My husband and I recently traveled to Grenada, a tiny island in the south Caribbean Sea just 110 miles north of South America.
We stayed at a beautiful Sandals resort overlooking the sea, complete with private docks perfect for watching the sunset on the water, white sand beaches dotted with palm trees, beachside bars, infinity pools, a variety of restaurants, and an almost overwhelmingly attentive staff.
The accommodations were splendid, but my favorite part of this vacation were the trips we took off of the resort (optional excursions, the travel agent called them).
For one of these excursions, we joined a local tour guide on a hike through the rainforest, which covers the northern part of the island. Grenada is a tiny island, just 21 miles long and 12 miles wide. Our resort sat at the southern tip of the island, near what was the only flat part of the hilly island – the airport.
Early one morning, a staff member from the resort’s tour desk met us in the lobby and, along with 3 other couples, directed us to a white passenger van parked outside. We piled into the van, smelling like bug spray and sunscreen and wearing sneakers instead of the usual flip-flops.
Our guide wore a headset and a microphone and sat in the driver’s seat. In Grenada, this is on the right side of the vehicle, as Grenada is a former British-occupied country that still follows the U.K.’s rules of the road.
As we drove away from the resort, the roads got windier. The landscape was hilly, with patches of yellow-green grass, large trees with oversized green leaves, and houses built right into the hillside. There were colorful houses, bright flamingo pink, mint green, and salmon colored. They had cars parked to the side that sported the yellow and black or blue and black license plates of the island. The cars were compact (no large SUVs here), with manufacturers’ logos I recognized, like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan. Later, our guide told us that Grenada imports many of its vehicles from Japan. Large ships that look like oversized cruise ships arrive to the island’s main marina, in the capital city of St. George’s, carrying these cars.
Our guide, Donald, was quite the storyteller. Chatting the entire time he drove us to our hiking destination, he mixed historical facts about the country with commentary about the current scene in front of us.
“You see those guys with the machetes over there? They’re cutting back the branches of some mango trees that have overgrown,” he said, pointing to two men who looked incredible overheated, standing in the sun wielding machetes with the ease of someone wielding a garden hose in the U.S.
There is a surplus of mangos in Grenada, Donald told us, and each year, the country throws away about one-third of its entire mango crop. There are simply too many mangos, and they can’t export them due to fruit and vegetable restrictions of other countries.
“People pay a premium for mangos in the U.S.,” one of the other travelers exclaimed.
I was sorry we couldn’t hide them in a suitcase and take them with us.
The mangoes in Grenada are bright, almost lime green, red, or brownish yellow, and they look like oversized avocados. Their fruit is bright orange, smooth, and sweet.
On our drive to the waterfall, many of the houses we passed had outside clotheslines for drying clothes. Given the climate (hot, 80+ degrees Fahrenheit), I found it practical, and later learned that a percentage of Grenadians still wash their clothes by hand. No commercial washer or dryer.
Dotted between the houses were churches, many churches. Donald told us that Grenada is a very religious culture, so much so that each neighborhood is named for the parish that exists there. There was Saint Andrew, Saint John, Saint George. We drove through several, with Donald summarizing the distinctions of each.
We drove up hills and into valleys, and when we reached a hill on the north end of the island, Donald told us that we were nearing the rainforest. I saw less and less houses and businesses, and the landscape became more wooded and even more green.
Down a dirt road, we took a sharp left turn, and arrived at the entrance to Seven Sisters Falls. There was a yellow wooden building with a handwritten sign noting the entrance fees. Inside the tiny building, a single man was selling Carib beer (the local beer, brewed in Grenada), spring water and Coca-Cola, and bags of Ole tortilla chips.
I took a wooden walking stick, which proved to be really useful on the hike, and off we went, with Donald leading the way.
Climbing the hill to the start of the trail, Donald stopped several times to show us different plants and trees, starting with the difference between a plantain tree and a banana tree.
He pointed to each, noting that there isn’t an obvious difference between the two, until the tree bears fruit. Even then, I found it difficult to see the difference. The plantains looked a bit larger than the bananas, and some were brown. Donald knew the difference right away, even before we approached the tree. Each tree, he told us, only bears fruit once, and then it dies and needs to be cut down.
Grenada is known as Spice Island, and nutmeg, cloves, mace, and cinnamon are some of its main exports. Pulling a tan pod off of a nearby tree that reminded me of the maple trees we have in the Philadelphia region, Donald showed us nutmeg. He explained that all parts of the nutmeg fruit are used in Grenada – to make nutmeg oil, nutmeg powder, and nutmeg jams and jellies.
Before Hurricane Ivan devastated the island in 2004 (“We call him Ivan the Terrible,” Donald said), Grenada was the number two producer of nutmeg worldwide. But since the trees have to grow for 15 years before they can be harvested, and many of them were destroyed in 2004, production of nutmeg products has sharply declined.
After what felt like hours of dodging knotted roots and climbing up and down a muddy trail covered with shiny green leaves, we arrived at a big open space, with the sound of rushing water ahead.
We had reached a smooth bed of rock. The air felt cooler, less muggy than it had on the trail, and there was more light, due to the lack of trees where the waterfall stood. It flowed into a murky brown river.
“This river isn’t usually brown,” Donald said, “but because it rained last night, the dirt has flowed into it.” He said that this also meant it wasn’t safe to swim, something that tourists who hiked Seven Sisters Falls usually raved about.
On the drive back to the resort, one of the other tourists commented, “Sure makes you appreciate what you have,” as we passed more hillside houses.
Later, back at the resort, I had conversation with that tourist. She was approachable, with a slow Texas drawl and light blue eyes that got bigger when she talked.
“I don’t think it looked poor,” I said, responding to her comment in the van.
“Not poor,” she said, “But people have less here.”
“But everything looked so, clean, and the houses and yards were so organized,” I said. “And the people we passed looked happy.”
“It’s a matter of pride,” she remarked. “People here have pride in what they have.”
When you have pride, she continued, it’s not about how much you have, but rather, it’s about being thankful for and taking care of what you do have.
Not that I’m not thankful for what I have, but in the desire to do more, to see more, to push myself to more, I find that I easily forget to pay attention to what I already have.
Thanks, Donald, and Sarah from Texas, for reminding me of this.