Nutmegs, Rum, Chocolate and a Retired Revolutionary

Packing Nutmegs

Clement Baptiste (CB) advertised his heritage tour on the Grenada Cruisers Net (VHF ch 66 07:30 Mon-Sat) so wanting to see something of the island Kevin & I gathered together a couple of other boat crews – Michael & Gilla SY Wolf who we originally met in Lanzarote, and Ian and Trish of SY Sanctuary from the Isle of Man who are anchored next door.  Then last Tuesday the six of us met CB in the car park of Prickly Bay Marina on the south west corner of the island. CB proved to be a larger than life character with a history closely associated with the Marxist government that ruled this paradise for a few years from the late 70’s. His view of the events leading up to the American invasion was extremely personal and fascinating. CB then a young man in his thirties with a wife and family, was a driver to one of the Russian VIPs until the Grenadian leader Maurice Bishop stopped off to pay a visit to President Reagan during his return from a trip to the Kremlin upsetting the rest of Grenada’s ruling party.

Nutmegs drying in their shells

Along with many of his fellow countrymen CB resigned from his job almost as soon as Maurice Bishop was put under house arrest. A few days later CB was one of the vast crowd that freed the leader initially but then the ruling party re-arrested him and put him and several of his cronies before a firing squad before hunting down and imprisoning those who had released him. CB spent several months in hiding, not very difficult on this small island with its mountainous terrain covered in thick rain forest. Eventually in October 1983 the Americans landed and after some fighting ousted the Cuban and Russian forces from their foothold in the Eastern Caribbean on the oil route from Venezuela. CB was then reunited with his family and now some thirty years later is entertaining and informing tourists with his left wing views and personal take on the islands history from the arrival of the French who may or may not have massacred the indigenous population (or did they jump to their deaths from the cliffs at the north?) to the present day invasion of cruising sailors from all over the world.

Sack stencils – major ports all over the world
We’ve worked a few places where this would be apt

So what did we learn – most of today’s locals are descended from slaves from the Ashanti tribe of West Africa brought by the French and later the English to work the plantations; bananas and sugar cane were imported and grow successfully to this day. Later in the 19th century nutmeg seedlings were brought from Indonesia to the island by an Englishman; Grenada is today the second largest producer of nutmegs in the world (Indonesia is the first). Many nutmeg trees were destroyed by hurricane Ivan in 2004 but the industry is recovering with new trees planted. It takes about 15 years for a nutmeg tree to produce fruit. The locals grow the trees in their gardens and farms and the nutmeg is collected and processed by an island wide co-operative at two of three stations around the island. Every part of the nutmeg is useful; the outer soft yellowy skin is pressed for juice, the inner red coating is dried to become mace and the nut is dried before shelling. The best quality nutmegs are shipped all over the world for food use, the rest are used for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Even the hard shell of the nut is not wasted, ground down to make a mulch to fertilise the soil and prevent weeds in local fields and gardens.

Sugar cane crusher

Sugar cane is used to make the national drink Rum, mostly white but some dark and some spiced is also produced. Our tour took us to the Antoine River distillery where they still use machinery from the eighteen hundreds to crush the cane, heat and ferment the juices then distil the spirit. Rivers White Rum is strong, so strong ice does not float and a tot takes your breath away. Not everyone’s choice, certainly Temptress’ crew prefer dark, smooth rums like Appleton’s Estate or Mount Gay from elsewhere in the Caribbean but the south coast distillery Clarkes Court produces a dark tot that is drinkable enough, though their spicy version is a bit on the rough side.

Fermenting sugar cane

The cocoa bean grows all over the island; in plantations and in gardens and again is collected by a co-operative and much is processed to produce Grenadian Organic Chocolate. Thanks to CB’s contacts we were privileged to have an unofficial tour of the actual factory – a tiny place with a handful of employees taking the raw nuts and producing hand wrapped bars for export and local purchase.  Probably the only chocolate where the best before date is hand written on the wrapper and very delicious it is too if dark, rich chocolate is your thing; hunt it down in your local store or buy it online here!

The chocolate factory

Cocoa beans

All in all a splendid day out with oil down for lunch (the national dish consisting of fried fish, chicken and lots of starchy root veg plus solid grey dumpling chunks in a sort of curried gravy, spicy and filling) in one of the north eastern villages. Towards late afternoon we visited one of the many waterfalls on the island, it was raining which was pleasant to stand about in after the earlier heat. None of us were equipped to swim but we did pay one of the local young jumpers to leap from the top into 50 feet into the pool below – what a way to earn a living!

Jumping for a living

After a final scenic drive down through the jungle we reached the town as everyone refers to St Georges and were soon onto familiar roads back to Prickly Bay in time for a sundowner at the bar.