Munching on a home-made bake while picking the small bones from a grilled red snapper wrapped in tin foil, Roger Augustine flashes a big grin as he surveys the two blocks crammed full of vendors hawking the fresh catch of the day. Tapping his feet to the beat of the reggae band playing on a stage next to the chef, the 31-year-old tour guide clearly approves of "Fish Friday" in the village of Gouyave on Grenada's northwest coast.
"We're back to normal living now," he says as he eyes the coconut fudge on the table nearby and looks up at a sky that's so still the stars seem within easy grasp.
But life wasn't like that two years ago. On Sept. 7, 2004, Hurricane Ivan mauled 90 per cent of this eastern Caribbean island. Winds blew the roofs off buildings, hammered the rain forest and the fishing villages and sent Grenadians scrambling to basements in search of safe cover. The strongest hurricane of the 2004 Atlantic season, Ivan was the ninth named storm and the fourth major hurricane of the year. Reaching Category 5 strength, it left more than 20 dead and in excess of a billion dollars in damage.
"While the hurricane may have destroyed our homes, public buildings and resorts," Brenda Hood, Minister of Tourism, said 15 days after the storm, "It has not flattened our spirit. The soul of Grenada remains undamaged."
Two years later, that spirit is stronger than ever with an optimism that is humbling to outsiders. Nearly everything that was damaged has been restored or rebuilt, despite a minor setback last July when Hurricane Emily whacked the island again.
"My family hid in one room during that terrible day two years ago," Edwin Frank remembers as he gazes at the harbour from his office at the board of tourism. "We have only the future to look forward to now."
Today, the island is remarkably devoid of Ivan evidence. The slogan "Building Back Better" embodies the sanguinity of the post-Ivan era, and with a graceful resiliency Grenada is back on its feet and a model for post-disaster recovery.
Tropical and mountainous, the revamped Grenada means new or refurbished properties, roads, bridges, restaurants and attractions, a cruise-ship port with a jetty for viewing dolphins, the high-tech Prickly Bay waterside marina nearly finished, airport expansion plans and construction under way at the Queens Park Stadium (a gift from China) that will hold 15,500 fans during Cricket World Cup in April. Resurrected from a pile of rubble after Ivan destroyed 75 per cent of the property, the upscale Spice Island Beach Resort is the epicentre of post-Ivan confidence. After a $12-million overhaul and sitting pretty on an endless stretch of palm-studded powdery white sand on Grand Anse Beach, it reopened last December with 64 luxurious suites, a posh spa and seaside restaurant.
"I looked at the hurricane as a blessing in disguise and within two weeks I had architects in to carry out my vision for our new resort," says owner and chairman Sir Royston O. Hopkin, the only Caribbean hotelier knighted by the Queen of England and who regally runs the resort as if she may pop in for high tea.
Maca Bana Villas with names such as Cherry and Pineapple opened last year with four-poster beds, massaging hot tubs and solar showers. Others like the Allamanda Beach Resort, La Luna, Calabash, Grenadian by Rex Resort and the Coyoba Beach Resort have also risen again and the chi-chi La Source will reopen in early 2007.
"We are talking to Hilton and Marriott," says Brenda Hood, Minister of Tourism. "The Four Seasons is looking at Hog Island and the Ritz Carlton is considering a property."
Other post-Ivan initiatives include tubing in the Balthazar River and a focus on the diving and yachting market. Collaboration between the public and private sectors has resulted in plans to develop seven marinas in addition to the three already open.
The cruise season kicks off next month with a terminal ready to accept large ships. Steps away, the new Esplanade Mall is full of shops such as Vine Yard, owned by Alie Baptiste, who studied marketing at Toronto's George Brown College and sells the aphrodisiacs he brews from the bark of the Bois Bande tree. "We've learned to make lemonade from lemons," he says. "Life is full of hope and promise."
Pack your bags
Air Canada Vacations (aircanada.ca) operates a weekly non-stop flight from Toronto to Grenada beginning in December with connections from Halifax, Montreal and Ottawa. Year-round, Air Canada and BWIA operate regularly scheduled flights from Toronto and Montreal to Barbados and Trinidad, with connections into Grenada via LIAT and Caribbean Star.
GG Tours ( ) and Titan Tours ( ) will operate a charter service over the Christmas period.
WHERE TO STAY
Spice Island Beach Resort: ; 473-444-4258.
Maca Bana Villas: macabana.com; 473-439-5355.
Mandoo Tours: ; 473-407- 0024
THINGS TO DO
ICC Cricket World Cup: . April 10 to 20, 2007.
Tourist information: .