Published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2006
Shortly after I arrived in Grenada 18 months ago, it was hit by Hurricane Ivan. Crops were ripped from the ground; trees were uprooted; buildings were plucked from their foundations and tossed into the sea. On the night of September 7, 2004, I was cowering in a dark hotel kitchen while, outside, Ivan tore everything to shreds.
Now here I am again, back at the Spice Island Beach Resort, sitting on the same pretty terrace by the same private plunge pool.
Today I am wondering if the early morning sun has warmed the water sufficiently for a pre-breakfast dip; back then, I was about to take a bath in the debris-strewn pool because the water had been cut off.
I was a little unnerved to find I had been booked into my “old” room; the room in which – once the hurricane had subsided – I spent a sleepless night in a damp bed, listening to the distant crack of machine-gun fire and getting up every 10 minutes to check that the door was locked.
But now that I’m here, with the sun dappling the little walled garden from a cloudless sky and the sea lapping the beach just a few yards away, I feel fine.
The whole resort has been so beautifully renovated, it’s easy to forget that it was once ravaged by 150-mile-an-hour winds.
The same cannot be said of of Grenada itself where Ivan’s legacy is still all too apparent. Everywhere there are poignant reminders of that night: roofs that have not been replaced; shop fronts that remain boarded up.
My driver’s house was so badly damaged that he is still living with his brother; the manager of a luxury rental villa tells how the wind blew out the windows and the grand piano was last seen floating out to sea.
But with time and money, buildings can be repaired. What will take longer to put right is the damage to Grenada’s rural economy.
Pre-Ivan, the island produced a third of the world’s nutmeg and a great deal of its mace, sorrel, allspice, cloves and cinnamon. But the hurricane destroyed 80 per cent of the nutmeg trees and the newly planted crops will not be ready for harvest until 2010; banana production will take five years to recover.
Edwin, from the Grenada tourist office, drives me into the rainforest. On either side of us are acres of dense greenery. I remark that here, at least, Ivan seems to have made little impact.
Edwin sighs and explains that the lush green “trees” are actually dead stumps covered by thick blankets of ivy. It’s fortunate, he adds, that it’s not just ivy that grows quickly in the Caribbean.
We pull up at Dougaldston Spice Estate, where a group of women is cleaning sorrell in a tin-roofed shack.
The plantation also produces cocoa, nutmeg, cloves, tonkal beans, cinnamon, bay leaves, loofah and calabash, but the harvest has been so poor that only the sorrell ladies have anything to do today.
The manageress shows me how cocoa beans are processed to make chocolate powder, which is then mixed with a little cocoa butter and rolled into balls. To make hot chocolate, you boil a ball in water for three minutes and then add milk and sugar, she says.
I remember that it’s still hot-chocolate weather at home and buy 12 balls for a couple of pounds.
Edwin has noted my enthusiasm for the cocoa bean, so on the way back to the resort, we stop at the Grenada Chocolate Factory.
This tiny solar-powered factory, painted in jolly Caribbean colours, uses organically grown cocoa to produce dark, 74 per cent solids chocolate, made in small batches on antique machinery.
Desmond, who talks our little group of visitors through the various stages of production, tells us that each bitter-sweet slab takes three days to produce and that they are all wrapped by hand.
The chocolate that was being processed at the time of the hurricane was made into special Hurricane Ivan bars and sold through the British chocolate shop, Rococo, in aid of Hearts and Hands of Grenada; a Hurricane Emily bar will be launched this summer.
That evening I am invited to dine with the owner of the Spice Island Beach Resort, Sir Royston Hopkin.
Sir Royston was not on the island when the hurricane struck but his British chef, Mark Banthorpe, was and when he stops by our table to say hello, we reminisce about how, the morning after the hurricane, he cooked a slap-up breakfast over a blazing fire on the beach.
I have eaten at all the top hotels on the island, including Gary Rhodes’s fabulous restaurant at Calabash and the wonderful Italian restaurant at Laluna, but I like Mark’s cooking best because it is the most Caribbean, offering a sophisticated take on traditional dishes.
Conversation over dinner inevitably turns to the hurricane. Sir Royston recalls surveying the mangled resort and promising that not only would he rebuild it, but that he would make it better than before.
“It was a good excuse to do some of the things I had wanted to do anyway, like building a spa and updating the rooms,” he says.
It took him 15 months to do it but just before Christmas last year, his Caribbean caterpiller emerged from its cocoon of scaffolding, the epitome of resort chic, with its creamy stone floors, white plaster walls and pickled-wood beams.
Against such a stylish backdrop, the three-mile crescent of white-sand beach, fringed with sea grapes and palm trees, looks more inviting than ever.
Sir Royston’s can-do attitude is shared by everyone in the tourism industry here. Few hotels were as badly damaged as Spice Island, and most were patched up and opened within weeks; the airport was reopened within 48 hours.
Not bad considering 10,000 people had just lost their homes.
The thing that made me so determined to come back to Grenada was the feeling that I missed out on something really special; that this 120-acre spit of land with its rainforest and crater lakes; its white beaches and mangroves, would prove to be the perfect Caribbean island.
Perfection doesn’t exist, of course. The coffee at Spice Island is awful (a new machine is on order); I run out of cash because I can’t make any of the ATMs work; and the woman on the British Airways check-in desk is surly and rude.
But it comes close and I’ll be back soon to see how the nutmeg is doing.