Caribbean Islands Catch the fever dream, and let Boney take you on a wild ride past rocky cliffs, soursop trees, and the molasses devil that cavorts through town

Nov 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

In the drink: an offshore view of Grenada

Access & Resources

ON GRENADA, YOU DRIVE in the left lane and shift with your left hand, but it's trickier than just that. Grenadan roads contain no straight lines. The narrow pavement follows the island's volcanic contours with blind curves linking together for miles and sudden fearful inclines that match any in San Francisco. Roads are occasionally flanked by hundred-foot drop-offs with no guardrails. And around most every turn, something darts into your path: a bush dog, a Rastafarian, a coconut, a hobbling old-timer with a cane, an armadillo. Maps are of little use; street signs rarely exist. Taxis aim at oncoming traffic as if engaged in a good-natured game of chicken.

In time, my wife and I came to love driving on Grenada, but on the last afternoon of Carnival, we were sternly warned against it. There would be roadblocks, people said, and mobs of revelers. You'll never make it around the island on your own. Hire a driver. Give Boney a call. And so we did.

He grew up near La Sagesse, a lovely bay on Grenada's southern shore. His mother named him Stephen Morain, but 33 years ago, when he was 19, an Englishwoman rechristened the skinny kid Boney, and it stuck. A father of seven, he's been a Rasta man, a policeman, a driver for the prime minister. He was taught by his grandmother, who lived to be 105 and passed on wisdom about plants that few remember anymore.

On a steep hill overlooking St. George's, the capital, and the Carenage, the city's artfully distressed harbor of anchored sloops and pastel warehouses, our education begins. Grenada's roadsides are both pantry and pharmacy for those who can decipher the tangle of greenery. "This is dasheen," Boney tells us, easing his maroon van to the shoulder and pointing to a spinachlike plant that's the key ingredient in callaloo, the island's signature soup. Next to it is a soursop tree, with huge, bumpy green fruits. There are breadfruits, mangoes, pawpaws, sugar apples. He fingers a weedy-looking vine—coriley, he calls it. "I take it once a month. Very bitter. For my kidneys. It help you a lot. A lot, my friend. Two or t'ree mout'ful a dis once or twice a month."

He threads past a hilltop graveyard and down a twisting, plummeting backstreet, narrating all the while. There's Fort George, on a brow of hill over the Carenage, where in 1983 a rival faction executed Prime Minister Maurice Bishop days before U.S. troops landed. Over there was an ice factory in the days before refrigeration, when the delivery man would announce his arrival in towns by blowing into a conch shell. On Grenada, most exchanges still begin with "Good morning" or "Good afternoon," and even Boney's irritation with other drivers seems tempered. To a passing minibus driver, as calmly as a schoolteacher: "Drive betta dan dot."

We work our way clockwise along the western coast, past yawning valleys of coconut palms, enormous drooping banana plants, stately nutmeg trees. Here's Molinière Reef, a few snorkelers undulating with the swells among the parrot fish and sergeant majors. We pass small vintage billboards for Ovaltine and Vita Malt, and an ominous sign: "Caution—Drive Slowly—Broken Road Ahead."

At four o'clock, we enter Gouyave, a fishing village, just in time to witness a fever dream. Grenada's Carnival takes place in August in part because it has roots in a harvest festival that started in the 1800s as Cannes Brulées ("burnt cane"), which gradually merged with the celebration of the 1834 emancipation of Grenada's West African slaves, from whom most islanders are descended. There's great commotion ahead on the main thoroughfare, so Boney diverts his van a block or so, darting down alleys, the houses close enough to touch. It works: We pull into a gas station at the town's center, and the hallucination begins.

A flatbed truck leads the parade procession loaded with coffin-size speakers thumping out calypso at a deafening throb. Men on the truck bed are covered with glitter, some with red and blue body paint, some with huge blue horns flaring out from their skulls. Several dozen follow on foot, carrying a banner: "Splendid Pirates," old and young alike wearing wigs and garish balloon pants of brown, red, green, yellow, white, and purple, stepping in unison to the beat as if in a trance. Then comes a marching pirate ship, a mock funeral, a brigade of men in identical Arab costumes. A fight erupts among four snarling dogs; a painted man beats them with his floppy straw hat. Here comes Death in his skeleton garb, and Jab-Jab, the molasses devil. Men and women walk in formation clutching tall cans of Heineken with straws poking out. Now comes a round-rumped gentleman wearing nothing but a lacy transparent curtain. Boney roars with laughter, though we can barely hear him above the din.

On to St. Patrick parish, on the island's north side. Loaded vans and minibuses whiz past, slogans on their windshields: Humble Thy Self, Thug Life, Jah Rules. We enter Sauteurs, where Boney weaves through another mob, fragrant of ganja, and then throttles up a tightrope back alley lined by concrete troughs deep enough to swallow a jeep. He does this fast, uphill—and backward. He turns off the engine atop a cliff overlooking a rocky shoreline. From this spot in 1654, a small band of Carib Indians, trapped by French soldiers and fearing a life of enslavement, leaped to their deaths.

The sun sinks, and we arrive at an old airstrip, defunct since the new airport opened in the 1980s. Here sits an old Cuban turboprop, forlorn and abandoned in the grass. Boney has a dream about this plane: He wants to tow it closer to the sea and convert it into a restaurant. He's talked to government ministers, but so far his plan has gone nowhere.

The notion still enthralls him, though. "If I had that airplane...," he muses. He's grinning broadly, gazing slightly heavenward. "I'd have some sparkling ladies there; old people in the kitchen; grilled foods, not fried; some guava ice cream, mango ice cream, soursop ice cream, chocolate, coconut..."

We vanish into the black night. Boney slaloms his van through unlit switchbacks, narrowly missing dreadlocked ramblers, dreaming aloud about empty fuselages and mango ice cream and a sweet-smelling entourage he's sure will soon arrive. It's a dazzling vision, on a day when no vision seems impossible.

Access & Resources: Grenada

Rumors of Grenada's Club Med­ification have been exaggerated. Yup, there's a new shopping mall near Grande Anse, the two-mile crescent of white sand where the island's plushest resorts sit. But there's also this sign just down the street: No Tethering of Animals Allowed.

Fly American (800-433-7300), British West Indies Airlines (800-538-2942), or Air Jamaica (800-523-5585). Rent a car from Avis in St. George's (about $50 per day; 473-440-3936). Boney, aka Stephen Morain, charges $20 an hour to be your driver and guide (473-441-8967).

WHERE TO STAY: The 66-room Spice Island Beach Resort on Grande Anse is inches from the Caribbean ($214-$173; $359; 473-444-4423; A more economical choice is the nearby Blue Horizons Cottage Hotel, with a cool veranda restaurant called La Belle Creole ($170-$173;$190; 473-444-4316; La Sagesse Nature Center is a nine-room onetime English manor house on a gorgeous, palm-shaded cove ($70-$173; $125; 473-444-6458;

WILD GRENADA: Summit the 2,300-foot, delightfully named Mount Qua Qua in Grand Étang Forest Reserve or hike to the Seven Sisters, a misnamed series of five waterfalls. It's worth it to hire a guide, and probably the island's best is Telfor Bedeau, a 62-year-old Grenadan who's hiked the island's highest peak, Mount St. Catherine, more than 100 times ($25-$173; $30 for one person, $15-$173; $25 per person for groups; 473-442-6200). To see the island from the water, sign on with First Impressions for a jaunt up the west coast aboard the Starwind III, a 42-foot catamaran ($45 half-day, $60 full day; 473-440-3678). Divers mingle with barracuda around the wreck of the Bianca C, an Italian luxury liner that sank off St. George's in 1961. Reputable dive operators include Dive Grenada (473-444-1092; www and Sanvics Scuba (473-444-4753;

ISLAND EATS: Cuisine centers around fresh-plucked fruit and the daily catch, with a local twist: More nutmeg grows on this 21-by-12-mile island than anywhere else except Indonesia. A fine perch from which to sample local grub is The Nutmeg, on St. George's harbor. Above Grand Anse is Calypso's Terrace, which serves up nighttime views of St. George's and a fine rum-and-coconut-cream blend called a Painkiller.

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