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Trip Report Grenada February 2009 Trip report

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After a relaxing and interesting Tobago (2007) and Barbados (2008) winter break in the warm Caribbean, we (husband and wife, 50-is) have decided to check-out Grenada in 2009. There are much fewer posts then there were for the previous two islands, yet I have found Mrs. Kris / Pigsterz / Mymoosie to be a wealth of information, and she really helped me. As before, we have decided to split our time on the island between two places. To unwind and explore we chose Mango Bay Cottages (MBC) - http://www.mangobaygrenada.com/ - 7 nights, in the northwest part of the island, and for some quality beach time Grand Anse Beach Palace (GABP) - http://grenadabeachpalace.com/ - 4 nights, on the southwest end. In order to explore the island we needed a car which we rented from Sam Azar - http://azarsrentals.com/ - a 4x4 for 7 days. The booking and confirmation processes were all done directly, via email, and all of them responded quickly. Detailed reviews are posted separately.

We stayed on Grenada from January 30th till February 10th, 2009.

Day 1 Friday
Our flight from Venice via London via Antigua (45 min delay caused by the mess on the airstrip) to Grenada was normal, except for some quite annoying turbulence. BA’s Boeing 777 proved to be much more comfortable than Virgin’s Boeing 747 from last flight to Barbados. The immigration line was long but very quick, and once outside we were greeted by a warm breeze and our host for the first 7 days, Mr.Kai from MGC. It was already dark so we only stopped at Blue Machine ATM to withdraw some EC cash (the cash we brought with us was US$). Our VISA Electron card worked. A good start. Unfortunately, it was too late and we were too tired to go to Fish Friday, which we planned to see.

Day 2 Saturday
Our first day on Grenada. It was raining over night but morning was clear. The views from the porch of our cottage were excellent. After having a healthy breakfast prepared by Kai (we had a B&B plan), it was time for some research of the neighborhood. By foot, of course. There was not a lot to be seen around and thus we had decided to visit the nearby village of Gouyave using the frequent local minibuses, already known to us from previous two visits to Caribbean. The fare was 2,50 EC$ (1 US$). Soon we reached Gouyave, a fishing village with a bank, a gas station and a police station, which qualifies it as a town. There was one main street, a long stretch of beach, mainly used by fishermen, a few local eateries… hmmmm, not a single tourist in sight?! Maybe it was so, because it was Saturday, a day after Fish Friday, or maybe Grenada is really off the beaten track for mass tourism. After having a lunch at Kelly’s Hot Spot (chicken with rice, sweet potato and local vegetables and cow heel soup, 35,00 EC$ for both, drinks included) we boarded the bus to go back. Only to be confused as at the end of the town it turned around and went back and same again a few more times. Ah, yes, there were only 10 passengers on board – the bus driver was looking for more, before starting. After some honking and yelling and stopping we were heading towards St.George’s and MBC. This time the bus was fairly full (12 seats, 18 passengers). In the afternoon I took the refreshing swim at the MBC beach (50 m away, but they are vertical!). The sea was calm and clear, the sand dark grey due to volcanic origin of the island.

Day 3 Sunday
The rental car should have arrived at 9:00 a.m. – but Sam was there already at 8:45! It was the first time that the rental was waiting for me and not the other way around. Sam Azar is an efficient man and the papers were prepared, vehicle (Suzuki Escudo) inspected in less then 20 minutes. I became a proud owner of the Grenadinian driver’s license organized by the rental company and off we went, on our first Tour of Grenada. We took the northern route – Gouyave via Victoria to Sauteurs where we stopped at the Post office parking place and checked the church above it. Our next stop was Bathway beach on the Atlantic side of the island. The beach was nice, with very fine, light colored sand, green lawn and even had toilets and showers in the park above the road. The sea was choppy but the beach itself is protected by a coral reef, which forms a natural protected pool. No swimming for us this time, but it was time for lunch, 2 chicken legs and a Carib and Mauby for 26 EC$. After lunch we headed towards Grenville, passing by Lake Antoine and checking Belmont Estate. There were a lot of vehicles there (Sunday lunch) so we left it for next time. Grenville, the second biggest town on Grenada, with 2 main roads (one way in, other way out), was also deserted. Above Grenville, while checking on the map how to go back, we were approached by a local who was looking for a transport to St.George’s. So we got ourselves a guide, no more worries about being lost. We had talked a lot, so I didn’t pay much attention to the road itself, but it was narrow and in some parts very steep, with very deep trenches on both sides of the road! Passing the Grand Etang Lake we descended to Caribbean side near the Queen’s Park, where is the new National Stadium - an oversized (for Grenada) stadium used for 2007 Cricket World Cup, built (and financed) by Chinese People’s Republic. On the way toward MBC we had stopped in Grand Mal Bay at Sunset View Restaurant. We were only guests there, had Pina Colada (12 EC$) and coffee (4 EC$), took some photos of the nice beach and that was the end of our trip. Unfortunately, I forgot to check the odometer before starting, but I think that we made around 80 km in 8 hours. The dinner was at MBC, a very pleasant and interesting one. The hosts, Anja and Kai, are inviting guests to have a dinner with them, almost every evening. At breakfast they decide what will be on the menu (2 or 3 courses) and the dinner is like a family affair, very good food and interesting conversations.

Day 4 Monday
We decided to visit must-see / touristic destinations on the northern part of the island. We had started at Dougleston Estate, 5 min upriver before Gouyave. There was no entry fee. An older lady showed us several spices explaining their use and we thanked her with a 5 EC$ tip. Next was Nutmeg Factory in Gouyave (5,40 EC$ entry), where we joined a large group from a cruise ship. Yes, when the cruise ship is in town, which is almost every day (on the internet you could find the schedule of arrivals), the amount of tourists increases also in the north part of Grenada. The tour was interesting but short, since the factory itself is not big. After the Ivan it collects all the Grenada nutmeg production. Then we crossed the island through lush interior to the Atlantic side. The road was very narrow but with excellent views. The driver whom we asked for directions was very careful not to lose us. He was driving in front of us and every time when I needed to stop to take pictures he patiently waited for us. The hills and the valley are all green, pre-Ivan it must have been a heaven for botanists. In Carlton we saw a lovely old wooden house and stopped to take a photo. On the lawn we were greeted and kindly invited to take a tour of the house by the owner, Mr. Noël, ex-ambassador of Grenada at the UN. The tour was led by his daughter, a very attractive looking lady, all smiles and speaking excellent English (yes, we usually have had some problems understanding the local accent). No fee. We bought the Nut-med pain relief produced by them. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit their Balthazar Estate and gardens where they grow exotic tropical flowers many times awarded at Chelsea Flower Show. We arrived at the Belmont Estate after the lunch time and thus avoiding the cruise ship schedule and had the guide only to ourselves. He must have liked us, since the firstly announced 30 min tour ended after an hour and half, divided in information about cocoa processing, history of estate and walking around. Main product of Belmont Estate is cocoa and we tasted cocoa tea and of course bought some good dark chocolate here. They also have a tiny, but interesting and well organized, museum. It was almost 4 p.m. when we arrived at Lake Antoine Rum Distillery. The workers were out, cutting sugar cane, so the distillery process was stopped (as it is also on Saturdays and Sundays). We toured the place with a friendly and talkative guide (5 EC$ per person). The rum, even if airplane approved, is one nasty fiery stuff (69-71% alc./vol.). We returned via Sauteurs and Victoria to Gouyave, where we stopped for food, again at Kelly’s Hot Spot (fish or chicken with rice and potato and local vegetables, and drinks, 45 EC$ for two this time). The lady of the kitchen remembered us from day before, and she and my wife have exchanged some cooking secrets. Back at MBC we have enjoyed in the sunset.

Day 5 Tuesday
After we had covered almost all of the roads on the north part of Grenada, it was time, to check the southern part. We offered a lift to a pair from Germany, who were going to Grand Anse beach each day. Good move, since the road through the tunnel is only for one direction (the other way, of course) and there are some additional tricky spots on the road. For example, to engage the stoplight into green (it has a sensor), you should not stop a car too far from it, or it will never go green. After they showed us the entrance to the beach through a park, we headed towards La Sagesse. Finally it was time to get lost. So, the town we saw bellow was not like St.George’s, it was St.George’s! Back to the last crossroads and soon we were parked in front of the La Sagesse Centre. It might have been due to the weather (not much sun), or due to the heavy rain that turned a small river into a muddy one, yet the place did not appeal to us. Though highly rated by TA members, we didn’t feel the vibe there. Well, maybe next time. Laura Spice Garden was nice, small (you see the pattern already …) place, with an excellent guide, 2 other persons in our group (5 EC$ entry). In Bay Garden we had a personal guide as we were the only visitors there. Nice shade, some walking uphill (10 EC$), but we were not very impressed (the memories from Costa Rica are still fresh). Next stop was Fort Frederick. Finally, the tourist attraction WITH tourists. And LOT of them. Down in the pier we saw 2 cruise ships and all the parking places around the fort were occupied by minibuses and taxis. Just as they came they also left, so we got a parking place and made it inside the fort. Hmmm, did I already use the term “small”? Nicely restored fort, unfortunately empty except for the walls. But the views were great, and the light was optimal for taking a lot of photos of St. George’s. Since we had time to spend, the decision was made to check the beaches between Grand Anse and Point Salinas. First, we stopped at Morne Rouge where the Gem Resort is. Smaller then Grand Anse, there is a possibility to rent chairs and umbrellas; next was Porticcio (or Dr.Groom’s) beach where Beach House restaurant is located. It is even smaller and nicer then previous, but no chairs or umbrellas to rent. The restaurant allows the use of their beach tables and chairs. We ordered a coffee and had been asked “Regular or espresso?” which brought a broad smile to my face. “Espresso, due!” was the answer and also the introduction to a brief discussion with the property manager. This is a nice place, especially for a romantic dinner. The espresso was good and pricey – 9 EC$. So, until we returned to Europe, we went on regular. Magazine Beach is accessible through Rex by Grenadinians resort or via Aquarium Restaurant. We took the first approach, after having a short de-briefing with a guy at the entrance (all smiles and courtesy). There are 2 beaches, one for water sports and the other for swimming and sunbathing. Very well maintained, wooden chairs, a lot of manmade and natural shade, as one should expect from a resort in Rex by price range. We also tried to find the last beach on that stretch, the Pink Gin Beach, where La Source Resort is located, but we didn’t have adequate directions so we called off for a day and returned to MBC for another family dinner.

Day 6 Wednesday
Back to the north. There is one road that goes towards Sauteurs and on the map looks like it is near the sea. Difficult to find the entrance/exit for it, but with help from Kai and Anja, we were successful. It does not follow the beach but passes Mt.Alexandre. There, we took an older man on board and drove him to Sauteurs. As “taxi fare” he offered us 3 bananas and 2 oranges, all 100% eco, he claimed. Great, we have our lunch! And of course he gave us a brief history of that part of the island. We passed by Almost Paradise and Petit Anse (both must have great views) and on the beach before Sauteurs we stopped at the Pastor’s shop – a tiny blue wooden house surrounded with hammocks and benches. Owner is a local pastor Joshua who sells snacks and great salt fish sandwiches. He was so positively surprised when we told him that his salt fish sandwiches are known not only to local folks. We engaged him in a lengthy conversation about local life and world economics. Since the Coca Cola truck didn’t arrive yet, he served us 2 fresh coconuts with straws. It suited me better, anyway. On the other side of Sauteurs Bay is Helvellyn House, an old stone house with nice garden and great views. There you can have lunch (60 EC$) upon prior appointment. The small pottery shop is downhill from the house. Levera beach was our main destination for the day, and we reached it via Bathway, since the road is better and no walking is needed to reach the beach itself. It is a wide expanse of pale yellow sand with a small island named Sugar Loaf just offshore (the house on it can be rented). The sea is rough here and the shade is far from the sea, so this beach was the most deserted one, best for taking a walk along it. For swimming, it is better to head back to Bathway beach, which we also did. Only, this day the sea was too rough even behind the protective reef. So after a beer and a few photos (or was it the other way around?!) we went back through Grenville and over the interior to Gouyave. We were instructed that the best time for visiting Concorde Falls for taking pictures is around 4 p.m. We had arrived there at 5 p.m. The sun was still there, but the entry was (almost) closed. They let us go downstairs to the pool below the fall for free, otherwise the entry is 5 EC$. No swimming as the rain started. In their shop we bought some tasty nutmeg cakes, as there was no dinner at MBC.

Day 7 Thursday
Since after all, these were our holidays, we decided to take a break. DW took a book and I went snorkeling at MBC. I saw the usual gang of tropical fish, with a trumpet fish as a bonus. The water was not very clear due to rainy nights and also the sun was hiding behind the clouds. Snorkeling was very safe as there were no noticeable currents or undertows. After that, some more swimming and reading on a shady porch. In the afternoon DW decided to check out St. George’s shopping. Our first (and thankfully last) stop was Esplanade Mall at cruise ship terminal. Half of the stores were closed (yes, no cruise ship in town) but I had been lucky that we found the right one working and I bought her (at least I was present when the transaction was done) a present for her b'day the next day. I am O.K. now, for the rest of the year.

Day 8 Friday
Time to say goodbye to Anja and Kai. We had a really great time here, nice pastel colored cottages, with beautiful views from porches, tranquil neighborhood, good beaches for swimming, great food, pleasant and knowledgeable hosts… Only the approach road was a bit tricky after the heavy rain – a 4x4 came handy. We found Grand Anse Beach Palace at once. This 18 rooms / apartments hotel is located at the north end of Grand Anse beach, on the beach itself. It was early when we arrived but Jovari, a young and helpful “junior manager” had already arranged that we could leave the luggage in the room. To fully exploit the rental car we then drove towards Woburn Bay to see La Phare Bleu, famous ship-restaurant. A couple from Swiss has bought and old Swedish lighthouse ship, renovated and transported it to Grenada! Quite an achievement. There is now a marina and a holiday resort, with several bungalows and apartments. The Marina was almost full. We checked the interior of the ship and later had a cold drink at the restaurant. We had accepted an invitation to see one of the resort bungalows. Very nice, with an almost luxurious interior, and the price was almost too low to believe – we’ve been told that a daily rent for a house with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, living room with LCD TV and DVD player, kitchen, verandah, etc. is 130 US$ per night. Unbelievable! Back home, I checked their web page, and of course the price stated there, is almost double. Maybe we have just missed the occasion of the month? Next stop was Prickley Bay and this must be a Grenada version of Beverly Hills. There are many villas, some with excellent architecture others, well, villas. I have read a lot about Lance aux Epines cottages (LAEC) and of course we stopped there also. Very nice place, owned by a local family, quite big cottages, almost houses, are placed in the well maintained garden. The beach is sandy and the sea was calm, only the extensive number of various types of sailing boats and yachts anchored there somehow obstructed the view. Mrs. Thania showed us one apartment that was not occupied that day. It was very spacious and clean, with all the amenities needed. The houses in the garden looked to be even bigger. Not really cheap, but great value, if travelling as a family with kids, especially if they are young. Since my DW is a M.D. the visit to the St.George’s University (SGU) was a must. After explaining where we came from and why we would like to see the campus from the inside, the young guard on the entry gate, kindly let us in with a car. Well, if I would ever start the “third lifetime period” study it would be here. Spacious grounds and lot of students from all parts of the globe make an invigorating environment. They were all smiling and a sense of positive vibe was floating all over the campus. After touring the SGU we needed to go back to GABP since the b’day dinner at Boots Cuisine was booked. We had spotted the place while driving by before, so it was easy to find it even in the darkness of the early evening. We were first guests there, and had thus the special attention of Ruby, while chef Boots was preparing deliciously smelling food in the kitchen. The menu here is fixed. For 70 EC$ per person you get 3 different entries, choose one out of three main courses and have a desert. The food tasted as delicious as it smelled, and the courtesy of the hosts was great. Later, when also other guests were served (max capacity is 10, counting the chairs I saw), also chef Boots joined us for a brief photo session.

Day 9 Saturday
Independence Day! I haven’t mentioned before, but everywhere on Grenada, there were flags and colors of Grenada! Young and old wore yellow, red or green clothes. Many of them told us, that they were going to be at the stadium, where the parade would take place, so this is where we had to be also. On the way to the stadium we had seen the members of the parade, preparing for the short march to the stadium. We were early, so it was easy to find the parking, and also the good seats under the roof (good decision as later it rained – not for long, but one could get wet). The band entered first, followed by fine examples of local uniformed forces of both sexes. The local Correctional Institute sent out a squadron of 20 men and women and I was wondering if the prisoners are also somewhere on the stadium or they just got a day off ??!! The presence of all important persons of Grenada political life was “announced” by some young, fit, well dressed, good looking guys positioned strategically around the VIP tribune. The program was as usual, marching around, rising of the flag, etc. The best part was when, while playing in front of the dignitaries, a young member of the band started to breakdance. Boy, he was good, and everybody enjoyed it. Around midday the parade ended and it took another 45 minutes before we were able to leave the parking (first in, last out system). Not a problem, since we decided to take our time taking tons of photos of colorfully dressed folks. The road closest to the stadium goes towards Annandale Waterfall and Grand Etang Lake. At the lake, a group of local guides (no ships, so also their day off) were preparing the oil down. It was too early to have it tasted, so they handed us 2 beers instead, and a handful of information about the area and how to prepare the “oil down”. Equipped with newly acquired knowledge, we were able to find the exit for Annandale Waterfall, a very nice place, and it was almost empty due to obvious reason. Well, that is why there were no Annandale Daredevils to jump off the cliff either. The dinner was booked at Little Dipper, another small, locally run restaurant. There were some yachters already present. We ordered callaloo soup and kingfish and drinks. The dinner was very tasty and good priced (80 RC$ total). The place has beautiful views over the bay and is open also for lunches.

Day 10 Sunday
Sam came for his car and he was again on time. Without a car, Grand Anse beach was our destination. Easy to stroll around, with vendors positioned strategically around the cruise ship pier and Spice&Craft Market. Enough shade under the trees or if you want to be near the sea there are also plenty of umbrellas and chairs to rent. The daily price is around 20 EC$, not sure because we haven’t rented any. We put our towels in the shade and spend an hour or two with people watching, photo taking and reading. Then we just moved to another tree that we found interesting. For lunch and to cool down we went to KFC. In the afternoon we strolled back. Next door to GABP is newly opened (renovated) beach bar and restaurant named Foolish Chicken, a good spot for sundowner and sunset watching.

Day 11 Monday
St. George’s was our destination for the day. Buses were easy to catch, the fare was usually 2,5 EC$ per person. First stop was Fort George. We walked around it then wandered inside. This place looks like a ruin but there are good views over the town, down towards the cruise ship pier, and into the maze of narrow alleys full of locals and tourists. Not many shops that offer decent shopping (happy me). To avoid the heat we entered into some shops with local crafts, and found a small Art Gallery where we met an interesting artist named Freddy Paul. We bought 2 of his works after having an interesting discussion about art and life. We did not loose much time at the National Museum, although we checked everything displayed, so we spent more time in one of the Carenage’s bars where we entered into a lengthy discussion with a British guy who was interested in visiting our country. We watched the sunset from the verandah of the GABP. As previous days, we have been asked by the owners, how our day was. So kind when you come to the hotel and you are treated as a person and not as a number. That is why we prefer small, privately owned establishments over the bigger ones, even if the others usually provide more amenities.

Day 12 Tuesday
Our last day on Grenada (at least for this year). The owners of GABP kindly allowed us to use the room until 4 p.m., as our flight was an evening one. We were even invited to share a lunch with them, compliments of the house. We went back to Grand Anse beach for more shade bathing and last minute shopping. Packing was, as always, done by DW, and the results of shopping were evident in increased weight of the suitcase. BA was on time, flight back to Europe shorter then the incoming one, and after 24 hours we came back home.

Summary: all our pre-trip expectations were fulfilled, which also means that the information about Grenada by various posters was correct. The most memorable part of our trip was the people we met. Everywhere we were greeted as friends and felt as a part of the island life. ALL of them were friendly and open and warm, always smiling and it seemed that they are satisfied with the life they have. We felt VERY safe, never been harassed and everybody took our “No, thank You” as a definite decision. We have spent more time talking to people then almost anywhere before. Next on the “most memorable” list is the feeling that Grenada is still “off the beaten path”. There is no shortage of touristic spots but it is so easy to feel like a traveler and not like a tourist.

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