We woke up to overcast skies and drizzle, and it has continued to pour intermittently. Wouldn't you know, that today we had planned on hiking (sensing a theme?). So, we can't really tour the island, or even check out the beaches, so we're reading and blogging. This is our third full day here, and we explored the capital, St. George's, our first day.
In the picture above, the main tourist (read cruise ship "cruisers") street is in the bottom left, while the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception's clock tower is to the right (can anyone guess which religion? ;) ). The downtown is composed of narrow steep streets that rival San Francisco or towns in Peru.
On a hill overlooking both the city, as well as the bay, was a decrepit fort built in the early 1700's, and it afforded excellent views all around, although the grounds were underwhelming.
Driving along the western (Caribbean) side of the island, we encountered very narrow, steep and winding roads. Steve continues to do very well in driving on the "correct" side of the road, and only occasionally causes me to gasp as he drives right on the left edge of the asphalt or skims the concrete curbs that keep us from falling off the side of the ravine.
At one small town, there was a sign that said "By Police Order, Not a Through Street", so we dutifully turned to follow the detour signs. Well, those signs didn't appear again, to guide us, so we depended on trusty Google Maps. Big mistake. We found and drove on "roads" (and that's being very generous with that term) up through the center of the island, that we shared with goats and cows. Luckily we didn't encounter any other cars, as these tracks were quite literally one lane for miles. Amazingly, 20 or 30 minutes later, we arrived at our original destination of the chocolate factory, with the car and our nerves (basically) intact. I don't have any pictures of our expedition, as we were too afraid of stopping, and possibly getting stuck, or not being able to keep the car going straight UP the hill.
The tours through the nutmeg processing plant and chocolate factory were very interesting and eye-opening. Nutmeg is still sorted by hand by ladies bent over wooden tables, and better quality nuts are determined by putting a handful in a jar of water, and saving the ones that sink, while discarding the lighter ones that float. These nuts then have to be dried (again) for 2 days after this sorting method. They had already been dried for several weeks, after they were shelled. For shipping, the nuts are put in burlap bags, that are hand sewn closed.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven when we got out of the car at the chocolate factory. The aroma of chocolate was everywhere. Again, it was a very quick tour, but very informative. One of the highlights was tasting a fresh cocoa bean straight out of the pod. They are covered with a white, somewhat gelatinous substance that tastes sour-sweet. After that is removed, then the beans are dried and roasted before they are shelled to get at the valuable nibs that are crushed into a paste that makes the chocolate we know and love. Getting to taste 100% chocolate (without milk or sugar added) was mind blowing. I thought it would be bitter (like cocoa or baking chocolate) but this was awesome - it was truly the essence of chocolate. I bought 2 bars.
Bye from the jungle, for today.