Every week I interview a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week I introduce you to Gerrit, who moved to Grenada with his family.
1. Could you please introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about who you are, where you are from, where you moved to and when you moved there.
I’m Gerrit van’t Dack and together with my wife Viviane Vantichelen and our son Nico I moved to the paradisiacal island of Grenada in the Caribbean in 2010. Grenada is also called “The Spice Isle” because growing spices is an important activity over here.
Grenada is a three-island state and consists of the main island with the same name, Carriacou and Petit-Martinique. Together they have a population of 100,000 people. It lies about 150 km from the coast of Venezuela and is one of the last Caribbean islands to develop tourism. Dat means you don’t have the Dominican situation here with all-in mass tourism and mega resorts or skyscraper hotels. No building can be higher than a palm tree here, and that’s good. All beaches are public, so no private beaches. Most of the beaches consist of fine white sand, but a couple are black That’s because of the volcanic origin of the island. Grenada only measures 30 to 16 km. It’s a very small island with, once you go inland, mountains of around 800 meters high, covered with tropical rainforests, waterfalls and a lake made by a crater. There are no predators here so you can safely walk through the rainforests, which is beautiful.
The fact that tourism has only recently been developed here also has its downsides. Grenada is not that easily reached from Europe, with the exception of Great Britain. As a former colony the British keep a connection and there’s a lot of migration in between the two countries. Grenada is independent, but still a member of the British Commonwealth.
2. Why did you move there?
After having spent a few vacations here and having become friends with a French couple that had been living here for a couple of years already, the idea of moving here started to take form. Things sped up when, in 2010, my former employer told me he didn’t have a job for me anymore. It’s not easy to find other work at the age of 49 and definitely not for the same paycheck. That’s why we decided to move abroad.
We were too young to retire and thus we had to come up with a plan to make money in Grenada. We thought about it for months until our French friends suggested we’d start a tourist train. First it seemed like a crazy idea, but after doing some research, it seemed like quite a good plan. To make a long story short: we left Belgium in November 2010 with a couple of containers filled with furniture and a tourist train. The whole operation – research, business plan, ordering the train, selling our house, organizing the move – has taken about nine months, exactly as long as a pregnancy.
3. What were your expectations before you moved to Grenada and did the reality align with those expectations?
For the largest part we found what we’d expected to find. After all we’d been on holiday in Grenada for four times already and so we kind of knew what to expect. However, that doesn’t change that there’s a big difference between living and working somewhere and merely going on a holiday there. I do have to say that we were welcomed here with open arms and have received a lot of support from the local tourism office. They loved the idea of a tourist train. Of the about 300.000 tourists that visit the island each year, about 2/3 arrives on a cruise ship. Those people can be considered day tourists and a tourist train is an ideal way for them to see a lot and get around.
St. George is hilly with a fort overlooking the harbor and the city. The fort is located on a hill and cannot be reached that easily by people who aren’t that fit anymore – about 90% of the people arriving on a cruise ship. It’s practical for them that they can take the train there and immediately get access to the fort with their train ticket. We really nailed it there. No competition and a service that’s appreciated by most of the visitors of Grenada.
4. What’s the biggest difference between living there and living in Belgium?
Living on an island, even if it’s practically paradise, has its downsides. Because of its location it’s quite a hassle, and a hassle that costs a lot, to get to Belgium to visit friends or family, something we do find important. In Grenada real estate is also very expensive. A decent rental house quickly costs between $1,500 and $2,000.
Besides that there are the general downsides to living on an island, such as the lack of availability of supplies. When we do groceries for a week we have to pass by several supermarkets to try to find everything. We always leave with three lists: one with stuff you’d like to have, one with stuff that are kind of required and one with stuff you absolutely need. You also know beforehand that you’ll never find everything from either one of those lists, so you need to create some sort of storage room where you keep things in case you don’t find them the weeks after. By living this way you also learn that there’s a lot of stuff you can keep in the freezer. Often there are no butter, flour or eggs ins stores, especially around the holidays when people bake a lot of pies and cakes. The stuff that’s there also gets more expensive because of the transportation costs and the import taxes the government applies.
5. And what’s the biggest difference in mentality of the people or their lifestyle? What is it that you love most about living here?
People living on an island are often said to be a bit introvert. That’s not the case in Grenada. People here are very extrovert and very friendly as well. Everybody still says hello to everybody and children who forget to say hi to someone are quickly corrected by their parents.
People here are also always ready to help. If your car breaks down or if you’re lost, it won’t take longer than a couple of minutes before someone comes to help you out. For example, we were once driving from the east coast of the island to the west coast on one of the few roads that goes right through the rainforest. At a certain point the roads splits in two, but there are no signs, so we get out the “map” and start looking. Suddenly I saw someone approaching from the corner of my eye. It was a somewhat older man holding a large machete. It’s not unusual to walk around with machetes over here, but at that time we hadn’t learned that yet. The man approached the car and I started waving with a big smile, hoping he would just go back. He yelled something that we couldn’t understand and so he just kept coming closer until he finally reached us. I opened the car window a little, just enough to be able to understand him. He asked where we wanted to go. When I told him “Gouvaye”, the name of the third largest city, he looked around, saw another car approach and gestured that car to stop, something the driver immediately did. What would you do if someone with a huge machete was waving at you? Machette Guy said something to the driver and then signaled us to follow him. We did as he asked and followed the car. After a few turns we reached another crossroads, where the other car stopped. The driver got out and showed us which direction we had to follow to get to Gouvaye, before driving back to where he came from. He’d especially driven all the way to the next crossroads to show us where we needed to go!
6. What do you like least about living in Grenada?
There’s not something about living here that I really don’t like, but there are things that have become a bit annoying after having lived here for a while. The availability of certain products, the cost of travel and the fact that once you’ve driven up and down the island four times, you’ve pretty much seen it. That’s probably the price you have to pay to live in paradise. Shopping for the fun of shopping is as good as non-existent here, which my wife regrets, but which is good for our finances!
7. What do you miss most about Belgium?
The only things I miss about Belgium are the delicious beers and a nice pack of fries. Whenever we get back to Belgium, it’s the first thing we do: go for fries.
8. Is there something about Belgium you don’t miss at all?
Something we absolutely don’t miss are the increasingly sour society and the intolerance in Belgium. We follow the news every day on the website of the VRT (Flemish national news channel) and wonder what kind of things Belgians complain about, especially compared with conditions in Grenada. Things like school, healthcare, social security. People here have to live with so much less and seem to be much happier and always in a good mood.
10. A word of advice for Belgians who are thinking of moving to Grenada?
I don’t think I can give any specific tips for someone who wants to move here. The only advice I’d give to anyone thinking about migrating is to first spend a couple of months in the country or city of your dreams before making the decision. Rent something and try to live as normal as possible, in the same way you would live if you actually moved there. That’s the quickest way to discover possible issues. Take it from me: most people who migrate have thoroughly thought about the bigger picture, but it’s usual the small things in everyday life that make a difference. Those are difficult to take into account beforehand, but can become increasingly important when you live somewhere until they become a source of frustration that turns your dream world into a nightmare if you don’t act on it in time.
11. Is that why you decided to move again, this time to France?
In the end we decided, also because of family reasons, to sell our business here and to move elsewhere. Selling our business isn’t easy, especially not on a small island with inhabitants that don’t have the money for it. That’s why it took us a year before we finally found a potential buyer and signed the deal.
We’d been thinking of moving elsewhere for a while already, but didn’t want to return to Belgium, even if just for the climate. Now that we’re used to eternal summer, we didn’t want to go back to cold, wet and most importantly grey Belgium. We did want to be close o our home country to make it easier (read: cheaper) to make return trips. We chose the south of France, mostly because of the language. Now we just have to figure out what we’re going to do there. But that’s another story.
Are you a Belgian who moved abroad, or do you know someone who is? I’m always looking for new Belgian Expats to talk to. Check out the X-pat Files for more information on who exactly I’m looking for and drop me a line!