality.
In just a few minutes we were out of the downtown area and headed towards our first stop of the day, and to Mandoo’s credit, once we had left St. George proper, the traffic thinned out substantially and the island began to take on the look and feel of many of our previous stops, one of relaxed and warm people sharing their piece of the Caribbean with the visitors.
Grenada is known throughout the world as one of the primary spice producers on the planet and today we would have a front row see to understand how this is done. As we drove along the roadways, much in the same way that Dominica had fruit growing everywhere, Grenada had spices of every size, shape, color, and smell.We passed nutmeg trees, cinnamon trees, bay leaves, cloves, and cocoa, allspice, ginger, tumeric, and saffron just to name a few! A little while later, we had arrived at our first stop of the day, a working spice plantation house, where we were invited in and to see the process first hand.
Mandoo is an extremely intelligent ambassador to the island, and his knowledge of all of the spices, as well as his commanding presence and delivery of information attracted tourists from all sorts of different groups to our table (each guide was supposed to do their own presentation at the spice house), swelling our little group of 8 to over 20 at one point. Although this was mildly irritating, Mandoo took it in stride offering the folks his business card and letting them know the cost of joining our tour, since it seemed that they wanted to be with us more than their own… That generally sent most back to their respective tour bus groups as he gently smiled and proceeded to his demonstration.
Nutmeg is the primary export from the island and we learned how these are grown, harvested, processed, and used in so many different cooking applications. At one time, Grenada was exporting 20% of the world’s supply, before hurricane Ivan came and devastated the island, dropping the available supply on the island by 40%. Mandoo believes that the island will be unable to make up the gap left by Ivan, not because of the loss of nutmeg trees (which could be replanted), but because of a lack of skilled farmers and a younger generation that no longer is interested in agriculture — a problem that seems to be global in nature and not specific to the tiny island of Grenada.
Once the nutmeg demonstration was completed, we had the chance to try fresh cinnamon, cloves, mace, allspice, and a variety of amazing fresh spices (fresh beats dried by a mile — whenever you can get fresh spices, it is worth the extra cost). In addition, the island is now growing a lot of cocoa beans. Mandoo presented us with a pod that possessed a slimy, alien looking center and everyone stared in slight nauseated awe. Within this pod, the cocoa beans are removed, dried for days in the sun, and then become the bitter chocolate flavor we come to expect in raw dark chocolate.
Outside, huge, wooden, trays on wheels were drying thousands of beans taking advantage of the available tropical sun. When the weather looked threatening, the trays were rolled (on those wheels and tracks) underneath the plantation house where they would be protected from moisture and mold until the sun came out again.
As we made our way back to our van, we stopped to see passion fruit and loofah growing on the trees and vines! One of the things that we are learning more and more as we travel is how important it is to participate in the growing of fruits, vegetables, and plants locally to reduce the reliance on products that need to be shipped from half a world away. Along with the obvious ecological benefits, fresh products from your garden (or nearby farmers market) really are better tasting!
Our next stop on the tour was to Grand Etang National Park where we got to take in a beautiful view of the island from above, but also to see the very engaging and rambunctious Mona monkeys. These sizable monkeys were hopping from place to place and taking bananas right from Mandoo’s hands. Natalie’s mom even got into the action when one found a perch on her shoulder to enjoy a morning snack. While we were here, we were able to pick up some excellent fresh spices as well.
Back down the hill and to the final stop of the day, Annandale falls. This waterfall and botanic garden provided a lush garden setting to enjoy the falls, along with a group of local jumpers that would leap off of the tops of the falls into the 20 foot deep pool below, in exchange of course for a tip for their trouble.
Following the stop here, we returned back to the ship as we elected to skip the optional beach stop at Grand Anse, as again the weather was leaning more towards the rain side of the equation, but all in all, it was a good day. We certainly hope that Grenada can continue to make forward progress on bringing back a number of their key industries, but if our visit was a benchmark, the wonderful people of this island nation are well on their way to a successful outcome.
Next up — we return to St. John, USVI for a day of sightseeing and beach time at Trunk Bay!