The Osprey ferry slowly came to a halt and moored up at the short jetty serving the town of Hillsborough. It had been a two hour trip from St George’s, accompanied by flying fish keeping pace with the ferry and risking being plucked out of the water by an agile sea bird.
A tiny number of people waited on the quayside anticipating the arrival of friends, families or goods. Obvious amongst them, my husband identified Michael and Ezra Charles who I was yet to meet and yet were the reason for us taking this trip to a small and little known Caribbean island. Hillsborough is the capital of Carriacou, which is one of the three main islands making up the country of Grenada – the others being Grenada itself and Petite Martinique. A member of the Commonwealth, at the time of our first visit in 2016, Grenada was proudly celebrating 42 years of independence.
Some months prior to this we had been deliberating where to go on our next holiday. As chance would have it, Martin was working for Ezra in his capacity as a handyman and she mentioned that they were from Grenada which was well worth a visit. After some research we decided it looked as if Grenada was indeed our sort of place, not being on the main tourist trail, but with enough to keep us interested for a two week stay, so the holiday was booked. We had not appreciated at that point that Michael and Ezra actually lived on Carriacou – in fact we had no idea that such an island even existed.
We disembarked from the ferry, not entirely sure what to expect but were warmly greeted by the Charles’ and, as those with more luggage than us anxiously watched their cases being expertly hurled from the boat to the waiting man on the quayside, we set off to the waiting car. We had been invited to spend one night of our two-week holiday on mainland Grenada at the Charles’ residence on Carriacou, and as we pulled up to allow Ezra to open the gates at the bottom of their drive, we were delighted with the beautiful home which was to be our overnight stop over.
Carriacou has a population of around 6000 and is approx 12 square miles but the expression ‘small but perfectly formed’ springs to mind. After giving us chance to freshen up after our ferry journey we set off in Michael’s Land Rover Discovery to explore the island.
They knew everyone (or so it seemed to us) and we quickly started to joke with them that most people seemed to be a cousin of one or other of them.
Everyone had time to stop and chat in a way we felt had been lost long ago in the UK, and whilst we had enjoyed our time on Grenada, this little island had a unique charm which we quickly warmed to. It seemed like the Caribbean of yester-year, before the invasion of mass tourism had jaded the locals’ natural welcome and changed the culture to meet the requirements of demanding foreigners.
The first day’s tour ended with a stop for a swim at the aptly named Paradise beach.
As Michael, Ezra, Martin and I stood chatting chest deep in the crystal clear, turquoise lukewarm water, we were joined by half a dozen local people also wanting to relax at the end of their working day. We were the only tourists and yet this beach was what many dream of when conjuring up their idea of the Caribbean.
The tour continued the following day prior to leaving on the 3:30pm ferry, and by then we felt we had seen most of the island. We ate a tasty lunch in Hillsborough with Michael and Ezra before we said slightly premature farewells with grateful thanks for a wonderful stay. We wanted to sneak off to the tourist office prior to the ferry, as Michael and Ezra had told us they were celebrating 40 years of marriage the following weekend. How on Earth could we get flowers delivered to this little island we wondered? A call from the Carriacou tourist office to a florist on the mainland did the trick, and we paid up, being assured the flowers would arrive by ferry and our payment would be sent back to the florist the same way.
We left Carriacou completely doubtful that the Charles’ would ever see the flowers we had ordered.
A few days after our trip to Carriacou we flew back to the UK little knowing at that point that that one night stay was going to change the future course of our lives. Without even realising it, we had been infected by something on Carriacou – not ziko, dengue or any other mosquito-born illness, but rather a realisation that life could be very different from the materialistic, fast-paced lifestyle we had grown used to in England. Shortly after arriving back in the UK an email of thanks from Michael proved our doubts about the flowers had been misplaced!
Neither of us can really remember how or when we made the decision, but by May 2016 we had decided to return to Grenada for four weeks to explore whether this was somewhere we could consider starting a new phase in our lives together. What’s more, after only 24-hours spent there, we decided we would spend three of the four weeks on Carriacou with one week on Grenada. We both secretly had doubts that this was a good idea – after all, Carriacou was so small and quiet. Surely we would be bored stiff after only a day or so and be hankering for the time on Grenada. However we went ahead, arranging accommodation and car hire on both islands and getting the flights booked. What was the worst that could happen – we would have a four week break in the Caribbean, how bad could that be?
In the meantime, various agents were contacted asking for details of properties and plots of land on both islands which we could view whilst over there. Martin’s dream had long been to build his own house – given the significantly lower prices of land, particularly on Carriacou, than in the UK it seemed far more feasible that he would be able to realise that dream over there.
And so 4 October found us once again disembarking the Osprey to be greeted by the owner of the apartment we had rented in Tyrell Bay for three weeks. The emails exchanged with him had been with John Gabriel, but we were quickly told that everyone knew him as ‘Barba’. We stopped briefly at the police station in Hillsborough to get our Grenadian driving permits and then continued to the apartment. Being honest, we had both been worried that the apartment would not amount to much. We had deliberately looked for places to stay where we could feel as if we were living rather than on holiday – but had we gone too far with that philosophy?
We both heaved a sigh of relief as Barba showed us into the apartment called Oyster Shell. It was small but perfectly adequate for our requirements, the beach was virtually on our doorstep and it had a balcony with the most stunning view over Tyrell bay view towards the setting sun. We were introduced to Kathleen who ran Barba’s small shop at the rear of the apartment selling eggs and chickens and whose granddaughter, Hannah, joined her most days after school. Jet-lagged, but happy, we collapsed in the luxury of the air conditioning and wondered what the next four weeks would hold in store for us. We would never have guessed!
Shortly before we arrived on Carriacou, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba and the south east of the US. Our research had told us that Grenada, being very southerly in the Caribbean archipelago, rarely experienced hurricanes – it had had only three of significance in the previous fifty years so we were not unduly concerned. Within a day or so of arriving however, the locals (including the many white boat-dwellers for whom Tyrell Bay was home, known by locals as “yachties”) seemed a little perturbed by the anticipated arrival of a ‘swell’. It didn’t sound too bad to us Brits, and in the scheme of things, it wasn’t. However for this little island, it was a major event.
The sea washed over the small sea wall outside our apartment and all along Tyrell Bay, causing Hannah to shriek with excitement, or terror – it was difficult to say! Many of the yachts had been moved into the nearby mangroves where they were protected from the worst of the swell but those that had not, bobbed about frantically and we later heard that a badly-moored catamaran in Hillsborough had been split in two. To us, it was entertaining to watch the locals deal with the situation which clearly was unusual for them.
The following day was Friday, and late in the day the electricity in the apartment and surrounding area went off. Coincidentally, there was a flurry of activity down the road – a tree had come down and almost demolished the local rum-shack. People quickly set to work – a digger arrived to prop up the tree and branches were chain-sawn off, put on a flat-bed lorry and carted off to the local dump – located appropriately at Dumfries (aka “Dump”fries). Given that darkness falls most nights at around 6pm, time was limited, but emergency lighting was brought in so work could continue. What were we to do given no power which was required even to draw tap water from the cistern – well, watch the spectacle and then retire to a local bar, pay for their speciality drink which seemed to be called Pimms (but bore no resemblance in taste or strength to the drink we know by that name) and by torch light wait to see if the power comes back. It did – but not before the local fireflies had provided a wonderful display in the trees adjacent to the bar. It was almost as if they knew we needed their lighting!
The next couple of weeks were spent viewing various properties and plots of land and meeting many local people as well as foreigners who had made Carriacou their home. None of the houses we saw really appealed to us, and each plot of land had some down-side to it although some we worked hard at convincing ourselves might work for us. However, as we neared the end of our three weeks, we began to fear that we were not going to find anything that would convince us we could make this work.
Barba himself, owned both land and properties on the island, and had shown us a number of them. On our penultimate day on the island he mentioned one more plot he could show us, which he was keeping for himself. However he agreed to let us view it. It was in the peninsular area beyond Tyrell bay known as Hermitage, and up a fairly steep hillside. We followed Barba to the top, and were amazed at the views, islands to the east and south, surrounded by varying shades of turquoise and azure sea, and with the Caribbean Sea over the hilltop ridge to the west over which the sun would set each evening.
We were excited – this could be it! The price was good and we felt happy dealing with Barba who we felt we had got to know and like over our three week stay in his apartment.