Southern Caribbean, Part 3: St. George’s, Grenada & Bridgetown, Barbados
We docked in St. George’s, the capital of Grenada, early on March 28. Most people of a certain age (in which I include myself) know of Grenada mainly from the American invasion of the island in the 1980’s, but we saw very little that would remind you of that. Grenada is known as the Spice Island because it is an important exporter of a variety of spices, most notably nutmeg. As I read somewhere, Columbus would have liked that since spices were one of his primary goals when he first came to the Caribbean (the other being gold). But sadly for Columbus, nutmeg trees were brought here long after his time (he didn’t find gold either). The island was devastated in 2004 by Hurricane Ivan; most of its buildings and its nutmeg trees were destroyed. A stronger variety of nutmeg was planted after the hurricane, but it takes almost a decade for nutmeg to begin fruiting, so the industry still isn’t back to where it was. We also saw buildings damaged by Ivan that still haven’t been restored.
So after breakfast we left the ship to explore St. George’s on foot. The streets here have few sidewalks & most are lined on each side by deep ditches, so where there is traffic it can be difficult to traverse. Our first stop was on top of a steep hill where we visited the Catholic Cathedral. The tower was constructed in 1818 and the rest of the building in 1884. However, we had read before arriving that the roof was missing as a result of Ivan, so the bright orange roof we saw must be quite new. Just down the street was the Grenada parliament building. At least it used to be, because now it is a ruin open to the elements, presumably as a result of Ivan. It is a nice building so hopefully it will yet be restored.
After that we walked over to the Carenage, a horseshoe shaped harbor area (too small for cruise ships). This is really the center of activity in St. George’s, with a number of shops & restaurants. There is a sidewalk (yay!) lining the water all the way around the harbor, which is also lined with small boats. It’s a very colorful spot.
On one side of the Carenage we found the public library in a distinctive old pink building. At least it used to be the library, before Ivan. Now it is empty and unrestored. The library was established in 1846 and moved into this building in 1892. We were told that the library is now located in the soccer stadium. On the other side of the Carenage is the bright red Fire Station. And in the middle is a statue of Christ Of The Deep, erected to honor the people of St. George’s who, using all their small boats, rescued all the passengers of a cruise ship that burned & sank in 1961. The cruise line that erected the statue was Costa, the same company whose Costa Concordia sank in 2012. So there is a history there.
Next we had a delicious lunch at a restaurant on the second floor of a building near the library called The Nutmeg. It is a well known restaurant, apparently partly because Martha Stewart once ate there (go figure). The food, mostly Caribbean specialties, was very tasty and reasonably priced, but the main reason for eating here is the view through the 3 front windows which open (literally) on the harbor front. We had a table right next to the middle window, with a great view of the sunny harbor & of the well known Grand Anse beach in the distance. This was relaxing (we were hot and tired by then) & to top it off we had home made nutmeg ice cream, which was really good.
Rested and satiated, we began walking back to the ship by way of Fort George, which involved yet another steep climb. It was worth it, though, for the lovely scenery on the way up & the great views from the fort. Fort George was built by the French near the beginning of the 18th Century on a spot that had been fortified since the 17th. It was renamed in honor of their king by the British when they took control of the Island in the 1760’s (Grenada is now an independent member of the British Commonwealth). In 1983 Maurice Bishop, the deposed Prime Minister, was assassinated in Fort George. We were told this was the only violent death the fort had ever experienced. The fort was bombed during the subsequent American invasion. Today it is occupied by the police, although it is open to visitors.
Walking down the hill from the fort we encountered St. George’s Anglican Church. Built in 1825 it was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ivan. Despite the lack of a roof it is still sometimes used informally for services and classes. The entrance to the cruise ship dock was a good spot to see how clear the water is around here.
So all of this was quite beautiful and this was a very enjoyable day among the friendly and outgoing Grenadian people. We sailed away as the sun began to sink & it was a beautiful evening as we sailed along this green and mountainous island. Best of all, a really spectacular rainbow appeared, the best I have ever seen. At its peak it was a full semicircle filling the sky from the water through the clouds and back down to the water. To top it off, it eventually became a double rainbow! It was far too big to be able to photograph the entire thing, but here are a few pictures of its parts. This was a pretty spectacular ending to a beautiful day.
We arrived at Bridgetown, Barbados in the early morning of Saturday, March 29. Another former British possession, which became an independent member o the Commonwealth in 1966, Barbados is famous for its beaches. But we didn’t go to a beach (no need to pay for a cruise to go to a beach, which are an easy drive from where we live). Instead, true to form, we walked into Bridgetown to see what it was like. We were less than thrilled, since it was hot and the streets were crowded with vendors & others. It reminded us a little of Fortaleza in Brazil, which we didn’t like very much either. And it was worse because our map was poor & we spent a lot of time trying to find the few things we wanted to see. Still, the long walk from the port to the town along the shore was nice, there were a lot of pretty flowers in the town & there were some interesting sights.
In the center of town is Heroes Square, with a statue of Lord Nelson, who served in the Caribbean in the 1780’s before he became a Lord, and the Barbadian Parliament buildings next to it. Established in 1639, the Barbadian Parliament is the third oldest in the Commonwealth. The Parliament Buildings were erected in the 1870’s. They were quite imposing, particularly the West Wing with it clock tower topped by a Barbadian flag.
After a long search (even though it wasn’t all that far away) we found Nidhe Israel Synagogue. The Jewish community in Barbados was begun by a few hundred refugees from Recife, Brazil, who were expelled when the Portuguese regained that city from the Dutch (you can see where their synagogue was in Recife on this page, a little way down: <https://baderjournal.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/recife-day-1/> ). The synagogue was originally built in 1654 and rebuilt after a hurricane in 1831. It fell into neglect & was sold in 1929, but was acquired by the Barbados National Trust and restored in the 1980’s. It is said to still be in active service but when we visited it was locked up & there was a sign on the door that services were being held at a different location. Next to the building is the cemetery, with stones dating back to the 17th century.
Next we found the Barbados National Library Service in an imposing building only a few blocks from the synagogue. Unfortunately it was closed the day we were there. It was founded in 1906 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. I don’t know when this building was built, but it looks like it could be of that vintage.
We walked all the way back through Heroes Square to the Careenage (yes, spelled differently than in Grenada), the small boat harbor in the center of town. Across it is the Chamberlain bridge, at the south end of which is the Independence Arch, built in 1987 on the 21st anniversary of Barbados independence. Just beyond the arch is the tranquil Independence Square.
From here we walked back to the ship for a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon on deck. And so to bed.