We just recently returned from a 11 night Southern Caribbean cruise...
The kids I think were a little grouchy to start out on this tour. Yes, a day at the beach might have been nicer. This was just the same old being driven around in a mini-bus with someone talking at you. Wow though, Sunsation Tours definitely delivered what they promised on their website, "we choose driver / guides who are communicative". You could not help BUT be interested. This was one of the most thorough tours I have ever taken.
Our driver gave us a running commentary on the economy, geography, history, flora and fauna, politics ...you name it we most likely talked about it.
St. Lucia was nice and picturesque, but Grenada somehow had more allure for me. First off you can not but sympathize with these people who survive mainly on agriculture and tourism. Both came to a screeching halt when Hurricane Ivan struck in September 2004 as a category four hurricane with sustained winds of 130 miles per hour. The island suffered destruction of 90 percent of her agricultural crops as well as the same percentage of loss of roofs to structures. Considering the tiny island nation of Grenada, pre-hurricane Ivan, produced 20% of the world's supply of nutmeg and it will take the new nutmeg trees 7 - 12 years to begin reproducing, things on the island are very tough for her people. BUT the attitudes of everyone is unbelievable. The Grenadians were proud, upbeat, friendly, enthusiastic and gracious.
The Nutmeg Processing Stations are cooperatives and the majority are still closed. We took a guided tour of the Gouyave Nutmeg Processing Station. The guide has worked there since 1965, he is one of only 6 employees still working at the station. Pre-hurricane Ivan there were 150 employees working here. While we were at the station an older woman came in with her nutmeg to sell to the cooperative. She offered a plastic shopping bag such as the ones we acquire at the grocery stores here in the states. The growers were selling their nutmeg (these are actually the seed off the trees) to the cooperative at about $4 for the best quality grade. At that rate she is going to need a lot more nutmeg to make a living.
The tour showed the processing steps of sorting by grade/quality, cleaning and aging. After aging, 3 months I believe, the seeds are then packed whole into 50 pound sacks and sold to companies (some in the US) who take the whole product and break it down for the mace, oil, etc. and spice itself.
We stopped on the roadside on many occasions, if only for our driver to call out to someone walking by to pick something off a nearby tree so 9 people did not have to go tumbling out of the van to view it. His requests were always fulfilled with a smile. We saw besides bananas, plantain, cocoa, citrus, fruits of all varieties, avocados, root crops, sugarcane, corn, flowers and more flowers and of course nutmeg trees.
Our driver stopped at a small roadside store where we were given a demonstration on nutmeg and all of its parts and end products and then we were free to make purchases of our spices. Very very low key and no pressure to buy whatsoever. Other highlights of the day included: Annandale Waterfall and Garden, the view of Carib's Leap, Grand Etang National Park & Crater Lake, plantations, a few fishing villages, the coastline, the rainforest and a short stop at the beach.
There were some Grenadians at most of our stops along the way selling whatever they could offer up. Two women outside the Annandale Waterfall offered to pose for a photo with their mighty baskets of fruit perched a top their heads. Once we reached the waterfall there were two men who said that in order to "make a living", for a small donation of an amount of your choosing, they would climb up and jump from the top of the waterfall. For a couple of bucks the guy was probably going to be able to eat that night, the kids got a kick out of seeing it and it was a good photo opportunity for yours truly. Were we suckers? Maybe, but the way I look at it, putting myself in their shoes and with such limited opportunities you gotta do what you gotta do to support yourself and your family. It beats picking my pockets or slashing my bag to get to my wallet, any day.
In the course of our day, there was a man who allowed you to pose with his monkey, there was more than one musician...you get the picture. Our driver had advised us of all of this beforehand and we were under no obligation at all.
One of our last stops was a short guided tour of Fort Frederick given by a young fellow who gave a very detailed history of the US invasion of the island in 1983 and made us all very aware of the fact that, though not all Grenadians necessarily felt that way, he for one was extremely happy with the outcome. You even have a perfect view of the prison below where those who incited the coup and survived the invasion are now being held in prison for life.
The tour started at 8:30 a.m. and was about 5 hours. Afterwards there was still time in the afternoon to take a taxi from the pier to Grand Anse Beach for some swimming before the ship departed.