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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer

November 21, 2018

A Little Dirt Never Hurt!

Chloe McKinley, Beloit College


Above: Island pride along the roadside. Red represents courage and aspirations for freedom of the Grenadian people, Gold, a universal symbol of wisdom also represents the sun and the warmth and friendliness of the Grenadian people, while Green symbolizes the fertility of The Spice Island. Below: Dougladston Spice Estate remains a working spice farm. Original structures from the early 1700s still serve their function to dry cacao beans. Here our guide Mandoo is helped by Hannah and Mahalia to store the beans away from a passing rain shower; Grand Etang National Forest Reserve. Alyssa, Bryce, and Laura proudly display their muddy struggles.

The day begins with 7:15 breakfast of hot omelets and sweet coconut water straight from the source. After we chat and prep for the day, our beloved Mandoo, the tour guide from Friday’s excursion, picks us up. Once again, we’re barreling down narrow and winding roads that are barely wide enough to allow more than one car. My stomach always lurches on the first turn past a rather sheer drop—but Mandoo’s confident driving is strangely comforting, and soon the gentle motion of the bus lulls some students into a mid-morning nap.

Mandoo navigates the roads at a pace slower than the average Grenadian driver. (Others blatantly ignore the “Police Order: No Passing on the Left” signs and swerve around us to speed on.) Mandoo enthusiastically explains more history of the island while we twist higher and higher, watching thick and diverse foliage sway between swatches of bright color, indicating roofs far below. The structures we pass are often colored the green, yellow, or red of the Grenadian flag; citizens daub concrete constructions with these patriotic hues to compete for the best village. In this competition, members of the community beautify their towns with decorations and planted flowers, showcasing culture and Grenadian pride.

Our first stop is a gorgeous waterfall. It isn’t incredibly high, but it flows gracefully down a cliff edged with green, and washes into a deep turquoise pool. Bryce, upon seeing a section of the cliff from which to jump, is soon shirtless and leaping into the blue. Naturally, almost every other student (myself included) strips down and follows suit. Our group is nothing if not impulsive and hive-minded—a potentially dangerous combination, but an invariably enjoyable one.

We dry ourselves the best we can with no towels and trek back up the concrete steps to the entrance. Nearby, we notice a cage with two monkeys inside. They curiously eye us as they erratically hop from one side of the cage to the next. Charmed, our chief scientist, Jeff,  goes to put some money in the donation box in front of the cage, labeled “Help Us Feed Our Monkeys!” Just as he is about to put it through the slot, one monkey snatches the bill and mischievously hops to the back of the cage. We plead with the monkey, but he stares us in the eye as he slowly tears the bill in half and begins to eat it. I suppose Jeff did help feed the monkey, in the end.

And it’s back on the bus for part two of our field trip. The vehicle fills with gentle chatter from students studying invertebrate and fish identification cards in preparation for our first official reef survey on Friday. Mandoo cheerily identifies trees and buildings we pass, peppering in history and cultural facts. He tells us how some of the islanders are superstitious, believing in witchcraft and demons. Apparently, eggshells placed on the plants outside one’s house can ward off zombies. Take note, apocalypse preparers!

We arrive at the spice plantation, and Mandoo brings us around the main building, showing us where they dry the cacao beans. It must be stored in a drawer on the side of the building, because the entire batch is ruined if it is rained on. A stray dog lazily lays on the scale which the owners use to weigh certain spices. Inside, Mandoo shows us cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, bay leaf, and cloves that he pulls from storage. He explains the uses of each potent spice while the branches and leaves are passed around to 20 eager noses.

Afterwards, we drive to a beachfront on the windward side of the island to eat lunch. We chat under the sea grape trees and watch the tumultuous white-capped waves crash into the side of the island. We enjoy some sun and apples with peanut butter.

We board the bus and embark on the longest leg of our journey. Mandoo brings us to the lake from which most of the island obtains its drinking water. Reeds encroach on the sides of the precious water source, and a fat koi slowly sashays through the water, garnering the attention of a few students as we peer over the edge of the dock. We’re also distracted by a few pretty calico cats that wander the edge of the water and tolerate our affection.

We move to the jungle and carefully traverse the path before us. The dense trees block sunlight and allow for a consistently muddy environment. We squelch through orange clay, navigating the treacherous obstacle course of slippery logs and shoe-stealing mud sinks. At first, we calculate each step to be the most solid, safe, and clean, but after a few slips, we resign ourselves to a muddy fate and hop, skip, and squish as we please. Soon, some of us sport warpaint on our faces. Bryce covers himself head-to-toe in mud, and Alyssa looks a bit like the creature from the black lagoon. We want to see wild monkeys in the treetops, but our eyes are usually trained on the ground, lest we twist an ankle. The only simians present are the 21 of us, clumsily traipsing through the mud. Somehow, dirty, sweaty, and laughing, we forget to care that we don’t see any wild monkeys.

Finally, we break through the greenery to a clearing that overlooks more jungle below. We take in the gorgeous expanse of green—the varying leaves of the trees blend together in the tremendous landscape. Thick patches of bamboo stick out; after Hurricane Ivan decimated many of the island’s trees, fast-growing bamboo was quick to fill in the empty areas. I remember Wood’s Hole as I gaze at these thickets, as bamboo lines the outer edges of SEA’s campus. It’s funny that, in such a foreign place, I’m reminded of my home with a plant that didn’t even originate close to either country. I look out across the landscape, fog clinging to the treetops. What a strange and colorful place. Koi, calico, bamboo, monkeys, sunshine, rain, concrete, nature—Grenada overflows with beautiful inconsistencies.

We find a spigot to rinse our muddy shoes (and in some cases, pants and shirts and arms and legs and faces) before we get on the bus. We arrive at True Blue, thoroughly shower, and stuff ourselves with a special dinner of street vendor food. After dinner, Davi decides she wants to shave her head before we get on the boat. We gladly appease her, and each of us takes a turn with the scissors. Hair drops to the ground to the tune of Avril Lavigne, and some of us dance, others sit, and all 16 of us laugh and talk together. I sit against the bedframe, letting the sound of snipping, giggling, and music wash over me, and I think how happy I am to have met my crew.

- Chloe McKinley

Categories: Corwith Cramer,Caribbean Reef Expedition, • Topics: c283  grenada  study abroad • (3) Comments
Previous entry: The Strongest Ship You Can Build    Next entry: Save the Mangroves


Leave a public comment for students and crew to read when they reach their next port and have access to the internet!

#1. Posted by Eileen Lashinsky on November 23, 2018

You go Davi!
Your Mom thinks you look cute.
Thanks to all your “shipmates” for writing the blog!
I enjoy reading every one, especially looking forward to when you are out to sea!
Keep having fun and your eyes toward the stars.
Davi’s Mom

#2. Posted by Laurie on November 25, 2018

Thank you Chloe for giving us a picture of your adventures!

Ryanne’s mom

#3. Posted by James White on November 26, 2018

Thank you for your wonderful post, Chloe.  I have been reading all of the blog entries but just haven’t had a chance to comment on all of them.  This is the second one to make me full-on misty (Alyssa’s was the first…).

In all of the entries, I am bolstered by the positivity, the light, and the love shining through from all of you.  Not only does that warm this father’s heart across the geographical distance, it also gives me much-needed hope in the dark times in which we live.  The future can only be wonderful and transcendent with such beautiful young souls at the helm.

Peace and love to all of C283,

Alyssa’s dad



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