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THE CARIBBEAN

All Quiet on Grenada

A marriage of tranquillity, scenery and adventure on the 'spice island.'

January 26, 2003|Rita Colorito | Special to The Times

St. George's, Grenada — Only a sprinkling of early stars and a few twinkles of light from the runway poked through the black sky the night we arrived at Grenada's small Point Salines International Airport. The next morning we awoke to a Technicolor world of lush, misty-green mountaintops and transparent azure seas -- a panorama unspoiled by the concrete jungle of high-rise hotels found on some Caribbean islands.

We found this quiet paradise by chance as we researched destinations for our belated honeymoon. Put off by pricey sprawling resorts and glittering nightspots, my husband, Bret, and I chose Grenada (gre-NAY-da) for our May visit because it promised the exact opposite and much more. The southernmost of the Windward Islands occupies 133 square miles -- it's about twice the size of Washington, D.C. -- and lies north of Venezuela. It is a beautiful and verdant land, a wonderful place to explore, with an extensive rain forest, numerous beaches, waterfalls, volcanic mountains, mangrove estuaries and crater lakes. There are 150 species of birds. Spice plantations, rum distilleries and colonial forts round out the picture.

Grenada's pluses don't extend to its accessibility, though. With few direct flights, it took us three planes to get here. But after flying over congested San Juan, Puerto Rico, we knew we had made a wise choice.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 15 inches; 548 words Type of Material: Correction
Grenada ferry -- An article in the Travel section Jan. 26 on the Caribbean island of Grenada incorrectly stated that the Osprey Express boat from Grenada to Carriacou Island offers service only six days a week. The ferry operates daily.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday February 09, 2003 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 5 inches; 180 words Type of Material: Correction
Grenada ferry -- A Travel section story on the Caribbean island ("All Quiet on Grenada," Jan. 26) incorrectly stated that the Osprey Express boat from Grenada to Carriacou Island offers service only six days a week. The ferry operates daily.

We spent most days unwinding on uncrowded, crescent-shaped Morne Rouge Bay, where we stayed at Gem Holiday Beach Resort. To escape the equatorial sun, we dragged our chairs under manganeel trees that dot the sugar-fine, slightly shelly beach. We cooled off by snorkeling over kelp beds close to shore.

We experienced a surreal solitude throughout our visit: It was hard to believe this island had suffered so much turmoil. The island was originally inhabited by Arawak and Carib Indians, and Christopher Columbus sailed by in 1498. Because of Grenada's profitable sugar cane industry, the British and French fought over it from 1650 to 1783, when it was ceded to the British. In 1974 Grenada gained full independence.

Revolutionary leader Maurice Bishop seized power in 1979, establishing a Marxist government. In 1983 Bishop was executed by a radical faction within his party.

In October that year, U.S. Marines led a mission to liberate the island from an alleged Cuban-backed takeover. The nation is now part of the British Commonwealth.

Many U.S. residents remember the invasion. Many also know about the medical school and university here, St. George's, which draws more than 2,000 U.S. students annually.

But most are unaware of Grenada's charms.

A fragrant round of shopping

To learn more, we ventured into the quaint hillside capital of St. George's to sightsee and shop. After a 10-minute taxi ride from our lodgings on Morne Rouge Bay, we climbed the steep road to Ft. George, which was pivotal in numerous colonial battles.

We caught our breath when we saw the amazing view of pastel-colored, red-tile-roofed buildings encircling the harbor below, which is said to be the most picturesque in the Caribbean.

With shopping on our minds, we headed down to Market Square, a sensory feast with dozens of vendors selling fresh produce, local straw crafts and fragrant spices. Known as the "spice island," Grenada produces one-third of the world's nutmeg -- its main export -- as well as cloves, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric and cocoa.

We zigzagged around the open-air stalls, finally purchasing a bargain bag of whole nutmegs, which resemble pecans, and several reversible island dolls handmade by a sweet elderly woman named Anita.

Our next stop was the Carenage, St. George's inner harbor, which serves as an anchorage for vessels ranging from small fishing boats and expensive private yachts to the occasional cruise ship.

Famished, we stopped for lunch along the Carenage promenade, lined with outdoor cafes, gift shops and banks. At the Nutmeg, a popular watering hole, I ordered a cheeseburger, a break from the spicy food I'd eaten.

Influenced by an Indian minority, some island cuisine packs heat. One local dish we savored was lambi roti -- conch and potatoes in curry sauce -- served in a burrito-like shell. We found the tastiest and cheapest at Sur la Mer, the beach-side restaurant at Gem Resort.

But for a gastronomical tour of the island, you can't beat Patrick's Homestyle Cooking on Lagoon Road. On the front porch of his cozy home, colorful proprietor Patrick stuffs guests with 20 petri-dish-size portions of island specialties such as breadfruit salad, callaloo soup -- made from the spinach-like leaves of the dasheen plant -- and spice cake. We left slightly tipsy from his potent rum punch.

Rum that packs a wallop

Another palate shocker came at River Antoine Distillery, where we sipped pure rum, a body-shaking 150 proof that evaporates down your throat like rubbing alcohol. We visited the Caribbean's oldest working rum distillery, built in 1785, during a private tour of the island with Simon "Mandoo" Seales.

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