The Calabash Hotel is in the south-west of the island, a few miles from the capital, St. George’s Town, named after King George III of England. The island, like so many in this area, exchanged hands between the English and the French at least seven times, with, of course, the English gaining the upper hand in the end.
Junior, for the most part, drove us in a generally clockwise direction around the periphery of the island, so the first port of call was the capital. A lively, bustling, colourful place, it’s the largest town on the island. Fortunately, no cruise ships were in.
We ascended the steep climb to the crumbling remains of Fort George, only to find that it’s now a building site. One of the workmen told us that it was being turned into some sort of resort over 2 years. Not sure if he was joking or not.
It’s not pretty, and we didn’t linger long, but we took a few pictures of the view from here over the town itself.
We continued in a generally northward direction along the tranquil Caribbean coastline on the western side of the island.
Onward we went. Our next stop was the Concord waterfall. Pleasant enough, but not particularly impressive.
Whilst we were there, a young lad offered to jump off the top of the waterfall into the pool below on payment of a “tip”. We declined, but he did offer to take some pictures of us as a couple. This is the least bad of a poor bunch, in our joint opinion.
On the way back up, we got suckered – not too strong a word – into buying some packs of herbs and spices. Of course, the seller cut us a “deal”….. I suppose one can feel a little virtuous in that we have supported the local economy, but there is the counter feeling of being ripped off. Jean also bought some earrings.
We next stopped at the Nutmeg Museum in the town of Gouyave. Nutmeg is very important to Grenada’s economy – it provides around 40% of the world’s consumption of this remarkable fruit/nut combo.
I really wasn’t expecting much from this, but it proved to be very interesting. Every single part of it is used in some way or other. Here is a picture of one.
The outer skin is used to make desserts, jams, drinks and jellies. The inner nut part is what most people are familiar with, and here you see it partially covered with mace, the red bit.
As with so many industries in Grenada, the nutmeg operation is highly labour-intensive, mainly to keep employment up as high as possible, which isn’t very high at all. It’s a well-worked process which was explained well by our tour guide. Far too complicated to go into in any detail here, but some (poor) pictures follow.
Even the discarded nutmeg shells are used as a security system to detect intruders, as they make a crunching noise when trodden upon.
Once again, we ended up buying some nutmeg-based products on exit from the museum. Sigh…..
On the way to the Belmont estate and the chocolate factory in the north-east of the island, we stopped to take in a view of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This area is very popular with sailors, but there is a live underwater volcano in the area called Kick ‘Em Jenny. Plenty of information online.
I wasn’t expecting much from the chocolate factory either, but this was even more interesting than the nutmeg museum. Again, this is a very labour-intensive process, but it produces top-quality chocolate.
The large cocoa pods are cracked open. The interior is extraordinary. Cocoa nibs covered with a white slime that, when sucked, tastes sweet and citrusy.
The nibs and pulp are covered in large wooden pens with hessian sacks and left to ferment, using the sugar in the pulp, for 6 days. It gets very warm indeed!
The combination of the alcohol and acid provided by this process converts the nibs into brittle pieces that, if cracked, taste like very bitter chocolate. After this, the nibs are laid out on huge trays to dry in the sun. If it rains, the trays are pushed on rails under cover.
The dried nibs are then sorted – by hand – to separate out the high-quality ones. These are then ground, using pretty much the only machine process, into chocolate whilst milk in varying proportions is added. A process called tempering, which I didn’t really understand, turns the chocolate into the hard bars that break with that satisfying snap.
Yet more purchases on the way out. Why am I not surprised? Sigh…..
We went to the onsite restaurant for an indifferent buffet lunch with some dreadfully sweet ginger beer, Junior accompanying us. He gets his meal gratis, and it was apparently his only one of the day. This is where we found out quite a lot about him – see the previous post – and I discovered he was a bloody Manchester United fan. Not ANOTHER one!!
On, then, to what transpired was our last visit – the St. Antoine rum distillery. They have been making rum using Industrial Revolution era machinery for over 200 years! I found this fascinating, Jean less so.
The water-wheel drives a crusher that extracts juice from the cane. You might just see this in the video below.
The remaining waste is set aside to use as fuel for boiling the sugar solution so that it is more concentrated.
The concentrate is then collected in huge 2,400 gallon concrete vats and left to ferment naturally for 8 days, which turns the sugar to alcohol (but you knew that, didn’t you)? It’s then subjected to an ingenious two-batch distillation process using local wood as fuel, as it burns hotter and more slowly than the waste cane pulp.
If the alcohol content is less than 75% (!!!), measured by hydrometer, it is recycled until it reaches this magic level. It is then bottled and capped by hand.
Obviously, I had to sample this at the end of the tour. Jean tried it and hated it. I have to say, it was different! One could feel it going down the oesophagus, and, if a little injudicious, one’s lips experienced a burning sensation.
The brand is River Rum, and none of it is exported, as it is too strong (although they do a version diluted to a mere 69% which could theoretically be exported). It is only small-run stuff, and it cannot meet the local demand….. Says something about the state of the nation, doesn’t it? I didn’t buy any.
We were now on the homeward stretch, driving down the eastern Atlantic coast of the island. It was pretty tranquil, unusually so, apparently, but the overpowering sense was the stench of seaweed, brought across all the way from West Africa. A climate change phenomenon, we were told. Gross.
We had wanted to visit Laura’s Spice Garden on the way back, but we were about 15 minutes too late. Shame, but we’d had quite a bit of spice tuition during the day.
Wr discovered on the way back that Junior was to be our taxi driver taking us to Dexter’s restaurant tonight. He dropped us off at just before 5 p.m. – we’d been together for 8 hours – so we had about an hour and a half to gird our loins for this culinary treat. We were pretty knackered at this point, but we made it in time for Junior to pick us up.
Dexter (no idea if this is his first or last name) used to work as a sous-chef under Gary Rhodes at the Calabash for about 20 years. This restaurant, in his own converted house, represented him striking out on his own. The setting is quite humble and we were joined by a fairly noisy bunch of Americans, five in total, on another table.
A five-course menu is offered, the first three of which are no-choice starters. The fourth choice is your main, which is meat or fish based, and the fifth is dessert, three choices here. The menu was delivered verbally with a great deal of detail, and you had to make your choice of main or dessert pretty much on the fly. The Americans were chatting throughout this, so completely lost the thread. Surely better to have printed or displayed the menu?
Drinks were included in the price. I asked for a beer to start with, which took an age coming. The waiter could barely speak English.
First course, a small risotto, was delivered. It was fine, but not in any way outstanding. Then a pumpkin and ginger soup. Again, perfectly edible, but that was it.
Third up was seared barracuda. This, at least, was a bit better.
During all this, wine was being poured copiously. Red, in my case, white in Jean’s. The Merlot was budget supermarket level – I have genuinely had better from Aldi. In fact, I can recommend Aldi as a wine supplier – remarkable quality and value.
I digress. Jean professed herself satisfied with the Chardonnay. The service, overall, though, was dreadful. Plates plonked in front of you, taken away when barely finished, all very graceless. One felt as if one was being rushed. Really not a great experience.
The fourth course was the main. Beef Stroganoff for me, pork for Jean. This was tasty, if maybe not as tender as I would like.
Final course was a small bit of so-called apple crumble – a bit of cooked apple on a pastry base – with a portion of salted caramel ice cream on the side. Again, tasty enough, but …..
Very disappointing. The price, however, was OK, but no tip was forthcoming. A great shame after the build-up.
Junior turned up to take us back to the hotel, and, although everything he did is going to be charged to our room, I tipped him in cash on top. It’s not expected in Grenada, and he was genuinely appreciative. Nice guy.
At last, back to the haven of the hotel. We were immediately approached by a member of staff and asked how our evening went. She was genuinely concerned that it hadn’t gone as well as expected.
Time for the bar. A double Hendricks G&T improved my mood considerably.
The end of a long and eventful day.
Plan tomorrow is to write today up, hopefully sitting in sunshine with a chilled glass or two of something. Nothing else planned – for now.