Grenada – the Caribbean’s ‘Spice Isle’ – isn’t renowned for its hiking. But walking might just be the best way to discover this lush, mountainous and magnificent island
Words by Sarah Baxter
The man on the porch looked up from his daydream and called out as we passed by: ‘Mornin’ Boss – you takin’ a walk?’ Mr Edwin Frank, sometime cricketer, radio presenter, harmonica player, tour guide and, now, hiking leader, replied: ‘Ja Boss, I have 14 people with me. We’re takin’ a walk.’
The porch-dweller considered this for a moment. ‘Ah, you have it hard man, you have it hard!’ And with that verdict, he returned to his reverie, and we continued our climb up the road.
Grenada isn’t famed for being a walking destination; it’s better known for its pungent spices, sandy beaches, lush interior and laid-back attitude. Indeed, many Grenadians seem to think hiking here is a curious undertaking. But I’d joined HF Holidays’ first group trip to the southern Caribbean island to find out if – contrary to local opinion – Grenada might be best discovered on two feet.
St George’s, Grenada’s colourful capital, tumbles into a boat-bobbed bay in the island’s south-west. Known as the ‘City on a Hill’, it’s one of the prettiest ports in the Caribbean, but perhaps also one of the steepest. ‘Don’t be too alarmed when you see the angle at which you are being made to elevate your person,’ said Edwin as we started our walk up a lane leading from the Carenage waterfront into the backstreets. Edwin was not a man to use three words when he could find ten, but fortunately his breadth of knowledge matched his vocabulary. As we strolled along the road, past tilting shacks, bright houses and bountiful gardens, he regaled us with Grenadian history – from the island’s back-and-forth passage between British and French ownership throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, to its independence in 1974 and socialist revolution of 1979.
After we’d worked up a sweat on Hospital Hill, descended to the nutmeg-scented market and tried a few morsels at the Chocolate Museum (Grenada produces some of the world’s best cocoa), all that history came together at Fort George. Looming over the harbour, this now-crumbling bastion was completed by the French in 1710, and has figured prominently in the island’s more recent past. A plaque marks the wall against which Maurice Bishop, leader of the Grenada Revolution, was shot in 1983. Edwin was working at Radio Free Grenada at the time; in the immediate aftermath of Bishop’s death, US troops briefly invaded, storming the radio station. It was, said Edwin, ‘a serious business’. The fort was perfect for getting a good island overview, too. From the cannon-defended ramparts we looked south along the coast, to golden Grand Anse Beach. We looked down onto the capital’s busy streets and boat docks. And we gazed inland to the ripples of mountainous jungle, which looked largely untamed – and which we would soon be exploring on foot.
Green and pleasant land
Grenada isn’t just lush. It’s riotous. Green grows on green. Flowers blaze in eye-watering hues, a tropical explosion of bromeliads and bougainvillea, ginger lilies and hibiscus. Fruits – papaya, guava, banana, and soursop – drip from the verges. By walking, it’s easier to soak it all in, or even taste it. Indeed, as we climbed the lane towards Lower Concord Falls, one of the island’s many cascades, Edwin poked a tree with his umbrella and showered us with French cashews; they looked and tasted like delicate apples. The ground was also littered with hog plums – ‘they taste good,’ said Edwin, ‘but our elders told us not to suck them as they trouble your lungs.’ We also found noni, a curious fruit that looks like a brain and reeks of stale clothes and stilton. Some believe it to be beneficial for almost every ailment, if you can stomach it – they taste as bad as they smell.
Such remarkable natural abundance seems even more extraordinary given that, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated the island. ‘We hadn’t had a hurricane since 1955,’ said Edwin as we walked. ‘We’d got this idea that God was a Grenadian.’ How wrong they were. Ivan damaged or destroyed 28,000 buildings – we passed innumerable overgrown ruins – and the hillsides were stripped bare of vegetation, not least 83% of Grenada’s precious nutmeg trees.
Before Ivan hit, the island was the second-biggest producer of nutmeg in the world; now it’s slipped down to eighth. However, after our morning’s walk to Concord, we stopped off to visit the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station, the largest nutmeg factory on the island, to see the rebounding industry in action. Everything bar the nut-cracking is still done by hand, and ladies in headscarves were hard at work, deftly separating the valuable seeds from the broken shells. The air was filled with spice and chatter; a sign urging silence – ‘Workers! Bring God’s peace inside and leave the Devil’s noise outside’ – went largely ignored.
There was nutmeg all around as we began our second waterfall walk, heading through a plantation in the central highlands en route to Seven Sisters Falls. Hiking off-road this time, under a heavy dose of ‘liquid sunshine’, the path soon resembled chocolate milkshake. We slip-slid along, squelching through mud, fording a stream, listening to fat drops slap the canopy above, to reach the forest-fringed cascades. We weren’t alone. Quite a crowd had gathered to watch in horror/fascination as two men clambered to the top of the falls, readied themselves, then dived off in perfect unison.
It was an impressive feat, but a rather busy trail. More relaxing was our short walk a few days later to Royal Mount Carmel Falls, one of Grenada’s highest, on the quieter east coast. The path to it was still muddy, but there was no one else around, and this time the sun blazed brightly as we strolled past spice trees to reach the cascade. And what a reward. A plume of water plummeted 25m off a volcanic ledge into a jungle-fringed hollow, bubbling amid the boulders below to create a natural spa. It was impossible to resist. I stripped to my bathing costume and sank gratefully into the cool water, swam across the pool, let the rapids massage my shoulders and hoped the crabs wouldn’t nip my toes.
Our days in Grenada adopted a pleasing rhythm. We ate early breakfasts of cereal or saltfish with the dining room shutters flung open to the sea (and birds flying in to steal the sugar). Edwin would take us on a morning’s walk on road or trail, which would be overflowing with local colour and history, soursop trees and banana palms. Next we’d eat an enormous lunch – perhaps breadfruit pie, callaloo and traditional oil down stew or freshly caught fish and shrimp. Then we’d return to the hotel by mid-afternoon for more typically Caribbean activities, such as squishing our toes in Grand Anse’s sugary sand and taking a dip in the turquoise sea. Finally, as the heat of the day lost its ferocity, we’d all reconvene for a discussion of the day and a nutmeg-spiced rum punch before heading to dinner. Everything tasted better having stretched our legs and earned it.
Painting a picture
The number of well-defined footpaths in Grenada is limited, and walking independently isn’t recommended. But Edwin had devised a series of strolls to showcase different aspects of the island, as well as providing expert commentary. As well as wandering to waterfalls and around the tropical forest of Grand Etang National Park, we sought out human stories. For instance, we spent a morning making a circuit from La Mode Junction, passing through little-visited slope-side villages, where chickens scurried, shacks sold breadfruit and coconut, churches praised the Lord and people gossiped on their stoops.
We also saw how the other half lives on our stroll through the fancy residential area of Fort Jeudy, where mansions dot an idyllic peninsula. These homes were once largely owned by rich expats, but many fled during the revolution and sold their properties off cheap to more affluent locals. No chance of a bargain these days. We made do with temporarily occupying the patch of bush at the tip of the headland, an ideal spot for picnicking on watermelons and watching the waves.
Edwin guided us up to Fort Frederick and Fort Matthew, which were built after the French recaptured Grenada in 1779 (only to lose it again in 1783). And he led us to Clarkes Court Rum Distillery, where the air was thick with molasses and we took tentative sips of throat-inflaming 75% proof rum.
But it was the incidentals that helped give a fully rounded picture of Grenada – of its friendliness and vitality, of what makes it tick. It was being handed fresh coconut by a man on the street and happening upon a garden centre a-buzz with hummingbirds. It was listening to the cricket on the radio and watching a political rally for the upcoming elections turn into a carnival. It was drinking a cocktail the colours of the Grenadian flag while the barman told me he never has to lock his doors.
This wasn’t walking at its most extensive or strenuous. But it was exploring at its most vivid.
- TIME/DISTANCE: St George’s (5 miles, 4hrs) a walk around the capital streets with spectacular views from Hospital Hill and Fort George, plus city sights; Grand Etang Lake (1 mile, 1 hr) & Seven Sisters Falls (1.5 miles, 1.5hrs) two short, muddy, off-road trails exploring the lush highlands with excellent views, birdlife and wild swimming opportunities; Annandale Falls (7 miles, 5hrs) circular road walk with stiff ascents and descents, showcasing villages off the tourist trail, visiting Annandale Falls and a spice garden; Fort Jeudy (4 miles, 2.5hrs) quiet road walk around peninsula, with beautiful houses and sea views.
- TRAVEL: HF Holidays (0345 470 7558; hfholidays.co.uk) offers a ten-night trip to Grenada from £3,825pp, including flights, full-board accommodation at the Blue Horizons Garden Resort and a full programme of guided walks with a local leader. Next departure 14 November 2018.
- FURTHER INFO: puregrenada.com