Hello Mother, Hello Father. Here I am at Camp Granada.
As I mentioned in The Pilgrimage South, most Caribbean cruising boats spend hurricane season in Grenada. From early summer to mid fall, the bays and bars of Grenada are flooded with cruisers from all over the world.
Every day during the morning announcements on the daily cruisers net broadcast over the VHF radio, a litany of social activities is radioed in: Poker Monday at 2pm, Yoga Wednesday at 8am, Fish Fry Friday at 6pm, Beach BBQ Sunday at 3pm, Beach Volleyball Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 3pm, …. There are weekly jam sessions, trivia nights, bingo nights, movie nights, chess afternoons, dominoes afternoons, Tai Chi mornings, water aerobics mornings, shopping shuttle buses, scuba diving classes and trips, …. Did I mention my favorite of the week – the Saturday afternoon Grenadian Hash House Harriers run/walk/happy hour?! Periodically, there are dinghy drifts, pan band concerts, charity events, cooking classes, ….
I dutifully take notes during morning announcements and try to plan out a week that maximizes all of the social opportunities. If we run the hash really fast can we get back to the dock in time for the dinghy drift? Can we make it back from volleyball at Secret Harbor in time to play bingo at Prickly Bay? At the bar during lunch or happy hour, we inevitably make alternative or additional plans with the friends we meet: pool tournaments, walks to the chicken shack, hikes to waterfalls, oil downs on the beach, island tours, round the island regattas, …. Somehow we find time for cooking, cleaning, laundry, boat maintenance, and long, steamy, frequent walks or bikes into town to buy food and boat parts. I dream of organizing a book club or Spanish language table, but can’t seem to find the time.
It’s exhausting. I may need a vacation after Camp Grenada is over. (Yeah, retirement is tough. Remember when I used to bill twenty hours a day in six-minute increments?)
Camp Grenada is riddled with cliques: the Kid Boats Clique, the Canadian Euchre Mafia, the Buddy-Boated-from-Georgetown Gang. There are ringleaders: single-handers (i.e., solo sailors living alone on their boats) always stirring up trouble to keep themselves from getting lonely. There are camp counselors: local Grenadians (we love you Devon, George and Richard!) shuttling us around the island in their 16-passenger vans and inviting us to local events.
And like any good sleep-away camp, Grenada is steeped in history and lore. From the days of its “discovery” by Christopher Columbus, it has survived centuries of power struggles: first between the French and native Caribs in the 1600s, then between the French and the British in the 1700s, then between the British and the African slaves in the tail end of the 1700s and the early 1800s, then among the Marxists, the socialists and the hardline revolutionaries in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
It was a bold and bloody history. In 1651, the Caribs surrendered to the French in a mass suicide jump off of Sauteurs’ Hill, and in October 1983, the Grenadians welcomed with open arms the US Marines executing Operation Urgent Fury to save the St George’s Medical School’s American students (i.e., to intervene against a Marxist hardliner who had just executed the socialist prime minister in a coup d’état, supported by 800 Cubans on island).
The result of all that troubled history? A calm and courteous society. When I bike to town for groceries, every person I pass on the street says hello or waves. In the stores and at the farmers’ market, everyone offers me a warm smile and engages me in friendly small talk. I don’t like to talk to strangers, and especially don’t like to be hassled to buy goods or services, but I am (slowly) learning to drop my guard here, because Grenadians really just want to chat, want to make sure you are enjoying their beautiful island. When they speak amongst themselves, I understand only random words of their thick Grenadian Creole. But when Jason accuses our friend Devon of not speaking English, he laughs a fully belly laugh as though it is indeed Jason who doesn’t speak English.
During the carnival festivities, the opening party begins at 4am, with locals slathered in used motor oil, wearing horned helmets and carrying long, heavy chains. They walk through the streets drinking rum and beer, blaring their local Soca music (which I only hear as a deafening bass line, but apparently has lyrics that Grenadians hear and sing along to), stomping their feet and grinding their bodies. For a split second, as a local came charging at me, I thought, oh my God, he’s going to rob me or rape me or beat me. (Remember, it’s 4 am, every body’s drunk and there are no street lights.) Then I remembered I am at Camp Grenada – he’s going to lather me in used motor oil and politely ask to dance with me. Mother, Father, life is good at Camp Grenada.
We’ve certainly slowed down, settled in, and gotten to know a slice of the local community and more of the cruiser community. It is everything we’d been looking for, and perhaps a little more. I can’t say that Camp Grenada would be a yearly thing for us (as it is for many), but for this year it’s been the perfect thing for us.