Getting out of the Grand Anse beach area and into St. George’s couldn’t have been easier. There are constant vans acting as public transit going to and fro and it costs only $2 EC per person each way. The drive was about ten minutes long and extremely scenic as the van climbs up and down the steep streets, twisting and turning toward the capital giving glimpses of the ocean. I’ve always enjoyed these Caribbean public mini-bus style vans, usually blasting reggae and crammed full of people. Never boring!
We hopped out of the bus at the Carenage, walked through the Sendall Tunnel and up many many stairs to Fort George (formerly Fort Rupert) to check out the famous views over St. George’s – the town deservedly known as the Prettiest Capital in the Caribbean.
Built by the French in the early 1700’s this fort has been utilized constantly throughout history, even playing a role in the Seven Years War and American Revolution. It is currently used as the Headquarters of the Royal Grenada Police Force. The fort is looking rough these days due to the daily wear and tear of so many people on site, along with serious damage sustained during Hurricane Ivan in 2004. There is some talk that the Police HQ will be moved to another location in the near future to allow significant restoration of the fort, and this would certainly be a great thing for the island. It’s sadly crumbling in places, and because of the porous material (including conch shell) used in its construction vines and flowers are now growing though the walls and poking out. A lovely side effect of the neglect.
The fort isn’t large, but we took our time as there is much to see and the vistas from every angle are breath-taking. We saw the canons on the top level – some filled with cement, some still operational and fired on special occasions. We also crept through several of the damp narrow tunnels that run throughout the structure. They are very low but are painted white so they didn’t feel too terribly claustrophobic. The tunnels are also illumined by sunlight shining in from the many peepholes – small windows just big enough to fire a weapon through, a real reminder of how the fort has been historically used. A gloomy thought, but the scene out the peepholes was filled with colourful houses on the hillside and swaying red hibiscus.
Fort George is perhaps best known as the setting of one of the central events that led to the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. The Marxist leaning Revolutionary party led by Maurice Bishop had seized control of the countries government in 1973, and seemed to be supported by the population for several years. However, power struggles, unrest and protest developed and tensions were further inflamed by US suspicion concerning the spread of communism – partially due to the presence of many Cuban workers on the island at the time to construct the new airport. Eventually the deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard staged a coup that led to Bishop and several members of his cabinet (including pregnant Jaqueline Creft) being captured and executed by firing squad in the central courtyard of Fort George. Shortly after these events the US launched Operation Urgent Fury, unleashing over 7000 troops onto the small green island. Three weeks of violent fighting followed, and dozens of soldiers on both sides were killed along with 24 civilians. The conflict ended only when the Americans won and restored Grenada’s original constitution with a US-approved democracy.
Today only a small simple plaque marks the spot where Bishop and his colleagues died, and there are still bullet holes visible in walls. Even though the sun was shining brightly, it felt very solemn and grey in the courtyard. Standing there on a late December afternoon it was hard to imagine that those events took place only 32 years prior.
We were lucky enough to meet a friendly guide on site who was not only personable but extremely knowledgeable. He was able to tell us so much about the fort’s history as well as pointing out all the local flora. Grenada may be known as “the spice island” with nutmeg being the most famous export but we also saw papaya, breadfruit and sweet grass and many beautiful flowers. It was also poignant to hear our guides personal experiences during the 1983 Invasion, and gain that insight into how it was for the actual citizens at that time.
Of course it’s always wonderful to enjoy the natural beauty of the places we travel to, and the views over St. Georges from the fort are as amazing as everyone says. 360 degree of true tropical beauty…lush rain forest covered mountains and a harbour filled with turquoise water and cheery fishing boats. But added historical context gave this experience more significance and made it far more memorable. Definitely worth climbing up all those stairs!