John was our taxi tour guide for the day. We set out from the south end of Grenada to see the sights. First we passed thru St. George with a view of the beautiful harbor, even had a cruise ship in port today. He said that during the “season” they get 3 cruise ships a week. It use to be they would get a cruise ship everyday, sometimes 2 or 3 a day. I guess they are feeling the effects of our recession back home. Tourism is the number one income maker here in Grenada, followed by spices and agriculture. John told us unemployment was around 40%. And the tourist high season is wrapping up. By mid April tourism drops dramatically throughout all the islands until late fall.
From St. George we drove north along the west coast, our next stop Concord Waterfall. It was an easy, but pretty waterfall right off the road. Isabel had worn her swimsuit hoping to swim in a waterfall, but she quickly slipped on a rock and fell in fully clothed!
After the waterfall we headed further up the coast to the town of Guoyave, named after all the guava that use to grow in the area. This town is known in Grenada for 2 reasons. It is the largest fishing village in Grenada. The most fishing is done out of their harbor. The second reason is the Nutmeg processing plant in town. There are 3 plants here in Grenada, but currently only one is operating. Hurricane Ivan destroyed 90% of the nutmeg industry in Grenada. It takes 10 years for nutmeg to start producing, so in another 2 or 3 years they will have fully recovered from Ivan and will reopen the 2 other plants.
We were able to tour the plant. There were a few women working, doing the final sort of nutmegs, to make sure they were up to standard as they loaded them into shipping bags. We learned a day worker makes about $40 per day. Our tour guide explained to us that nutmeg grows as a fruit. The outside flesh is used in jams or syrups. Coating the seed of the fruit is a red web-like surface called mace. They use this in, well, mace, but also in jams and jellies too. Once the mace is removed the seed or nut of the fruit is placed on racks to dry. They spend several weeks drying out, then are sent thru the cracker. The outer shell of the seed is used as decoration in gardens or landscaping as a bark. Inside is the dry nutmeg. This is the part that is ground and used as a spice. They ship the nutmegs after cracking, whole and ready to be ground. They ship all around the world. It was interesting to learn about. Benjamin really wanted to buy some nutmeg nuts. I was already planning on buying some. I have never used fresh nutmeg before, but had read it was sooo much yummier than ground. But Benjamin had his heart set on buying his own pack, so for $2 USD he purchased his own bag of about 8 nutmegs. He just hoped he had enough money left over to buy some chocolate later.
After leaving the Nutmeg plant we headed towards the north coast and made a quick stop at Leapers Hill. Here is a special landmark in Island history. At this cliff, the Caribs had made their last stand against the French who they had allowed to stay on the island. They regretted this choice and decided to fight to take the island back. Well, the French fought back, and as the Caribs were losing this battle, they decided to save their pride and began leaping off this cliff of the island, falling to their deaths.
As we walked back down the hill to the van, we met some school children. We had parked in the parking lot of a school, and the kids were out for lunch. A few boys came over to say hi. They looked like Benjamin’s age so I asked them how old they were, and I was right, they were all 6, except the one that was 7. Benjamin was a little shy, but finally told them he was 6 too. All the schools we passed on the island had children in uniforms, each school a different color or style. Savannah said if we lived there she would want to go to a school with blue uniforms. John told us that most schools are in a church. The government provides the schooling, but the churches help support the schools.
From here our next stop was Belmont Plantation, where they grow chocolate and make chocolate bars. We had a great tour of the plantation. Kelly our great tour guide was awesome with the kids and we learned a lot about chocolate. He took us out into the field or forest where they grown their chocolate. On our way into the forest we passed orange trees, banana trees, and mango trees. He explained that one chocolate tree can produce thousands of chocolate pods over its lifetime. The pods are ripe when they are yellow. He grabbed one off a tree and opened it up. Inside was a pure white fruit like flesh. He let us taste them. Inside each pod is several seeds covered in the white fruit. And the white flesh tastes fruity, a mixture of mango and grapefruit. He explained that the chocolate takes on the flavor of whatever else is growing in the earth nearby. I had no idea that cocoa beans were covered with a white flesh. In fact at this stage, the bean itself is purple. That must be why I like chocolate, I like purple. He said the workers come out to the field every morning and collect all the yellow pods. They break them open by machete and scoop out the white flesh and beans into a basket. They toss the now empty pods back to the fields to be recycled by the earth. They bring the meat of the pods and beans back to the plantation to process. They fill up stalls as high as they can go with all they collected. They cover them with banana leaves and leave them to ferment. They toss them every 2 days, but the total fermentation time is 6 days for dark chocolate. He lifted up the banana leaves so we could feel the heat the beans give off as they ferment, they were hot.
After 6 days they take the beans still covered in the dried out fleshy meat, no longer white from fermenting, and place them in large racks to dry out. He said they stir them every 30 mins. Traditionally this is done by women walking thru the racks barefoot, so he let all of take our shoes off and walk thru the beans to toss them. Now a days they use a rake and the racks are off the ground so when it rains they can push them under a covered shed and keep them dry. After 6 days of drying out side, they go inside the shed to dry further for another 2 days. In the shed Kelly allowed us to pick a few beans to crack open the outside covering and try a ready cocoa bean. Much like cocoa powder, it needed sugar. The kids loved the entire tour. Next he took us to watch a video that explained what they do with the beans next. They use to sell the beans off to chocolate makers, but then decided they should just make chocolate bars them selves, so they no longer export beans, but sell chocolate bars, and only dark chocolate. Kelly said to get milk chocolate you need to let the beans ferment and dry just a few days longer so the sugars develop a little longer. he also explained the white chocolate is simply made from cocoa butter. Once you have dried cocoa beans, you remove the fat and have your white cocoa butter. I had no idea.
While we watched the video he brought us samples of the chocolate bars to try and some homemade hot chocolate which they call chocolate tea. Calvin thought it was funny that they would drink a hot drink in such a hot place. It was delicious. We were so impressed with all we had learned about chocolate. All for only $5 USD each, what a great deal for all the info and experience we walked away with. Kelly completed our tour with taking the kids to see the plantations Macaws and Mona Monkeys.
For $5 USD you can purchase a Grenada Chocolate Factory Bar. We decided to wait and pick some up at the grocery store for about $4USD.
After our chocolate tour, we drove up into the rainforest of Grenada to the top of the Volcano. The crater is now filled with a lake, and the view was beautiful. The air was significantly cooler and refreshing. At each of the tourist stops we were approached by a lady selling spices of the island and spice necklaces to hang in your closets. For a small tip she allowed us to take a picture with her.
It was now time to head back towards the boat. Grenada is a beautiful island and we had enjoyed our day. We made a last minute stop at the grocery store in Grand Anse to pick up just a few more items. This store had an impressive amount of imported US products, we even found tortillas, something I had made a week or so ago because we could not find any anywhere. While restocking has been more tricky here in the islands, we have found plenty of staples to provide a variety of meals. I was really worried that I wouldn’t be able to find foods for the little kids to eat, but we have found plenty. The prices are higher, and buying in bulk is almost impossible, but provisioning has gone well.