Birthdays on Boats
Buying birthday presents for each other is massively more difficult when you live on a boat. And, even more of a challenge when you don’t own a car. Add to this being in a foreign country, on an island. Besides the logistical challenge of getting to a store the real question is what do you buy. We have limited storage space so we have to be careful about clutter. When Cindy asked me what I wanted to do for my birthday I just shrugged. I’m not much help.
So what do you get the guy who has everything and wants for nothing? The answer is, you listen to him say where he wants to go on the island, make secret notes and surreptitiously put together a private outing with a tour company as a birthday surprise. On this year’s birthday, I opened up my homemade card printed on our faithful HP printer. Behind the really sweet stuff, it said to grab my camera because this is where we are going today. Attach was an itinerary of all the places I have been saying I would like to visit whilst here.
Rowle, our guide for the day picked us up at 10am. We chatted for a minute and found out it was his birthday too. It turns out Rowle was raised by his grandmother who amassed a wealth of knowledge about the healing power of plants over her long life. She taught Rowle her love for plants and now he also farms between giving guided tours. Farming is really his first love. He joked that if he stubbed his toe, his grandmother had a plant to make it better. As we drove about the island he pointed out cashew trees, almond trees, orange coconuts, yellow coconuts, green coconuts, nutmeg trees, banana trees (there are 13 varieties of bananas on this island), avocado trees, mango trees… He was a little like the Bubber Gump guy talking about cooking shrimp. One thing we learned is nobody on Grenada is going to starve to death. Food grows everywhere. He picked a small twig from a tree, told us to smell it and asked us what it smelt like. The answer: cinnamon. Yes, it was a cinnamon tree and he told us how the bark is removed and turns to cinnamon sticks that are sold in the stores. Throughout the day as he drove us to tourist attractions he continued to point out plants, spices and trees. He turned us onto skinips. What the heck are skinips you ask? Sorry, you’re going to have to read part two of this post.
Our first stop was to Fort Frederick. This is one of the highest points on Grenada. From the fort, the Atlantic Ocean can be seen beyond the mountains on the east side. The town of St Georges and the Caribbean Sea can be seen on the west side. The view is stunning. We struck up a conversation with the security guard and the grounds keeper. They told us about how the fort was a drop zone for US forces thwarting the coup attempt in 1983. Realizing we enjoyed hearing all the history, the groundskeeper took us to his office and showed us some artifacts he found on the site of the old fort.
The fort’s vantage point allows someone to look down onto the prison. The prison sits high on a hill top and can be seen from most points on the southwestern shores. We thought it odd that a prison would be built in a local offering such fantastic views. Rowle was quick to tell us the prisoners do not get to enjoy the view. The cells are below the area that can see out and the windows we see are for ventilation. He said having the prison on a hilltop for all to see was a deterrent to not commit a crime, “All you have to do is look up and you can see where they will send you. It makes people think twice”.
During our private tour of the island, everytime we stopped at a spot, the vendors told us we had the best tour guide on the island. Everybody knows Rowle. “He’s a great guide and a really nice guy” we heard again and again. We didn’t want to make Rowle’s head swell but we told him what we were hearing. He said, “It’s because I have my PhD in driving”. We asked, “Your what?”. Rowle flashes a big grin, ”PhD – Pot Hole Dodging”
Rowle told me to just ask him to stop whenever I wanted to take a picture. I didn’t realize this was so literal. He really meant it. He stopped in some rather odd places, like the traffic circle, “I’m fine here. Go take your picture”. I saw painted tires being used as a retaining wall on the roadside and thought this a rather ingenious form of recycling. I asked to get a couple of pictures and he pulled to the side of the road. In most of Grenada the roads are about a car and a half wide. It is amazing they don’t have a lot of accidents. “Try not to get hit by the cars” Rowle warned me as I hopped out meaning the road was a busy one. I assured him I’d be careful. While I was taking my picture he told Cindy he would hate for me to wind up as a dash on my Birthday. He went on to explain, the dash represents life. No matter what people accomplish, no matter how rich or poor they are, no matter if they are good or evil, life is but a dash. When you look at a headstone marking a grave, it has the born date the dash and the date of death. Everybody’s life boils down to a dash. The time between birth and death is just a dash. Don’t get hit by the cars and become the dash.
Waterfalls and Tourist
The next stop, a waterfall. During the rainy season (summer). It rains here just about every day. It is not an all day thing but most mornings we get some rain. In the afternoon, I swear the rain just turns to steam. Have I told you how hot it is here? The rain moves across the island and at the top of the mountains are some lakes providing the islander’s drinking water. Along most roadsides, a galvanized metal pipe is visible. The lakes feed these pipes and this is the water supply homes tap into. Almost the entire system is gravity fed. The southeastern area by the medical school is the one part of the island where water needs to be pumped. The rivers and streams flow really well in the summer making them a favorite spot to take a swim. We chose to keep our clothes on and passed on swimming in the waterfall. While at the falls a lady from the health department was visiting all the kiosks catering to tourists in the area. Rowle explained anyone coming into contact with cruise-ship tourists must have a physical exam. She was checking to make sure since next month is when the cruise ship season starts again.
High on my list of places to visit while here is a nutmeg processing plant. Prior to going into the nutmeg plant, Rowle warned me about taking pictures inside. We have already had a couple of experiences where people have asked to not be photographed. Some Grenadians just do not want their pictures taken and they can get quite vocal. This strikes me as a little odd because these are the friendliest people we have encountered on our travels so far. The same person will smile and talk to strangers so long as the camera is away. I try hard to respect their wishes. I had to make sure I didn’t capture any workers not wanting to be aired on the internet.
The production of nutmegs is about 70% of where it was prior to hurricane Ivan hitting Grenada in 2004. So many trees were lost the industry was devastated. The production was down to 30% just after Ivan because of the felled trees. New trees were planted but they take up to 20 years to start producing at full scale. They then produce for about 20 years. It will take about 5 more years before Grenada reaches nutmeg exports at levels like those prior to Ivan.
My first experience with nutmeg was as a small child. I was about 7 years old; maybe younger (the little grey cells are not as good as they use to be). My grandmother was baking at our home in Kesgrave. She made the most delicious pies and cheese straws. She needed nutmeg to grate for a recipe. I told her I would go to the general store for her. Battle Brother’s store was just a few blocks from our home. She gave me some money and I set off to the store. Feeling very grown up as I was running an errand all by myself I meandered as children do. Inside the store there was a long line. I waited in the line for what seemed an eternity. When I arrived at the counter the store owner asked me what I wanted. I couldn’t remember what my Granny had said it was called. I tried to explain it was for a pie. This didn’t help. I walked all the way back home empty handed and arrived to tell Granny I forgot what it was called. She rubbed me on the head and wrote the word nutmeg on a piece of paper for me. I went back to store. The owner saw me come in and told me to come to the front of the line where he asked me if I remembered what my granny needed for her pies. I handed him the piece of paper. He sold me a rather odd looking hard thing. I never forgot the word nutmeg again. Today, I think it’s pretty darn cool I am now on the island where that little nutmeg my granny needed for her pie recipe originated.
To be continued….