Saturday, 24 May 2008

Pearls Airport Grenada - 1970`s revisited

Having recently returned from holiday in Grenada I offer apologies for my non response to any emails received during that 3 week absence. I know technology makes it possible to keep in constant touch with the home PC but I did want to have a complete break away from any keyboard.

Grenada certainly used to be the ideal place where you could get the feeling that you were cut off from the rest of the world. In those days, the 1970`s, it could take 2 days to reach there from the UK. Depending on flight times and with no night landings in Grenada the journey usually required an overnight stop over in either Trinidad or Barbados. That last hop aboard the LIAT flight (pic) next morning bound for Pearls Airport (pic) in Grenada was always to be savoured for being the 1st day of a real secluded holiday.

Pearls Airport was Grenada`s only airport at that time and very much pre the building of their present Point Salines International Airport. However, nowadays the big difference is that you can be testing out the lovely water on Grand Anse beach 10 hours after leaving the UK, even less from the USA as both now fly direct services to the island.

Although always anxious to reach and start the holiday as quickly as possible, never the less, looking back at some of the interesting situations encountered during overnights and some of the LIAT flights somehow made the 1 day delay worthwhile.

----------Photo taken at Pearls during the late 1970s----------

---------Pearls Airport Building from 1950s postcard ---------

On one early `70s visit we booked to overnight at The Bel Air Hotel right there at Trinidad`s Piarco airport, handy for the morning. My wife Theresa, young daughter Jacinta and my Mother made up the group. I had arranged for us to use 2 separate adjoining but self contained rooms for the night. Quite a few of our Trinidad family and friends came up for the evening to say hello and we did enjoy a good get together with the help of room service. This all took place in my room with Jacinta and Mum coming in after slamming their door locked shut. A wrong thing to do unless you are definitely sure you have taken the key with you!. They unfortunately didn`t but we were not to find this out until our party had broken up after midnight.

I thought well not to worry, just call the desk to open up their room for them. Not so easy, remember this is Trinidad, I was informed that the Manager had the only set of spare keys and he was now off duty and on his way home to Barataria or some place. This was of course in the days before the mobile phone had come into being so contact could not be made until he had reached home. OK, we could all 4 of us have stayed in comfort in the one remaining room but my Mother was worried about her things especially leaving her handbag despite it being (locked) in that next room for the rest of the night. So I made representations to the staff who had been left in charge pointing out that they were obliged to have access to all rooms in cases of emergency. Now was an emergency, my Mum needed her handbag so what were they going to do about it. Despite the fact it was practically the middle of the night by this time and all around us were asleep some member of the staff went outside and reappeared brandishing a garden spade and promptly started to prod and jemmy the locked door. After much banging, loud talking and sounds of splintering, the door finally burst open from its frame, not before several other guests along that corridor had been awoken and had come running out to see just who was attacking who, I know it must have sounded that way.

Well we finally did manage to vacate that other room and transferred all their belongings into ours where the 4 of us spent what was left of the night hoping Bel Air could then get back to sleep. I know that after all that excitement we didn`t get much. It wasn`t long anyway before we were to get an early call for breakfast and prepare for the LIAT flight to Grenada. We were then soon to leave our trail of mayhem behind although not before managing a little photo shoot by the pool (pics) as a reminder of that visit. The hotel was very good and nothing was ever mentioned regarding any disturbance, noise or damage, I just paid for the 2 rooms plus food, breathed a sigh and left.

Some LIAT encounters

I remember another year on a flight over to Grenada was made in one of their smaller quick turn round aircraft. With only a few fellow passengers with us there was not much luggage to unload. On landing these planes would taxi up to the little airport building where we would jump out and go through to get the passports stamped while waiting for a hand trolley containing those cases. All very laid back and informal usually. However on this occasion Theresa imagined that she could not see one of our suitcases on this trolley and disappeared whilst I was still at a desk filling up some form or other. From there I heard a slight commotion out on the tarmac, Theresa had decided they still had a suitcase of ours on this plane and was not going to let them take off with it. The pilot was in his seat already with Theresa standing in front of the plane with a hand up like some traffic warden on a crossing. Of course all our cases had been unloaded, it was just that 1 had been lifted off and put with someone else's. This little episode certainly did liven up our arrival at Pearls that year, nobody seemed fussed about it, just smiles all around, after all it was the 70`s and this was Grenada. I can imagine a similar performance these days landing at Point Salines International might just get us all locked up.

Another time on holiday in Grenada we had arranged to travel over to Trinidad for a week to stay with family there. It happens that travelling on our flight from Pearls was to be an unaccompanied dog. That might have been OK except that apparently this dog had been put in the hold, not in a cage or even tied to anything, but just left loose with the luggage. Not that we knew anything about this until after landing when we seem to have been parked up and just left for ages to sweat. It transpired that Piarco baggage handlers spotted the animal was loose and were reluctant to open the door fully until someone could decide the best way to proceed. Presumably they thought the dog might be a danger if it was to make a run for it across the airfield. I don`t think any of the passengers found out just how this dog saga got resolved, we certainly didn`t. Although thinking about it now the whole dog thing was quite amusing I also know that nearly an hour on a parked plane with no A/C is definitely no joke!.

We returned from Trinidad another year during the 1970s, this time just Theresa and myself. We got booked in at Piarco and boarded the LIAT flight for Grenada. Our 2 Seats were together and situated 3 rows behind the then Prime Minister Eric Gairy accompanied by a couple of his Ministers who were returning from some Trinidad conference. We seem to be all aboard and ready for take off when some fellow put his head in the doorway opposite me and said this is for the P.M. and slid a brown paper package under a seat before slamming the door shut. Theresa and I usually hold hands during take offs and landings, on this occasion we held extra tight whilst staring at that "hopefully" innocent package. Just another example of being made to sweat on a plane.

The last time we visited Pearls was about 5 years ago. The old airfield is still there and dotted around with odd bits of wreckage left over from the 1979/1983 Revolution. It has been left with the runway clear however for possible use as an emergency landing field. On this visit we were treated to a last experience of the place by racing the length of the runway at 70MPH with our friendly taxi driver acting out being the "The Pilot".

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