It took my a while to work out where I’d heard of Grenada.
In case you’re as dense as I am, in 1983 Grenada, an island nation in the southern Caribbean, was invaded by US forces after a bloody coup in which the Prime Minister and around 12 other members of the sitting Government were lined up against a wall and shot.
The ringleader of the uprising was the Deputy PM, who lived just across the road from the PM. Rumours began to circulate about a death plot against the Deputy, who responded by gathering up some supporters and staging a violent coup. Over 20 years later, after he was released from prison, the former Deputy PM confessed that, every single day, he wondered how different things would have been if he’d just walked across the road and spoke to the PM about it.
We had a meeting in Grenada, so I spent a few extra days there and kicked off each morning by swimming on the stunning Grand Anse Beach, a long white sand beach with the usual clear blue water the Caribbean is famous for.
On Saturday afternoon, one of the team I work with, Timothy, took me on a quick tour of the island and showed me the place that the PM was shot. Timothy was in school when all this happened but he remembers the US helicopters flying in overhead. Why did the Americans care? Well, remember that we were still in the midst of the cold war and the Americans were worried that, with Cuba so aligned to Russia, another Caribbean island was about to fall to Communist influences. So, on the pretext of looking after 800 US students on the island, in they came.
Grenada is a lush, incredibly mountainous island, with a capital (St Georges) set on a gorgeous Mediterranean-style harbour. Yachting fans have already discovered this place, and a section of the enclosed harbour is lined with mega-yachts.
I travelled to Grenada with Hudson (or Huddy as everyone calls him), who works with me in the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank and has made it his job to show me Caribbean hospitality ever since I arrived (Huddy’s a sweetie).
On the Saturday, I took myself on a hair-raising drive around the island (so hair-raising that Timothy shook my hand for braving it…). Think hair-pin turns + wild drivers = a couple of seriously near misses. Along the way, I came across Lake Antoine, which sits in the crater of a dormant volcano and is known to bubble when there is volcanic activity on nearby islands, leading locals to believe that it is connected to an underground network of other volcanoes.
There was also this deserted airport, now occupied by some cows, goats and a couple of old planes that are slowly disappearing courtesy of the weather and being stripped by locals. The airport was abandoned when the new international airport (built by the Cubans) was finished, but when I drove into a sectioned off area near what seems to have been shops, a scary looking dude in army greens came out to scare me away. It worked.
The US invasion wasn’t the only trauma that the island has suffered. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan slammed straight into the island, causing damage totalling a massive 200% of GDP. With great determination and international aid, the island was virtually rebuilt although the scars of the damage can still be seen. The Parliament building was destroyed, and Australia is helping out by funding its rebuilding as a green-energy building.
Grenada is famously known as the “Spice Isle” and is one of the world’s leading growers of nutmeg; a drawing of nutmeg actually appears on the flag. The nation is rebuilding its crops, which were destroyed by Ivan but are now nearly at full steam once again.
The best story that Timothy told me about the hurricane, though, flowed from the destruction of the local prison. In the wake of the mayhem that hit the island, the Prime Minister was busy checking out the damage. He looked up to see the prisoners walking past him, calling out “We’re going home. Just let us know when you’re ready for us to come back.” And they promptly went to their homes and helped their families and with the clean-up and rebuilding.
When the prison was repaired, they all came back, with only one prisoner needing to be apprehended by the authorities after he, unsurprisingly, made a break for it.