Caribbean Travel & Life
May 1, 1999

Hashing Grenada

Hashing Grenada

More than slightly eccentric, Grenada's Hash House Harriers keep a unique form of cross-country running alive.

Late one Saturday afternoon, below the forested slopes of Hospital Hill above Grenada's capital of St. George's, I was setting up my tripod and waiting for the right light to capture the picturesque harbor when I heard it. At first, I wasn't sure what to make of the racket coming from the woods above me. It sounded like commands a musher gives to his dogs, except to my knowledge, there are no dog sled teams in the Caribbean.

“On! On!” echoed in the gentle afternoon breeze, growing louder with each chorus. I figured it must be some kids chasing some poor animal through the brush and continued to compose my picture.

Suddenly, there was a crashing of branches behind me, and three crazed individuals broke from the undergrowth and dashed madly across Old Fort Road, disappearing into the dense forest on the other side. Startled, my finger jammed down on the shutter release and the motor drive whirled off six shots. Just as my heart was beginning to recover, another motley group pounded by yelling “On! On!” I was beginning to think they were all crazed escapees from the insane asylum when an attractive young woman in shorts broke from the underbrush and asked if I saw which way the others went. Pointing in their general direction, I asked what was going on. She smiled and said, “We're hashing.”

Later, I would find out that the first group, called “hares,” was actually being pursued by the second group, called “hounds.” Who would have imagined that hashing was alive and well on Grenada and that every second Saturday, the island's forested hillsides and valleys echo with the shrill, desperate calls of “On! On!”

Hashing is a kind of “hound and Hare” or “paper chase,” and the wild-eyed hashers dashing throgh hill and dale are part of the “Hash House Harriers,” a dedicated group of Grenadians and visitors devoted to keeping the art of hashing alive.

Hashing hound groups of about 50 follow paper trails marked by hares, who utilize all kinds of tricks to keep the hounds at bay. Actually, the hares claim it's just their way of slowing down the group so they all reach the pub at the same time. Competitiveness is shunned upon, and front runners are usually called “FRBs,” or “front-running bastards.” Shiny new running shoes and pressed shorts are also frowned upon.

Hashing originated in Malaysia sometime in the early 1930s. British senior officers invented the game to keep their men fit and burn off the excesses of weekend partying, Leaders, or hares, would mark a trail — and many false trails — through the dense jungle around Kuala Lumpur. The hares were then pursued by teams of hounds vying to reach the finish line first. As added incentive, there was cold beer waiting for the winning team at the finish line. The name Hash House Harriers was adopted in honor of their beloved Hash House pub, which of course sponsored many of the events. Not much has changed, but these days everyone wins and gets beer.

Two weeks after my first experience with the hashers, I was down at the Portofino Restaurant in St, George's waiting with about 60 other eager hashers. The leader of “Hash Master” that day was Paul “Mother Trucker” Greaves and also present was Grenada's HHH founder and premier hasher, Paul Slinger, who describes hashers as “drinkers with a running problem.” An important part of the hashing ritual is for participants to be given hash names. “They are of necessity, ego-bruising and humbling,” according to John “Putrid” Albanie, Grand Inquisitor for the Grenada HHH. “You are allowed to apply to have your name changed after ten years, provided you realize that the next one will be worse.”

After getting directions to the hash, we piled into cars and headed to Grand Etang National Park, the starting point of that week's hash. Once there, we all signed the hash roster (necessary to account for everyone at the end of the hash) and received last-minute instructions from Paul. Then it was off to the starting line and what would prove to be difficult hash. The trail started near the Grand Etang National Park entrance and skirted Grand Etang Lake before heading southwest toward Point Salinas. The trail was narrow, and it didn't take long before the group was well spread out over a mile or so of marked trail. It stayed that way until we regrouped at the first “checkpoint.”

Checkpoints are usually located at the junction of a number of intersecting trails and are marked by a circle of paper on the ground. Front runners head down each of the intersecting trails to see which is correct. Each false trail is maked with an “X” about a half-mile/.8 kilometers down the trail. Correct trails have no X, so once front runners realize the trail is not false, they yell “On! On!” and the group follows.

If you plan on hashing, there are a few phrases you should know. “On! On!” means you can see the trail markers, usually small bits of colored paper. When you can't find the trail but see someone else, you can ask, “Are you?” “Checking” means the trail has all of a sudden disappeared and you are trying to find it again. When front runners reach a large X in the trail, they yell “on Back” to warn others not to take the trail. When you see the “On In” sign, it means you are nearing the finish line and cold beer.

After skirting the lake, the trail descended into a fertile valley, then crossed a narrow side road, where someone had placed clothes on the hot road to dry. Onward we ran through banana fields and rain forest, stopping every so often to listen for the cries of “On! On!, ” “Checking” or “On Back.” After a couple hours of heading down false trails and stumbling over tree roots, the group was beginning to spread out again, but the hares had done their job well. Near Salinas Airport, our group finally broke through the heavy underbrush into a cow pasture, where the main portion of the group was anxiously searching for the correct trail.

Before I had the time to catch my breath, the call of “On! On!” came from low shrubs to the west, and the group was off again. From the pasture the trail crossed over Petit Cabrits Point, then across the beach, humanely ending at the “On! In” sign near the Aquarium Beach Bar. The hash had taken a grueling four hours and, needless to say, we were all dying for a cold bottle of Carib.

Without a doubt, the most important aspect of the hash is gathering at the pub afterward. Here you rest aching muscles and swap exaggerated tales of the chase with anyone who will listen. The difficulty of the hash is directly proportional to the amount of beer consumed, and the better the hash, the taller the tales.

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