Thursday, June 14, 2007

Lovely island tour

June 14, 2007  Thursday

Today we took a tour of the island of Grenada.  Had a nice air-conditioned van and there were 9 of us on this tour – all cruisers.  We had not met any of these folks previously.  We had the same tour guide/driver that we had last year when we went to the Fishermen’s Birthday celebration in Gouyave.  He is a nice man and knows his island thoroughly.

First we visited a fort that overlooked St. George’s, the capital city of Grenada.  Actually there were 2 forts right next to one another.  One had been British and the other had been French.  The French fort was the larger of the two and also was better preserved.  Strange thing is that the name of the French fort was Fort Frederick, which does not sound at all French to us.  Grenada now uses Fort Frederick for water storage.  The lower levels of the fort are made into cisterns which are connected by pipes to the city water system.  Since the city is lower elevation than the fort, this assists in providing water pressure to the city water system; sort of a natural water tower since it is on top of a mountain and the city is down near sea level.

We saw several churches scattered about the island.  Many still had evidence of storm damage from Hurricane Ivan back in 2004.  Some churches had been totally destroyed in that hurricane and it appeared that no church on this island survived unscathed.  Hurricane Ivan killed 40 people on Grenada, and this is not a densely populated island. 

In 1955 Grenada was struck by Hurricane Janet.  They received assistance from many countries.  Venezuela constructed many small houses and shipped them to Grenada.  These became known as Janet Houses, and they are still found all over Grenada and people are still living in them.  Now, these are very tiny “houses” – basically one room with a roof.  Guess what.  The tiny wooden Janet Houses survived Hurricane Ivan better than any other structures on Grenada.  These basic wooden structures were 49 years old when they survived a Category 4 or 5 hurricane!  The 49-year-old tin roofs weren’t even blown off!  That is most impressive.

Many countries have donated or assisted by building things on Grenada, and not just because of hurricanes.  We saw bridges built by Taiwan, Japan and France.  We saw schools built by Canada, Great Britain and the United States.  The cricket stadium was built by the Chinese.  There are bridges, buildings, churches and schools spread out all over Grenada which have been built by assistance or donations from countries all over the world.  However, Japan insisted that Grenada agree to vote to allow Japan to continue whaling in exchange for building the bridge.  I asked Cuddy how many years Grenada has to vote to support whaling in exchange for Japan building the bridge and he believes that this agreement goes on forever.  Extortion???  Japan should be ashamed to force a poor country to support this controversial commercial enterprise in exchange for receiving a bridge that was needed to complete the roadway down the length of the island.  They should have either built the bridge with no stipulations or they should have stayed out of it altogether.  Grenada is divided into 4 parishes and each is separated by a river, so they did need quite a few bridges built and they really could not afford to build these bridges without outside financial assistance.

The views from the mountains were spectacular even on a rainy day like today.  Cuddy, our tour guide, stopped many times and explained the trees and plants growing alongside the roads.  Grenada is known as the spice island and literally everything grows here.  We saw cinnamon trees, nutmeg trees, cocoa trees and the very strange cocoa nuts, various kinds of banana plants, passion fruit plants (gorgeous flowers), lemon trees, lime trees, mandarin orange trees, starfruit or carombola trees, chin-up trees (fruit looks like tiny limes but is sweet tasting), trumpet plants, ginger plants, sandpaper trees (covered with very, very pretty long white flowers), cashew trees, wild lemon grass, almond trees and we can’t remember what else.  We saw so many different trees, nuts, fruits, plants, bushes and vines that it is impossible to remember them all.  For example, the leaves of one tree are used to scent cosmetics and soaps; but we can’t remember the name of that tree.  It had a very distinct smell.  Too much to absorb in one day.

Grand Etang is a large park in a rainforest area of the mountaintop.  There are waterfalls and crater lakes at Grand Etang.  Unfortunately, when we reached that area it was raining heavily; so we did not hike to the crater lake or waterfall as planned.  But we did catch a glimpse of the crater lake through the trees.  We also missed the monkeys because of the rain; but after my experience with monkeys in the Amazon Jungle last September, I really did not care that we missed seeing wild monkeys today.   The rain stopped and we were able to visit Annandale Falls, where there were beautiful plants and flowers and one small waterfall.  There were 2 guys who jumped from the top of the cliff along the side of the waterfall and landed in the pool beneath it.  Not that far of a jump but certainly higher than we would have attempted.  Hey, anything to make a buck from the tourists. 

The town of Grenville was our lunch stop for the day.  We enjoyed a true Caribbean meal: Bill selected jerk fish (which was quite spicy) and I opted for barbequed chicken.  These were served with callaloo (sort of like a spinach or turnip greens), yellow rice cooked with carrots and peas and onions and other tasty things, steamed pumpkin, yams (which are very dry and coarse textured), cooked green banana and dasheen (a Caribbean version of a potato which neither of us likes).  This was a much larger meal that we normally eat mid-day, but since there was so much food we could pick and choose what we thought tasted good and ignore the rest. 

Next stop was the Belmont Estate, which is a very ecologically friendly cocoa plantation and processing plant.  The grounds are beautiful and everything is run from huge solar panels.  We were shown a display of various fruits and nuts that are grown locally and each was explained to us.  Again, too much to absorb in one visit.  They gave us samples of cocoa tea, which looked like normal hot cocoa or hot chocolate; except it is watery instead of milky or creamy.  Tasted okay; but I prefer instant Swiss Miss, thank you very much.  They also gave us samples of Grenada Chocolate.  They make a 71% semi-sweet dark chocolate bar, as well as a 60% semi-sweet dark chocolate bar.  We have been hearing from other cruisers for a year now about how great these chocolate bars taste.  Well, they really are pretty darn good.  Bill bought one of the 71% and 5 of the 60% bars.  Each bar is about 7-inches long and 4-inches wide and ¼-inch thick.  These should last us awhile and really satisfy that craving when you want a bite of very good chocolate and nothing else will do.

The bugs starting biting me while we were inside the processing building of the chocolate plant.  And they didn’t stop for the rest of the afternoon.  Our next stop was the Rivers Rum factory.  We had a tour of the production facility starting with the water wheel that is used to crush the sugar cane.  This rum factory has been in operation since 1785 and is still using the same water wheel, powered by water from a nearby river that they divert to a channel leading to the wheel.  While standing down near the sugar cane residue that is discarded after the cane is crushed, the bugs again began biting me.  So I had to leave the tour and go sit in the van.  This meant that I missed the rest of the tour and missed the rum tasting – which I was all too glad to miss!  Rivers Rum makes a 69 volume rum and a 75 volume rum.  You can not board an airplane with the 75 volume rum!  Apparently it is a fire hazard.  So, of course, this is the rum that Bill chose to taste.  He said it tasted exactly like gasoline.  He claims to remember what gasoline tastes like from his teenage days of siphoning gas from one car to another and getting mouthfuls of gasoline.  I imagine once you have tasted gasoline that it isn’t something that you forget.  Bill chose not to purchase a bottle of Rivers Rum.  BTW, the rum factory tour guide made a point of saying more than once that it takes 12 days to make a batch of rum.  So that tells you right off the bat that this is not the quality of rum that has been aged 23 years.

Later we stopped at a beach next to a resort.  This was in St. David’s Parish.  As I said earlier, Grenada is divided into 4 parishes, which would be sort of like counties in the states.  Each parish has one or more parliamentary representative, depending on the population of the particular parish.  One parish is so thickly populated that it has 4 representatives.  Anyway, this particular beach in St. David’s Parish is Cuddy’s favorite beach on the island.  Seems that back in 1971 the owners of the resort blocked off the beach to make it private for their guests.  This upset the locals so much that they got the resort owner and tied him to a big almond tree down near the beach.  After their protest, a law was passed that designated all beaches in Grenada as being public.  A resort can be built on the beach, but that beach must remain open for use by the public.

The residents of St. David’s Parish were the instigators of each of the 3 revolutions that Grenada has endured.  I may have these dates wrong, but I believe Cuddy said that the revolutions occurred in 1795, 1955 and 1971.  The funny thing is that each of these 3 revolutions happened on March 12 and started in St. David’s.  Why did they choose March 12 as the day to overthrow governments each time they were fed up with the status quo?

The final stop on our tour was a roadside beer joint.  This was a tiny one-room place; except that it wasn’t even a real room.  Just partial walls and thatch roof with benches made from branches tied together.

Then we were dropped off in the parking lot at Prickly Bay Marina where we had left our dinghy this morning.  We met a couple we know having dinner in the restaurant there, so we visited awhile and ordered a pizza to go.  

Oh yeah, good news from our bank today.  They have deposited the $953.04 back into our checking account that was stolen by the ATM/debit card fraud earlier this week.  We still must file the paper claim form as soon as we receive it, but they have already returned our money.   We talked to the other cruisers in the van today about this problem.  Of the 6 couples we talked to today, 5 of us have had money fraudulently deducted from our banking accounts through ATM theft.  Wow!  It really is getting common.  Lucky our problem was caught so quickly.

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