Published: June 23rd 2011
May 31st 2011
The third floor?
This is actually the top floor of a 3 story home that bordered the golf course. It had an in ground swimming pool, was beautifully landscaped and is continuing to be buried each time there is a rain storm.
If you think you’re made of tough stuff then you've never met someone from Montserrat
You may have heard of Montserrat because of the active volcano on the south end of the island. This is not the type of volcano you might see in Hawaii but more like the one at Mount Helen (south of Seattle). Prior to the volcano there were over 11,000 people living on this island and it had an extremely active tourist and agriculture-based economy. Montserrat had chosen a different approach to dealing with tourism. Instead of large hotels and cruise ship docks they had gone with small family operated resort cottages and vacation homes for Americans and Canadians.
The island was first colonized in 1630 by Irish Catholics fleeing St. Kitts because of religious persecution from the Methodists (Janice just corrected me they were Protestants but as my uncle Vincent once said "same union different locals"). Sugar cane quickly became the main crop and slaves were introduced to the colony. It's interesting when you walk around town you are introduced to local people with surnames like O'Brien, Dublin and Ryan. When you ask people what is the most common traditional food you are told "goat
What was once a lush golf course
This used to be the golf course complete with club house and beautiful homes surrounding the course. It was completely buried by the volcanic flow. There are still some that live in the homes on the other side of the flow.
water" which is basically Irish stew. Another clear indication of the heritage of this community is the fact that Montserrat is the only country in the world apart from Ireland that observe St. Patrick's Day with a holiday. The weeklong celebration highlights local culture, Irish heritage and is a commemoration of the slave uprising on that very day in 1768. Apparently the slaves had observed that this was the best day because the majority of their masters would be drunk due to the celebrations. Unfortunately one of the slaves informed her mistress so the planters were ready for the slaves and they did not succeed at that time.
The current population of Montserrat has improved significantly and is now up to about 4500. The problems in Montserrat started in 1989 when the island took a direct hit from hurricane Hugo. No sooner had they cleaned up and gotten everything back in shape than the Soufriere Hills volcano started to make some noise. Starting in 1995 the first pyroclastic eruptions began. This is not the traditional oozing lava that you see in Hawaii but a massive, extremely fast moving river of very hot volcanic dust and rocks. Some of these rocks
Now a sand pit
The roads on the old golf course keep changing each time there is a rain. They are used extensively now by large trucks as they are selling the sand to other islands.
are the size of large houses. By 2003 the dome had collapsed and everyone was hoping the volcano had gone dormant. Areas were reopened and people began to move back into their homes and cleanup the several feet of dust that was covering everything. Unfortunately Plymouth, the capital, remained off-limits because it was under some 10 to 15 feet of debris. Most of the homes and businesses in the capital had been burned down leaving only masonry outlines. Unfortunately in 2006 the dome began to grow again and in another series of eruptions, it totally destroyed the capital of Plymouth and most of the surrounding communities. Once again these people picked themselves up, dust themselves off (in this case literally) and began to rebuild their community on the north end of the island in the safe zone. It's important to note that prior to the eruption of the volcano there was almost no development in the northern area. These people needed to rebuild the entire infrastructure necessary for any community to survive. This has been an island nation they didn't even have a seaport or an airport after the volcano as they both were located in the south. But they're
The destruction was complete
This is what remains of one of the buildings that lined the golf course. The power of the flow and the heat made its mark on everything in its path.
doing it. The new harbor is a little bit rough but it works. Almost all of the agricultural area of the island was destroyed by the volcano so now the only export is sand. Thanks to the volcano they seem to have an unlimited supply of that. Every time it rains more of the volcanic debris is washed down the river and over the low lands. After the last eruption there were 10 to 15 feet of debris in the capital, now with all the rainfall it's more like 20 to 30 feet. We visited one valley where the golf course once was. There were several houses along the edge of the golf course that had been completely buried. We visited the home of Pat and Lee, retired Americans, who have lived in the same home since before the first eruption. They said that they had no problems other than regularly sweeping up the dust and ash after each eruption. On a few occasions they were forced to evacuate during some of the major eruptions as they were close to the flow. Even though they were in one of the areas designated at risk their home sustained no significant damage
One of the better roads
The roads in Montserrat just like many of the other islands are narrow, curvy and mountainous. You many times meet yourself coming back on them. This is definitely one of the better roads.
until about a year ago when after a particularly severe rainstorm their backyard was buried in several feet of volcanic debris. Where they once had an aboveground swimming pool they now have an in ground swimming pool. They also have a significantly larger backyard because it is now even with the riverbed which was once some 20 to 30 feet below the level of their swimming pool. But even with all of that their attitude was no problem, just rake in over and plant a new garden. They truly love living in Montserrat.
When we first arrived in Little Bay we were checking in at the customs office. While waiting our turn we were approached by a lovely American woman who asked us if we were cruisers (not sure what it is - there must be something about the way we dress and the way we look that makes us easy to identify - must be the cruisers uniform of shorts, sandals, loose fitting shirt and straw hat). She invited us to her home for lunch and offered to give us a quick tour of the island. Nancy and her husband Randy have lived on the island for several years
A road to the top
We drove up this road to the top of the mountain – what a great view. Glad neither of us was driving – we left that up to Joe!
and were extremely positive and upbeat about the island. We asked them why they chose Montserrat and they said there were three reasons: first the people, second and abundance of fresh water and third security. Pat & Lee, the other couple we met agreed with these 3 reasons but also added that they wanted a country with English law. When we arrived at their home we understood another reason why they had chosen this island. The view from their home is simply magnificent. Overlooking the ocean on a high cliff surrounded by incredibly beautiful vegetation and a constant breeze made this home a delight. The whole time we were there the front door and the glass doors overlooking the swimming pool and the view was left open which allowed for a cool refreshing breeze to blow through the house. They had many friends and overhearing their conversations have an extremely active social life. They were very positive about the local people and said they had never felt any animosity, in fact quite the opposite. After a lovely lunch they took us on a tour of the island and then drove us back through town and stopped at one of the
It used to be Plymouth
This shows the extensive flow that completely buried the city of Plymouth, the previous capitol of Montserrat. Only a few tops of buildings still show above the rubble. It is not safe to travel there – this was as close as we could get, but we could see enough with our binoculars to understand the destruction
local supermarkets where we were able to pick up some extremely good Indian food made by the wife of the store manager. When we asked about the volcano and the issue of safety they said that they lived in one of the safe zones and that the volcano had been dormant for the last several years. During our conversations rarely was the volcano discussed. We felt as though these people were probably some of the best PR for this country. They were sincerely positive about the people, the country, and the current government (Montserrat is a British colony so the governor is appointed by the prime minister of England).
On the second day we had arranged with a Canadian couple to take a four hour guided tour of the island. We met up with Joe (VHF call sign Avalon) and piled into a four-wheel drive Honda. We found Joe to be extremely informative and pleasant. One benefit of this tour from ours the previous day was that Joe had a collection of photographs of the island prior to the volcano. He would take us to a location, give us a chance to look around and then show us his photographs.
Is it smoking?
Don’t worry, it looks like it was smoking, but this is cloud cover around the volcano.
One of the pictures we have included is the top floor of the house that was located near the golf course. You can tell by looking at the shutters and inside the windows that this was a lovely old home at one time. Then he shows you the photograph of the house prior to the volcano. This was a three-story home built into the side of the hill. They had a swimming pool and magnificent garden – it was a beautiful old colonial home. All that remains now is the topmost floor of the house. We also drove to the top of the hill in the safe zone. This gave us an extremely good view of the old capital and the devastation created by the volcano. Once again Joe provided us with photographs of what it looked like prior to the volcano. It was amazing to see all of the farmland and the beautiful homes that were now buried under 20 to 30 foot of volcanic ash. Along the roads on our way to the top of the hill we went past several beautiful homes that had been abandoned by their owners. This area was originally designated as an unsafe
Looks like a volcano
The views looking back at the island of Montserrat when we departed made it definitely look like the volcano was active. Luckily it wasn’t flowing, but we definitely could smell the sulfur even from a distance.
area but several of the residents fought to have the area opened up because their homes had been untouched by the volcano and were still accessible most of the time. In order to get to this area you must pass over what once was a river and golf course and is now an open area filled with volcanic sand and rocks. Every time it rains more material is washed down by the volcano and into the ravine cutting off these homes until the rains are over. Most of the people who live there have stayed and in fact a couple of the homes have recently been sold.
On our last night in Montserrat we heard a lot of music coming from a beach bar not too far from our boat. We hopped in the dinghy and went ashore figuring a cold beer would taste good. When we got to the bar there were just a few people sitting outside. The owner, Moose, met us and got us a couple of beers and then proceeded to tell us where the refrigerator was and that we should help ourselves and settle up with him when we leave. He also had a large
screen TV and put on a videotape of a National Geographic special dealing with the volcano on Montserrat. We sat and watched the video and afterwards had a great conversation with Moose. Apparently the beach bar is only part of his business as he also gives island tours. Once again we were impressed by how resilient the people of this island are. No complaints and no grumbling, just positive upbeat attitude all the time. He never complained about the fact that he had to start over completely. We did find out that the government has helped with resettlement by building homes in the north. People can rent them and when they are able to buy, the rent goes toward the purchase price.
The next morning we sailed out of Little Bay and headed south to Guadeloupe. As we passed the southern end of the island we were able to see and smell the volcano. We also got a look at the devastation on the southern end of the island. Where once there were wide open fields and small communities now there was just gray volcanic ash.
This island was a pleasant surprise. We almost didn't even bother stopping but it
What a view
Randy and Nancy moved from the US to permanently live in Montserrat. With a view like this from their living room we weren’t surprised by their decision even if it is on an island with a volcano! They assured us they lived in the “safe zone” of the island.
was a convenient distance from our last stop. We are glad we did. By far some of the nicest people we've ever met and some of the most beautiful and dramatic countryside we've seen are in Montserrat. This is an island that definitely goes on our "don't miss list".
There are more photos below