Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Saving The Best For Last


Picturesque St. Georges from the hillside above
We have so many options here in Grenada.  There are several tour guides/drivers to choose from and SO many attractions to see!  Since Bruce and I are here indefinitely, we've seen most of what the island has to offer, so we are able to pick the best of the "must see" spots. We've had the comprehensive "Cutty Tour" but Chico took us to some places we haven't seen!  If you don't want to see Other-People's-Vacation-Pictures... do NOT look here!

But if you DO, read on!


This is the last full day of fun with my daughter and her husband.  They are not boat people.  That sentence conveys a lot to other boat people.  But I will tell you that the week we've had with the kids has been all that Bruce and I could have hoped for and more.  The kids have been troupers, never complaining about the many discomforts they've endured!  They've joined enthusiastically in with whatever activities I planned for them and I think we have shown them just what we love about living the life we've chosen.  Plus - I got to spend time with my girl, so THANK you Michael for bringing her to me!

First stop - Tourist Destiny Spice Shop
The island was decked out in patriotic finery as the people prepared to celebrate their Independence on February 7th.  We just missed the festivities with the kids flying home on that day, but we did get to see the freshly painted villages and brightly coloured clothing just about everywhere we went.

Today's Chico Tour was just the four of us.  We've done tours with groups of Cruisers, and while that can be a hoot, we wanted to make sure that we had all the time we wanted to spend in each of the places we stopped.  Having the driver all to ourselves allowed us to completely customize our tour, and Chico did a wonderful job of finding us extra little things to punctuate the main event stops we requested.  Tourist Destiny Spice Shop was one of those little extras!

Chico takes charge of our island education!
Bruce and I have not previously had the pleasure of stopping here.  It wasn't an ordinary tourist trap sort of place, but a much more intimate place where we could see all of the different fruits, vegetables and spices that are grown on the island.  We got to touch, smell and taste things fresh from the trees nearby in this one easy stop.

Fresh items are laid out daily for us to sample
Cinnamon bark fresh off the tree!
Cloves are growing right here!  Now this we haven't seen before!
An island favorite - Chick Peas growing wild!

Kids across the street in the schoolyard preparing for their Independence Day celebration!
Next stop - Annandale Falls!  Today we arrived just after a group of school children on a field trip.  Just imagine growing up on this island and getting to visit spots like this on holidays!

The falls are beautiful of course, as are the lovely garden pathways leading there, but we've got a full day ahead, so no swimming yet!


Torch Ginger
Bread and Cheese Begonia!
Lush banks surround the ravine and the falls
Annandale Falls
There are many little surprises along the way as we fly through the winding, narrow roads of Grenada.  There is so much history here and these little glimpses are simply tantalising!  But every place is not a stopping place - or it would take us forever to make the rounds.








Chico buys some bananas.  Wonder what THOSE are for???

Chico picks the best stops while making sure we hit the highlights. His stories along the way, as well as his advanced planning make our day go smoothly!













Away we went again... and then we came to a sudden stop!  What's this about?  Just off the road is this wonderful tree!  A Rainbow Eucalyptus!  Is it real?  Yes it is!

The tree is not native to these islands and this is reportedly the only one here.





Passing over the highest point and entering the Grand Etang National Park

I've mentioned previously that the REAL reason my son-in-law bought those tickets, was not to see me... but to see the Mona Monkeys!  All week I sweated it out, hoping we would see them.  Not all tour groups do.  It would have been tragic if the kids had come all this way for "nothing".

The first stop along the main road through the rainforest was a bust.  We saw leftover bananas sitting out uneaten and no monkeys.  I was so disappointed for the kids, but they were once again troupers and didn't complain much as we loaded back into the van to continue on.

But this time, instead of speeding past the turnoff to the Grand Etang lake (as we had done on our previous tour) we turned in and parked along the road in the forest.  It took a while, but soon, we saw the monkeys!  Some park rangers were speaking "monkey" to them in an effort to coax them out of the bushes.  That and perhaps the bananas finally did the trick and we had a blast!
Here he comes!
A ranger goes into the bush to bring a monkey out!
Trying for the elusive "monkey selfie"
Oh that's nice...
And there it is!  A mother's joy is getting a funny picture of their kid!  Sorry, not sorry!





There is nothing in the world like the feeling of little monkey hands gently clutching your arm.  The funny thing about this is that we were instructed that we should remain as still as possible when the monkey is climbing on you.  One false move could make the monkey think you're threatening him/her and things could turn ugly.  Luckily for us, there was no ugliness today!  Thanks Chico for making this happen for us!


We continued down that road for a quick peek at Grand Etang Lake.  The natural lake formed in the crater of an extinct volcano and has hiking trails through lush jungle ending in hidden water falls... but not today!  A quick look was all we could spare, then we were off again!






You can't plan this stuff!  On the way to somewhere else, we whizzed past a Rasta who was processing his harvest of cinnamon bark.  So many of the residents of Grenada eek out a living off the land.  How lucky are we to get to stop and see how it's done.

The Rasta and his friend were heart-wrenchingly eager to give us a good show in exchange for some small compensation.  This unexpected glimpse into their lives was something special as it wasn't contrived but just a moment in the life of an island Rasta.

Cinnamon Harvest 101:  They actually cut the branches off the tree, which I wouldn't think was optimal, but these guys know their business I guess.  They allow the branch to dry a little, then they scrape the outer layer of bark off and make a cut around the branch creating a section of bark about 6 or 8 inches long.  Then they take a hammer and gently tap the bark all around.  This loosens the bark from the branch making a "sleeve".  Then the sleeve is cut off of the branch, sometimes requiring additional hammering to loose those tough spots.

Scraping the outer layer of bark off
See the cut there, then more scraping.  You can see drying pieces in the background.
Tap, Tap, Tapping all around to loosen the bark
You can see how it begins to look wrinkled as it comes loose from the branch
Then he cuts a seam and peels the bark off using a long flat knife
These pieces are then dried and sold or sent for further processing in commercial use.
These men were so sweet to show us how they make their living.  We felt honoured to have had this experience to fill our already-overflowing day!  How could it get any better than this?  Read on!
Happy people, happy island!

Another stop that's new to Bruce and I
Bags and BAGS of cocoa beans!
We were super excited when Chico stopped briefly at this chocolate processing plant and because we were on a private tour, instead of just continuing on, we had the luxury of going in for a tour.  Chico popped inside to see if it was possible and came out giving us the thumbs-up!  Whoop!  We piled out of the van and stepped back in time.

They weren't in production at the moment, but we still got to take a look around and see how it's all done.  There were bags of cocoa beans stacked higher than our heads, and with Michael standing at 6'7", that's pretty high!  Narrow walkways created a maze that must be negotiated in order to reach the back of the building where the processing was done.

Local farmers harvest the cocoa pods and do some of the drying at home before bringing their beans here for processing.  They are put into sweat boxes for fermentation, which breaks down the tannins in the bean to give the finished product a more smooth, less bitter flavor.  This is one of the most important steps in the process.

Next the beans are spread out on large wooden drying beds that can be brought out into the sun, and then quickly rolled back inside when one of the many passing rain showers threaten the drying process.  There is an art to doing this just right to allow for continued fermentation and so that they are not dried too quickly.  Women are in charge of this process here and they walk on the tables, spreading the beans with their feet.

Nothing in the sweat boxes today.
These are rails on which large, flat drying tables are brought out into the sunshine.
The beans are spread out on these pans and dried in the sun.  When the rain comes over, they are rolled back inside!


They had a few beans drying for us to see



Ancient steps

The dried beans are graded and packaged for shipping to the chocolatiers of the world
Close your eyes and imagine how this smells.  You can't do it, but TRY!


The beans have to be washed and impurities removed, then dried again.

These sticks are used to turn the beans over so that they can dry uniformly
Deep beans!

This aids in the drying process AND allows impurities to be sifted out.  

You can see the husks and things that have fallen out of the beans as they are sifted





We were offered a chance to buy some of the Jouvert brand of chocolate bar, but since we already had about 30 bars of the stuff back at the boat, we passed.  We were kind of full of chocolate just from the SMELL!  But our sensory overload was not done yet.  Our next stop was another of the island's highlights!  The Grenville Nutmeg Processing Plant!

This board tells what they're paying the farmers today.
A farmer anxiously awaits the offer
Learning all about the products made from nutmeg
Nutmegs drying

I've got to get one of those hats!
They wash the nutmegs once again as part of the grading process
After the nutmegs are dried out, they use the float method to grade them.  The better ones sink due to higher oil content



The next method of grading is by size.  They use a series of boxes fitted with different sized screens to sift the nutmegs into proper size categories.  They have some really huge nutmegs, and some really tiny ones with all sizes in-between.  The larger the nutmeg, the better price they bring.
Grande!

This lifts the sacks to the upper level storage racks
These are the sorting boxes

Big-uns!
Mace is another product that comes from the Nutmeg.  It is one of the most expensive spices in the world and Grenada is the number 1 producer of the finest grade.
Good...
Better!  See the intricate fingers of the mace?  These grew around the nut.
You can see the imprint of the mace where it grew around the outer nutmeg shell
We said our goodbyes and went out onto the streets of Grenville in search of a "local" lunch.  We didn't want to waste time having a sit-down meal, and thought it would be more fun to pick up something that the average Grenadian would eat - Roti!

We joined a crowd at one of the obvious favorites here and ordered our chicken Roti and some drinks.  They are delicious and BONELESS, which is a treat!



With our sackful of deliciousness we took off on the road again, passing close to these wartime relics - cuban planes lay in decay here on the old Pearls Airstrip.


Soon we began to notice sugar cane growing along the roadside.  This was the perfect segue way to our next stop, the River's Rum Distillery!

The old water wheel still going after all these years!
This man manages the cane coming out of the juicer
Cain is brought from the field and cut into manageable lengths

A conveyor takes the cane up to the juicer
The spent cane is taken out on this little rail and dumped for drying
The dried cain is used to fire the vats of cane juice
Each vat is heated to a different level for evaporating out the cane juice
This room has seen countless gallons of cane juice and has changed very little in decades
We passed the one original fermenting barrel left on the property
The fermentation vats have been upgraded to new, modern cement, one of the few modernisations here.
FYI, fermenting sugar cane juice doesn't smell very good!

Huge stills are hard at work distilling the cane juice into rum.
Rivers is proud to be one of the few distilleries in the world still using cane juice instead of molasses to make the rum.


Time for a taste!

Yes please!

A toast!
Gotta taste them ALL!


Thankfully we weren't driving!  The rum Antoine Rivers Distillery produces is very potent, some of it is so strong the airlines don't allow it  on the planes because it can't be exported!  No worries, they make some lesser proof bottles for the flying public!
This murky hot spring pool is right next to the freshwater brook and is the largest of the pools.
Hmmm... beginning to have doubts
I'm not sure if it was the rum, or the gruelling schedule of events we've been through, but we were winding down fast by the time we reached the stop I personally have been the most excited about all day!  River Sallee Sulphur Springs!  I was smart to save this restorative soak in warm sulphur springs for the last event of the day.  Tired muscles will appreciate this in the morning! We parked and walked across a bridge over a babbling freshwater brook that looked inviting enough, but once we crossed the bridge, it was like arriving on another planet!


The area was a barren, rough rock with what looked like large wells of different sizes.  In each of the holes there was yellowish/brownish/greenish murky water, some spots were even bubbling like giant cauldrons.  A young man came hurrying out to welcome us and began leading us from one pool to another, bending down to scoop up sludge from the bottom of each hole.
Wait, what are we supposed to do with that???  
 By this time, the boys had already made the decision to forego the pleasure of a soak in the sludge sulphur and mineral rich springs.  I was still all in, and my daughter was kind enough to accompany me for moral support.  Hey, you only live once! Right???  Besides, who among us could stand to pass up on the chance to strip ten years from our age?  We planned on walking out of here at least 30 years younger!


He seemed so happy to show us this stuff!
Each pool had a slightly different color and consistency of mud.
We followed the guide around to all of the pools, until we reached this last one.  It was smaller than the others and more like a proper well.  Indeed it was!  It was the freshwater rinse!

Our instructions were to enjoy each pool in the order that we were shown, then come here for a nice rinse in fresh water so we wouldn't be gross and could be allowed back into Chico's nice van!
But first!  We were given a cup of this yellowish sludge to rub all over our bodies!
We were a little reluctant to get started so we got some help!
Maybe I should have worn an older swimsuit!
Making the BEST memories with my kid!

Look at her FACE!
Whoops, I know why she was making that face now. I've got it in my MOUTH!
Once we were done slathering this muck all over ourselves, we had to wait around while it dried to a lighter, dusty appearance.  If we didn't let it sit, we wouldn't see the promised restorative properties work!  We've gone this far... what's a bit more?

Finally done, we obediently followed our guide over to the largest and least mucky pool.  He helped us each descend into the warm soothing waters, slowly so as not to fall.  We were treated like precious queens!

This guy seems to like touching my daughter!  He was there to help wash the dried mud off of her back!

With the majority of the mud wiped off, we were left to soak and enjoy the warmth

At first we just enjoyed the novelty of the experience, then I began to notice that there were warm spots and, surprisingly, COOL spots on the bottom of the pool.  And BUBBLES!

This warm spot was actually producing bubbles that felt delightful as they popped from the rock beneath my feet and made their way to the surface of the water by way of my body!


Isn't life grand!!!

We enjoyed the first pool for a while, then got curious about what surprises the other pools would bring.  So we crept back out of the primordial ooze and made our way to the second pool.  This one was warmer and more "thick" or something.  It's difficult to describe.  There were warm and cool spots on the bottom of this smaller pool as well, but fewer bubbles. The water was more densely saturated with mud and there was some sludge beneath us.  Kind of yucky to have it between your toes, but hey... when in Rome!

More sedate bubbles
Kind of peaceful
Our patient driver, Chico
The sun was sinking lower and the shadows of the jungle were looming, so we decided to stop after two pools.  We were ready to get this stuff off of us and see how young we looked!


I'm trying not to think about what's down there...
A little chilly but it feels wonderful after the warm water of the other pools!

We were visited by goat kids while we dried off!
Our skin DID feel smooth and soft and I know we looked younger now!  But we weren't done!  We were given a helping of cocoa butter that was made from the cocoa pods right here on the island.  Smoothing it on our skin made us feel even softer... so what if we were followed around by bees looking for the sweet smell emanating from our skin!
I slathered my arms in cocoa butter.  REAL cocoa butter.  From cocoa plants right here!

Did I say this was the last stop?  Whatever!  Of course it's not our last stop.  We made a screaming trip to Royal Mount Carmel Waterfall.  There was no way I could let this day end without a waterfall!  And if you're going to see only one, this might be my pick!  Bruce and I led the kids down the ravine to the falls like we just couldn't wait to show them our secret paradise.  How lucky are we to have this beautiful place all to ourselves!






The only thing missing is MONKEYS!


It's getting late, but the view from the coast road is still beautiful
We were pressed for time at the falls and a bit more sun would have made it more comfortable. These mountain streams are a little chilly!  Feeling very pleasantly numb as we hurtled along the coast road, staring out at more beauty than we could hold inside, Chico took his turn at surprises.  He was taking us to one more stop!  La Sagesse Beach.  It was on our agenda but it was expendable in my mind.  But I've never been there so how could I know how necessarily awesome it was?  Chico knew and he willingly extended our tour just so that we could see it.

Like being in the South Pacific!
Deserted at this hour






La Sagesse Beach is very different from the other beaches on the island.  Now that we've been here, we wish we had made more of an effort to come during the day and spend some time here.  But there just never is enough time to do everything when it comes to family vacations.  Bruce and I are so happy the kids got to come visit.  We couldn't have imagined it being better and we made memories that will last a lifetime.  Why does it have to end?

Looking back over the week we've spent together, we had such good times.  But I think I planned this vacation perfectly and truly did save the best things for last.