Today the islands of the Caribbean cruise calmly between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and between our modern times and days long gone. Grenada floats in its own patch of blue ocean at 5 o’clock on the familiar half circle of Caribbean Islands, just north of Trinidad and Venezuela. It’s the last in the chain of the evocatively named Windward Islands, with its tiny sister island “Carriacou” just over the horizon. It’s an independent country, English is the primary language, cars drive on the left, and British (and European) families love to escape their winters on Grenadian beaches.
Called “The Spice Island” because of its extravagant harvest of nutmeg (and other spices) Grenada is as verdant and beautiful as any island in the Caribbean. Its first-class hotels are famous for their style and comfort and service. Its beaches are spectacular. And the island is largely unspoiled. The forested mountains in its center are a protected National Park.
But Grenada is on the outer edge of American vacation daydreams, though it’s not much further from the east coast than other Caribbean getaways. Maybe that’s because there are so few direct flights. Perhaps it’s the thought of driving in crazy island traffic on the “wrong” side of the road. Or maybe it’s the memory of the communist takeover and subsequent US invasion of Grenada in the 1980s. These and competition from more famous beach blanket hotspots in Florida and Mexico and the Caribbean have kept Grenada off most American vacation itineraries. Not to mention that Grenada just doesn’t have that many hotel rooms.
So how did we get there, my wife my son and I? Every winter the New York Times Travel Show has a charity auction to raise money to train island students in “Hospitality Trades”. I made the $600 opening bid for three nights at the Mount Cinnamon Resort in Grenada and won. And for a couple of bucks more the hotel upgraded us to a two-story suite. When we got there, we couldn’t believe our luck. The place was luxurious, and the view was spectacular. We loved it right away. We could have been happy just lounging in the breeze and sipping wine on the portico for the whole three days. But we didn’t; we had things to do. Important things. Like… breakfast!
Mount Cinnamon is, well, on a mount, a steep hillside overlooking Grande Anse Bay. The price for our world-class view was a stiff walk up or down. Going down wasn’t so bad, and breakfast was the siren call. It called us every morning; and we answered. The dining area was on a breezy veranda with wood plank floors, stucco walls, wooden beams and that great view out over the bay. Palm fronds shimmered in the breeze. Calypso and reggae from hidden speakers sweetened the mood. A tiny bird fluttered over. He took a perch on my bowl and a bite out of my watermelon chunk. He didn’t eat much, and he seemed to like it as much as me. The staff was unfailingly pleasant. They smiled and said “good morning.” We could have stayed there all day, lounging, talking, sipping coffee, watching the cruise ships in the distance inch into the docks in St Georges. But we didn’t. We had things to do. Important things. Like…beach combing!
The Italian/Spanish style villas at The Mount Cinnamon Resort and their red-tiled roofs walk down the hillside toward the water but stop short. A hundred-yard stroll through lawns and gardens and palm trees took us to the beach; Grande Anse beach. It’s a two and a half mile curve of white sand and blue water sprinkled lightly with boats and tiki bars, scuba shacks and bikinis. The hotels don’t announce themselves loudly. The Spice Island, the Coyaba and the Allamanda Beach Resorts and others sneak out from behind the palm trees and step quietly onto the sand. The Spice Island Resort is sedated and classy with low buildings, white table cloths, dark wood, and creamy canvas table umbrellas. In its gardens flowering plants dream away in the shade and stone Buddhas meditate beside bubbling fountains. While the morning joggers pass by on the beach and the pink clouds turn into white cotton, the morning staff sweep the walkways and the barmen polish their wine glasses.
We could have strolled on the beach all day, my son and my wife and I. Sucked up the rays, floated in the water, scooted around the bay on a Hobie, envied the hand holding honeymooners and their slim bodies. We could have, but we didn’t. We had things to do. Important things. Like……Scuba Diving!
Scuba shops dot Grand Anse beach. Echo Divers, Aquanauts, Dive Grenada, etc. Tucked away in pastel wooden shacks, the red and white scuba flags on their walls signal a chance to check out the deep. Coral reefs and shipwrecks are scattered all over the bottom of Grand Anse Bay and of course further out around the island. We went out with Dive Grenada, the dive shop partnered with the Mount Cinnamon. Owned and run for years by British expat Phil Saye, the operation is professional but relaxed. They take out only small groups of divers to Dragon Bay, the wreck of the Veronica, the Molinere Underwater Sculpture Garden and all of the rest of the reefs and wrecks in the area. They also go out to the stunning and famous 600-foot long wreck of the Bianca C cruise ship, a bucket list dive in 110 feet of water, (advanced divers only please).
The dive masters and captains were local guys (and girl). Divemaster Brittany smiled for a picture as she lugged three scuba tanks at once from the shack, across the sand, out into the water and onto the boat. She wasn’t even breathing hard. All the crew were experienced, helpful, and great company too. They smiled and joked with us while they helped us gear up. Strong ocean currents run up from South America and around Grenada. So the rule is that everyone flops backward off the boat at the same time and the group stays together. That we did with a splash, clearing our ears and signaling “OK” as we sank to the bottom. Scuba diving is time spent in a kind of dream, gliding silently over the coral reef in all its shapes and colors and resident fish. We came to a small wreck with its winches and hatches encrusted with coral and frozen in place. Spotted moray eels peered out from their hideaways, a hovering barracuda gave us a sinister grin, and a shy sea turtle lumbered off into the blue distance. Every scuba diver dreams of drifting weightlessly all day through these scenes. Alas, it isn’t possible. And anyway we had things to do. Important things like…Lunch!
Once the dive boat put in back on the beach and we rinsed off our masks and regulators, we realized we had worked up an appetite. Along Grand Anse beach there are lots of places to have an excellent meal, or a beer and a burger, or a couple of exotic umbrella drinks to get your party started. Mount Cinnamon’s beach eatery, Savvy, is a big open-air tent with a bar and a sophisticated menu. The Spice Island restaurant has lots of inviting tables under a roof in the shade on the patio. But we walked further down the beach to check out the more budget friendly “Umbrellas” next to EcoDive. It’s a double-decker burger shack open to the breeze, with a balcony view of the beach.
The noontime Caribbean sun is hot, and we called for some cool drinks while we waited to experience the islands traditional foods. After the exertion of the morning dives, it was great to sit back and take in the scene. European and South American families were checking out the menu. The Grenadian waitresses were quick and friendly. A group of pretty American coeds from St Georges Medical School were ordering Bahama Mamas and Crimson Mojitos. They clinked their glasses and made toasts to “studying more and partying less” while they chatted and giggled and slowly got smashed. It was fun to watch them but hard to see how this was going to help.
At first, the bill shocked us. Ninety bucks for a light lunch? But that was in “EC,” Eastern Caribbean dollars. It came to around $36 US for the three of us. Not bad for a tourist place on the beach. We could have stayed there all day, talking, sipping, watching the dive boats load up and head out in the blazing sunshine for their afternoon dive. But we didn’t. We had things to do. Important things. Like… a road trip!
A guy we had met offered to take us around the island for a pretty good price, and we were due to meet up. John, a Canadian, had moved down from Toronto seventeen years ago. He was a practical and energetic sort, an engineer. He was perfect in a way for the islands, yet in other ways at odds with the Caribbean soul. He loved it in Grenada though and was full of information about the island. What it was like when hurricane Ivan hit, where the best island food was, inside scoops on government corruption and how the Chinese were working on aid projects to ingratiate themselves in the hemisphere. He picked us up and drove north around the bay, through St Georges town, and up the high road into the mountains.
We passed signs for waterfalls and hiking trails as the road curved and climbed, and the woods grew thick. The rainy season was over, but the green remained. I was amazed at the extent of the forest when we finally got to a high point. Green mountain tops went on for miles. Development and deforestation stop, I guess, when the slopes get too arduous. And these low mountains were sharply cut and steep. The clouds were grey now, and the chilly wind swept them low. My picture of a rainforest is one hot and humid with dripping wet leaves and muddy trails. Now with the rains gone these woods were dry and crisp, and the dirt paths were hard.
John pulled over, and we took a walk up a trail that had been carved out by the park service. After a while, it leads to a wooden lookout tower. Oh well, surrounded by tall trees and mountains it didn’t give us the 360-degree view we had hoped for. Just peeks at tiny white sails away on the blue horizon between green mountains. We hiked and talked and took a dip in a pool below a waterfall. We looked for monkeys, but today they weren’t hungry for the bananas John had brought along. Mona monkeys are old world primates whose ancestors survived the trip over on slavers centuries ago.