An Elf Owl peeks out of a saguaro cactus.
Map of the Eastern Caribbean.
St. Vincent & The Grenadines is highlighted.
South Florida is in the upper left, Venezuela is along the bottom.
St. Vincent, The Grenadines and Grenada.
Leaving the arid hills of the
First glimpse of St. George's harbor on Grenada.
A goat was making all that noise...
Grand Anse Beach.
Happy Beach Bum.
Manicured path through a posh
Lush flowers line the resort paths.
Gateway to the beach.
Sunbathing in paradise.
Merry Christmas from Grenada.
Young men love to stand in the
backs of pickups.
A cop squeezes through a traffic jam.
Beautiful ocean views between the hillside homes.
A cruise ship anchored off the town.
Two blue and gold macaws say "hello."
View of St. George's from across the harbor.
A vendor hawks conch shells to
the cruise ship tourists
Christ of the Deep Statue
Sendall Tunnel - shared by
pedestrians & cars, no sidewalk!
Government buildings with St. George's homes behind.
Grenada & the town of St. George's
Mid-December, 2009 - [From the Phoenix Parks] -- Living full-time in an
RV poses the considerable challenge of figuring out what to do in the
wintertime. While most RV snowbirds come down from the northern states
and provinces to spend the winter in southern California, Arizona, Texas
and Florida, we find those places are all too cold. And we aren't alone.
The smallest owl species, the Elf Owl, feels the same way. Arizona is the
elf owl's summer home, and these adorable little guys show up around late
February each year, hanging out in the cool saguaro cactus interiors when
the summertime heat really starts to sizzle. They leave in the fall for
warmer climes in Mexico where their favorite insects and scorpions are still
active and buzzing and available for dinner over Christmas and New
There is nowhere consistently warm in the US between December and
February, except possibly southern Florida, which is not big-rig friendly. We have shivered our way through the past two winters.
and felt very cooped up in our rig. We would happily take the buggy down the Baja peninsula or down to Puerto Vallarta (or
beyond) in Mexico each winter, but the Dodge truck has one of the new "Blue Tech" engines that requires the new non-polluting #2
diesel fuel (All diesel trucks in the US with a model year of mid-2007 or later have these engines). Although our truck was built in
Mexico, it is not sold in Mexico. Mexican diesel trucks conform to less stringent pollution standards and #2 diesel is not readily
available in Mexico except in the border towns.
So this year we put a lot of thought into coming up with a different plan. We entered a few contests to win a sailing charter in the
Caribbean, we agreed to help some friends sail their boat down the Mexican coast to Central America and through the Panama
Canal, we tried to get into the Baja Ha-Ha sailing rally from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, aboard the mothership
catamaran Profligate, and we toyed with the idea of getting an RV site in a park somewhere relatively warm.
But none of these ideas worked out. So we finally
cobbled together some frequent flier miles that were left
over from our corporate working days and got tickets to
Grenada in the southeastern Caribbean, with the idea
of visiting both Grenada and nearby St. Vincent and the
Grenadines. We found two furnished apartments on
different islands that we could rent cheaply for a month
apiece, and we came up with a loose plan to spend two
months based in apartments and two weeks wandering
through the Grenadine Islands. The buggy will stay at a
friend's RV storage facility until we return at the end of
The Grenadine islands sit about 100 miles off the South
American (Venezuelan) coast, north of Trinidad, at the
bottom of the chain of eastern Caribbean islands. The
island of St. Vincent caps the north end, and together
with most of the Grenadine islands makes up the
country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The island
of Grenada lies to the south, and together with the
southernmost Grenadine islands makes up the country
Under British rule until 1974, Grenada is an independent country that made US headline news in 1983 when the US military
invaded to overthrow a volatile regime that had seized power. St. George's University's medical school trains many future US
physicians, and these medical school students had to be evacuated during the invasion. Grenada hit the headlines once again in
2004 when Hurricane Ivan proved that Grenada doesn't really sit south of the hurricane belt as many had thought. The
devastation was extreme: ninety percent of the island's homes were damaged by the storm.
Grenada has personal meaning to me because it was the final
destination of a sailing charter I did in 1992. After sashaying through the
glittering islands that start with St. Lucia,100 miles further up the chain, I
fell in love with the people and sights of Grenada, also known as the
Spice Island. This was one of those technicolor times in my life that
remains near and dear to my heart and stands out in my memory as ten
of the best days I've ever had. I vividly remember sailing those
crystalline turquoise waters and seeing starfish on the sand 50 feet
below the boat. Mark has similar memories of Barbados, which lies 50
miles east of St. Vincent. He visited in the mid-1970's, dashing about
the island on a scooter with his girlfriend, watching horses pull open
wagonloads of hay from the inland farms and buying fresh fish from
fishermen on the beach. Those brilliant memories bring warmth to his
soul. He was lucky to get to Barbados when every building on the island
was just one story high.
Leaving Phoenix, we watched the
beautifully contoured mountains of
eastern Arizona and western New
Mexico slip away under the wing
of our plane, and said "goodbye"
to the arid, angular desert for a few months. Twelve hours of flying and a layover in Miami
got us to Grenada by 9:00 that night, and we emerged from customs and immigration into
the sultry humid air of this lush land. Christmas lights and beeping car horns greeted us, and
we jumped into a taxi -- on the wrong side at first, as we forgot they drive like the Brits -- and
straight into a gridlocked traffic jam. "I've been driving taxis here since 1985, and it's always
like this," our driver said, laughing. "We have a terrible infrastructure here." The horns
continued, high-pitched but friendly, and the drivers hung out of their van windows, arms
waving madly, as they joked with each other and tried to wriggle their vans free of the mess.
Our apartment was clean but
spartan, a bit like Motel 6 prior
to renovations, with air
conditioning, wifi and cable TV.
Outside our windows a
cacophony of tree frogs chirped rhythmically in the dark, like a bunch
of squeaky swing sets at a playground. Too excited to sleep, we
settled in to watch Oprah's White House Christmas special on the 9"
screen. It wasn't until our second night that we found local Caribbean
stations sprinkled between the standard American cable fare. German
and French stations rounded out the offerings.
morning to bright sunshine flooding
our room. Through bleary, blinking
eyes we saw the town of St.
George's and its welcoming harbor
sparkling in the distance beyond
We had barely slept a wink in the
tiny bed, surrounded by strange
tropical noises, and we'd lost three
hours to time-zone changes, but in
a flash we grabbed our masks, snorkels and fins and dashed down to the
beach. On the way, we stopped to check out the source of a pitiful wailing
we had been hearing all morning. It turned out to be a mama goat across
the street, and she had an awful lot to say for herself.
Grand Anse beach is the most popular
beach in Grenada, situated just a little
southwest of the main town of St.
George's. It was a quick walk for us,
and our grins preceded us all the way
down the hill. The little cars -- all late
model and shiny -- zoomed past us, their
horns happily beeping. Toyotas, Isuzus,
and other familiar car makes filled the
road, but the models were new to our
eyes. Passersby greeted us, and we
waved when the cars honked, learning
too late that taxis stop when you wave.
Suddenly a van did a u-turn right next
to us, backing up into someone's front yard, while its driver
hung out the window, gesturing at us to get in. Oops. It
also took a few near nips for us to remember to look right
before crossing the street or risk getting run over.
Down by the beach the thick scents of exotic plants filled
the air. Unfamiliar birds called out from deep in the bushes.
The sun warmed our bodies, then baked us, and we
hurriedly added more and more layers of sunscreen.
Several gorgeous resorts line the south end of Grand Anse
beach, and we wandered through their manicured grounds.
Flowers of all kinds and colors bloomed everywhere.
There is a building ordinance that prohibits buildings taller than
tree-level on the beach, and this keeps the beachfront intimate
and accessible. We cut through a city park to the beach and
squished our toes in the sand. It was impossible to believe
that just yesterday we'd been drinking hot tea to stay warm.
Being winter, the ocean water was just shy of bath water, but
once we got in we sure didn't want to come out.
A few family groups frolicked in the waves nearby, while a
young couple worked on their tans. Here we were in
Paradise. How amazing.
One of Santa's elves made a brief appearance. He strolled
down the beach wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.
The next day we walked to the town of St.
George's. It's a crazy scene on the road,
with guys standing in the backs of pickup
trucks and bumper to bumper cars beeping
their way down the road. When a police car
snaked its way through a traffic jam, lights
swirling, cars drove up on the sidewalks like it
was an oridinary thing.
Meanwhile the views opened up
alongside us, offering palm tree
silhouettes against turquoise
backdrops. Grenada is a
popular cruise ship
destination, and there
is always one or more
docked in town or
anchored in the bay.
Lots of smaller
anchor in the bay as well.
We wandered through the
marina where I met some
avian friends and got a quick parrot
fix. We stopped to talk to a French
couple who had sailed here from
home, across the Atlantic, two years
ago on their 42' German-built boat.
The world seemed to open its arms to
The town of St. George's sprawls up a
hillside, making a beautiful view from
across the harbor as you approach.
We arrived just as two cruise ships
were unloading, and found ourselves caught up in the
frenzy of local vendors selling spices, crafts, fruit and
seashells to the tourists.
We made a quick stop in the library, housed in a
beautiful old stone building, and walked through the
Sendall Tunnel where pedestrians and cars share an
impossibly skinny road. The government buildings
and foreign consulates line the pretty waterfront.
Crisply dressed professionals walk the sidewalks
alongside sunburned tourists, eager vendors and
casual locals "liming" (relaxing) in the shade of the
We wanted to catch a bus back to our apartment but
needed to learn something about the bus system first.
Buses here are essentially 10-passenger mini-vans,
and each one displays a number on the windshield
indicating its route. There are no schedules, but they
are very frequent. We walked over to the bus
terminal, the hub of the nine or so bus lines that
operate in Grenada, hoping to get a map of the bus
lines or at least a list of which buses
go where. No such luck. We spoke
with three different bus terminal
officials, each sporting a uniform and
clipboard, but none of them knew of
such a thing. Instead, the way you
work the bus system here is simply to
go to the bus terminal and ask which
bus to take. Perhaps by the end of
our stay we will know all the bus lines
and can make up our own master list!
Joining the slightly controlled chaos
at the bus terminal, we climbed into
one of the buses marked "1" after
two drivers of different #1 buses both
tried to persuade us onto their bus. The first driver had only one seat available, which
seemed odd. It was only after we'd sat in the second bus that we discovered they load
these buses to the gills, and the first driver had probably assumed I would sit in Mark's
lap. Seventeen people were squeezed onto our bus, with a skinny mom and her skinnier
daughter sharing a jumper seat that was pulled out of nowhere. With every stop the folks
near the door all had to pile out to let the other riders off, and then they piled back on
again. These cramped quarters could explain the nickname the "chicken bus," but by the
time we got off we decided the nickname was more likely because the drivers all play the
game of chicken with each other. I have never careened around so many blind turns at
such a speed, and when our bus went over the double yellow line and risked a head-on
with another bus, our driver honked at the other guy! All the while everyone was
laughing and jostling and in great spirits. We have been on the Spice Isle for just a few
days, but what an experience so far.