Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Visitors in the Caribbean: Part II

            In my last post, I covered our experiences at Fish Friday in Gouyave, wherein Ivan, his parents and I survived the harrowing bus ride and mediocre fried seafood and even managed to peel away from the event a number of unique (if not always positive) experiences.  I can’t say that I intend to go to Fish Friday again, but since it was on my Grenada Bucket List, as it were, I’m happy we went.
            Following our disappointing first lobster experience on the island, we took a friend’s advice and tried again that weekend at the restaurant, De Big Fish.  There, Ivan and Larry both ordered the lobster Thermidor.  Full disclosure here: I’ve only had lobster a handful of times in my life, but if I never eat another lobster again, at least I will have nothing to compare to the best seafood I’ve ever eaten.  If you need a reason to fly to Grenada, here it is: lobster Thermidor at De Big Fish.  Forget the beaches, the spices, the chocolate, the monkeys, the mangoes; just come to this island and absolutely ruin your appreciation for every inferior seafood you’ve ever eaten with a single bite of intoxicatingly rich and tender lobster.
            In keeping with my previous post’s organization:

Division Two

            After a couple days of seaside relaxation and a free brunch at the school, we were ready for our full-day island tour on Monday.  Originally when I had called the taxi driver, I only requested that we be taken to Belmont Estate (the cocoa plantation) and Rivers Antoine Rum Distillery.  When we got in the taxi, though, it was immediately apparent that Leslie (our driver) intended to take us to various landmarks and attractions outside of my specific request.

            We started off by visiting the Grenada Distillers, makers of a variety of rum drinks, including at least three rum punches, coconut rum, mojito rum, special dark, superior light, the award-winning Old Grog and a very limited quantity of double-matured #37 aged rum.  We were each given hard hats for the half-hour tour which mostly seemed to cover the history of Grenada Distillers, with a detailed description of the jobs the now-defunct machinery once performed.  With so many rum distilleries on the island and a lack of sufficient farmland, all but one of Grenada’s distilleries import molasses from Guyana for their rum production, rendering most of the distilleries’ machinery obsolete.  Obsolete but not useless.  The occasionally rusty, occasionally oily knobs and wheels and barrels and chains were an integral part of the distillery for many years and a keystone of the tour itself.  Without the massive black gears and corroded furnace echoing a not-so-distant past of churning metal and bellowing industry, the Grenada Distillers would lose a certain amount of nostalgic charm and lure.  As it was, I appreciated the gritty foundations and brief history lesson.
            We ended the tour in their storefront and bar where we were able to test a variety of their products (though, not, disappointingly, the #37 of which only 1,000 bottles were made).

            Our second stop (other than a few brief rests for photo ops) was at the Grand Etang rainforest.  My intentions were to spend some time feeding the Mona monkeys that assemble there so that Ivan’s parents could see them up close and personal.  Unfortunately the monkeys appeared to be sated or otherwise uninterested as a couple of bananas sat untouched on their usual resting spot.  We weren’t the only tourists to come at that time and, as luck would have it, there was a local nearby who referred to himself as the “Monkey Man” and ensured us that he would draw the shy monkeys out of the forest.  Using the bananas I’d brought as bait, the Monkey Man began pacing up and down the road, whistling and barking into the woods, “Om!  Om!  Om!”  He led us up and down the tree line, tromping through mud, promising to deliver in between whistles and “Oms!”  Finally Larry spotted two monkeys overhead, seated nonchalantly on bowing stalks of bamboo.  It took some coercion (and a fair amount of stern “Oms!”) to bring them down, but the adolescent monkeys descended for the bananas and we were all able to snap some pictures before they scrambled off again.
The Monkey Man

            After the monkeys, we stopped briefly for a visit at Grand Etang Lake, a volcanic lake that, according to Leslie, has no bottom.  More specifically, he stated that no one had ever been able to measure the depth of the lake and so it is considered, by locals, to be bottomless.  As it turns out, the lake is somewhere between four and six meters deep, though I think the bottomless legend is the type of local superstition tourists gobble up.

            Following our visit to the lake, we took a tour at Belmont Estate.  This was my fourth, Ivan’s second and Vicki and Larry’s first visit to the cocoa plantation.  As usual, it was an informative and, at the end, decadently rewarding tour.  We bought chocolate bars and truffles as souvenirs (and may I highly recommend the Scotch Bonnet truffles?) before moving on to our next destination.

            Continuing north, our next stop was Levera beach, a postcard landscape of frothy sapphire waves, sun-bleached driftwood, tree covered cliffs and islands dotting the horizon.  Levera beach is also one of the few nesting spots for the critically endangered leatherback sea turtles and is therefore a popular destination for students and tourists around April and May, during the nesting time.

            At the tip of the island, in a town called Sauteurs, we paid homage to the indigenous peoples of Grenada—the Caribs—at a solemn landmark known as Leapers Hill.  The monument, set resolutely in an overgrown cemetery, marks the somber setting of the Caribs’ last stand against the invading French.  Faced with certain defeat, the Caribs’ last act was to throw themselves off the cliff, preferring death over surrender.

            On that grave note, we left the cemetery to continue our trip back home.  On our way out of Sauteurs, our driver pointed out this establishment and that where he knew or was related to the folks within.  While we waited at an intersection, one smiling local woman—apparently familiar with Leslie—waved at the taxi enthusiastically.  Leslie waved back, but she scolded him teasingly, “I’m not waving at you!  You’re black!  I’m waving to the white people!” at which point she shook her open palm at us, “Hello white people!”  We laughed and waved back and I was happy for the interaction, a smiling exit to the history-laden Sauteurs.

            We skirted the west coast on our way back down the island, cutting through Gouyave and stopping shortly in St. George to pick up a couple souvenirs at the spice market.  Finally we were back in Grand Anse, enjoying a rich Italian meal at La Boulangerie near the beach.

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