NIKES AND NATURE IN GRENADA'S GRAND ETANG NATIONAL PARK
Although hiking boots weren't on my packing list when making plans for my trip to Grenada, they sure would have come in handy while hiking the hills in Grand Etang National Park.
Red volcanic slime squishes under the soles of my white Nikes and I slither along while mastering nature's stairwell that descends into the depths of the forest. A network of protruding roots and giant rain puddles need to be frequently navigated, and steep-sided slopes, falling away to no-man's land, demand some fancy footwork. My hands feel clammy, heart rate does double time, and sweat drips from my brow. Although it could be due to the humidity that hangs heavily in the air, my gut feeling says it's sheer fear factor.
"No worries, Ma'am. I'll lead you down, safe and sound," my guide, Paul, says with an optimistic sense of calm. His coal black body is athlete lean and in spite of his flimsy flip flops, he's as graceful as a gazelle on his feet. "Just follow me, in the steps of righteousness," he bellows out, then belly laughs at the creation of his original gospel tune. The singing continues and, while easing my tension, we plod on.
The people of Grenada all seem to have these spirited gifts. Maybe it stems from the love they feel for their country and the relaxed laidback lifestyles they share.
The paradisiacal island, (pronounced gre-NAY-da) is located in the Eastern Caribbean, just a hundred miles north of Venezuela. It boasts 440 picturesque square kilometers (133 sq. miles), one sixth of which is preserved as parks and natural wildlife sanctuaries. As well as being the island's central focal point, Grand Etang National Park is home to a 13-acre lake in a volcanic crater 1,740 feet above sea level, and to numerous hikes, such as this one, leading to Seven Sisters Waterfalls. For over three decades, Henry's Safari Tours have been instrumental in literally leading the way through the dense tropical rainforests, and as I discover during this journey, our guide's easy rhythms are matched by his skilled leadership.
Paul shares his vast knowledge of the abundant flora that embraces our route, and rattles off the names of tropical flowers as if they were his best friends. Towering mahoganies and giant gommier trees unite with broad-leafed ferns and vine-draped Fijis. Bunches of bamboo shoot skyward like piles of pick-up sticks, trunks of banyon trees fan out like well-played accordions and countless towering palm fronds billow above in the sultry breeze.
As well as hosting opossums, armadillos, mongoose, and Mona monkeys, the lush vegetation provides shelter for frogs and chameleon-like lizards that can grow up to four feet long. Although we aren't privy to any sightings today, Paul's authentic cries of the wild are certainly close enough for my liking.
There's a special hush about the rainforest that infuses an inner peace, a definite tranquility and oneness with nature, and during the trek I feel a sense of wonder, and the realization that I'm just a small part of this picture.
We saunter on in our own quiet thoughts, and in just under an hour, we reach our aquatic oasis.
Clear emerald water funnels through a narrow gorge and plunges from a steep precipice, into the white frothy pool. The torrent cascades over a second, smaller rocky outcropping, before spilling into another pond where I'm lured in for a dip. Other than a school of tiny fish, there are no intruders. It's truly a place that epitomizes paradise.
Included in this tour package is a basket lunch which Paul splays out before me: fried chicken, sandwich fixings, bananas, oranges, papaya and enough locally-grown goods to feed a hoard of hungry hikers.
We picnic on river boulders and, in silence, reflect on the surrounding beauty. Sunshine filters through the overgrowth and glistens off the clear plunge pools. Multihued birds twitter from forest flora. The sounds and smells of nature fill our senses. And though my white Nikes now look like muddy galoshes, when we eventually stroll away, I have a new-found feeling of humility.
IF YOU GO:
To Get Around Grenada:
Henry's Safari Tours takes pride in showing off Grenada, whether you choose to tour the island in jeep comfort or explore some trails on foot. A list of half and full day excursions are outlined on their website. http://www.henrysafari.com/
Where to stay:
True Blue Bay Resort
PHOTOS by Brent Cassie and compliments of Henry's Safari Tours
1 Grenada is relaxed and laidback
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