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GRENADA - JEWEL OF THE CARIBBEAN

By Lauren Kramer

It's choppy in Grenada's Moliniere Bay, and as I splash over the edge of the boat and glance through misty goggles, I find myself looking straight down at a female figure standing on the ocean floor 30 feet below me.

Her name is Sienna and she is one of several submerged sculptures placed in this bay by Jason de Caires Taylor, a British sculptor and scuba diver. Snorkel around the bay and you find yourself moving over some 55 different life-size sculptures, ranging in depth from 30 to 50 feet. Some of the sculptures, like La Diablesse, explore Caribbean folklore, depicting a devil woman with the face of a skull. Legend has it that she entices men to follow her in the night, eventually leading them to a cliff where they jump to their deaths.

Over the past two years Taylor has created an unusual underwater art gallery with the hope that his sculptures will help regenerate Grenada's coral reef systems damaged by storms. A glance at Still Life confirms he's doing the right thing. The sculpture, which features a table with a bowl of fruit, is all ready attracting schools of fish who come to nibble on the corals growing from it.

Fish aren't the only ones who come to experience Grenada's delicacies. The island's simple charm and serenity are attracting travelers in increasing numbers. Some come to do little more than soak up a Caribbean suntan. But for the active and adventurous, there is plenty to pique your interest.

I donned hiking shoes and braved the steep roads into the interior of the island to reach the Grand Etang Forest Reserve. Here, hiking along a steep path that wended its way between lush rainforest laced with the glint of red baliser plants and towering bamboo, I passed trees heavy with nutmeg, one of the island's foremost spices, and fields of callalou, a nutrient-rich plant easily mistaken for spinach at dinner later that night.

The breeze was welcome in the late afternoon as my car climbed to a precipice on the island known as Leaper's Hill. As history tells it, Frenchmen from Martinique tried to buy land on Grenada from the Caribs, who inhabited the island at the time. The Caribs refused to sell and battles ensured over the next year until all but 40 Caribs had perished. Faced with slavery to the French, they jumped to their deaths from a cliff at Grenada's northern end, now known as Morne des Sauteurs or Leapers' Hill.

With the Grenadine Islands in the distance and the turquoise water below, it's difficult to muster an image of the bloodshed that occurred here a few hundred years ago. Today the only possible trouble broiling beneath the surface is Kick 'em Jenny, a submarine volcano 187 meters beneath the sea surface that has erupted 12 times since 1939, most recently in 2001.

The Seismic Research Unit at the University of the West Indies monitors its activity carefully, but the Grenadians don't seem worried. They have seen their share of natural disasters, most notably in September 2004, when the class five Hurricane Ivan hit the island.

But Grenada has bounced back from the storm, its businesses and infrastructure stronger than ever. Today a visit to the island is filled with the aromatic tang of exotic spices appearing in the most unusual places - like nutmeg yogurt for breakfast and guava jelly on your toast.

Grenada is an island full of surprises: landscapes so densely covered with foliage they look like the backdrop to Jurassic Park and giant leatherback turtles that lumber onto the beaches to lay their eggs at night. Fishermen with skin wizened by the sun sell their daily catch from the back of a truck, blowing through a conch shell to attract the attention of residents. Islanders often share their meals, grilling their seafood over an open flame outside their homes in a ritual fondly known in the local dialect as an 'oil-down'.

There's a vibrant community life in Grenada and a relaxed friendliness that hangs in the hot air. Spend time on this exotic isle and you cannot help but feel the primordial stillness that prevails, lulling all who visit into the tranquil pace of island life.

IF YOU GO:

  • Grenada Seafaris offers motorboat trips that combine reef snorkeling with a snapshot of the island's history at $60 per person. Info: (473) 405-7800; www.grenadaseafaris.com
  • For more information on visiting Grenada contact the Grenada Board of Tourism at www.grenadagrenadines.com or call (416) 595-1339

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

PHOTOS:

1 Jason de Caires Taylor's underwater sculpture, Still Life, Image # 040
Photo: Jason de Caires
2 Snorkeling over Taylor's sculpture titled A Circle of Children Image #101
Photo: Jason de Caires
3. The giant leatherback turtle has a nesting ground on a Grenada Beach Image #1048
Photo: Scott Eanes
4. The endangered leatherback turtle. Image #1042
Photo: Scott Eanes

 


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