Monday, April 23, 2012

Inland Grenada Where Acrobats Drive Cars

Today (Friday, April 20th) Francis, the owner of a six-car rental outfit drove us to the Police Station at St George’s to obtain a temporary driver’s licence for Al, and surrendered his Toyota mini-van to us around 10:00 am. During the drive from St David’s to the main city, we talked about the bad driving habits of the drivers of the mini-van collectivos etc. I made a remark which seemed hilarious to Francis; about the fact that although for the people of Caribbean there was no need for making any haste for anything in life, as soon as they sit behind the wheel, they start running at a mind numbing speed. And the roads that they fly on are a different phenomenon. The cars in either direction brush each other while passing, there is no shoulder at either side, one side is usually on a thousand feet cliff, the other is at a wall carved out of the mountain. But the scariest part of the road is the trench, nicely made of concrete, about four feet deep, cut between the road and the wall, no shoulder. Anywhere else in the world with these conditions most of the pedestrians would be killed and one of every ten car would be totaled. Not here, so far in the week that we had been on the roads, we saw no accidents. The difference is the attitude of the drivers; they are patient, courteous and respectful! They don’t seem to be selfish or having a need to prove to others that they are smarter. We were in the city when Al took the wheel (right hand side of the van), driving on the left, English style, and I was sitting on the left seat. I got so scared looking at the trench, almost under my seat, while cars coming towards us from the other direction and random pedestrians were walking in front of us or leaping towards us, I could not stop myself from screaming at Al to slow down or stop every second. He got angry and told me to trust him. If I can help it I don’t like nagging, but the conditions have to be a little better to be able to trust anyone. Thankfully Al had driven on the left several times before; he had spent three months in Indonesia, and drove a van in similar conditions (twenty years ago by the way) and two days in Trinidad, four years ago, when we rented a car and saw the country side with Bahadir and Christina, just before our sailing trip at St Vincent and the Grenadines and again in the BVI last year. However, the roads in Trinidad were much better, although the drivers were kind of similar. None of us had been scared in Trinidad while Al was driving. However he admitted that on most other occasions he had driven American style automobiles, driver’s seat was on the left. This was the first time that he drove an English style car for a while, wheel by right hand, shift by left; signal by right hand, windshield wiper control by left. Thankfully it was an automatic car; he did not have to deal with a stick shift on those slippery and winding mountain roads. Anyway, the first thing we wanted to do was to check out the airport and the areas close by, such as Point Salines, in order to find a place to stay on our last night, since our direct flight to Toronto, Canada is starting at 7:30 am. Al cannot trust the taxi drivers in the Caribbean in general, so wants to be close to the airport for such an early flight. We drove around and inquired at two places. One was a pretentious resort, almost across the road from the airport, but the asking price seemed too high to me. We first thought we could have lunch there, but did not like the looks of the restaurant area, and left. The second place (Grooms Beach Villas & Resort) was much more reasonable, so we made a reservation for May 2nd. We learned that they only served breakfast and dinner, but a nice restaurant on the beach below could be an option for lunch that day. So we left the car at the resort, and walked down the road for five minutes. The weather was rainy/cloudy until then, but somewhat cleared when we got there, so we saw the beach with all its majesty. I really liked the setting and the atmosphere of the place called The Beach House, the grounds of which ends at the beach. I am thinking of starting early on the 2nd, and spend the day there at the beach.
In the afternoon, we drove on the west coast of Grenada for a couple of hours, to see the harbours and anchorages marked on the map. I was so scared of taking my eyes off the road, I could not look down. Even if I did, there was nothing to see from that height, but the thick forests clinging on the cliffs. We had some glimpses of the edges of the shoreline, but did not see any boats anchored along the way. It was raining cats and dogs most of the time, rainwater filling the trenches and overflowing to the road, making it even more treacherous and slippery. After a couple of hours, we came back to Grand Anse, the nicest beach in Grenada on the south west coast, to have a drink and to find a place to spend the night. As we had rented the car for two days, I wanted to stay around there, before returning to St David’s Bay. I felt so tired from the stress that started to feel cramps in my stomach and neck from tightening my muscles. I told Al to stop somewhere to have tea, but all along the coast we had not seen a place suitable for stopping the car, let alone find a coffee shop. It seems that islanders hang around small huts in the countryside where they drink alcohol and cook some food. Especially Friday nights, they gather and drink/eat/sing all night long. But the concept of a coffee house must be foreign to them.
We drove on the way parallel to Grand Anse Beach, and passed by the gates of some resorts, lining it. None of them seemed suitable for our budget. When we reached the Mount Cinnamon Beach Resort, I also reached the end of my patience, and I asked Al to stop to check it out. It was a very nicely decorated place, but of course out of our price range; however we stopped there for half an hour, to have a drink. I had tea which calmed my nerves, so was able to continue, to search for a room. On the way there, we had passed by a Best Western Hotel, a chain we know from North America, which usually provides a basic clean room for a reasonable price. This hotel looked dark and deserted from outside, but a sign showed that they were open. So we parked the car and went to the entrance. It was almost pitch dark inside, but there was a young girl sitting at a concierge desk, in the middle of the area surrounded by shops, all of them closed. When we asked, she came around and took us up two flights of stairs, and introduced us to a middle aged islander, George De Bourg, sitting at a desk in the middle of the corridor, after showing us a bright and airy room. It turned out that George was born and raised in Scarborough, Ontario (Canada), and lately returned to Grenada to get acquainted with his roots. It appeared that his family owned the commercial building housing the hotel, and he was trying to revive the business after being closed for some time. We did not ask why the shops on the two floors downstairs were closed, and he did not say. He only mentioned that he was trying to keep costs down, and turning on power only when needed. No air-conditioning when a fan would do the trick etc. I said what I needed at that moment was a hot shower. That was available in the room, for 135.00 EC dollars (US $50.00 dollars) plus tax. Sold!
It was a very pleasant night. We walked down the road to a grocery store and bought some snacks. Came to the room and made tea in the provided coffee machine (standard in every hotel in North America). This room also had a mini fridge and micro-wave oven, as well as some plates and cutlery. No need to go out for dinner. We were beat anyway, so went to sleep as soon as it got dark. We slept like babies the whole night. Next morning we had breakfast at another small resort we had seen earlier, and came back to check out the beach. The weather was cloudy but warm, so we had a long walk on the white sand, and swam in the clean waters. We also checked out the crafts market located next to the beach. We bought something from most of the small shops selling spices and small trinkets. All the vendors were elderly ladies, very talkative and nice. It is always a joy to shop at those places, for the interaction it provides. I think the second day of driving around was a bit easier for both of us, since Al learned his way around town. Nevertheless I suggested we park the car at the hotel after checking out, and take a collectivo to the town centre to do more shopping. It was Saturday and there was a cruise ship on the dock, so the market and all the streets were full to the rim. We returned to the tranquility of Ruyam II around 3:00 pm - what a nice feeling to be away from all the stress. Thankfully we were able to park the car in the marina without any incidents. Tomorrow morning Francis is going to come and pick it up from here.

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