We are having a ball living on our yacht in the Caribbean (I know – why wouldn't we ?!) and were lucky enough to be in Grenada for the recent SpiceMas Carnival, where we took the opportunity to base ourselves in the rather lovely Port Louis Marina for the week. We were right in the middle of many of the carnival parades and activities, and amazingly became became accustomed to the incredibly loud music that blasted out all day and night from the enormous speaker ladened trucks.
Unfortunately the first big event we had tickets for was a bit of a disaster. We travelled over to the National Cricket Stadium to watch the Panorama where many local steel or pan bands were due to perform in what must be one of the main events for these bands during the year. As with many things in the Caribbean, things were running late, but we made the most of watching some of the bands warm up outside the arena before the gates opened. We then found some seats in the arena and waited for the bands to start rolling in on their huge drum supporting rigs. After an hours delay the crowd were starting to get a little restless. After another hour we started trying to find someone 'official' who might be able to explain what was happening. After 3 hours of no music and vague assurances that we would get our money back, we decided to give up and go home. The fallout of the cancellation of the Panorama has been front page news with the Grenada Steel Pan Association and the carnival organisers blaming each other for what happened, but it is the performers and their families that I feel sorry for. Some of the band members were quite young children and everyone had obviously put in hours of dedicated practice for this event, with family and friends eagerly awaiting the performance in the stadium. There are clearly some politics around the pan scene in Grenada !
After this bad start to carnival, we had high hopes for the J'overt and were definitely not disappointed this time. We had anticipated setting off around 4am to join in with this unusual event, but around 3am the volume of the all night music around the lagoon suddenly increased and heads started popping up from yacht companionways. We joined our friends to stroll around the dark street watching people apply motor oil to their bodies. I know it sounds crazy – that's because it is ! There are many stories around the origins of J'overt, but an obvious link is with emancipation and we certainly saw lots of people dragging chain accessories . As dawn arrived the crowd increased and the costumes and accessories became more bizarre - an oil covered vacuum cleaner and a fake office set up complete with computer and phone. The atmosphere was incredible with all ages joining in, colour, oil, weird accessories. The locals were very happy to share their oil and paint with the visitors and our hair and clothes were soon an interesting mix of colours overlaid with 'essence of motor oil'.
Trying to move around the parade of floats basically involved getting wedged into the crowd, bouncing along the street with the pounding music and jumping crowd and then trying to 'pop' back out of the mass to get our breath back. We were amazed how well such an enormous (and in some cases quite drunk!) crowd behaved and really appreciated the number of locals who welcomed us and wished us an enjoyable carnival. After many hours of fun, we decided to drag our weary and dirty bodies home for some sleep in readiness for the Monday Night Mas light parade. Port Louis Marina were very organised for the return of revellers and we were greeted with flannels, bottles of washing up liquid and a high pressure hose ! Having removed the worse we were then able to enjoy the lovely shower blocks and get ourselves looking almost normal again.
In our refreshed state, we then headed out for Monday Night Mas which involved a parade of floats and people wearing every possible flashing accessory, accompanied by the ever present pounding music. There were flashing wands, earings, Viking style helmets with horns (?) and my particular favourites – flashing tutu skirts and gum shields. As with J'ouvert, the crowd were very well behaved and welcoming and it was such a pleasure to be in the thick of the action and feel so safe.
Tuesday arrived and we prepared ourselves for the final parade of the carnival which was a riot of colour, glamour, sparkle and rather scantily clad bodies ! The costumes were amazing and had clearly taken many months of hard work to produce. There seemed to be a slightly different feel to the crowd today and there were lots of well dressed families enjoying the festivities. Some of the parade groups contained lots of children and it was amusing to watch the 'mum bodyguards' flanking them – whether this was to protect the children from the crowds or to be on hand in case one of the kids played up, I am not sure. Another fantastic day.
As Wednesday arrived a palpable silence descended upon the lagoon in St George's. No longer were our ears pounded by music (I am sure we heard the same songs every 20 minutes), cars returned to what had been the main parade route and businesses and shops re-opened. Gosh, 'normal' life had returned to Grenada. I am sure that the SpiceMas Corporation were already working on next year's carnival and that some of the locals were still recovering from this year's, but it seemed that it was time for us to return to our 'normal' life at sea.
I know that all around the Caribbean there are fantastic carnivals each year with unique and special events, but we loved, loved, loved SpiceMas in Grenada. It is not easy to explain the fun that can be had with a bottle of motor oil, some glitter and load music, and even the photos don't do it justice. We were delighted to meet so many welcoming locals and were impressed with how quickly the streets were cleaned between each event, with liberal amounts of sand scattered to try and contain the oil from J'overt. It is unfortunately inevitable that some of this oil and debris will make it's way into sea, but at least people were trying to protect the environment. It was good to see the marina staff out every day with big nets scooping up rubbish, it's just a shame it is necessary. So here we are, anchored in a beautiful bay watching the sun rise as fish jump around the yacht, trying to slot back into our 'pre-carnival and posh marina stay' life on board. What a wonderful country Grenada is.