Americas Culture

Grenada – The Spice Island

The Spice Island

The island of Grenada covers approximately 133 square miles is a mere 21 miles long and 12 miles wide. However, the nation of Grenada, the most southerly of the Windward Islands, is actually made up of three islands: Grenada is the largest; followed by Carriacou at 13 square miles; and Petit Martinique only 486 acres.

Over the centuries Grenada has answered to a number of different names. Way back the Arawaks called it Ciboney. They were deposed by the Amerindians who knew it as Camerhogue. Christopher Columbus spotted it in 1498 and changed it to Concepcion Island. To Spanish sailors its lush green landscape reminded them so much of Andalusia they called it Granada. Then the French arrived who preferred La Grenade, followed by the British who adapted Grenade to what we know today – Grenada.

Spice market

After various struggles Europeans managed to take control of the island in the middle of the 17th century but this brought about major squabbles over ownership that went on for decades between the French and British. Grenada became fully British in 1783 and in 1974 received independence.

But it was the period of the colonists that were some of Grenada’s darkest days – the days of slavery. The arrival of the French resulted in the enslavement of the few remaining Carib people. However, so few of them remained that there were nowhere near enough to work the plantations, so the French looked to West Africa for additional slaves, a trend which was continued by the British. Slavery was abolished in 1834 by which time the slave population was some 24,000 – the sugar plantations having been extended to the introduction of other valuable trading crops such as cacao, cotton, and spices including nutmeg.

St George’s

St George’s, Grenada’s capital is considered to be one of the most picturesque towns in the Caribbean. And it would be hard to argue. From its beautiful horse-shoe shaped harbour to the ranks of buildings rising in tiers to the forts on top of the ridge it is certainly worth at least a day’s exploration.

A good place to start is the market square, a lively bustling square, especially on a Saturday morning when it is filled with local stall holders selling their tropical fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices. But its past has not always been so colourful, once it was the site where slaves were traded and executions took place.

The town dates back to 1650 and traces of its colonial French and British past are still in evidence. The National Museum on the corner of Young and Monckton Streets is a fine example. Built by the French in 1704 it is one of the town’s oldest buildings and is home to artifacts of the Carib inhabitants as well as examples of the island’s more recent history. Another intriguing museum is the Mabuya Fishermen Museum displaying whale bones and other sea faring exhibits.

Stroll around the Carenage, St George’s lively inner harbour. It’s a good place for restaurants and bars. The two parts of St George’s are separated by high ridge which were joined together by the building of the Sendall Tunnel – 12’ high and 340’ long – quite a feat of engineering in 1895. On the ridges are the historic forts. It is a climb to reach them but the views are nothing short of spectacular.

Local characters

Exploring the Island

Just outside St George’s are the Botanical Gardens and Bay Gardens, a photographer’s idea of heaven with their many exotic and colourful Caribbean plants.

There is no question about Grenada’s glorious beaches but its interior, reached by narrow winding roads up through the rain forest, is special too.

The Levera National Park combines the best of both worlds – dramatic scenery and a beautiful beach. Or follow Mike Hampshire’s example and visit Belmont Estate – an authentic 17th century plantation. Apart from offering an opportunity of learning about plantation life Belmont also works closely with The Grenada Chocolate Company – famous for its dark organic chocolate.

Set deep in the rain forest is the Grand Etang National Park and Forest Reserve where visitors can get glimpses of Mount Qua Qua and discover the 13-acre lake in a volcano’s crater, some 1740’ above sea level. There are clearly marked trails (take water proof clothing and sensible shoes to be on the safe side – it is a rain forest!) and keep eyes open for monkeys or an armadillo plus a variety of birds.

The island’s waterfalls attract a lot of attention – apart from being lovely to look at they can be fun too – try riding down the Marquis Falls on large leaves.

Close by the three-level Concord Falls near Gouyave is the Dougaldston Estate. It is now a nutmeg and mace co-operative with its own spice factory.

Fish Friday

Fish and wrecks

Gouyave is also where the weekly Fish Friday festival takes place. It has a great party atmosphere, the fish is fresh and good and the meals inexpensive.

And for snorkling and diving aficionados Grenada is a perfect destination. Reefs and wrecks abound and are easily accessible. It is possible to snorkel over the world’s first Underwater Sculpture Park and dive the 22 wrecks and reefs at over 50 sites – including the Bianca C wreck. The statue ‘Christ of the Deep’ in St George’s harbour commemorates the courage of the Grenadians who saved so many lives following the sinking in 1961 of the Bianca C.


Photos courtesy of Mike Hampshire

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