January 3, 2016
The BF and I are not beachy people, me because I grew up on an island and it’s frankly very hard to wow me with just any old stretch of sand and sea, him because he grew up in landlocked USA and has spent just about all of his life pursuing interests that have nothing to do with sand or sea. As such, as soon as we recovered from the all-day three-plane journey to Grenada, where the BF is teaching a week-long course at St. George University, we eagerly planned on traveling away from the coast and into the lush, green interior. In particular we wanted to hike the Grand Etang National Forest, located in the middle of the island. The bus system in Grenada is pretty good, but the busses don’t go that far into the interior, and it’s questionable whether any vehicles should go there, since the roads are steep, windy, cracked and potholed, and though traffic goes in both directions the roads at their widest can accommodate approximately 1.47 cars. We were determined to hike, however, so we hired a car and hoped for the best.
“You see way up there? Up there is the best view of the bay.” The driver waved his hand toward some buildings on the tall ridge above St. George. “Up there is the prison. The prisoners get the best view in Granada and they get free meals every day. Very nice, isn’t it.”
Our driver clearly had a good sense of humor, but he also had a somewhat odd sense of what landmarks he felt were necessary to point out to visitors. “Here on the right we have many car dealerships.” He pointed to a row of cars. “Isuzus.” We murmured appreciatively at the Isuzus.
“Up there is where they blasted the mountainside to get gravel to make houses.” We could see the area where he was pointing, stripped away, starkly ugly against the lush greenery. Well, people do need houses, I suppose. We observed the stripped mountain appreciatively.
“Here is a factory. They make flour.”
The BF and I exchanged glances. We had not yet gotten accustomed to the local patois and we weren’t quite sure he’d heard him right. Flour?
The driver sensed our uncertainty. “For baking things.”
Ah, flour. Still we were confused, since it seemed unlikely that Grenada, the only flat section of which extends for approximately one square meter, has managed to cultivate a tropical variety of wheat grown in terraces like rice paddies. “We get the wheat from outside,” the driver continued. Ah, outside. That made sense—sort of. We nodded appreciatively at the factory.
Grenada is frankly a little odd. Its history is like a game of colonial ping-pong between the French and the English, which is why there are a few areas with French names (L’anse aux Epines, where our lodgings are), some with quirky English names (True Blue, location of the university where the BF would be teaching during the week), and some with unknown etymologies (Mount Qua Qua, where we hoped to finish our hike). Because it’s in the Caribbean, there are of course tourists—but not really all that much tourism. There aren’t nearly as many chain restaurants and hotels as in other vacation getaways, and in truth when the cruise ships aren’t in and the university hasn’t started its term, it pretty much looks like a place where people live their lives and not some kind of tropical fantasy world where people visit and wish they could live, believing as they do that people who do live there never have to worry about the stressful or the mundane. Grenada is a poor country—the hillsides are dotted with corrugated tin roof shacks, out front of each one a skeletal dog or two—but the residents display a lot of love for and pride in their home. It’s not perfect, and they know it; there is poverty, the police are corrupt, there are massive environmental issues, the island still bristles under the colonial yoke (the Brits won the ping-pong match, and the Queen’s face graces all Grenadian currency though the royal family has likely never set foot here), but if we only loved what was perfect we’d love nothing at all.
We made it successfully to Grand Etang and began our hike carrying picnic food and an extra canvas bag, the type given to marathon participants for swag but in this case to be used for catching lizards. Seriously. The BF is teaching a class on reptiles and unfortunately nobody at the university thought to supply him with the specimens needed for instruction on handling live critters. He figured if we managed to find some lizards in the forest, we might catch them and bring them back. Iguanas would be ideal, but that was even less likely to happen than lizards. Unfortunately, while we saw some lizards, they were too fast to catch. There was a monkey on a railing at the trailhead who stared disdainfully at me before peeing, and there were some frighteningly large caterpillars that looked like they might have been sons of Mothra in the making, but not being reptiles, they were left alone.
The signpost at the trailhead said that Mount Qua Qua would be an hour and a half one way. We figured, smug in our ultrarunning prowess, that the estimated time was a wimp’s time. Surely it would take us a lot less than that. It didn’t take us long to retract our hubris. The trail was shoe-suckingly muddy in a lot of places, steep and rocky and rooty in others, and frequently all of that at once. There were stunning views and magnificent plant life, but at some point, filthy with mud, scratched up by branches, and nowhere near the summit, we wimped out and turned back.
So instead of having our lunch at Mount Qua Qua (which frankly I really only wanted to see because of its awesome name—say it! it’s fun!), we hiked to Grant Etang Lake and ate salami sandwiches and Chips Ahoy cookies in a rain-soaked picnic gazebo by the lake. Some locals were picnicking at another gazebo; we figured they’d probably take one look at us and snicker at the idiotic tourists, tramping around in the mud for no good reason, but surprisingly they did not. “You hike to Mount Qua Qua?” a teenage girl asked politely. We nodded. “Very muddy,” I added unnecessarily. She waved her hand, and it was clear that she’d done the hike herself. “Oh yes, of course.” (In fact, later on our driver himself even confirmed that hiking isn’t just something the crazy white people do here. “Yes, it is very fun. You hike a little and slide back down the mud a lot, hike a little, slide a lot. It is a great thing to do!”)
In our soggy gazebo, I finished my sandwich and fished around the plastic bag we’d carried our food in. “We’ve still got some paper towels left,” I said. “We can at least scrape off a little of the mud.”
“This isn’t how I planned it,” the BF said.
I didn’t quite register his words, wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I put down the mushed up paper towels and looked up to see something entirely unexpected.
He was handing me a box. A ring box.
There was a ring inside. I put it on and said yes.
He had wanted to propose on top of Mount Qua Qua, since I’d been so tickled by the name, and we’re both people who would rather be hiking in the woods than dining in a fancy restaurant. Though it hadn’t gone as planned, it was exactly how it needed to be. I do not believe that you need to seek the perfect person, the perfect place, the perfect anything. I believe you find the person who will walk through this life with you knowing, as you both do, its contradictions and imperfections. Prisons with views, factories by beaches, mud and a ring. You won’t be prepared for everything, and that’s OK. That is, perhaps, the point.
“There,” the driver said as we went back down the mountain. “That over there is the Coca-cola factory. They produce Coke there.”
We nodded and smiled appreciatively. There was so very much to appreciate this day.