All I wanted to do in Grenada was veg on the beach. I had a stack of paperbacks, SPF 70 and reservations for a Balinese massage. It was my first time back to the Caribbean in 10 years, and my first beach vacation in nearly as long. The prospect of eternal days of sunshine, frothy novels and morning yoga to keep me from morphing into a true sloth seemed like heaven.
I had good reason to spend a few nights on this remote island, 100 miles north of Venezuela: It was my 40th birthday. I wanted to retreat and reflect. But after 40 years, you’d think I knew myself better. Day after day of mindless loafing at my bohemian-luxe resort, Laluna, where I bounced between my cottage-sized bungalow — one of 16 on the hillside property — and a chaise longue on the small, private beach, no matter how indulgent and quasi-spiritual it sounds, gets old. I wanted stimulation, not to sit still.
Luckily Grenada’s rising tourism trade offers plenty of activities. With lush rain forests and bustling villages, nutmeg factories and cocoa plantations, the island is filled with natural and agricultural delights. Indeed, Grenada is nicknamed the Spice Isle, and sensory adventures abound. I let my nose lead the way.
There are several ways to get around the 120-square-mile island, including rental cars and public buses. But the easiest — and most informative — is renting a taxi with a local driver at the wheel. Which is how I found myself riding shotgun in a minivan next to a guy named Elvis.
We were heading to Belmont Estate, a 300-year-old plantation that harvests spices like cinnamon, cloves, bay leaf, ginger, nutmeg and mace, and supplies the Grenada Chocolate Co. with organic cocoa for its chocolate bars. As Elvis navigated the winding, hilly roads up the island’s eastern side, taking us past fruit stands stocked with breadfruit, mangoes and bananas, goats tethered to telephone poles, and pastel-colored homes covered in bougainvillea and perched on stilts, he gave me a brief lesson on the island’s agricultural history.
In 2004, after 49 hurricane-free years, Hurricane Ivan roared across Grenada, damaging 90 percent of the island, including its nutmeg trees — source of a chief export. Hurricane Emily, which hit in 2005, further damaged crops and infrastructure. In the storms’ aftermaths, Grenadians started cultivating more cocoa than nutmeg since cocoa trees take half as long to mature. This shift in priority was evident at Belmont Estate.
The 400-acre estate is carved into a green hillside. Rows of royal palm trees lined a path through wild vegetation, everything from towering tamarind to petite bergamot trees. Goats from the dairy farm grazed in a fenced-in patch. A soft-spoken guide took a small group of us inside a cavernous barn, where the funky scent of fermenting cacao beans, still white and gooey, permeated the air. As she explained the process — drying, roasting, pressing, conching — she brought us outside, where beans were turning brown under the tropical sun. But the estate’s expertise really came to life inside the boutique, where you can buy everything from rum truffles to chocolate-covered pineapple to pate de mango, a sweet, gummy bonbon enrobed in dark chocolate.
On the way home, Elvis suggested we take the west coast.
“You get a lot of ocean views in the west,” he said in response to my breathless “Whoa!” as we rounded a bend and saw the turquoise water before us. Not long after, he pulled over to a roadside stand and ordered a couple of local Carib beers. Elvis was a sales rep for the company and, with quiet pride, he handed me a bottle. I don’t know if it was the chocolate aftertaste or Caribbean views, but it was one of the best brews of my life.