Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Article For: DeFever Cruisers Magazine

Friday, August 17, 2012



Carnival is an annual celebration of life found in many countries of the world.  Grenada like many other nations that were under colonial rule had carnival introduced by the original settlers that brought with them their slaves, customs and culture.  The wealthy planters had fancy balls where people wore masks, wigs, and beautiful dresses and danced long into the night.  Banned from the masked balls, the slaves would hold their own little carnivals in their backyards - using their own rituals and folklore, but also imitating their masters’ behavior at the masked balls.

For African people, carnival became a way to express their power as individuals, as well as their rich cultural traditions. After slavery was abolished, the freed Africans began to host their own carnival celebrations in the streets that grew more and more elaborate, and soon became more popular than the balls.

For us, carnival began on Friday the 10th with Jazz Night and dinner at the Grenada Museum.

Here Chef Oliver Vegas is describing our dining options.

On Saturday there was a special carnival Hash House Harriers (H3) walk/run at the Grenada Golf Club.  We were requested to wear the Grenada colors and gold medals in honor of Kirani James winning Grenada’s first medal in the Olympics.

Port Louis Marina in the foreground and St. George’s the capital of Grenada in the background.

Doug enjoying chicken after the hash

We have found the H3s to be a lot of fun, and a great way to see the island.  We haven’t missed a one since arriving here.

After a quick shower to get the H3 mud off, it was off to Grenada National Stadium for the pan band competition.  The stadium is a very large, state of the art venue rumored to have been built by the Chinese in exchange for fishing rights.

The steel pan are instruments made from used oil drums that have been cut off on one end and then shaped, pounded, and tuned.  The best are made in Trinidad and can be quite expensive.  Prior to carnival season, steel bands, composed of one to two hundred pan players ranging in age from 5 to 75, practice for months to get ready for the competition.  At a Commancheros practice session, we heard them play everything from classical music to popular rock songs on the steel pans.

Photograph courtesy of Grenada Info & Activities

Monday morning at 4:30 AM is the official kickoff of the street portion of carnival with J’ouvert where devils run wild in the street covering spectators with oil and paint.

For obvious reasons, i.e., timing and hygiene, we decided to forgo this portion of carnival, but we did not make a clean getaway.  Promptly at 4:30 AM the boat began vibrating from the music about a block away.

At this point I should mention the decibel level of carnival.  Grenada does not have noise ordinances.  Throughout Grenada music is played very loud.  During carnival the music is even louder.  The black things on the back of this truck are speakers with a sound board behind them and a high wattage generator running the system.  This is only one of numerous trucks.

Monday afternoon is when the parades featuring exotic costumes started.

The costumes are very intricate and can be costly.  Unfortunately much of the symbolism is lost on us.

Parade participants ranged from very young;

To somewhat older.

There were also men that would sprinkle talcum powder on you and expect a donation.  We didn’t understand that custom and found them to be rather annoying.

Other men wore the really large costumes.

The steel bands were represented in the parades, and their instruments were pulled through the streets on carts.

I think this guy is always mobile.

Cruisers are also welcome to participate.  Here some of the Port Louis Marina ladies are posing with the marina security guards.

But I think most cruisers find dancing in the hot sun in a heavy costume a little too strenuous.  Marilyn above said it about did her in, and she is in good shape.

Monday night was the parade for the rest of us.

For $75 EC we each received a T-shirt, light saber, lighted headdress, lighted necklace ball, glowing bracelets, lighted beer mug, and access to the beer truck that followed us along the parade route.  The mask was optional.

The effect was a little eerie.

By Tuesday the mass of humanity was starting to take its toll on most of us, especially me.

And, two days of sun and rum was starting to take its toll on many of the revelers.

This made some of the dancers even more “animated.”

So we decided to take a dinghy over to The Carenage and have dinner at the Nutmeg, a restaurant located on the second floor above the street.

Unfortunately, many of the locals had the same idea, so dinghy parking was an issue.

But Captain Jeff came up with a brilliant solution.  He recognized a boat that was from our marina, so he asked if we could tie the dinghy to them while we had dinner at the Nutmeg.  Turns out the owner of the boat also owned the Nutmeg, so they had no problem with the parking arrangement.  Dinghy security was not an issue because one of the guests on the boat was the Prime Minister of Grenada.  In the picture above the gentleman with the Prime Minister seal on his polo shirt is PM Tillman Thomas, the man with the flowered shirt and the lady with the hat and black blouse are the owners of the boat and the Nutmeg, and the people in tan standing at parade rest are the security detail.

Kent, Marilyn, JoAnne & Paula
Soon the Port Louis contingent of dancers joined us for dinner.

JoAnne, Ron & Paula

But not until after the obligatory photo op.

Soon Carnival 2012 became a blur and life in Grenada returned to normal.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Grenada Bus System

Grenada has an extensive road system, but the roads are narrow, winding, and the island is extremely hilly.

At first we relied on our fold-up bicycles, but we found the hills a little challenging for the bicycles and we couldn’t get far before one of the locals stopped us to ask about the bikes.
Also, we found the traffic to be a little daunting.
And, you drive on the left side of the road with frequent roundy rounds instead of traffic signals.
So then we found the Grenada Bus system.  We can get most of the places we need to go for $2.50 EC ($0.94 U.S. Dollar).
Courtesy of Grenada Board of Tourism
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending how you look at it, the Grenada Bus System has been upgraded to mini-vans retiring the colorful buses of yesteryear.
Main Bus Terminal in St George’s
The buses operate out of the main bus terminal and their routes are identified by a number in the upper right corner of the windshield.   Legally, the buses are only supposed to pick you up and drop you off at designated places, but we have found that to be universally ignored.  We have never hailed a bus because they hail you by shouting or honking or both, and we have never waited more than two or three minutes for a bus.  If you want a stop before a designated place, simply knock on the roof.
Unlike the colorful trucks of yesteryears, the Mini-vans are a little harder to identify because they are smaller and many don't have signs indicating final destinations.  These mini-vans, or mini-buses don't have a uniform color and don't run on a specific timetable, but you can recognize them by their number plates.  Privately owned buses have names and/or slogans, such as "White Invasion" or "Too much ah dem."
Many of the taxies are also mini-vans, but they do not have the number on the windshield, or a conductor.   The conductor is a young man that rides next to the sliding door, operates the door, take your money, and yells from the van soliciting riders.  It is also his job to ensure 20 passengers fit into a 14 passenger van.
We discovered the distinction between a bus and a taxi when a taxi stopped for us and then a bus pulled up behind and the conductor jumped out and admonished the taxi driver for trying to deceive us and steal his business.  Unlike in the states, the bus drivers and conductors in Grenada are highly incentivized. 
For special events, i.e., cooking class, we arrange for a private bus.  Above Shademan  is taking our $10 EC ($3.75 U.S. dollars) for a ride to a marina at the south end of the island that is not serviced by the bus system.
I am applying for the job as Shademan’s conductor.
The U.S. could learn a lot from the Grenadian bus system.