Living in
Grenada – 2015

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Navigating this
Diary:

Entry and Exit
Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Five
Part Six


Photo Album

Living in Grenada, Part Four


Driving Around



A car is pretty much a necessity if one is to live successfully in De White House, for few Canadians would be able to walk the two kilometres into Gouyave, and then back, in the tropical heat, just to pick up a loaf of bread.  Without a car, you would have to be a far better logistics expert than we are, in order to keep yourself properly supplied.

But, having a car also means that exploring far and wide on the island is a real possibility.

I’ve already mentioned our trip down to St. George’s, when we got ourselves lost; but there were several other excursions that we made during this holiday, all with the real possibility of getting lost, or stuck, or both.

On one of the first of them, we went to Sauteurs.

Sauteurs

The story of European settlement in the Americas is not a pretty one, and some sorrowful chapters were certainly played out in Grenada.
A 40 metre cliff over water, with a beach in the foreground
“Carib’s Leap,” seen from Sauteurs
A 40-metre drop from the lip of the cliff to the rocks in the surf below

For example, there are no First Peoples on the island; no descendents of the original Carib inhabitants.  There is a simple reason for this: they were exterminated nearly four hundred years ago.  The Caribs, after being hospitable to the people who arrived from the sea, began to doubt the wisdom of their hospitality.  They attacked the settlers, who fought back with vastly superior weaponry.  After a series of skirmishes that the Caribs always lost, those who were still alive found themselves backed into a corner.  Actually they were forced up to a clifftop.  Either they could go down the slope and get killed by the soldiers, or they could leap off the cliff to their deaths.  They chose the latter.  Every last one of them.

That was in 1651.  The Europeans taking control of the place were French, and they named the place “Sauteurs,” which is old French for “leapers.”

Today there is a town at the back of that fatal cliff, and a large Roman Catholic church near its summit.  With respect to this latter, it would seem that not all the immigrants thought that the Caribs’ suicide was a good thing, because a memorial to the Caribs was soon erected at the site, and later a church, indicating, I hope, some measure of remorse.

I have always known the sad story of the leapers – it was family lore among my Grenadian forebears – so even though it is sorrowful, and doesn’t quite fit with a happy-go-lucky vacation, I wanted to visit.

We drove north from Gouyave, then turned inland after passing through the towns of Victoria and Non Pariel.  We got lost once or twice, as we went up into the hills, but there were always people about who cheerfully re-directed us, and eventually we emerged in the town of Sauteurs, parked, and walked about.  The view of the fatal cliff, both from the townsite, and from the clifftop itself, fills me with sadness, but the modern memorial, and the much older “souls” (a shrine intended to symbolize and encourage prayer for the immortal souls of the Caribs), are respecful and solemn and well worth the visit.

There is a school next door to the clifftop church, and while we were there, dozens of children burst forth on their recess and ran around, playing on the property.  Some came to the church’s gift shop, where we had stopped for coffee, and they filled the air with the boistrous exuberance of the living.

Of course, all their forebears were not Caribs, nor Europeans.  Their forebears were slaves, forcibly brought here by Europeans, long ago.  But it is their home now, and their parents are in charge.  They are beautifully and vigorously alive.

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The Grenadian Driver

Mary Schulz coined a saying: “Grenadians are generally very laid back, calm, relaxed and in no hurry; that is, until they get behind the wheel of a vehicle.”  We have repeated this to several Grenadians, and it always causes an acknowledging laugh.  No one will deny it.  In my first days of driving here, I could have sworn that Grenadian drivers were possessed by the devil.  Their cars hurtle down the narrow roads in such a fashion that one would expect to see wreckage at every turn.  And yet there is very little.  There are rusting and abandoned cars at the side of the road, to be sure, but they were obviously driven until they could move no further.  But accidents?  Surely there are some, as there are in every automotive society, but I never witnessed one, and I drove over 1,000 kilometres in my three weeks on the island.  Cars there are aplenty, all apparently being driven at great speed, but they are driven accurately.

De White House is built right on the main highway between St. George’s and Gouyave.  Well, the road is not exactly a “highway,” but it is Grenada’s main road, and countless vehicles pass along it day and night.  Private cars, with one or two people inside, working trucks of all shapes and sizes, and the island’s “busses,” jammed to the ceiling with passengers – all of these vehicles going at seemingly breakneck speeds.

The busses are particularly noteworthy.  They’re vans, actually, and privately owned; built to hold eight or nine people.  In each there is a driver – often the owner – and a passenger-handler.  The passenger-handler’s job is to take the fares, and to squeeze as many people in as possible.  We boarded one bus that had seventeen other passengers already in it – all pressed shoulder to shoulder on makeshift benches.  The centrifugal forces that acted upon us all, as the vehicle raced around corners, were quite memorable – not to mention the thought that we might go hurtling into the ditch – or worse, over a cliff.

Living in De White House, we can hear all these busses and cars and trucks as they drive past: engines churning, wind whistling over antenna and window, tires hissing the pavement.  The sound rises as they approach, and fades as they get further away.
vvrrooooommmmmmmmm
RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR
vvvvrrrooooooommmmmmmmm

On certain days, we occasionaly hear, instead, a sedate and quiet hum coming down the road.  A glance outside reveals a large bus passing slowly by – a real bus, in this case, with seats for twenty or thirty.  The passengers within sit sedately, in tidy rows.

“A cruise ship is in,” I say to Heather.

These are “cruise tour” busses.  When a cruise ship pulls in to the giant pier at St. George’s, passengers get off in orderly groups and are taken to numbered busses such as this.  They are then carried to various points of interest on the island.

Not for them is the pell-mell speed of your typical Grenadian driver.

It feels strange to see this placid and dignified bunch go by, for at another time it could have been we ourselves sitting in those seats, while locals peer at us from the doors of the houses that we pass.  But we’re not; we’re “living local”  ...and perhaps also driving local.

Tour busses seldom go further than Gouyave.  There is a nutmeg factory in Gouyave that they like to see, and a spice plantation, but then they return to St. George’s.  A few tours will go all the way to Sauteurs.

Almost none of them go to Levera.



Levera National Park

a cone-shaped island seen from a beach
Sugarloaf Island, seen from Levera beach
Remote and beautiful and seldom visited, Levera National Park, with its spectacular beach, is probably my favourite place in all of Grenada.  We went there twice.

Driving from Gouyave through Victoria and Non Pariel to Sauteurs, one continues across the northern tip of the island to a beach on the Atlantic coast, and then turns north again, until the pavement ends.  A sign announces a protected nesting ground for sea turtles.  Proceed over pot holes and washouts, until you reach a small parking lot.

Two men are there, in uniforms marked “Security.”  They don’t stop visitors from going out on the beach, but they keep an eye on everyone, ensuring that the turtle habitat is not harmed.

The beach itself is well over a kilometre in length.  Offshore we see a chain of small islands.  The nearest, known as “Sugarloaf Island,” is in the shape of a giant cone.  All of this is picture-postcard stuff, and even though few visitors get there, the beach and Sugarloaf Island frequently appear in tourist literature.

We didn’t see turtles.  The security guys say that February-March is not the season when turtles come ashore.

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Pearl

There is one other place to which we drove that is worth a mention: the Pearl airstrip.  Like Sauteurs, it is part of the painful past of the island, but this time the events it points to took place in the Twentieth Century, not the Seventeenth.

Grenada became fully independent from Great Britain in the mid-1970s, and in the first years after independence there was considerable instability.  The island’s only airport was at Pearl, but there was not room on that site to build a runway capable of accomodating modern jet aircraft.  The prime minister, Maurice Bishop, who had siezed power in a coup, arranged for the construction of a modern full-size landing strip on the southern tip of the island, and at the same time secured considerable engineering and military assistance from Cuba.  Then Bishop himself was overthrown and eventually executed, by more radical left-wing elements of his own government.
rotting hulk of an aircraft, with cow in foreground
Pearl Airstrip with abandoned aircraft, and cows

U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his advisors became convinced that the socialist coup leaders and the larger airport were the thin edge of Cuban military expansion in the region, and in 1983 the U.S. invaded Grenada.  Although there were only around 100 fatalities, both military and civilian, once the dust had settled the U.S. could boast that over 600 Cuban military advisors were captured in the invasion.

Two Russian-built Cuban aircraft remained at the Pearl airstrip after the Americans withdrew.  The airstrip itself was abandoned – replaced by Maurice Bishop’s modern airport – and those two Cuban planes just stayed where they were, slowly decaying.  Thirty years later, they’re still there – though now they are just rusting, empty shells, stripped by enterprising individuals of all reusable materials.  Cows and goats graze nearby.

As I stand in this peaceful, almost empty field, it is hard to imagine helicopters roaring overhead and the explosion of heavy ordnance.  In fact it is hard to imagine Grenada today as the scene of any sort of fearful thing...

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“Streit Tru” 1

On our way to Pearl Airstrip, there was only one moment where I felt fear, and that was when the very narrow and seldom used road we were on, crossed a small river.  The bridge was so insubstantial that I wondered if the weight of our car would make it collapse altogether, sending us plunging into the water below.  But I saw another car parked just beyond the far side of the bridge, and there was only one way for it to have come there, so...

I drove slowly on to the bridge’s deck, imagining that I could feel the whole thing waver under my wheels... and we crossed safely.

Pearl is almost directly across the island from Gouyave.  As the crow flies, it would be fifteen kilometres away, at most.  We had come the long way, around the northern coast, through Sauteurs and Levera, but the paper map said that we could return directly home across the central interior.  The road, though winding, was clearly indicated on the map as a “main” road.

There was an intersection that we needed to find, where the route across to Gouyave split off from the road that we were on.

But could we find that intersection?  There were roads and lanes running off to the right, but none of them had signage indicating Gouyave.  So, just as I had when we got lost in St. George’s, I turned on the GPS on my phone.  It would be very helpful... if it worked... and if there was a signal.

It seemed to work.  It said that we had missed the turn, so we went back, found the correct place and headed up the road.  Only to find a big sign that said, “Not a Through Road!”  Huh?  The little blinking dot on my phone said that my car was on the correct route.  What was going on!?

There was a restaurant or store at the place where we turned off, with several cars parked in front of it, and a man walking along.  We pulled over and asked him whether this was the road to Gouyave.  It had been, he said, but it is now closed.  A detour can be found “up there,” and he gave fairly clear directions.

The detour turned out to be one of the places we had thought was the correct route.  Just to be sure, we stopped and asked people as we went along.  One and all confirmed that this was now the only route that goes directly across Grenada to Gouyave.

The GPS on my phone showed us to be on what appeared to be a secondary or tertiary road, with a number of dead ends.  Crossing a bridge and reaching an intersection, my instincts told me to turn left, which I did, only to find myself on a path that petered out to nothing.  A woman was there, and said that we had made the wrong turn at the bridge.  I had to back up on this narrow trail for about 30 metres.  A number of people watched and shouted encouragement.  At the intersection, a man who had pulled his car over (since he would head up this path himself, once we got out of the way) assured us that after turning around, we would get to Gouyave quite satisfactorily.  “Jus’ go streit tru!” he said, which was very encouraging.

Never was there a less straight path.  Switchbacks and intersections abounded.  Werner watched the GPS locator, and said that we were paralleling the map’s idea of the “main” road.  And, it did seem that we were headed in the general direction of Gouyave.  We laughed and laughed, shouting “streit ‘tru!” as we came to a steep incline, or an intersection, or yet another switchback.  We held our breath when other traffic came our way, causing me to squeeze the car onto the edge of an impossibly deep ditch.  Mercifully, this happened infrequently.

As the road became steeper and more narrow, Werner took out his camera and made a video recording of our progress.  In the video you can hear us laugh and exclaim as a van rushes towards us, and again when the road turns sharply, then descends a steep hill.  You can see the video here.

Eventually we emerged unscathed on St. Peter’s road in Gouyave, just above Werner and Mary’s lodging at Willie’s Court.

We stopped there for dinner, and I promptly fell asleep on our friends’ bed, so exhausted was I from the stress of the drive.

That was early in our stay.  As time went by, I got more and more comfortable on Grenadian roads.  I probably never achieved the diabolical speeds that some drivers seemed to enjoy, but I did pass other traffic more regularly.  And I learned the Grenadian use of the automobile horn: always use short beeps, and, depending on context, one or two short beeps can mean, “I wish to pass,” or “Thanks for pulling over,” or even, “Hi! How’s it going!?”

On my last day in Grenada – about which more later – I was hurrying to the airport, where I had arranged to return my car to Joan, from “J & B Auto Rentals.”  When I pulled in at the agreed meeting place, Joan walked up to my window wearing a rueful grin.  Evidently she had been driving that same road at the same time, and I had just passed her.

She said, “You drive like a Grenadian!”  2

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A Beached Wife


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Today was devoted to swimming.  Mary is a little nervous about the beach that is across the road from De White House – mostly because it has some black sand and pebbles, and is thus (to her) unappetizing.  The obvious alternative is to go to the world-renowned white sand of Grand Anse beach.  But that is more than twenty kilometres south of here, on the other side of the town of St. George’s.  It requires a full-fledged excursion, not just a quick in-and-out beach visit.

So picnic things and beach gear were loaded into the car, and off we went.

Grand Anse is truly beautiful, with the turquoise sea rolling gently up the fine white sand.  We got there before noon, when the place was comparatively unoccupied, and found a spreading tree whose shade would protect us, somewhat, from the tropical sun.

I enjoyed going in, very much.  I wore my snorkelling gear, and looked around for some coral, and some underwater sea life.  Finding none, I basically swam, diving now and again to investigate some object at the bottom.  It was very pleasant.  Werner also came in, with his snorkelling gear, and being new to swimming with mask and flippers, he was somewhat awkward and uncertain.  I shouted encouragement and a few tips into his ear (you can’t wear hearing aids while swimming).  But he tired of the whole process quite quickly, and went to get out.

This provided hilarity for us, because, having not removed his flippers, he couldn’t walk, and chose instead to crawl up the shore until he was out of the surf.  We decided that he was re-enacting the moment when the first prehistoric amphibian – a great white one, of course – crawled up onto the land from the sea.  We laughed and laughed.  Werner enjoyed the joke, but also appreciated it when I explained to him (once his hearing aids were in) that one normally removes the flippers while still in the water – after which it is much simpler to walk out, carrying them.

This is the sea, of course, even if beautiful and blue and reasonably tranquil.  The swell makes a nice wave on the shore, with a normal, but powerful undertow.  And the leading edge of the wave, in its final tumble, and resulting mixture with the last wave’s return down the sandy slope, becomes a thick roiling soup of salt water and sand.  I mention this because of what happened to Heather.

She went down to the water with Mary, intending to swim, but found the undertow, and a sharp depression in the ground underwater, very difficult to negotiate.  She was at risk of losing her balance.  Mary held her hand, and advised her to turn sideways to the surf.  Whereupon Heather did lose her balance altogether, and fell into the sea.  She came up giggling, whereupon the next wave picked her up and tossed her around.  Mary tried to help her to get back on her feet, but Heather had so much sunblock on that she was like a greased pig, and kept slipping away from Mary, falling deeper into the waves.  Now her giggling was so intense she couldn’t stand if she tried.  Instead she tried rolling up towards dry land.  At first she was merely rolling above the flowing return of the last wave, but then the next wave – quite a big one – crashed over her, and she became completely helpless with laughter.

At which point some young ladies – students at the local university – swam to shore and tried to help get this old woman into a vertical position.  Heather kept gasping “I’m fine!” and bursting into another fit of giggles, until, with this large group of assistants, she was put back on her feet and stumbled up to the towels.

Heather, lying in the sand, surrounded by helpful young students
Helping an old woman into a vertical position
I heard the giggling, and thought that she was basically fine (and I would have regretted it and kicked myself into eternity had I been wrong), so I stayed where I was under the shade tree, and soon my nearly-hysterical bride was at my side.

Werner, too, did not run to the rescue.  Instead he recorded the whole thing on video.  At the end of the day, we viewed the video, and the four of us were swept once more into helpless hysterics.  The episode was extremely funny – given that it ended with absolutely no harm done.

Except this: you don’t lie like a beached fish in the roiling sand-filled surf without getting sand in your bathing suit and in pretty much every opening of the body.  At home, when Heather finally removed that bathing suit, she must have found five pounds of sand in the thing.  And much sand also had to be swept up from the apartment floor, and shaken out of the carpets.

I will show the video to my kids.  But it will not be put on YouTube.  Nor will I put it here, other than to post a single image from it, of the young students gathered around the beached fish.  Still, the video will likely become one of the most hilarious souvenirs of the whole holiday.

We left the beach about 3:30 PM, stopping in order to allow me to get some money out of an ATM, and to allow Heather and Mary to do some more grocery shopping (I swear they are attempting to provision an army!).  We were back at our apartment by about 5:00 PM.

I dropped Heather there, so she could begin the process of getting the sand out of her clothing and her body, and I drove Werner and Mary the rest of the way to their own accommodation in Gouyave.  After which I changed (not a lot of sand on me, since I didn’t roll in the surf), and helped Heather to clean up the piles of sand that had fallen off her (it really was an extraordinary amount).  After a short sit and a cup of coffee, I went back and fetched the Schulzes, and we all had supper together.


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Next: The Fearful Father


FOOTNOTES:

1  This chapter heading would ordinarily be spelled, “Straight Through,” but I’m trying to give an impression of how these words sound in the mouth of a Grenadian.  Heather thinks I should write “Stray-it True,” but I think the “ay” sound is too round.  The reality is a little more nasal to my ear.  But, no matter how it’s pronounced, it means, “You just drive straight through and you’ll be there in no time!”
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2  At the time, I took it as a compliment, though in retrospect I realize that she may actually have been worried about me denting her vehicle!  Oh dear.
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