My mind has been on the islands lately, and I keep going back to an idyllic visit to Grenada last year. I think Grenada is one of the unsung heroes of the Caribbean. It is an extremely lush island, with stunning topography, lovely, friendly people, and of course, earns its nickname of “the Spice Isle.”
While there, I took what I thought would be an innocuous little waterfall hike. I didn’t really think I needed a “guide” to walk less than two miles along a path through the hills to the waterfall, but John and his side kick, also John, were so charming, my companion and I thought the company would be nice. We met several other people who the Johns had gathered and we choose a walking stick from an assortment leaning near a tree. After about a half mile of hiking through open fields and grass, I almost discarded it. Luckily, I didn’t. After rounding a bend with an incredible vista over the valley, we turned into the rainforest to follow the river. It got dark and wet. Our path wound along, constantly descending at a precipitous angle. It became thick mud studded with slick rocks. Suddenly, I was immensely grateful for that walking stick and John’s strong outstretched forearm when I had to step/leap just a bit further than I thought was possible without embarrassing myself by wearing a mud backside. I should have suspected something when John wore rubber boots, aka waterman’s boots or wellies.
So who would have thought I’d be out of breath going downhill? The end result was worth the toil – the path opened up to an absolutely fairytale glen; fern covered rock walls and a 50 foot waterfall free-falling into a swimmable pool before rolling off another tall cliff into a lower pool. Another young man appeared from nowhere, scaled the lichen covered walls like Spiderman, and performed a swan dive worthy of an Olympic medal. Quite unbelievably (and uncharacteristically), I caught this feat for posterity, which I proudly share with you. Of course, the water was absolutely irresistible, so we swam. We floated in the center of the pool where the sun shone down into the horseshoe of cliffs. I swam into the shadows, over to the waterfall, my fingers and toes finding little crevices to grip, and let the force of the water rain over me. It was a magical place.
But alas, we could not live in that Shangri-la and had to make the arduous climb back UP that same muddy path! You might understand that going up was actually easier than going down, but let me tell you, I definitely got my aerobic workout for the day! In the end, I was so very grateful for meeting the Johns. Along the way, they showed us all the lovely spices that give Grenada the nickname “Spice Isle”: cinnamon, ginger, saffron, cocoa, and nutmeg. Beyond guiding us to the waterfall, the Johns taught me a lot about the people of Grenada and their lives.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan struck the island and damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes and businesses on Grenada. The next year, Hurricane Emily struck the one part of the island that had not been devastated the year before. About a third of the residents have left the island for greener pastures, but I was amazed and impressed by the resiliency of the people of Grenada who have stayed. The storms ripped out huge swaths of forest and spice groves and devastated whole communities, but they have replanted and rebuilt. Although Grenada provides 20% of the world’s supply of nutmeg and has strong exports of other spices, tourism remains a major contributor to the economy. My new friend John doesn’t only escort “tourists” to waterfalls, he operates a construction business and has been politically instrumental in getting funding to replant forests and rebuild schools and businesses.
I was incredibly taken with Grenada, but a large influence was her people. Men and women who have worked hard to heal the scars nature has dealt, who love their country and are willing to share it with me. I’ll definitely go back and maybe the Johns will show me another adventure.