I Survived Grenada’s Bug-Filled, Bootleg Rum and It Was Delicious
“Just head down Grenville way, turn left up to Mt. Rose and start asking which way to the sulfur springs.” Those words constituted the entirety of my instructions on how to find the sulfur springs—a pinprick of a tourist destination in Grenada, which appeared on no map of the island I could find.
Vague directions like that are how most people get around in Grenada, where goats are a much more common sight on the roads than street signs. But after a couple of hours and many wrong turns, my wife, my friends and I arrived in a gully dotted with holes full of murky water. These were the sulfur springs, cleared by hand by Antony, a man who greeted us, smiling wide, revealing more than a few missing teeth. He immediately set to covering us in mud he claimed would make our skin look “magnificent” and smell terrible.
Fifteen minutes later, as we washed off our impromptu spa treatment, Antony beckoned me over to his office/bar. “I like to sleep here too,” he said, describing the shanty made mostly of corrugated aluminum, and a single decoration—a jersey that once belonged to Devon Smith (the great Grenadian cricketer) displayed shrine-like on one wall. “I have a house with a toilet and lights, but I don’t need those.” What he did need likely predated both running water and electricity, and he wanted to share it with me.
“Here,” he said, pulling a dusty green glass jug from under the makeshift bar, “this is for the men.” He poured two shots from the ancient jug filled with a hazy liquid and what appeared to be a small compost heap—a mass of leaves, wood and plant clippings. He held the bottle up so we could have a closer look. “See?” As we gazed in between the sticks and leaves steeping in the alcohol we noticed what Antony claimed was the secret ingredient: centipedes—dozens of them.
I asked what exactly I was about to drink.
“Oondadeecanta,” Antony responded gleefully.
“Could you repeat that?”
I got it.
Under the Counter, I quickly learned, is a rum of questionable legality that Antony and other Grenadians keep hidden away until something happens that is worthy of a toast.
I’m more of a sipper when it comes to drinking, so shots of anything don’t hold much appeal, let alone shots of an unlabeled mystery liquid full of bugs. And I’d heard plenty of horror stories about unregulated alcohol from Appalachia to Afghanistan that has made people go blind. But how could I offend my gracious host? I took a deep whiff. My Under the Counter smelled shockingly complex for bootleg liquor, with heavy scents of anise and cut grass. To Antony’s delight I threw back the shot and, I must admit, was pleasantly surprised. Not only did it not cause a horrible disability, but it tasted delicious: Sweet caramel and a bright fruitiness that burned considerably less going down than I guessed it would. Interestingly, it tasted nothing like it smelled.
My friend politely declined the second shot, which still sat on the bar. My wife, however, did not intend to leave it there. She scooped it up and drank it down. Panic flashed in Antony’s eyes for a moment. “No,” he said, waving his hands in her face. Hadn’t we been listening to him? That was for the men. Our host had neglected to tell us that he was pouring us shots of what he believed to be rural island Viagra.
I’m relieved to say that Under the Counter didn’t live up to its reputation in that respect. But to any island travelers bored with the white-washed, blended daiquiri version of Caribbean drinking, just head down Grenville way and turn left up to Mt. Rose. Antony will be glad to take care of you.