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Exploring Grenada: do as locals do
Of all the Caribbean islands to visit, Grenada is arguably the most out of the way. A little time in St. Maarten and Grand Cayman piqued my interest in island life long before I found myself out of the way, far away, hanging out in Grenada: a 133 square mile island with a population of 110,000 just northeast of Venezuela.
Before taking off for the trip, my father and my boyfriend's father, and maybe even some other fathers I'm dismissing from my memory, cracked a joke or two about the relationship with Americans they assumed Grenadians would have.
"Careful out there! They're probably not too happy with Americans after that invasion".
But if there was any truth lurking in these cautions, I found no trace of it during the week I spent in Grenada. Murals and praises for Barack Obama and the U.S.A. graffitied more than a couple walls I spotted while driving around on my own (Note: Grenadians drive on the left. Accidentally reverting back to driving on the right is a bad idea). These painted walls are still damaged from Hurricane Ivan--a calamitous Category 3 hurricane that hit the island directly in 2004. The storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island. A much less severe Hurricane Emily followed Ivan in 2005 and caused an estimated $110 million USD in damages despite her modesty. Although Grenada has recovered impressively from these blows, the skeletons of buildings torn through still stand, exposing their disillusioning vacancy as an ongoing reminder: life can end at any moment, so live each day to the fullest.
Gallery: Exploring Grenada
With a pungent distaste for tourist clusters and an insatiable desire to submerge ourselves in the island way of life, photographer Ben Britz and I set off to explore Grenada our preferred way--by following the advice of locals. And this required renting a car.
If you're planning a trip to Grenada (pronounced greh-NAY-duh), the island of spice, do yourself a favor and leave the beautiful, but obvious, Grand Anse Beach. Here's where you should go instead:
1. BBC Beach
BBC Beach is just around the corner from Grand Anse. Literally. You can walk from one to the other. The difference is an important one, though: BBC is a local treasure; Grand Anse is a tourist Mecca. BBC Beach is properly named Morne Rouge Beach and that's how you'll find it identified on maps. But locals call it BBC after a popular night club, now called Fantazia, that once operated on the beach. You'll have these (predictably) teal waters all to yourself and a few locals at BBC, where the water is warm and calm. Grab a drink from Fantazia and enjoy vacation the way it's supposed to be... peaceful. Tip: Bring your own chairs/blanket. Also, if you buy a drink, the nice people of Fantazia will let you park in their lot.
If you want to eat some local homestyle cooking, Patrick's is the needle in the haystack you're seeking. Birthed from the mind and palate of the late Patrick Levine, his spirit lives on in his recipes. Although he never wrote down a single recipe, he trained the present owner, Karen Hall, in person, and she has creating this soulful food down to a science. For less than $25 a person, she'll serve up local dishes that are, no exaggeration, perfect.
Breadfruit fritters and crab legs are just two of the twenty-some dishes they serve at Patrick's for this low but all-inclusive price. Without even a modicum of good-restaurant haughtiness to match the good food, dining at Patrick's is a delightfully casual experience. And lucky for you, the cottage-style restaurant is conveniently located in St. George's. Tip: Call early and let them know the size of your party, especially if it's a big one. Patrick's is cozy in the only-a-dozen-or-so-people-can-fit kind of way, so you'll want to be sure there's room for all of you.
3. Gouyave Fish Fridays
You don't want to miss this. Even if you have to stop in multiple towns along the winding dark road up to Gouyave asking porch-sitting folks for directions to the 'Fish Fry', directions which they'll only disclose if you promise to bring them back a piece of fish, it's well worth it. The town of Gouyave closes off streets and sets up for a charmingly raucous party every Friday--one that's mostly meant for and mostly attended by locals.
Gouyave is a fishing village about 45 minutes away from the hotel district near St. George's. From 6pm to around 1am every Friday, locals fry, grill, bake, steam, stir, and serve up seafood your taste buds won't forget. St. Francis and St. Dominic streets line up with vendors ready to feed you and, by all means, let each of them feed you. A palatable aroma of freshly prepared seafood fills air. Fish cakes, shrimp, kebabs, lobster, conch, barbequed snapper... they have something for everyone.
Tropical juices, beers, and even Grenadian Chocolate ice cream are also available, ready to be paired with the meal of your choosing. If you want to experience a rollicking Friday night like a local, don't miss out on the fish fry. Tip: Make the drive up in the daylight if possible. Kill some time in Gouyave before the frying begins. Why? Because driving the twisting waterside roads that lead there in the island's pitch black is, as it turns out, kind of scary.
And finally, in closing, I leave you with this general tip for traveling in Grenada: Don't be (overly) alarmed by the men who walk around carrying machetes. Sure, sometimes they're used as weapons, but more often than not in Grenada, they're used as tools.
[photos by Ben Britz]