Tuesday, October 15, 2013

We Are One Fam-i-leeeeeeee!!!

Grenada & Carriacou
September 1-30, 2013

If there's one thing that cruising has taught us, it's that our cruising family is every bit as important, supportive, loving, and loved as our blood relatives back home. We spend as much time together as we did with friends and co-workers combined in our previous lives; and in addition to emotional support, we count on each other for everything from security to boat parts to mechanical advice to recipe ideas to ice cubes for a happy hour drink (love you, Island Dream!). We've had the good fortune to travel with our current cruising family for (depending on the boat) six months to two-plus years now, and we love them all. Admittedly, it's been less common for us to get as close to a local family in our travels, mainly because a) we don't stay in one place for more than a few days or weeks, and b) we tend to frequent places that offer free wi-fi.

Grenada has become the exception to the rule. We've been adopted by a local family who treats us as their own. We met two brothers, Richard and David, at the "King of the Grill" BBQ contest, where they generously invited us to join them at their weekly family get-together the next day. We arrived at a local beach not far from our anchorage, and found ourselves surrounded by four generations of family members, plus various friends and extended family.
We must've met 30 people that day, and we struggled to remember names, who was married to whom, who was related to whom, and the like. A huge pot was set up on a wood fire, and we were told that lunch would be fish broth. Now before you start envisioning some watery bouillon-type of dish, you should know that "fish broth" is more of a stew. It typically includes carrots, onions, potatoes, hot peppers, seasonings, whatever fish are available - some whole, some cut up, and always including fish heads for flavor! - and of course, dumplings.
Grenadian dumplings are much drier and firmer than their American counterparts; they're supposed to "pop" when you bite down on them. Richard and David's uncle, Rubin, and his brother-in-law, Dog, showed me how to make the dumplings, rolling the dough between our hands into finger-sized sections before tossing them into the pot. "Next week, YOU make the dumplings!"

We joined them again the following Friday at Rubin's restaurant, where his wife, Virginia, and sister, Nester, were busy cooking barbecued chicken, pork, and fish, along with yummy fried "bakes". Most of the family members that we'd met the previous Sunday were hanging out at Rubin's, and we all agreed to spend Sunday with them again...this time, for Grenada's "national dish", an oildown. Oildowns are a bit trickier than fish broth, since the coconut milk that forms the base must cook down until there's almost nothing left.
We got to the beach around 9:30 Sunday morning, and began cutting up the vegetables that would go into the pot: breadfruit, carrots, seasoning peppers, potatoes, callaloo, and more. Coconut flesh had been shredded ahead of time, and was soaked in water and strained to make fresh coconut milk (no cans here!). For the meat, Rubin added a bucket of pre-seasoned chicken, turkey, and pig parts - feet, tails, necks...you name it.
Curry and turmeric were added for seasoning, and everything was loaded into the pot. (I even got to make the dumplings, although Rubin added the water so I woudn't end up with a sloppy mess.) Once the coconut milk boiled down, the oildown resembled Grenada's national flag: the yellow of the curry, the orange of the carrots, and the green from the callaloo. And the taste...heavenly!

The next weekend, we invited a few of the family members aboard Ke 'Ola Kai and Pipe Muh Bligh for a happy hour/boat tour. Grandma Teresa, the family matriarch and long-time teacher of great cooking, sent the family to us with a huge batch of homemade ginger-curry-pumpkin soup. Thank you, Teresa! Between the soup, our appetizers, and the chicken wings Rubin brought for us to grill, we had plenty of food...as usual. We had a terrific time hanging out with Dave, Darnell, Nester, Rubin, David, Richard, Popo, and Dog, but later learned that we'd made some other family members jealous. They wanted to come see the boats, too!

After having been fed fabulous local dishes for two weeks, we decided it was time for us to feed the family for a change...or so we thought! We'd agreed to do an American-style barbecue on Sunday, but first Rubin and his family invited us to have breakfast at his house that morning. Virginia and Nester had also agreed to teach me how to cook some local dishes, so we met Richard at the dock at 8am for the short drive to Rubin's. We walked into Virginia's kitchen to some amazing smells, along with towel-covered bowls on every available surface.
There were bowls of dough ready for shaping into coconut bakes, batter for fish cakes, coucou batter (Caribbean polenta) ready for frying, flaky fish souse (made of saltfish, onions, and seasonings), and pots of cocoa tea (think "hot chocolate on steroids"). We kneaded, fried, and strained to our hearts' content, and joined the rest of the family for the feast on the front porch. How were we ever going to eat again at the beach that afternoon??  Well, we had to - we had MEAT to cook!

As for that barbecue... Back in California, Lisa's family was famous for grilling meat on pitchforks. After a bit of a hiccup with the butcher (who was supposed to bring us 15 pounds of meat but only brought four...oops), we managed to gather six pounds of sirloin along with potato salad, BBQ pulled pork, Caesar salad, chili beans, rolls, and pina colada cheesecake for Darnell's birthday.
We were a little worried about whether we'd have enough food for everyone, but we shouldn't have bothered; the family brought a dozen more dishes, from callaloo lasagna (thanks, Kathleen!) to homemade pizza to rum-soaked fruit cake. They even had a pot of fish, conch, and octopus broth simmering on the fire. Do we know how to eat, or what?!

We spent the next couple of weekends doing more of the same, with Friday nights spent at Rubin's restaurant and Sundays spent cooking out at the beach. Between learning how to play the "local" version of dominoes (as opposed to the cruiser fave, "Mexican Train"), eating Virginia's stewed surprises ("manicou", a.k.a. possum, and iguana), and trying Rivers (kill-me-now) rum, we really started to feel like locals. As Nester told us one night, the family adopted us, and we adopted the family. What more could we want?

In addition to cookouts with our new family, we also managed to attend a cooking class at True Blue Bay Resort and even made it to a couple of hashes in September. Lisa and Dave were "de-virginized" (hash-wise) up in Goyave, and we, JoHo, and Ke 'Ola Kai (unfortunately without Lisa - miss you!) all sailed up to Carriacou for the annual hash weekend up there. Okay, so Rene was the only one who actually hashed...but that's another story!
The hash get-togethers were a lot of fun, and we felt like we did some good at the big beach clean-up on the windward side of the island. We also got to spend some quality time with JoHo before saying a temporary goodbye; they'll be heading north over the next few months while we stay in Grenada through the end of November. We've all made plans to be in St. Martin for the Heineken Regatta in March, so hopefully we'll see them again then.

In the meantime, we're looking forward to next month when we get to bring our Grenadian family up to Carriacou to celebrate David and Kathleen's anniversary, Grenadian Thanksgiving, and Brianna's birthday. If we're REALLY lucky, Sherwin will even have his floating bar ready for a grand opening...or at least a sneak preview!

As the song goes...We are one fam-i-leeeeee!!!!

Thanks again to Jolanda, Lisa, & Darnell for sharing their pics! Enjoy more beach pictures here. Enjoy more hash pictures here.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Enjoying Grenada's South Coast

August 19 - August 31, 2013

Now that the Carriacou Regatta and Grenada's Spice-Mas (a.k.a. Carnival) are over, you'd think things would quiet down. Not so much...

After a short stop in Prickly Bay, we moved over to Mt. Hartman Bay to join JoHo and to check on Storyville. Dave and Lisa joined us in Mt. Hartman, while Pat and Darnell headed over to Clarke's Court Bay. While it may sound like we were spread out all over the island, that's the beauty of Grenada: three of the four "cruiser" bays on the south end are joined by an easy dinghy ride. Prickly Bay is the exception, but can still be accessed by the others when the waves die down.

Anyway, we dropped the hook in Mt. Hartman just in time for the full moon...and that meant a dinghy drift! If you've never heard of a dinghy drift, think of it as a tailgating party for boaters. You make a drink for yourself and an appetizer to share, and you hop in your dinghy to join the party. A bunch of dinghies are rafted (i.e. tied up) together, and then you turn off the motors and float wherever the current takes you. If you get too close to a dock, an anchored boat, or (in our case) a passing ferry, a couple dinghy captains start their motors and move the whole raft out of harm's way. Perfect! We, JoHo, and Ke 'Ola Kai joined a bunch of other boats who were anchored in Mt. Hartman Bay, and Island Dream, Minx, and Blues Breaker all joined us from Clarke's Court (the next bay over). All in all, we had something like 15 dinghies rafted together. That must've been close to a record!

A few days later, we were "de-virginized" at our first hash. The "Hash House Harriers" are self-described "drinkers with a running problem", and have chapters all over the world. Thanks to the two universities in Grenada along with cruisers looking for some exercise amidst beautiful scenery, there are typically 100-200 walkers and runners at any given hash. Many of the local taxis run special trips from the anchorages to the hash spots, and there's always a party after each hash. Our first hash ended up being quite close to both our anchorage and the universities, which meant we had even more people attending than usual. For some reason, it also meant that the trail was TWICE as long as normal! Our backsides were thoroughly exhausted by the time we finished the walking trail - did we mention there are some HUGE hills in Grenada?? - but it made the cold Stag at the beer tent taste even better.

It took a couple of days to recover from the hash, but we were soon donning our walking shoes once again for a hike up to Grand Etang Lake and the Seven Sisters waterfalls.  Thirteen of us crammed into a tour van, and we were off for some spectacular views of Grenada. We enjoyed lush vegetation along an easy path to Grand Etang Lake, while the trail to the waterfalls was a bit more of a challenge.
Even with the walking sticks we were given at the top of the trail, two of us slipped on the muddy path in the first few minutes...and they certainly wouldn't be the last! We grabbed onto tree branches, rocks, and vines as we made our way downhill...then uphill...then downhill again - anything to keep ourselves upright. The forest was gorgeous, and we crossed a stream to the waterfalls about an hour later. The pool was...ahhhh...refreshing? Brisk? Freaking COLD???
But it felt great to rinse off after our muddy trek down to the falls. The real excitement began as we started our way back: we were hit by a torrential downpour! Sheets of rain turned the muddy trail into a moving stream, and we watched our every step as we tried not to slip going back. We were soaked and filthy by the time we reached the van, and were amazed that our tour guide, George, even let us in. Muddy or not, we had a terrific adventure. We highly recommend the trip to anyone coming to Grenada!

We finished off August in BBQ heaven, thanks to a local event known as the "King of the Grill" contest. Amateur and pro grill-masters came from all over the island to offer their best barbecue recipes. You could get BBQ ribs, chicken, and chops, along with local dishes like breadfruit croquettes and grilled pumpkin.
We stuffed ourselves silly, and Rene even got to dance with the night's entertainer who was famous for singing one of the popular Carnival songs. "Lambi Queen" Sherwin joined us from Carriacou to celebrate his birthday weekend, and we ended the night hanging out with a few locals who invited us to join their family for a beach cookout the next day. Can't wait! Til next time...

As always, another big thank-you to Jolanda, Darnell, and Lisa for sharing their photos.

Enjoy more pictures here.

Turtles, Regattas, and Spicemas...Oh, My!

Grenada and Carriacou
July 21 - August 18, 2013

Author's note, October 5th: Once again, I've managed to let two-plus months go by without writing a new blog chapter. We've been having too much fun in Grenada and Carriacou, combined with no internet on the boat. What's that spell?? A seriously lacking blog site! Anyway, here's part I of our goings-on over the past few weeks. Enjoy!

If we ever thought that life on a boat could get boring, the past few weeks have certainly cured us of that notion! We've been to full moon dinghy drifts, pig roasts, cruiser happy hours, charity auctions, steel pan band concerts, marathon shopping buses that hit a dozen stops in 3-4 hours, island tours, turtle sightings, butt-kicking hashes, dominoes marathons, two-for-one pizza nights, trivia nights, bingo nights (okay, we skipped that one), the Carriacou Regatta, and...drum-roll please...Grenada's very own Carnival. Tired yet??

We arrived in Prickly Bay on Grenada's southern coast in late-July. Prickly is one of four main anchorages on the south side, and is perfect if you want to be close to the action. Prickly Bay Marina, De Big Fish bar/restaurant, Budget Marine, and local buses to the shopping mall and downtown all surround the bay, and the marina's tiki bar has something happening just about every night of the week. (Their big night is Wednesday bingo, where you can win anything from a truck full of Carib beer to a live cow.) We joined other cruisers, locals, and college kids at Prickly Bay Marina's trivia night in hopes of winning a ride in the motorized doughnut (pizza and beer included), but those pesky med students were just too smart for us.

Our first adventure came to us thanks to Harry and Melinda on Sea Schell, who arranged a trip to the turtle sanctuary on the north end of the island. We'd been warned that mating season was nearly over, and that we'd be lucky to see either a mama leatherback laying her eggs or hatchlings emerging from their nest. Who would've thought we'd be fortunate enough to see both! What an experience: as soon as we arrived on the beach (sometime after 8pm), one of the guides took us to a spot where another volunteer was holding a dozen hatchlings in a bucket. The baby turtles had hatched earlier that morning, and the conservationists kept them protected until after dark so that they'd have a better chance against predators as they made their way to the surf.
After spending a few moments watching the hatchlings waddle to the water's edge, we were told that a mama leatherback (all 400 lbs of her) was laying eggs farther down the beach. We spend over an hour watching her lay her eggs, cover up the nest with snow-angel-like movements, and finally...albeit VERY slowly...make her way back into the ocean. It was an amazing experience, and we're only sorry we didn't get better photos. (We were limited to red-light illumination so as not to disturbe the turtles.) Still, it's something we'll never forget.

After spending a week in Prickly Bay, we were rushing back north to the island of Carriacou. It was regatta time! We anchored back in Tyrell Bay, arriving in time for some of the pre-regatta festivities. First was a huge cruiser BBQ on the beach, followed by an auction benefitting the Carriacou Children's Education Fund. The CCEF has been raising money for local kids for 13 years, and the annual regatta auction was the main event. Thanks to cruisers and local businesses who donated items and services, the cumulative total reached over 200,000 ECs. Way to go!

Once the regatta got underway, we had a chance to see some of the racing in our own backyard. The "cruiser version" of the regatta included an around-the-island race from Tyrell, along with a Tyrell-to-Hillsborough jaunt. The local sloop races were held in Hillsborough, which meant a bus ride into town. Talk about a party! The beach was filled from end to end with sailboats waiting to be launched.
Kids came from all over the Windward islands to race their Optimists and Lasers, while the grown-ups filled the gorgeous local sloops. Dave and Lisa on Ke 'Ola Kai introduced us to their friend, Sherwin (owner of our favorite rum shack, the "Lambi Queen"), who invited all of us to join him to follow the racers on his speedboat. We had a fantastic time, and ended the afternoon at Sandy Island with a swim and an invitation to a local cookout.

As if the regatta weren't enough fun, we were soon on our way back to St. George's for Grenada's Carnival the following weekend. Various events had been held for the previous two weeks to name the queen of carnival, the top calypso band, the top soca band, etc., but the real fun was held on the second Monday and Tuesday of August. Before that, however, we had a birthday to celebrate! Lisa's b-day fell between the Carriacou regatta and Carnival, so we, Island Dream, and JoHo joined Ke 'Ola Kai for a few days in Grand Mal.
We snorkeled the underwater park, had a birthday brunch and dinner, and even enjoyed a beach day. We were thrilled to get to celebrate with Lisa and friends, and hope she had a terrific birthday!

Monday morning's Carnival celebration started with "J'ouvert" or "Jab-Jab", which we knew meant a 4am wake-up call and the oldest clothes we could find. Jab-Jab, sometimes known as the "Devil's Mas", was an opportunity for people to dress up in scary costumes, covering themselves in motor oil and sporting fake...ummm...severed appendages. Let's just say there were a few sausages sticking out of various orifices that looked pretty realistic! As for the oil, the key was to get as many people covered as possible. Fortunately, the smelly stuff was replaced by paints of every color for the parade, and one float even painted people with chocolate syrup. Remember those old clothes we were wearing? If you're going to be part of the celebration, you REALLY have to be part of it...that means getting dirty!

J'ouvert was followed by a Monday afternoon parade, a Monday night illuminated parade, and yet another (final) parade on Tuesday. One costume began blurring into another (along with a few hundred photos), and we were ready to call it a day.

Next up, it's back to Grenada's south coast and all those island tours, hashes, and dinghy drifts we mentioned earlier...but that's for another blog post. Til then...

P.S. A HUGE thank-you to Jolanda, Darnell, and Lisa for sharing their photos!

Enjoy more pictures of the Carriacou Regatta here.

Enjoy more pictures of the Grenada Carnival here.