Friendly and casual manner of islanders can be contagious


October 06, 1991|By Joyce Dalton

Believe it or not, island-lovers, plenty of people are not in a hurry to go to the Caribbean.

After a couple days of ooh-ing over palm-fringed beauty and feeling pretty smart to have escaped -- however temporarily -- the hustle-bustle at home, they get desperate for something to do.

More accurately, something to see. This breed of tourist craves sightseeing and would rather get a great photo than a great tan.

With a few exceptions, tourist sites aren't the Caribbean's strong suit. A colonial fort, a postcard-perfect scenic spot, the ubiquitous straw market and that's about it.

But a week in Grenada just might change these vacationers' minds.

Farthest south of the island group known as the Lesser Antilles, Grenada is a verdant wonderland of mountains, crater lakes, lush vegetation and clean beaches. It also boasts a number of man-made attractions.

Don't try to see everything in one day (which is logistically possible, since Grenada plus the dependencies of Carriacou and Petit Martinique total only 133 square miles). There will be enough half-day excursions to satisfy even the most restless visitor.

Late breakfast, an hour or two at a beach or pool, an afternoon drive into the mountains or a meandering stroll around the capital, St. George's, all make for a pleasant day, day after day, with just the right combination of familiarity and surprise.

For most Americans, the island came to the forefront on Oct. 25, 1983, when U.S. forces landed to protect American students at St. George's University School of Medicine from unrest the week before. Radicals within Prime Minister Maurice Bishop's political party had arrested the charismatic leader, fearing he was veering too far to the right of their leftist ideology. Days later, Bishop was freed by supporters, only to be gunned down by the military, an event known as Bloody Wednesday.

The "intervention," as Grenadians call the American action, seems to have had the support of most local people. "Thank God for U.S. Airborne and Caribbean Heroes of Freedom! Thank you, USA, for liberating us," proclaims one example of countryside graffiti.

People today support the anonymous painter's message: "We're Grenadians," one islander said. "If we don't like those words, the next day they would be painted over."

Such events as the intervention, though, do not usually attract tourists, so the Board of Tourism had its work cut out. According to Richard Cherman, tourism chairman, the board's efforts are ,, paying off. Last year saw "phenomenal growth", up at least 20 percent, he said.

"Grenada can almost be considered a new destination, a rising star," said Mr. Cherman. "We're what the Caribbean was and should be," he said of the island's unspoiled character.

Grenada certainly has its share of natural charm. Traveling on the mountain roads brings a new delight round each bend.

You may see such picturesque sites as old water wheel leaning idly against a crumbling stone wall or the blue plastic bags that mark bunches of bananas ready for cutting.

High in the mountains, long-needled Caribbean pines and giant ferns sway in the breeze as temperatures plunge and the altitude rises. And everywhere, there's the enticing scent of nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon, which appropriately gives Grenada its "Spice Isle" name.

It's easy to understand why some travelers decide to make there home here. Mike Meranski succumbed to the spell five years ago. The Florida teacher and his wife decided to take a year off to travel and maybe change their lifestyle. Grenada was the first stop, and they never left.

Now they own and operate La Sagesse Nature Center, where they restored a manor house for themselves and a small number of visitors who appreciate the quiet beauty. They also offer a program for tourists staying at hotels on St. George's Grand Anse beach, which includes transportation, a two-hour guided nature walk, full lunch and swim for $25.

Another recent resident, Gina-lee Johnson, reached Grenada via Trinidad, Barbados and London. She succumbed to a house high on a hill overlooking Grand Anse and converted it into a restaurant.

The Canboulay Restaurant, whose name means "cane burning," recalls the days when slaves had to put out fires in sugar cane fields. There's even a scrumptious coconut custard dessert covered with burnt sugar called "canne brulee."

"Your chair is yours for the evening," Ms. Johnson tells patrons. "No one should feel rushed in Grenada. Here, it's easy to fall into the Caribbean state of mind."

That relaxed spirit is obvious as vacationers check out the

island's other sites.

Don't miss the huge processing plant at Gouyave, where workers are never too busy to serve as guides. There's no set fee, but tips are appreciated and expected.

The top floor of the plant houses row after row of deep wooden bins, where mace is dried. On another floor, five-decker shelves are filled with nuts, which workers push around with long wooden hoses, and on the first floor women sit on stools and sort nuts.

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