This tight corner is called Hit Me Easy, because if you come around the bend and get hit hard, youhave a James Bond vehicle-type incident,”says someone who should know: island guide Roger Augustine, whose job involves mastering the twists and turns of this lush, green —and very hilly —Caribbean island.
“Grenada is not large, he continues. “But if you want to drive around the island you ll be zigzagging around mountains, just to get from point A to point B along the coastal roads. The whole time that Augustine is talking, he s negotiating blind hairpin turns on roads so narrow that it s a miracle we re not exchanging paint colours with passing cars.
Going from point A to point B is definitely worth the effort on Grenada, but you may want to hand the steering wheel over to a local guide: the left-hand drive, manual transmission, steep dropoffs and blind turns could make enjoying the passing scenery a bit of a challenge. And yes, backing up… on a hill… around a curve is a part of the islanddriving test.
Independent since 1974, but still a part of the Commonwealth, the British and the French fought over Grenada through the intense colonization tug-of-war marking the 1600s and 1700s. The remnants of this age are scattered island-wide, from the stone forts that guard the harbour of St. George s to the names of rural villages. village name has a story,”explains Augustine as we drive through Perd Mon Temps in the parish of St. David on the south end of the island. name is French and it means waste my time. When the French saw the rich soil here they expected to dig and find gold and jewels. They dug for a long time, found nothing and decided they had been wasting their time.”
A knack for quirky village names (Grand Mal and Happy Hill are some others) was not the only thing that the explorers brought with them. Grenada has always been known as the Isle of Spice —spices being just one of the many crops that were planted in the dark, volcanic soil in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bananas, sugar cane, cocoa, coffee and nutmeg were all brought from afar, cultivated on large plantations and then shipped across the world. The cultivation of spices has risen to importance in more than just name: Grenada can claim more spices per square mile than any other place on the planet.
may be the No. 1 producer of nutmeg quantity,”says Augustine, defending the honour of his home island, Grenada is the No. 1 producer of nutmeg quality.”Four centuries ago, nutmeg was the most valuable commodity in the world —its price fuelled by a reputation for everything from a powerful aphrodisiac to a cure for the plague. The fruit is made into jams, jellies and syrups; the lacy red mace layer is dried, ground and used to season dishes; and the hard seed is grated into sauces, baked goods and ice creams.
Spices like nutmeg, mace, cinnamon and bay leaves are still grown and processed the old-fashioned way at the Dougaldston Spice Estate. Just a few kilometres down the roadway, the nutmeg processing factory still hums along in the coastal village of Gouyave. One of two island processing plants, the weathered building is filled with drying racks and sorting bins to move one-third of the worldnutmeg supply out the door and around the globe.
Across the island —on the windward side —is another piece of island legacy: the River Antoine Rum Distillery. is the oldest working water wheel distillery in the entire Caribbean,”says Augustine as we pull up to the large stone building, where theybeen crushing cane stalks and stoking the wood-fired boiling pots since 1785. are more than 220 years of history at this distillery.”River Antoine produces 700 bottles of rum each day —all of it distilled to a minimum of 75 per cent alcohol volume (when bottled, the fiery liquid is diluted down to 69 per cent for export). As on many Caribbean islands, rum is the beverage of choice.
With a bottle of firewater and a few small bags of fresh spices stowed into my daypack, I know when to call it a day. Time passes quickly on this island ruled by spices and flavours. My only regret? Not enough time to take driving lessons and master that trick of backing up and around those curves. Now that would be living on island time.