HURRICANE IVAN gave an unfathomable shock to a nation whose unofficial motto is "God is a Grenadian." It had been just shy of half a century since the last serious hurricane struck Grenada, and even as Ivan was bearing down, few residents sensed real danger. "We were so naive," says Lawrence Lambert, managing director of the Flamboyant Hotel, which sits on a hill above the southern end of Grand Anse, Grenada's celebrated two-mile stretch of white-sand beach. "I thought maybe some doors might blow in."
In fact, the Flamboyant, like so many other buildings, was pounded, losing its main restaurant and all of its roofs. Ivan was so good at dismantling roofs, locals started referring to the storm as Hurricane Roofus. Very few buildings were erected with hurricane survival in mind; analysts now say that $4 metal hurricane straps, which help keep a roof fastened to the top of an exterior wall, would have greatly reduced the islandwide structural damage.
Nowdespite all this destruction and despairGrenada is bouncing back, at a pace no one could have imagined in those initial grim post-hurricane days. After the first dazed month, insurance claims began getting settled; construction materials made their way to the island; teams of workers put in countless hours of hard, hot labor; red tape was cut through; and the government mandate to "build back better" began to seem possible. By the end of this year, 94 percent of the island's nearly 1,600 hotel rooms will be available to guests. Among them, the rebuilt Spice Island Beach Resort, on Grand Anse, will reopen as a five-star hotel. A few hotels never closed: the candy-colored cottages of Bel Air Plantation, which were built to Florida hurricane standards by American owners in 2003, and down-but-not-out True Blue Bay Resort, which provided lodging and meals to an endless procession of insurance adjusters and embassy personnel in the months following the storm. The last major hotel to reopen, LaSource, will welcome guests beginning sometime in 2006.
Of course, the island still bears Ivan's scars. Some are obvious, like the many housesespecially the more rural onessheltered by blue tarps. Some are less obvious, like the thatched umbrellas at the understatedly chic Laluna resort, put up on the beach to replace shade trees lost to the storm. Tourism is rebounding: In August, the island was expecting around 15,000 visitors, a return to almost 90 percent of last year's pre-Ivan numbers. Meanwhile, the future of the nutmeg industrywhich accounted for about half of Grenada's agricultural-export earnings and supplied a third of all nutmeg worldwideremains uncertain, as almost all of the island's nutmeg trees were destroyed.
Challenges notwithstanding, visitors to Grenada this winter will find a heartfelt welcome from a nation that knows how crucial the return of tourists is to its economyand its battered psyche. They'll also find beaches that are clean and inviting. The reefs and wrecks off Point Salines are still great dive spots. The Morne Fendue Plantation House, high in the hills of Saint Patrick's Parish, is still serving its astonishing soursop ice cream. And the nutmeg-dusted rum punches at True Blue Bay Resort's rebuilt waterfront bar are as sweetand as potentas ever.