Monday, December 11, 2017

Information Overload - The Cutty Tour

If you're going to be in Grenada... EVERYONE will tell you to take a Cutty Tour!  Add my voice to the rest!  You can reach Cutty on the radio or by phone and arrange to take one of his group tours any day of the week.  He has a set fee for the day and you can choose the size of your group to spread the cost - which is minimal for what you get.  So what DO you get?  An EPIC blog post!  Proceed!

I'm familiar with Pigeon Peas
We were invited by our friend Liza on Inspiration to attend with a group of 11.  It's good to go with friends but making new friends through shared experiences is great as well!  Cutty talked to the group briefly to see where we all wanted to go, then off we went for a full day of learning about this beautiful island.  It was a visual and mental overload of sights, smells and flavours!  Cutty stops frequently and jumps out of the van to gather plants and things to give us a chance to smell and feel them.  He points out all of the lovely fruits, vegetables and spices that grow on the island.  I wish I had written it all down!  Let's just jump right in and I'll try to share some of the things we learned with you!

We drove around the perimeter of the capital of Grenada, St. Georges and made a stop on the hillside above for a look around.

First we started with a look at the Bougainvillea growing innocently on the roadside.  This is a common plant.  We had a huge stand of them growing in our back yard back in Texas and we've seen them all over the place throughout the Caribbean.

Cutty started with a simple question.  What color is this flower?

Easy! It's fuchsia! They come in a whole bunch of colours!

Wrong.  It's white.  ALL Bougainvillea flowers are white.

We took a closer look and yes, there's a tiny white flower surrounded by the fuchsia - what? - leaves???  They're actually called bracts and come in the many colours I used to think were the flowers!  I learned something already!!!

Cool old house!
Reaching the high branches!
We trespassed on this man's yard but I'm sure Cutty has permission... He picked some fruits from the tree!  I think it might have been Sapodilla, but he called it Toothpick Fruit.  Cutty peeled the skin off and passed some fruits around for us to sample.  They were nice and sweet and yes, they have little veins running through them that get stuck in your teeth!  It felt like a toothpick!

A neat little tool for picking the fruits from high above our heads made it look easy!  It's a long pole with a basket on the end.  The basket has little fingers for grabbing the fruit, which falls into the basket.  Pretty simple but ingenious!

Grabbing the fruit with the claw!
Lowering the basketful of fruit

The owner tossed fruits down to us.  I guess he has a LOT!

Next stop - THIS strange plant!
There are strange and wonderful plants on this island.  This is one of them!  They're called the Lipstick Plant.  Another name for them, the one Cutty used is Roukou. (roo-koo)

You may more commonly know it as Achiote!  To save space I'll let you read about it on your own... but it's used to make all sorts of things, including lip color! Fascinating finds here on Grenada!

Next stop was a totally touristy place!  But we don't care!  We want to see the MONKEYS!!!

Only this one little guy was around today!

Cutty brought small bananas cut in half to entice this Mona Monkey over to our group.

His instructions were few:  If the monkey is on you, do not try to touch him!  If you do, he will feel threatened and probably bite you!


The monkey spent a LONG time on Paul's back!  Monkey Macarena happening here!
Hold my banana and watch this!
The monkey lost interest in us as his tummy filled up!
He jumped for this one last banana and went back to the jungle for a nap!

Yes, I know... Touristy Stuff!  But I can do my small part by buying from a Vendor.  He makes lovely spice necklaces that smell wonderful!  I remember buying one when we were here in 2004 and it was like having potpourri in my house!  I'll hang this in my bedroom!

Some type of Begonia?

This woman was arranging a centerpiece of things she picked from the forest!
This is cinnamon bark fresh off the tree.  You can find it everywhere in dried rolls... Cinnamon Sticks!
Somebody mention Cocoa?  Here you go!
This is a Breadnut tree.  Not Breadfruit... BreadNUT!
Baby Breadnut trees growing from the nut!

Cutty buying bags of Breadnut for us!

Mmm warm nuts!
Many of these islands have Breadnut trees growing wild.  They pick them and boil the nut inside the fruit with seasoning and serve them warm.  They have a flavour similar to a Brazil nut.  The consistency is more soft since they're boiled.  It's very unusual.  We paid $1 EC in Dominica for a bag, and paid $2 EC for them here.  Still less than $1 US and it takes a lot of work to prepare them.  Can you imagine picking, boiling, packaging and sitting on the roadside to sell these nuts... when your whole crop will bring maybe $20US???

All along the roadside in Grenada, you'll find rocks, tires, trees... just about anything... painted with Grenada's national colours.  I assumed that it was a way to keep motorists on the road but Cutty cleared that up for us!

There is actually a yearly contest that is part of Grenada's Parish Days celebration.  Each parish (like our counties) is give paint to be used as part of the village's beautification project.  The villages are judged and a prize of $1,000 and a billboard is awarded each February for the preceding year.  Cutty pointed it out to us as we passed through the village of La Poterie - the 2016 winner!

It's a colorful way to spruce up some otherwise uninspiring spaces.  We see this and other painted art on plain concrete walls, ugly buildings and just about any structure, manmade or natural!  It's kind of funky-chic and a good way to show National Pride!

Red plants grow sweet bananas for eating
We learned more about bananas.  What is there to learn?  Well there are more types of banana than I ever knew...  my head is still spinning with it and I've wondered how to tell them apart.  A small hint we learned today is that you can tell sometimes by looking at the plant the banana came from.  In these two photos, notice that the bodies of the trees in one are more green, the others have a red color to them.

Green plants grow cooking bananas
The ones with the red coloured stalks are more sweet for eating.  The bananas that come from the green stalked plant are more like potatoes in that they are a starchy consistency and not sweet.  They're called cooking bananas.

And then there are the figs, and the plantains... and many others.  Who knew???

Another fascinating story we learned was about a weed that we used to call Touch-me-nots.  Vast fields of this were planted around plantations back in the days of slavery.  If a slave escaped, the plantation owner could track their path by looking at the closed leaves on the carpet of touch-me-nots!  For this they are called Slave Steps on some islands!
When you touch them, the leaves close up!

Get your tickets!  $1 per person!
Next up on the tour is a stop at the Grenville Nutmeg Processing Station.  This is the place where local farmers all over the island can bring their nutmeg to sell for processing and export.

We watched as farmers brought in their bags.  The nutmegs were sifted and examined and weighted while the farmers waited for the final verdict.
This man waits while his bag of nutmeg is weighted

Nutmeg was going for $3EC per pound today.  I paid $6EC for a pound of the good ones after processing.  I just can't make the math work on that.  How does this company make any money???

There is so much in this blog post and so many photos I want to show you, in order to keep it to an almost manageable length, I have created a Google Album for the rest of the nutmeg plant photos.  Click on the tickets below to see the photos and be sure to click on the comments to open up the narrative on each photo.

Click this ticket to see the rest of the photos!
By this time I was just desperately trying to remember everything we had seen and learned.  Cutty made stops along the way to show us anything and everything that might be remotely interesting about his Country.  A quick stop at a woodworking shop had us all wondering what he was doing now!!!  He came back out with a piece of wood in his hand... This is Mahogany - grown on the island.  Then he put that back and came back out with a nice piece that looked like it would be banister or table leg... This one, he said was Blue Maho - also grown on the island.
Blue Maho

Moving on!  We passed the place we went on the River Tubing expedition and soon came to a bit of a traffic jam.  What a strange place for a traffic light!  But Cutty explained that the light was to control traffic across a one-lane bridge across the Great River.

The Paradise Bridge was built over 200 years ago!  I did worry a little about how often they check for structural integrity in this country... but figured if it did fall, it wasn't far to the water below.

Our next stop was one that I had been looking forward to since arriving in Grenada.  I remembered that the island produced a very fine chocolate bar... and I couldn't wait to get my hands on some of it!

We've seen the cocoa growing on this and other islands. Now it's time to see how it's processed into chocolate!

This facility doesn't process the cocoa.  Local farmers do the harvesting and the preliminary processing and bring it here to sell to the chocolatier already dried.  A very old woman sits at a table and hand-culls the cocoa beans, keeping only the good ones for their product.

After that, the beans pass through several machines that break it down into ever decreasing size, until it is put into a press which squeezes out the cocoa oil, leaving a brick of pressed cocoa powder that is then made into the chocolate bars of varying degrees of purity.

I love dark chocolate and the bars we tested (and purchased) here are very high cocoa content.  If you don't like dark chocolate, you'll want to take a pass on Grenada Chocolate Company's bars!

Again, click on the pile of cocoa beans to see the rest of the photos from this stop!

Click to see the rest of the photos!
Not just another pretty flower...
Although it IS a really pretty flower... Sorrel is much more.  This red bud happens only at this time of year, thus making it a traditional Christmastime drink on Grenada and many of the other islands in the Caribbean.  There just happened to be a bunch of it growing on the property of the Chocolate Factory, so we were able to get a good look.  Later on, we would taste a Sorrel Liqueur!  We also had a chance to taste the juice at the Jab Jab Christmas! The juice is sweet and has a truly unique flavour.  Click on the photo below for a recipe - although there might not be any Sorrel available to you, unless you're in the Caribbean!

Nothing special about this one.  It's just a pretty flower!
On our way to our next stop, we just happened to park near the home of Dr. The Right Hon. Keith Mitchell - who is the current Prime Minister of Grenada.  As luck would have it, he was just getting home and came out to talk with us!

I don't think Cutty could have planned this one, but that's now two Prime Ministers of Caribbean Countries with whom Bruce has shaken hands and shared a friendly chat.

I'm hungry... are you hungry?  Get a snack and come back.  Gotta keep up your strength to get through this with me!

Brief Intermission

By this time, we were all pretty ravenous.  Given the choice to have lunch now or wait until after the tour of the Rum Distillery, a unanimous decision was quickly reached.  LUNCH! NOW!!

When we arrived to this lovely open-air restaurant which is just outside the gates of the distillery, our table was beautifully set at the best seats in the house.  Actually they were the only seats in the house... that were taken.  We were the only patrons!

The view

A buffet was laid out and we fell upon it like locusts.  The food was delicious!  "Local" but not TOO local, if that makes sense.

There was a lovely tropical view and a nice cool breeze.  What a perfect stop!  When we finished eating and paid our tab, we simply walked right up the street to our next destination.

The River Antoine Rum Distillery!

At first we couldn't figure out what we were seeing.  It looked like huge piles of some dried grass, but soon we got close enough to realize that it was dried husks of sugar cane!  There were mountains of it lining the yard outside of some very old buildings.

We gathered in the courtyard where Cutty turned us over to our tour guide, who promptly led us into another time.  we walked into a world where rum was made using tools and a method that dates back over 200 years.

This woman is bottling rum!
We've been to more than our share of rum distilleries in our travels.  But I can now say that we have found the best.  We were led through the working distillery and witnessed almost every step of the process.  There were no modern machines or automation here.  This was a look at history! (with Igloo coolers)

The distillery uses organically grown local sugar cane that is crushed right here to make the base for their high proof rum.  The batches are small.  So small in fact that they don't even produce enough to export!  All of the rum is sold right here in Grenada... which is a good thing, because they make their rum so strong that the airlines won't allow it on their airplanes!!!

Watching the cane being crushed and the husks thrown onto the pile!
But to be fair to the tourists... they do make a watered down version that is allowed on the airlines.  And we got to see it being made... AND taste it all!

There are SO many photos in the Google Album - to see them just click on the Rum Barrels below!

I've even put together a short video about the waterwheel.  Yes, they're still using a river-driven waterwheel to power the machinery!

Click the barrels for more...

Continuing on!  
See the guard sitting in the shade of the wing?
Almost done folks!  If you didn't see all the rum photos, GO BACK!

We rumbled down the narrow streets of Grenada... Suddenly we're driving down the middle of a runway!

Like... for airplanes!  Seems there's a well-known short cut that takes traffic right through this old abandoned air field.

There are even a couple of wrecked Cuban planes - and some goats...

But the planes have a guard!  A dude sitting in the shade of a wing looking at his cell phone while goats chomp grass all around him.  Cutty said that when the planes were first left here, they were looted and everything of value was taken because there was no security.  So they posted a full-time guard to watch the planes.  Only now, there's nothing left of value to loot!  I love this country!

Grenada's billboards!
The afternoon is upon us!  We're almost done!  One more big item on the agenda.  As stop at the Mount Carmel Waterfall!

We chose to do this late in the afternoon so that we wouldn't be wet all day, and so maybe it would be warm enough to swim!  What we didn't count on what the cool mountain air!

Cutty parked the van near this little bar at a fork in the road, then gave us perfunctory instructions.  Pay your $2EC per person to they guy by the fence and if you need to change, there's a place to do it inside that ratty-looking building.  If the cool air didn't convince me not to don a swimsuit, the prospect of changing inside that run-down-rat-infested hole rustic washroom certainly would have.

We continued on down the hillside via a broken and crumbling cement walk that led to the dirt path.  Cutty's little daughter, Amaya led the way, frolicking like a little lamb.  She's so graceful and sweet!

(I'm just going to go ahead and post all of these here!)

After that wobbly start, the rest of the path was a really nice mix of nature and utility
Amaya has a lot of energy!

Lots of bamboo growing along the path.  They used it to make steps!

Beautiful and serene.  Look how small the people are on the left!
The falls are on private property and I don't think many Cruise Ship's bring guests here. 
And there they are!  

Looks like fun!
Obligatory Falls Selfie

Torch Ginger

Ridiculously tall tree!

After watching our more hearty fellows frolic in the falls... we trekked back up to the road.  I wandered into the little bar and asked if they had any "girly" drinks.

The Bartender produced a lone ginger ale.  I told him I would take it if he had some rum to put in it.

This led to a comedy of trying to find a glass, then pouring the rum into the glass... I asked him how much it would be, he said how much do you want!

I poured a little and he topped it up - almost twice what I had poured - and called it $3EC!  Then he produced a funnel so that I could pour it back and forth to mix.  I drank some down so that it would all fit into the bottle and then had to share it with Bruce because it had so much rum - aka FIREWATER - in it I couldn't handle it all!  Good times...

Not much for decor...
And that brings us to the conclusion of our grand tour of Grenada.  We flew back through the little villages and jungle roads with weary heads.  The day had been long and bursting full of so much of everything that we couldn't hold it all in.  What a beautiful Country this is, full of surprises and wonders that, if we stayed here a year we wouldn't see them all!

If you come to Grenada, take a Cutty tour.  This man knows his stuff.  When I was a kid, my parents took us out into the surrounding area near our home and I learned the names of the plants and the lore  of our area.  What fun it has been to be taken out again by a man who loves to share his pride in his country with us.  Thanks Cutty!

Aaaaaaaand CUT!

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