First Impressions of Grenada
By Jon Brandt
When you visit a place for the first time, the impressions you first get are crucial. If you arrive late at night, you miss out on one of the biggest sensations — sight.
And if you’ve ever gone to an island in the Caribbean at night, you know exactly what it’s like. You’re hovering over the landing zone, seeing only black and scattered dots of light, and suddenly WHAM! You’re on the ground. The wheels screech to a halt and before you have a chance to assess the situation, you are safely on round in a Caribbean island.
The same could probably be said for any night-landing on an island anywhere in the world, but there’s something different about landing in the Caribbean at night. Maybe it’s changing seasons in just a few hours. Maybe it’s the sudden laid back attitude. Either way, you know exactly where you are before the captain comes on to tell you the local time and weather.
This is how I arrived in Grenada after a long travel day, thinking about the other islands I’d been to in the Caribbean. Grand Cayman, Bahamas, Barbados — after a while they all start to blur together. Especially when you land at night and all you have to go on is your primal senses.
So when I got off the plane a little after 8:30 p.m., the first thing I noticed was the sweet smell in the air. I’d noticed this smell before in St. Thomas — so strong that you can’t ignore it.
But there was something else. There was the smell of a fire burning. The smell of some food on the grill. The smell of the night just getting started as hungry Grenadians decided what to do on a beautiful Friday night. No clouds, no wind, just the five feet of visibility in front of them and the smells they’re all but accustomed to.
I’d like to say I’m all but jaded to this “newbie” phenomenon on an island, but I’m not. I’m excited as you could be — a newcomer to something beyond what I could have imagined. I can smell the sweet fruits that I don’t yet recognize, and much more.
Time flies when you’re having rum
One of the real highlights of the first day came at the River Antoine Rum Distillery. Opened in 1785, the distillery is one of the oldest in the country, and still uses most of the machinery that was shipped over from Darby, England in the same year.
As the guide said, “Not much has changed since.” With three owners, River Antoine employs 90 people. The reason for this is the old machinery. Rather than updating with computers and newer technology, the distillery has chosen to remain traditional for two reasons.
First, there is the tradition of making the rum. Pride goes into the work, and the Grenadians who work there are passionate about the rum. Second, updating would take away jobs, and the owners are more concerned with the quality of staff than turning some extra profits.
Though it was a Saturday and no one was working, we were still shown around and given a history of the process.
The power source comes from the river, hence the name, and the ancient water wheel powers the distillery.
We were offered samples of the rum, and just as the rum appeared, the women in the group decided to step outside. Now the men showed their mettle by trying the rum, marked at a whopping 75% alcohol per volume content.
River Antoine makes their rum with a minimum of 75%, and sometimes takes it up to 86%. This means that if you like it and want to buy a bottle, you need to drink it all before you leave, because legally you can’t take alcohol on a plane that’s higher than 70%.
Sometimes to counter this, they’ll water down the rum a bit. Otherwise, they won’t sell you the higher volume stuff. Every bottle is hand bottled, so only 2,000 bottles are made a week. Remember, it can’t be exported, so it’s made by Grenadians for Grenadians.
First I tried the 75% rum. It was powerful, to say the least. Next I went for the big guns. Before I even got the 86% in my mouth I could sense it coming strong.
The resulting effect was a grimace and some indigestion lasting for the next hour or so. And I thought Absinthe was bad. It was terribly strong, and I could actually taste the sugar cane, and the stuff lingered in my gums for what seemed an eternity.
Rum seems to be the drink of choice in the Caribbean, and whether it’s clear or dark, you have a plethora of choices.
Our group was treated very well by the Grenada Board of Tourism. Led by one of the best known tour guides on the island, Mandoo, we went to experience the market in St. George’s. The best things to buy at the market were spices and little trinkets, the kind which you can find in any market in the Caribbean.
After walking around for a while we got back on the bus and drove up and down the country, which is only 21 miles long, but takes some time to get through because of the terrain and the mountainous roads.
Getting off the bus at Concord Water Falls allowed us to see some of the rainforest of Grenada, and though the water was a bit chilly, members of the group decided to jump in and cool off. The falls were loud, but not deafening, and it was a really nice spot to just relax and take in some of the outdoors.
After cooling off, we went to a plantation where cocoa pods and nutmeg were the specialty, followed by a trip to Leaper’s Hill, where the indigenous Caribs chose to jump to their death rather than submit to the French after a 150-year struggle. Legend says some of the Caribs survived and swam to other nearby islands, but there’s no official documentation of it.
Our lunch was hosted by Jean Thomson, who runs and operates the Morne Fendue Plantation, a beautiful spot in the northeastern part of the island. Morne Fendue has had many distinguished guests, including Ronald Reagan, who ate there after the 1983 invasion.
When lunch was over we took a ride over to Grand Etang National Park, which is a beautiful lake surrounded by thick vegetation. Unfortunately, the lake is being swallowed up by weeds, and the Grenadians have been working to find a way to stop the lake from disappearing for good.
We stayed at Spice Island Beach Resort, a beautiful ocean-front complex complete with a gym, day-spa, and a really first-rate restaurant that draws people come from all over the island. There are different types of rooms, but the one I stayed in, the Royal Clove Suite, came with its own pool, sauna, living room, king size bed,and jacuzzi. It would be a perfect fit for two or more people.
The staff at Spice Island took the time to remember everyone’s names and see to it that everyone was happy at all times. Appetizers were delivered to every room every night even without asking for them. Spice Island had just about everything you could ask for, from flat screen TVs in every room to a beautiful beach. The restaurant alone was worth the stay, as Executive Chef Mark Banthorpe made some exquisite dishes. I had the Mahi Mahi in a delicious poppy seed and orange dressing.
The way of the Grenadian
In Grenada, so much of the average person’s life has been shaped by struggle and rebuilding. Take for instance the American invasion of the island in 1983. This, unfortunately, is one of the only reasons many people know of the island, and it doesn’t do the Grenadians justice to just dwell on the subject.
It’s not a topic that you can just bring up and chat about. It was a terrible event, and it’s hard to talk about. Edwin Frank, the Public Relations Officer from the Board of Tourism, was assigned to work with our group and showed us around the island.
Frank doesn’t talk much about the invasion, but he did reveal that when the Americans came, he was working as a DJ for a radio station which was bombed. He survived, but was hiding for two weeks with some companions, losing a great deal of weight.
Not knowing what happened to him, his family was told he was dead. Frank described a scene of confusion and pain throughout the island, and though the war ended his days as a DJ, he did have a cheerful outlook on it. As a result of it all, he came to work in the Board of Tourism, and now holds a very prestigious position.
You can also look at the devastation that Hurricane Ivan brought in 2004. Ivan hit Grenada with Category Three strength, killing 39 people. Almost 85% of the island was destroyed. The storm brought the kind of devastation that can scar an island and leave it uninhabitable, but the 100,000 Grenadians pushed on and worked hard to rebuild.
It’s hard for some to talk about Ivan still, as it was one of the worst events in the island’s recent history. But before you can even discuss the disaster, you have to look at the reconstruction.
Rebuilding an island
Today, the island looks as if there never was a destructive storm. Some trees are bare and occasionally you’ll see areas where rubble still lies, but otherwise you wouldn’t even know. The Grenadians worked hard to get back on their feet, and it shows. The hotels and resorts have been restored and improved, and it’s safe to say that Grenada is one of the best kept secrets of the Caribbean.
While tourists flock to islands like St. Martin or Grand Cayman, Grenada has the same temperature and natural beauty, but nowhere near as many tourists. If you’ve been to an island in the Caribbean that was nice but had too many tourists, imagine it 30 years ago, and you have Grenada, only modernized.
Keep your eyes open over the next few years and you’ll start to see Grenada in the press more often. For an island that is only 21 miles long, 12 miles wide, and slowly being eroded by the Atlantic Ocean, it is a land on the rise. While the events of the last 25 years have shocked and changed the island, the next 25 will change and improve the outside world’s impression of the nation.
Improvements and expansion
Just outside of the capital, St. George’s, is a multi-million-dollar project at Port Louis, aimed at expanding the natural marina and allowing for hundreds of 40-foot boats and yachts to be able to drop anchor in Grenada.
Though the island suffered from two hurricanes in the last decade, it generally is spared by hurricanes because of how far south it is. Because of this, many boat owners keep their ships in the marina during hurricane season.
These improvements to the marina will allow for millions of dollars in revenue to circulate throughout the island, improving, among other things, agriculture and education.
While some have speculated that all of the improvements to the tourism industry by outside investors will cause the locals to fall into a trap of service industry workers, Guy Gittins, the Director of Sales for the project, insists that their intentions are to improve the conditions and then hand over the operations to Grenadians.
They’ve even helped start a Hotel and Tourism Management major at the university so that the locals can educate themselves and work in upper management roles.
It’s clear that tourism is what drives the economic success of the island — and though the charm of Grenada is its innocence and lack of crowds, bustle, and congestion, the secret will always get out. Still, in this case it would be better so that more people can enjoy what the island has to give, rather than miss out on a great place.
For information on Grenada, visit
For information on Port Louis:
These hotels and restaurants had great food and great service:
Read more GoNOMAD stories by Jon Brandt: