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  • Writer's pictureAdam Hlasny

Three Tickets to Paradise: A Family Adventure in Grenada

Updated: May 12

"Where's my bag?!" I exclaimed, wide-eyed, as I realized I hadn't picked up my gate-checked carryon after our tarmac deplaning. Perspiration had begun, seldom to let up during our first family week in the tropics. Alyse, Julia, and I stood frazzled in the immigration line at Maurice Bishop - Grenada's only active airport - on the afternoon of April 20, 2024. We awkwardly filled out immigration forms sans clipboards while shuffling ahead. The sweaty human snake lurched forward a few feet per minute. The arrivals area looked more like a 1980s church function hall than an international airport, replete with low ceilings and basic decorations. Those who know me know I loathe crowds, noise, time pressure, and humidity, all of which were now present in great quantities.


Our passports were finally stamped by a sullen, silent employee not unlike border officials in virtually every country. Now, to find my luggage. Not familiar with baggage procedures, I concernedly approached the only employee I could find - a slight Grenadian man of perhaps 60 years - and explained the situation. Just as he was summoning help, I spotted Alyse and Julia across the room with my bag, which they'd schlepped off the carousel. I signaled back to luggage man with a thumbs-up, which he returned enthusiastically. Phew. Crisis #1 averted.


After more confusion in the customs line (poor/nonexistent signage and confusion would be a recurring theme over the course of the week), we were nudged back outside into the searing heat. We found our car rental agency's minuscule office and were shown to our vehicle, a black Suzuki Vitara. I took a deep breath after getting in on the vehicle's right side and blasting the AC. It was time to drive on the left for the first time in my nearly quarter-century behind the wheel. We'd arrived in the Caribbean, but relaxation would have to wait.

 

So, why Grenada? Well, other than Alyse visiting Jamaica for a cousin's wedding in 2014, we were Caribbean newbies. I had wanted my first tropical island experience to have several things:


  1. Authenticity

  2. Beautiful beaches/scenery

  3. Relative convenience*

  4. Lack of crowds

  5. Safety

  6. Value


*I realize that in travel, authenticity and convenience are often mutually exclusive: i.e. if 15 flights a day trundle Americans in, how authentic could it possibly be? In this case, we found nonstop flights at reasonable times from Boston, but they were only once a week. Perfect compromise.

Grenada and the US Virgin Islands were our finalists; in the end, Grenada offered a better value in terms of accommodation costs, etc. As a bonus, it was listed as one of the safest Caribbean islands, and purportedly had friendly people to boot.

 

After a few days, driving had become, dare I say, tolerable. It wasn't particularly pleasant, given that roads were narrow, steep, curvy, and populated by locals who knew them 1,000 times better than we did. Add hair-raising drop-offs, pedestrians, and occasional loose animals into the mix, and you can get a sense of how disorienting - and at times, downright frightening - it was.

I often pooh-pooh the idea of flying to a foreign country only to sit on the beach, but Grand Anse, Grenada's most famous beach - a mere 10-minute drive from our lodging - was the most magnificent strand I'd ever visited. We parked our pale northern bodies on day one, lingering lazily. Normally I'd have gotten antsy after a couple hours, but I didn't want to leave this halcyon locale.

Silky beige sand gently invited us into the shockingly crystalline water. Scattered palm trees worked in tandem with a pleasant breeze to provide much-needed respite from the unforgiving sun.* The whole scene was the stuff of fantasies.


*Grenada is located at latitude 12 degrees - approximately halfway between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. Without the breeze, "feels like" air temps were well into the 90s.

Alyse and I alternated between wading in the sparkling turquoise shallows and absorbing the beachscape from a shady towel. Goggled Julia swam and splashed enthusiastically. The beach was exquisite in and of itself, but its appeal was enhanced further for having an interesting topographical backdrop, verdant hills rising in the distance with elevated houses sprinkled to our right. Astonishingly, it was nearly deserted.

We would end up returning to Grand Anse a couple days later, me staying ashore while the girls took a snorkeling excursion. By midweek I'd spent as much unbroken time on beaches as I had since childhood. Zero regrets.

 

After our supremely satisfying beach day, we decided to get a glimpse of the "real" Grenada on Monday, April 22. We ventured into St. George's, the country's compact and very hilly capital city with a population (~35,000) just less than Concord, New Hampshire. While that may seem small, it contained nearly a third of the country's population. Oddly enough, the whole country has about the same population as Manchester, NH.

Upon arrival, we hadn't yet exchanged US currency into Eastern Caribbean dollars (fixed at $2.67 EC = $1 US). We tentatively entered a local bank, at which point our foreignness had never been more apparent. This was not some rip-off currency exchange booth, but rather a large central bank filled with locals. We joined perhaps 25 Grenadians in line, with another 20-30 banking at sit-down desks, similar to in the US. We were the only white folk in the building. (I say this purely as an observation and not in a racist way of course; I don't have a racist bone in my body. Rather, I wanted to emphasize that we weren't in tourist-land!)

Upon finally obtaining a fistful of colorful EC dollars, we perambulated the capital. Again, I was struck by how we had walked into real Grenadian life, not some watered-down tourist version. The humidity was relentless. If my pale skin didn't already mark me as an outsider, my choice of a sleeveless shirt and regular mopping of my large forehead sealed the deal. Locals went about their business, some even wearing jeans in the nearly-100-degree oven. Streets were incredibly steep, and pedestrian amenities limited. The sidewalks that did exist seemed like afterthoughts; we oft found ourselves high stepping over drainage canals or simply sharing incredibly narrow roadways with vehicles.


We splurged on lunch at Sails, a sleek but down-to-earth establishment with sweeping views of the Carenage, St. Georges' historical harbour. Between the shade and a nearly constant breeze, it was extremely comfortable. Regularly waiting a long time - think 45+ minutes after ordering - for food to arrive was something we still hadn't gotten used to. Despite my increasing hunger, I tried to quell my American-ness and just wait like everyone else. "Island time" sounds great until you want to have a reasonably quick meal, which simply won't happen in Grenada.

The sweet potato fries made from local tubers were a particular culinary highlight for me.


After lunch we visited the "House of Chocolate", a small museum/gift shop where we observed a demo on the cocoa refining process. Souvenirs in hand (did you know that dark chocolate doesn't melt? That was more than just a marketing scam for the types of bars they were selling; they truly maintained their composure, even in extremely high humidity!), we continued our sweltering ramble.




Julia's patience for trudging up steep narrow streets exhausted, we decided it was time to return to some air conditioning. I had wanted to visit historic Fort George perched above the city, but alas, halfway up we realized it was closed anyway. Back to our Airbnb we went.

So far we liked Grenada. From certain angles, it was paradise. However, minor annoyances began to accumulate. Construction seemed omnipresent in this part of the island. The haphazard nature of equipment and debris strewn about somehow didn't make it into the travel brochures. Neither did the regular horn blasts from impatient minibus drivers.

Most people, while not outwardly unfriendly, hadn't been particularly welcoming either. The ubiquity of disorganization was, perhaps, starting to grate on my OCD nerves a bit. Away from the beaches, things were, shall we say, unpolished. Isn't this what I'd wanted, though? That's authenticity, Adam - take it or leave it. I suppose I was looking for the perfect balance of "different from home, but not so different as to be stressful". So far this had been the most different place I'd ever been. Maybe I wasn't as proficient at adaptability as I'd hoped.

In any case, we had several days to go. The next morning, we'd hop in our Suzuki and crisscross to the island's northern and less-developed end, stopping at several eclectic attractions on the way. To get the most out of the adventure, we'd have to check our preconceptions at the door and roll ahead - literally and figuratively.


Click here for Part II!

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