Living in
Grenada – 2015

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Living in Grenada, Part One

An Alarming Start

Monday, February 16, 2015

Anyone who hates winter would say that the time we picked to go to the Caribbean could not have been better chosen.  Toronto is currently in the grip of a long-lasting and severe deep freeze.

We who live in Winnipeg, where great blasts of winter are common, can chuckle a little at the chaos such cold has managed to cause in Toronto, but no one would deny that this year the weather has been both unusual and extreme, right across the land.  Sympathy for the Maritimes, under tonnes of snow, and Toronto, in its deep freeze, is deserved, and most Canadians offer it freely.

Heather and I came to Toronto yesterday, staying overnight at a hotel near the airport.  The minute we checked in, the impact of the cold could be seen, and felt, even in our hotel!  The doors to the lobby failed to keep the frozen air outside, for example, and blasts of cold filled the space, so much so that staff at the reception desk had to wear their toques and mitts and winter coats, just to do their normal duties.

This morning we were getting ready for our day, packing our bags to go to the airport, when there came a “whooop, whooop, whooop” over the hotel intercom.

It had to be a fire alarm.  We were so nearly packed that we simply gathered up all our things, and proceeded (with everyone else on our floor) to the stairs.  When a fire alarm goes off, elevators don’t operate.

Down, down, down we all went in a long file, lugging heavy suitcases.

And then we passed a man coming up, and muttering “false alarm.”

But the alarm didn’t stop ringing, and fire trucks could be heard in the distance, coming towards our hotel.

The lobby, which was cold yesterday, was utterly freezing today, as people and firemen rushed back and forth.

En route to the tropics as we are, Heather and I do not have any true winter clothing with us.  We were wearing light spring jackets, scarves and gloves, and that’s about it.  In such attire, we really didn’t want to go outdoors and stand around in the -25° weather, waiting for an “all clear.”  So, given the suggestion from that guy in the stairs that the alarm was a false one, a bunch of us chose to linger in the hotel hallway, as far from the doors as we could get.

Then, while idly gazing about, I noticed that the hotel’s restaurant, just down the hall from us, was still serving food!  Heather and I had planned to eat breakfast there anyway, so in we went.  The fire alarm was obviously good for business, for every seat in the place was soon filled, but we found a booth, and were soon enjoying our food, with the alarm continuing to ring in the background.  Eventually it stopped, and the authoritative voice of a fire chief came over the public address system to say that people could now return to their rooms.  Although there was no explanation publicly given for the emergency, I suspect that the alarm was simply triggered by the extreme cold weather.

But we would soon put all of this behind us.  We were on our way to the tropics, to live there for three weeks!  What could be nicer?

We finished, paid, caught a shuttle bus, and before long were at the airport.

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Why Grenada? 1

Our destination is Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean.  Although our purpose is simply to rent a place to live, and enjoy the warmth, sea, and sun, we picked this particular island because it has a strong personal connection.  My mother was born there.

In 2011 Heather and I visited Grenada when our cruise ship stopped there, and for one day we went exploring.  It whetted our appetite, so this time we have arranged to stay in an “apartment” – a fully-equipped suite in a private home – and for three weeks, when we’re not lolling about on beaches, we may really get to know the place where my mother spent her childhood.

Tony's mother, Lorna Thomson, age 6, with her parents and sister
Tony’s mother, age 6, with her family, in Grenada, 1922
Lorna Thompson was born in 1916.  Although her father was not island-born, her mother – my grandmother – was from a family of white planters on the island.

But when Lorna was only ten years old, her father died.  My grandmother, suddenly alone with two children, decided to move to Canada.  She settled in Toronto, near some relatives who were able to help her through this difficult transition.  Thus it was that my mother grew up in Canada, met my dad, and proceeded to have me, and four other children.

And now here I am, in my seventies, going back to her birthplace to poke around and see what I can find.  My mom’s mother – my Gran – had several siblings, mostly sisters, all of whom were born on the island.  At least one of those sisters continued to live in Grenada all her life.  So there must be traces of the family on the island, and possibly even some distant relatives.

The plantation that was my grandmother’s family home was called the “Gouyave Estate,” and to this day there is a town to the north of the island called Gouyave. 2  If there are traces of the family anywhere, they should be around that town.  So when, searching online, we found a place for rent that is just outside Gouyave, we figured it would be a perfect base from which to do some exploring.

But like I say, this is primarily a tropical holiday, not a geneological research trip, so our friends, Werner and Mary Schulz, have also managed to rent a place in Gouyave for the same time that Heather and I are there.  The four of us plan to do lots of exploring, and swimming, and hanging around on beaches.  To that end, I have arranged to rent a car for the entire three week stay.

Grenada uses the British system wherein traffic drives on the left side of the road.  At my age, I think it would have been pretty foolish of me to plan to drive there, were it not for the fact that in the early 1970s I lived for almost three years in the West Indies, on the island of St. Kitt’s, which also uses the British system.  I owned a car, and drove it constantly.  So I figured that the skill should come back fairly quickly, even though such a long time has passed.

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The Road to Gouyave

Grenada’s airport is pretty small.  Stairs are pushed up to the side of the aircraft, which allow passengers to get down to the tarmac and walk across to the terminal building.

Retrieving baggage and passing through customs went fairly quickly for us, and soon we went out the front entrance of the terminal, into the sweet tropical night, looking for our rental car.

There are no car rental desks at this airport.  I had pre-arranged with J & B Auto Rentals, whom I found online, and was told to look for a woman carrying a sign with my name on it.

And there she was.  I soon learned that Joan is the “J” of J & B Auto Rentals.  She took us over to a bench, where we sat and filled out papers on her clipboard.  In due course, I had a temporary Grenadian driver’s licence, and the keys to a smart little Suzuki Escudo.  Joan led us to where it was parked in the airport driveway, and we loaded up all our things.

It felt funny going to the right-hand side of the car to get in the driver’s seat.  I took my place, and Joan pointed out the various controls (levers for turn indicators and windshield wipers, for example, are in the reverse position from what I am used to).

It was past dinner time, and we hadn’t eaten since morning, so Joan gave us directions to a restaurant, and we were on our way.

Okay... keep to the left.  If someone tries to pass, they’ll be coming up on the right!

To my great relief, the ability to drive correctly – without accidently finding myself heading into oncoming traffic – came back quickly, and soon I was quite comfortable.  Except, I frequently activated the windshield wipers when attempting to put on my turn indicators!

My goodness, though, but the roads seem so narrow!  And the island’s main highway appears to be little more than a two-lane street!  But we found the restaurant that Joan had directed us to, and had a lovely dinner.  The place was quite “upscale” and most of the patrons were white tourists, but the food was good.

From the dinner table, I phoned our host in Gouyave.  Morris Pompey welcomed us to the island, and explained that it would take us a minimum of forty-five minutes to get to the apartment that we’re renting from him.  “It is night, after all, and as a newcomer to our roads it would be best that you take your time.”

Oh.  Okay.

“Is your place easy to find from the highway?” I asked.

“It should be.  It’s right beside the road.  Not long after you pass the police station in Grand Roy, you will come to a netball court on your left.  The next house on your right is ours.  It is the only house, and there is a red Ford Explorer parked in front, on the driveway.”

We finished our meal, paid, and got back in the car.

The first part of the journey took us through St. George’s, the capital of Grenada, a ten-minute drive at the very most.  There were street lights enough for us to see something of our surroundings.

Uh-oh.  Traffic circle ahead!  Keep to the left!  Cars already in the circle will be coming from the right!

Joan, the car rental lady, had told us that the road to Gouyave would be pretty easy to find.  Going through St. George’s, it went right along the harbour.  Proceeding north, the sea would always be on our left.  The only difficult bit might be finding the “tunnel” near the centre of St. George’s.  Apparently the route goes right under a high bluff upon which one of the original English forts was built.

Well we did get lost trying to find that tunnel.  Following the road along the shoreline, we suddenly found ourselves in a dead end – actually a restaurant’s parking lot!  But a passer-by pointed out the turn that we had missed, and soon we were proceeding through a long and very narrow tunnel.

From there we passed a few more brightly-lit blocks, then found ourselves in a much more rural environmnet, where electric lighting is minimal.

The road twisted and turned.  Every once in a while we would come to a speed bump – sometimes marked, sometimes with only faint and faded markings.  Other kinds of bumps came along, too.  Pot-holes.  Most of which were not readily seen in the dark.  After several kilometres we began looking out for the “police station in Grand Roy,” and the “net-ball court,” as mentioned in that phone call with our host.

There was a petroleum terminal.  In another place, our headlights picked out a roadside wall of tires, all painted in vibrant colours.  Here and there we passed a roadside “bar,” from which music blared, and one or two men sat on chairs in the darkness, watching our car go by.

And there were dogs – apparently feral – scrawny, and bony, wandering beside the road, or curled upon themselves attacking fleas.  Their eyes would shine, reflecting our headlights.

We were not the only vehicle on the road.  Cars, and vans full of people, would occasionally pass us at breakneck speed.  I wondered how we could possibly get by one another on that narrow road, but we did!  An equally serious problem was that some drivers coming towards us apparently forgot to dim their headlights, temporarily blinding this elderly Canadian.  What was beyond those glaring lights?  A sharp turn?  A deep pothole?  A pedestrian?  A feral dog?  I slowed even more, until I could once more see.

Up steep hills, around blind turns, sometimes through little hamlets, sometimes with a rock wall on our right and a great black emptiness on our left – slowly we made our way northwards in the dark, kilometre after kilometre.

We never saw the “police station in Grand Roy,” but suddenly, on our left, a large chain-link fence loomed out of the darkness.  The “net ball court!” we exclaimed to one another.

And there, a hundred metres further down the road, a single brightly lit house with a vehicle parked in front.  We had arrived!

Morris met us.  He is courteous, with an air of quiet, good-natured dignity.  He and his wife lived much of their working lives in Canada – he, as a mid-level hospital administrator, and she as a health-care worker.  Upon retirement, they built this large house with their savings, having it constructed to Canadian standards, and deliberately planning to rent out not one, but two main floor suites, with a home for themselves on the second floor.

But Catherine, his wife, is not here.  As a matter of fact she is in Toronto, with their adult son, who is getting ready to be married.  And apparently she is already so accustomed to life back in the West Indies that the current Toronto deep freeze is far too much for her, and she has not stepped out of doors since arriving there!

The place where we shall be living is beautiful.  It is private, and clean, and airy, with all conveniences.  We can hear the bright call of tree frogs outside, and the roar of ocean surf across the road and down a slight hill.  We love it.

Morris even gave us eggs, orange juice, bread, and coffee – knowing that we would arrive late at night and without food.

And we are here, safe and sound, in our new temporary home in Grenada.  The adventure has begun.

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Next: De White House


1  A note about pronunciation: this island’s citizens call it “Gren-ay-dah,” or “Gren-eh-dah,” if you tend to say “eh” the way Canadians end some sentences, eh?  The city in Spain, on the other hand, is pronounced “Gren-aah-dah.”  Just thought you should know.
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2  Also, in case you’re wondering, Gouyave is pronounced, “gwaahv.”
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