- 01 August, 2016
- by Grenada Spot
The lone cabin, which looks to be about 100 square feet, houses the Captain’s quarters, a small room with four bunk beds, a tiny kitchen and a dining table with two benches.
On Wednesdays, the Eldica arrives in Trinidad from Grenada laden with fruits and spices and on Thursdays embarks on its return to the Spice Isle packed high with goods.
Last Thursday, squeezed among the stacks of soft drink cases, dishwashing liquid and muffins from Pricesmart were human cargo — mainly Grenadian and Trinis with Grenadian heritage.
Sticking out like two sore thumbs were my husband and me.
How did we end up there?
Blame it on procrastination and the popularity of Grenada’s annual Spicemas carnival.
Excited about a beautiful long weekend at Sandals La Source, Grenada, we admittedly waited until the last minute to book a flight. To our despair, all flights from Trinidad to Grenada via LIAT and Caribbean Airlines were booked solid.
“Nothing is free until after August 10,” said my travel agent.
After experiencing Grenada’s Carnival last year I should have remembered how popular the event has become with Trinis.
Having pretty much conquered Barbados’ Crop Over, Trinis have begun infiltrating Grenada’s Carnival, which still retains its authentic Jab Jab culture and indeed boasts an epic J’ouvert morning celebration. One of the biggest draws is the Monday night mas — a spectacular river of lights not witnessed anywhere else in the Caribbean.
With no fast ferry this year from Flavour de Mas and IMG, many moved early to book their flights and with just one week before Carnival culminates, a free seat is as rare as a cock with teeth.
We explored every alternative. One included flying to Miami or New York and back to Grenada, but TT$7000 to go right there made no sense.
A Grenadian friend mentioned a boat that he often used to go home and the lightbulbs started going off.
We met him down at the docks at the Port of Port-of-Spain to get our hook up.
All visions of a fancy yacht-like vessel with nice cabins and soft bunks went out of the window when we saw the green, white and red painted Eldica.
“Is that it?” I asked my husband.
“I hope not but it looks so,” he replied as his friend approached.
Looking at the boat questions flooded my mind. Where would we sleep? Where are the cabins? Is it sturdy?
Undeterred, we forked out the TT$1200 ($600 per person) and headed to Immigration to get our passports stamped. The office on Thursday morning was filled — to our surprise — with about 20 Grenadians looking to head home this weekend.
Travelling via cargo boat is clearly an open secret among our Caribbean neighbours. Their rationale for using the boat was the expense to travel by plane and the unavailability of flights at this time.
While waiting, they discussed the merits of the various cargo boats available. We were warned not to take the Princess. The captain too “fresh”, said one woman. Another said the Desiree is too slow. The Eldica, we were told, would take 12 hours.
Asked about sleeping quarters on the Eldica, we were advised to walk with cardboard.
“I not sleeping on that nasty floor,” said another woman. “I does sleep on the bench.”
Around 7.45 pm we arrived at the docks. We were told to get there for 6.30 pm. The boat would sail as soon as all the goods were loaded. A washing machine wrapped in clear plastic, several crates wrapped in green plastic and lengths of aluminum beams awaited loading onto the already filled ship.
Passengers arrived — mainly women — hauling suitcases and duffel bags bursting at the seams and their own personal stash of goods. Boxes of pampers, wipes and pull-ups, a red crocus bag of onions, extra-large bags of rice, laundry detergent, dishwashing liquid and crates of soft drinks were crammed into every nook and cranny of the tiny cabin. The dining table/desk/immigration processing centre was littered with paper, newspapers, cell phones charging by a nearby outlet and containers with Swiss rolls, rotisserie chicken and other pastries.
Under the table, a woman, clearly a cargo boat vet, was already sleeping having claimed valuable real estate atop a piece of cardboard.
The two benches were occupied as well. A young chick with gold braids and fake eyelashes claimed one side for her bed, the other by our friend from Immigration who made good on her word not to sleep on the nasty floor. I attempted to negotiate a space on the bench to sit but she insisted that she needed the space to stretch out her feet.
At 9.08 pm, the crew and other passengers lingering on the docks boarded. The cabin was sweltering. People stood awkwardly as others busied themselves to find a space in which to rest their heads. With no obvious place to sit, we made the aluminum beams on the port side of the boat our own, along with several of the crew and a couple of the passengers.
We remained there for the entire duration of the journey, contorting our bodies in various poses as we attempted to sleep and ignore the sickening scent of diesel permeating the boat. Len — a former Grenada port manager who now does the passenger list for the Eldica — said the boat takes TT$5000 in diesel to run. The boat, he said, only makes trips to Trinidad if the cargo is enough to cover all the expenses.
The weather gods smiled on us as we sat port side, the sky our only canopy. The rain did not fall, the breeze was light and warm and the water was calm so there was no danger of excessive rocking to throw us over the edge.
Life jackets were nowhere to be seen.
By midnight, the cabin was quiet. Slumbering bodies packed like sardines were lying on several pieces of cardboard anywhere there was space. A baby roach was spotted wandering along the side of the oven.
Next to me, on the aluminum beams, a young Grenadian who was in Trinidad for the past six months, tossed and turned, alternating between the beams and the floor as he wrestled with sleep.
As the sky brightened in the early hours of Friday morning, a minor commotion provided some entertainment as two crew members, fearlessly standing atop the tarpaulin covered cargo in the rear of the boat, roped in a large Cro Cro fish. They dropped in on the floor and carted it off to an area unknown.
By 9 am, most of the passengers awakened and started freshening up. For us cargo boat newbies still clad in office attire — we clearly missed the memo. Most of the ladies had changed into comfy shorts and tights to sleep in but as home beckoned, they donned fresh clothes, brushed their teeth and washed their faces.
“I feel dirty,” said my husband, noting the oil stains on his shirt and pants.
“I like your hairstyle,” he said sarcastically, laughing at my hair sticking up in all four cardinal points thanks to a combination of the wind and various sleeping positions.
Sixteen hours later, Grenada was finally a reality as the Eldica berthed and Immigration boarded to stamp the passports. The crew praised the smoothness of the ride, recounting stories of rough seas that had even the most seasoned sailor heaving overboard.
They also praised the light passenger load.
“I not looking forward to next week nah,” said one burly man. “Next week will be real pressure.”