Mandoo was a walking, talking museum. At every turn, he pointed out local flora -- bougainvillea, frangipani, allamanda; rattled off historic dates; and filled us in on Grenada's 10-year plan to conservatively expand tourism.
Our eight-hour tour wound around most of the island, taking in sparsely settled villages of colorful concrete homes built on stilts. Our first stop: Concord Falls, one of Grenada's tallest at nearly 41 feet. We then toured Dougaldston Spice Estate, an original 19th century plantation still in operation. At a nutmeg processing station in the fishing village of Gouyave (pronounced Gwav) we marveled at seemingly infinite rows of the spice.
We saw few remnants of the U.S. invasion in 1983. Tourists now land south of St. George's at Point Salines airport, which the United States had said was being built for military purposes. Pearl's Airport in Grenville, on the east side of the island, where Marine forces once landed, lies vacant, overgrown with weeds. A Russian plane sits there rusting, partly dismantled by vandals.
As we circled the island, we investigated beaches and resorts. We found that Grenada can accommodate most every taste and budget, with many of its lodgings on secluded bays along the southwestern tip in St. George's. Several high-end resorts, small by north Caribbean standards, line Grand Anse, a gorgeous two-mile powdery white sand beach just south of St. George's Harbour.
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 had chosen the Gem Resort to stretch our dollars. For the first week of our vacation we stayed there in a clean and comfortable but modestly furnished apartment, where we could cook our own meals. After a side trip to the nearby island of Carriacou, we stayed in a basic dorm-sized room at Roydon's, one of several inexpensive family-run guesthouses on the road overlooking Grand Anse.
Mandoo had given us such an interesting tour of the island that we decided to hire him again, to guide us on a three-hour hike to Seven Sisters Falls in the 3,800-acre Grand Etang Forest Reserve. While we easily spotted lobster claw flowers and banana and bamboo trees, the Mona monkey and endangered Grenada dove remained elusive.
A city girl by nature, I wasn't prepared for the steep, slippery ground. With some good-natured ribbing and encouragement, Mandoo helped me most of the way. I forgot about my frayed nerves after an invigorating swim in the falls.
Adventure travelers have plenty of options besides strenuous hikes. For water lovers, Grenada offers good snorkeling and diving and boasts the region's largest underwater shipwreck -- the Bianca C., 100 feet down just off Grand Anse.
After a week on Grenada, we headed north for a three-day stay on Carriacou. At just 13 square miles and 6,000 inhabitants, it is the nation's second-largest island. The third island, minuscule Petite Martinique, lies farther north.
Adventures on a desert island
The 90-minute Osprey Express ferry ride to Carriacou lurched back, forth and sideways. One of several passengers to get seasick, I was glad to disembark in Hillsborough, the dusty main town no more than a few blocks long. We considered Grenada tranquil; Carriacou was downright sleepy.
We took a reggae bus -- so called because of the music the drivers like to play -- to the Green Roof Inn, a cozy seaside guesthouse run by a young Swedish couple. The bus system is a simple one: Wait at a designated stop or wave down one of the minivans (designated with H or HA on the license plate) headed in your direction. Knock on the roof to get off. Pay the doorman.
Taxis are also minivans, so we always asked about rates before getting in: Taxi fares are set at $20 an hour. At 50 cents to $2 a ride, the reggae bus is a bargain.
Cactus and thorny bushes stud the volcanic island, which has no water pipelines. Goats and fowl roam the steep hillsides. Roosters often awakened us well before dawn. Locals collect water in large cisterns during the rainy period; the water must last throughout the dry period, from January to May. We arrived at the end of the dry season so had to be extra conservative in our water use.
We had two purposes for going to Carriacou: snorkeling off Sandy Island and meeting 89-year-old folk artist Canute Caliste, whose primitive-style paintings hang in museums worldwide. We managed the first without a problem the next morning, arranging gear and a boat ride in town. One of only three couples on the coral reef-encircled sand spit, we felt as if we were on a deserted island.
We floated over the extensive reef, spotting various angelfish, schools of trumpet fish and manta rays. It was by far the best snorkeling we'd experienced in Grenada.
Toward noon the wind picked up, making the current harder to swim against and sometimes sliding us near large coral. By 1 p.m., the sun was beating down on us. We headed back just as the water got crowded with snorkelers from private yachts.