Dusk over Magazine Beach, Grenada, West Indies

It’s the end of another warm, beautiful day during the dry season in Grenada.  It began with feeding the fish in the pond in the featured photo.  The egrets and herons watch you very carefully and have learned that if tourists feed the fish they can get in the action and have a great big meal.  At dusk, the herons and egrets settle in for the evening on the island.

One tourist area that could grow in Grenada is birding.  There are 160 different species of birds.  Just staying in one location, over a couple of days, there have been that spectacular little blue heron from yesterday, a great egret, many little egrets, a Caribbean Elaenia, a blue-black grassquit, a pair of Eurasian collared doves, a Zenaida dove, a royal tern, a tricolour heron, a Caribbean Grackel,  and a vast assortment of smaller hummingbirds that have been simply too fast to photograph and identify.  There is a stand over the mangroves in Woburn and if it is high tide, it is apparently filled with lots of various species.  I also noted that there is a walking tour through the rainforest that includes bird watching.

The Royal Tern is about the size of a seagull.  It wasn’t much interested in us as it had its eyes fixed on a fish in the pond.  These are common coastal birds in the West Indies.

IMG_4531

This pair of Eurasian Collared Doves were just sweet.  This medium-sized grey dove with its distinctive collar around the hindneck was introduced into Cuba in the 1970s and has now spread to all of the Lesser Antilles including Grenada.  This dove is a ground feeder but today it took a keen interest in the food that we were feeding to the fish making me believe that all of the animals and birds will be happy when the rainy season begins in June.

IMG_4556IMG_4561 2

This Carib Grackle made himself a bit of a pest today!  And in doing so he entertained me completely by the way he broke the crackers down in order to eat them with his beak and claws.  He is also the pesky creature that likes to steal food off the plates in the dining room.  No kidding.

img_4581.jpeg

I know that most of you didn’t come to this blog to read about my new passion birding.  So here are some continuing tips on getting around the island of Grenada and being a ‘wise’ tourist.

One of the best ways to get around the island is by mini-van.  The driver normally owns the van and has a license for a certain route.  The route numbers appear on the windscreen.  Each license gives the owner a limited number of trips (daily) on their route.  This is precisely why the young man who opens and closes the door keeps his eyes out for anyone who might want a ride and is nearing a bus stop.  Don’t take offence as he will not chat with you.  It is up to him to fill that bus – the more passengers that can be crammed in, the more money that is made!  You might actually think not one more person could fit in that van but the conductor (that young man sliding the door and taking the money) knows precisely how many people he can fit in the bus.  Sometimes he might even shift people around in the seating after a stop.  Don’t fret, just go with the flow and enjoy Grenada time which is much slower than anywhere else in the world.  Fares vary on the length of the route you are travelling.  Typically, a ride from the Starfish up by Maurice Bishop Airport to Grand Anse or St George’s will cost you 10 EC.  Tell the conductor where you want to get off.  You will hear him knock on the roof or the door to tell the driver to stop.  Don’t do this yourself unless you are not wearing any rings – scratching the paint will get several people mad at you.

One of the things that many tourists do is sign up for tours, sometimes very, very expensive tours.  But for those who are curious and a little more adventurous at heart and who want to save a heap of money, I suggest you pick up one of the free Grenada Road Map guides.  Almost every shop we have been in has at least one copy.  What is so interesting is that the map highlights many of the tourist attractions you might be interested in and the number of the local bus to take to get there.  So tomorrow, instead of spending more than $300 CDN to go on a tour to Belmont Estates, I am going to take the bus to Grenville, switch at their bus station and head straight to Belmont Estates. You can have an amazing lunch there, check out the making of the goat cheese, there is also a gift shop, petting zoo and a look at what life was really like on a 17th-century plantation.  Check back with me in a couple of days but by my figuring, I will save approximately $275 CDN!

IMG_4520

The mini-vans are also great entertainment.  There is always reggae music playing and you will be surprised at how courteous these young men are to their customers.  I have seen elderly ladies transporting propane tanks and chickens.  The driver will pull as close as he can to their house and the conductor will help them unload.  This morning he helped a  woman and her daughter with eight bags of groceries.  This is great service – and respect.  Sure isn’t that good in Canada most of the time.  So don’t get in a rush.  Take the local mini-van.  Get lost in Grenada somewhere.  Sit back and enjoy the ride.

Shopping.  I have already mentioned Art Fabrik as one of the true local shops that employ local sewers.  But today, let’s talk a little bit about breakfast options, book stores, and ready-made clothes.

There are two malls near Grand Anse Beach.  There is the Spiceland Mall opposite the Coyaba Hotel.  It has doubled in size over the last couple of years.  There is an IGA, various clothing stores, a duty-free shop, a local art gallery and shop, and quite surprising an excellent bookshop, Art and Soul.  They had a large area for children and young readers, Caribbean cookbooks and a really good selection of Vegan, along with the New York Times bestsellers and ‘beach reading’.  I was looking for a book on birds as well as one on the history of the Grenadian Revolution that wasn’t slanted towards the US view of the world.  I came away very happy.

If you are looking for beer, wine, or spirits, head to the IGA (or any other grocery store).  They have a large selection priced in EC, much cheaper than the Duty-Free (Unless you are looking for something exotic).  Personally, I think the grocery stores are the place to buy local chocolate and cocoa.  There are now five chocolate producers and all of their products are organic. The Grenada Chocolate Company was the first.  The grocery stores also sometimes carry the local vanilla or the passionfruit honey which is to die for.

You will save approximately 50% by doing your shopping for these local items at these big grocery stores as opposed to the smaller tourist shops near the cruise ship port.

IMG_4486IMG_4488 2IMG_4487 2

The second mall is a short walk from Spiceland and is located across from the Raddison Hotel.  It is the Grande Anse Shopping Centre.  There is a grocery store and this is where you will find Mike’s Pizza.  He opens at 11am and he used to also have ice cream.  But there is also a little dress and gift shop tucked in right by the fountain.  Too-kachi Boutique and Craft Studio carry a nice selection of locally made gifts, cotton and beach clothing.  All prices are in EC.

BTW.  I am not a fan of malls anywhere but I am also not keen to spend 50% more for anything.

Eating out in Grenada can be very expensive if you go to restaurants (as opposed to the local stands).  We stopped for toast and sausages at Moch Spoke (you can also rent bicycles but you are taking your life into your hands on the Grenadian roads!), a cup of coffee, and a shared orange juice.  For two it came to $12 CDN.  The full English breakfast with toast, eggs, bacon or sausage, and beans is $33 EC or about $16.50 CDN each.  Note:  You can also get a great breakfast – some of the most amazing French toast – at The Papillion.  It is a short walk up the hill behind the Spiceland Mall.  They are open Wednesday through Sunday.

IMG_4510

KFC is spotlessly clean, large, and is freezing cold.  Early in the morning, you can see the locals heading in there for fried chicken for breakfast.  Here is a look at their Value Menu.  The best way to convert currency for Canadians is simply to divide the EC by 2 and you get the equivalent Candian dollars.  Despite what the currency exchange boards say, by the time you are finished that appears to be the most accurate conversion.

IMG_4511

Last tip of the day:  wear a hat!  The top of your head can get sunburned very quickly!  And if you forget your flip flops, you can purchase name brands and no name all over the island.

 

 

 

Chillin’ Out in Grenada

Grenada is a small volcanic island in the southern Caribbean near Trinidad and Tobago.  I have been travelling here to visit my son, Cristofre, and his wife, Tammy, for fourteen years.  Many call it ‘paradise’.  Sick and tired of a long Canadian winter with snow showers still falling and temperatures hovering around -2 Celsius, it is no wonder that most of the people around the pool at the Starfish Resort are Canadian.

Fourteen and a half years ago, the people of Grenada were trying to come to terms with the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan in the south part of the island and Hurricane Emily in the north.  Ivan arrived on September 7, 2004, and damaged 80% of Grenada’s buildings.  It was common to see houses without roofs and many of the locals called the category 3 storm, ‘Hurricane Rufus’ or ‘Ivan Rufus’ due to the tragic situation of the homes covered with blue tarps trying to keep them dry.  Everyone had a story about where they were when the storm struck.   Packs of wild dogs roamed everywhere and at night if one of them barked, all of the others started.  The palm trees along Grand Anse Beach, one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world, were torn from the sand, their branches scattered hither and yon.

Well, that was nearly fifteen years ago.  Today, the palm trees have grown back lining the white sandy beach again along with a growing number of luxury hotels.  What used to be $100 a night at an all-inclusive hotel right on the beach, will be more than three times that now, without meals.  One of the newest, if not the latest offering, the Silversands Grenada has the longest infinity pool in the Caribbean and has, at the top end, four bedroom beachfront villas measuring 2,071 square meters (22,292 square feet), four and a half bathrooms, private pools, and outdoor dining to name a few of the amenities.  Indeed, Grenada has set itself up for the 5-star market as opposed to the budget traveller according to many of the locals.  It is, thus, interesting that one of Canada’s leading charter airline companies, Sunwing Airlines, has recently purchased the Starfish Resort and will begin a refurbishment on May 15.  Today, this hotel is a good value for families that want an all-inclusive break.  The resort sits on Magazine Beach.  The grounds are immense with some rooms facing a central pond with bridge and islands with trees laden with the beautiful white Egret. The white ‘things’ in the second tree left of the waterfall are Egret.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_1dda.jpg

Some shots of the current Starfish resort:

IMG_3737

IMG_3748

And while the rooms are a little tired and yes, there are a lot of stairs, the views are incredible and the staff are friendly and helpful.  There is, however, only one a la carte restaurant, The Oriental, while I am told that the Silversands has fifteen.  The point that I am trying to make is that Grenada has changed significantly in the past decade and continues to make progress in attracting tourists back to the island.  Recent promotions have really helped.  The economic boom can be seen in Spice Island Mall doubling its capacity, the number and variety of restaurants, tour companies, hotels, and shops.  When once you could only get the local fare, today you have a choice of almost anything you could want ranging from sushi to East Indian to pizza and fried chicken alongside road stands selling roti and jerk chicken.  That said, I would personally encourage resorts like the Starfish to provide local fare including roti for their guests.  The other big difference in this growth is the number of airlines serving this small island paradise.  Air Canada and Caribbean Airlines have direct flights from Toronto.  Delta, British Airways, and American Airlines handle the American and European markets.  And with Sunwing entering the market, there will be more options.  The average temperature is around 27 degrees.  The rainy season begins in June-July and ends normally in October.  I have been here over the Christmas holidays when it poured every day.  It never seemed to bother too many people at the beach!

You can come to Grenada and just sit at the beach.  You don’t have to do anything.  But, if you like to snorkel or scuba dive, you are covered.  You might get lucky and land a Marlin if you go deep sea fishing but, you can also hook up with one of the locals and go out for something a little smaller.  Other water sports abound near Grand Anse Beach.  There are tours of the island and I suggest that everyone who comes here for the first time compare prices and go out and see the waterfall, the old plantations, one of the cocoa processing plants (it is all organic), hike through the rainforest or check out the 160 species of birds on the island.  Here is a great shot of a blue heron at sunset the other day:

oznor

The food offerings in Grenada have changed immensely since I first began travelling here.  You can even get schnitzel!  Yes, in downtown St George’s!  You apparently need to make an appointment but the food is, apparently, out of this world.  Check it out if you find yourself here.  And there are enough fast food chains like Subway, KFC, and Pizza Hut to keep people happy if they tire from the all you can eat buffets at the hotels or want something more familiar.  But the small mom and pop stands that sell one specialized local item remain popular.   Stop and have some of the local jerk chicken,  the roti or doubles (originally from Trinidad I am told with the jerk from Jamaica).  Find someone to take you off the main drag to find them.  You will be glad you did.

No visitor should leave Grenada without at least visiting a shop in the old part of St. Georges, Art Fabrik.  Chris Mast and Lilo Nido are creative designers.  They have been here through the economic downturn following Hurricane Ivan and survived.  They do the design work and have more than 45 women in the local community sewing the shirts, hats, dresses, and beach covers along with all manner of scarves and soft toys.   They are truly local – nothing is made in China but sold as being Grenadian.  You will be so happy that you did.  Their large batik wall hangings are magnificent and have won awards internationally.  If you are in Grenada long enough they might be able to whip something up especially for you.

500x/01.Roxanne_Outfit_235x500.jpg  — 235×500 px

Other local items to take home are the local organic cocoa.  There are now five cocoa processing companies on the island.  You can buy their products at the Chocolate Shop across from Art Fabrik or any of the tourist shops.  Some are available in the grocery stores and are often less expensive for the same item.  Nutmeg is another local crop and if you have lots of uses for it or need unique gifts for your friends, you can go to the Nutmeg Corporation and buy ten pounds of the latest crop.  The nutmegs that I bought five years ago are still good!  And if you learn to love the local nutmeg ice cream a quick way to make it is to take a vanilla ice cream, let it soften and add 1-2 nutmegs grated to a half gallon and let the ice cream re-harden.  Of course, you can make your nutmeg ice cream from scratch using a vanilla recipe and adding 1 grated nutmeg to a batch.  And then there is the rum.  Lots of rum ranging from average to outstanding.  Westerhall is one of the local ones but you can also pick up the award-winning El Dorado Rum from Guyana.

 

Mesoamerican Ceramics at the Gardiner

The collection of Mesoamerican pottery at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto is impressive.  The arrangement of the ceramics with their information panels and maps is clearly meant to educate.  The range of pottery includes vessels and figurines, all made by hand, as well as pieces produced by moulds.  The decorative elements range simple incised lines and applique to elaborate techniques such as polychrome slipware.

Small female figurines were made in Guanajuato or Michoacan Mexico from 300 BCE to 100 CE.  These female statuettes made entirely by modelling the clay by hand (and mostly solid), with their oversized heads and headdresses. While many were made out of flat slabs, a number are three-dimensional like the ones at the Gardiner.  Notice the eyes.  Most are coffee-bean shaped and slanted as in the second image below.  Most figurines were left unpainted, but occasionally some were decorated with bright colours. Ceramics serve as historical records and here we can see the hairstyles and clothing that were prominent during this period of time.  Many of you may be aware of other female figurines created out of clay in the Indus Valley civilization or carved out of stone like those in Europe and the Aegean.    Archaeologists believe that these figurines served various purposes.  They may have been used as amulets for crop fertility rites, for healing, or as part of a narrative of an important event.  Others believe they could have been part of grave offerings, companions, as such, for the afterlife.

IMG_1800IMG_1797

Close by are a group of oversized ‘baby-like’ androgynous figures.  Androgynous simply means containing both male and female parts.  These hollow statues with their slip decoration were made by the Olmec, a culture that lived in what is now the Tabasco and Veracruz areas of Mexico.  What do they represent?  The Olmec had eight deities that were androgynous. Are they associated with any of those?  The vast majority of these chubby youth have their legs splayed with their hands on their thighs.  They look up to the viewer as if they are ready to jump off their display.  Many of the oversized heads appear to be covered with some kind of cap.  They are not smiling but, rather, all of the mouths seem to have the same expression.  They are open and downturned.  No one is certain of their function.  Some believe they represent the rain deity while others believe that they could have been a portrait of an extraordinary individual when they were an infant.  Many have been found in or near burial sites.  Were they part of a ceremonial burial perhaps?  Scholars have suggested that they could have been actual stand-ins for infant sacrifices.

IMG_1802

It is impossible to miss the skills of these early clay artists and, as I wandered through the galleries, other visitors commented on the quality of the crafting, unable to believe that people living so long ago could be so accomplished.

In comparison, the Maya who lived in Guatemala and parts of Mexico created some extraordinary earthenware vessels with polychrome slip.

img_1828.jpeg

In the cylinder above, a noblewoman carries a jug of cocoa to two men seated with a plate of tamales (out of the scene, sorry), participants in what appears to be a feast with lavish food and drink.  Cocoa is bitter chocolate made by pressing roasted cocoa kernels.  It is still a popular drink, often with cinnamon, in Guatemala and Mexico.  The lines are animated and the colours remain bright.  Below are two dishes with bird effigy lids.  Made during the Early Classical period of the Maya, these deep earthenware burnished dishes were used to serve tamales (wah).  The middle images contain the plates that foods would be served on during feasts.  The large bowls held a type of corn gruel, ul.  Cylinders, such as the one above, used for drinking, always held a chocolate-based beverage, kakaw.

img_1821.jpegIMG_1819

The Maya believed in many gods that controlled all aspects of their life.  In their creation myth, the Mayas believe that the gods separated the heavens from the earth.  The Maize god, Hun Hun Ajaw, erected an enormous ceiba tree in the centre of the universe.  That tree was a conduit between the gods and humans.  The gods formed the first humans out of a dough made of both yellow and white maize when their clay figurines failed.  As such, the foodstuff was not just important for the survival of the community but was a part of their creation stories as well as being associated with the seasons and growth of crops.  One of Maya’s sacred books, the Popol Vuh, tells about the creation myth as well as discussing how images of the maize gods were decapitated once the harvesting of the maize had begun.  New effigies were made at the beginning of the new growing season.

During times of drought – and the Maya experienced many of these – the people turned to the gods of food, rain, and fertility to ward off starvation.  Blood sacrifices made by the nobles were performed at shrines.  Elaborate temple complexes were sites of more public ceremonies with music, dancing, ball games as well as ritual prayers and sacrifices.

IMG_1814
The Maya culture grew from small villages into great city-states.  It became one of the most dominant cultures in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.  The Maya excelled not only in their pottery making but also in mathematics, agriculture, calendar-making, astronomy, and architecture and, in particular, the pyramid building of the early classical era.  The height of their culture, the ‘Golden Age’ occurred around 250 CE.  At that time there are believed to have been fifty major cities each with a population of between 5000 and 50,000 people.  No one knows for certain what started the decline of this magnificent culture.  By the late 9th century CE, their culture had collapsed completely.  Some scholars believe that they had exhausted their once fertile environment while others contend that it was warring factions between the various city-states that caused the demise.  developed several competing theories. Some feel that a catastrophic climate change with a long and intense period of drought caused the abandonment of the cities.

We are left with great works of architecture and pottery.  The Gardiner Museum has a reasonable collection and it is a must see if you are visiting Toronto.  Free guided tours normally take place at 2pm.