‘THANK you AMERICA for SAVING us!’ proclaimed the white painted line of graffiti, daubed in a mixture of capital and lowercase letters, on a school wall in the town of Tempe.
The three-foot-high thank you note on the island of Grenada represents the inhabitants’ gratitude to the United States for being freed from a Cuban-backed socialist coup 20 years before the ill-fated invasion of Iraq. When it comes to liberating far-off lands, Uncle Sam has some grateful friends after all.
The history of the tiny island is littered with such upheavals, caused by both man and Mother Nature. It starts with the volcanic eruption from the sea which gave birth to the island and its lush interior, crystal lakes and black and white sandy beaches.
The British and French played ping-pong with the place for three hundred years until 1974, leaving a shameful legacy of conflict and slavery. Street names Melvill and Grenville and military compounds Fort Frederick and Fort George are enduring relics of British colonial rule.
Then, in September 2004, as the islanders finally got used to standing on their own feet, the most destructive storm in living memory swept them right back on to their backsides. Hurricane Ivan’s 160-mph winds destroyed more than 90 per cent of crops and buildings.
Perversely, every church rooftop was blown away while the ‘grog shops’, built underground, remained untouched. Five years later, despite most churches still being roofless, the country’s miraculous revival has made it a prime example of post-disaster recovery. Its techniques have been replicated in recent disaster zones in China and India.
Whisper it quietly, but there is more trouble brewing just five miles north, where the Caribbean’s newest island is in the making – an underwater volcano called ‘Kick ’em Jenny’ which is poised to explode up on to the surface any time in the next thousand years.
Being an island known more for its tragedies than its attractions means that the typical Caribbean appetite for tourism is strangely absent. Grenada, the greenest and cleanest of all West Indian islands, has very few of the holiday resorts that crowd its Caribbean siblings. But all that is about to change. The ‘Spice Island’ is now getting some serious PR spin thanks to Peter de Savary, the Max Clifford of the Caribbean.
The British millionaire’s love affair with Grenada has inspired him to invest millions of pounds in a five-year project to create luxury hotels, casinos, spas and penthouse apartments around a marina that has already been dubbed ‘the Porta Buenos of the Caribbean’. Currently used as an industrial shipping port, De Savary is converting Moliniere Bay in Port Luis – in the heart of capital city St George’s – into a destination to rival anything the likes of Jamaica or Barbados can offer.
The bay has long been the beating heart of the capital – home to the financial district, which mysteriously burned to the ground (yet more Grenadian bad luck) in 1990. The inferno destroyed the banking details of the entire population and arguments rage to this day over who owns what and who owes who.
The national prison is perched on top of the highest cliff, offering (in theory) the finest views of the bay. The only problem for those doing porridge is that the windows have been cruelly placed 20 feet above ground. Prisoners can hear, smell, and sense life buzzing beneath them, without ever getting to see it.
The jewel of Moliniere Bay is its underwater sculpture park, where English artist Jason Taylor has built 55 life-size statues among a labyrinth of coral eight metres below the surface.
They can be viewed from above but, like much of Grenada’s beauty, you need to go below the surface to see its true splendour.
Four restaurants and three bars serve local dishes around the clock and each of the 100 rooms comes with a picture-perfect sea view.
The island’s rebirth is also built on the Caribbean passion for sport, and the launch of events such as the Grenada Cricket Classics which takes place at the new National Stadium every October.
The centrepiece of the tournament sees England and West Indies legends such as Sir Viv Richards, Curtley Ambrose, Allan Lamb and Andy Caddick compete in a series of 20/20 matches. Even by Caribbean standards these games are pretty laid back.
The stadium’s giant electronic scoreboard broke down during a crucial moment in the deciding game, leaving spectators wondering what was going on in the middle. ‘We think it’s about 15 for 1,’ the stadium announcer offered helpfully.
The crowd chuckled as a computer cursor moved cluelessly around the scoreboard, desperately searching for the help menu. Muffled curses from a stressed electrician, no doubt up to his eyeballs in knotted wires, wafted out of the stadium speakers. Not that anyone really cared. The locals are used to handling anything that is thrown at them.
And after overcoming slavery, invasion, occupation and the moods of Mother Nature, a scoreboard on the blink was hardly going to knock anyone for six.
• First published at http://www.dailymail.co.uk