Montserrat gave me the chance to nerd out a little and use some of the Geography knowledge I gained over the last three years! As we sailed in we could see smoke seeping out of the top of the still active volcano and at sunset it really did look magical.
In 1995 the apparently dormant volcano which towers over the small, relatively quiet island erupted. A pyroclastic flow gushed down one side of the island, taking out everything in its way and seeping into the ocean forming a whole new area of land mass in the process. Unfortunately, the main town of Plymouth was in the way of the flow and so destroyed, taking the homes, services and workplaces of many on the island with it. The eruption continued for five years with the most activity being in 1997, this photo of the huge, billowing clouds of ash really sums up the violence which has changed the island so much. Where Montserrat was a hub of musicians such as The Beatles and Stevie Wonder hanging out, recording albums in the sun and living it up with rum punches in the Caribbean. Now it is very much a quiet, sparsely populated island with a slow but steady tourism industry based on tours of the destruction from their Volcano. Which is exactly what brought us to the island – not a voyeristic tourism as I don’t believe the people who live here still are necessarily suffering but there certainly has been a monumental change in the way of lfe.
The passage over from Antigua was easy sailing wise however, unfortunately I was suffering a bit with sea sickness. This was all quickly forgotten though when a pod of around twenty dolphins started playing in the wake of our bow. They were so close to the boat I felt sure we were going to hit one at any moment! After around eight hours of sailing we arrived to our anchorage and settled in for a rather rolly night.
We had one full day in Montserrat and didn’t want to waste it and so found a guide to take us on a tour of the island. Joe, who has lived here all of his life, took us out for four hours driving around showing us the effects of the eruption. Apparently residents were told to take enough of their belongings for a weekend however, the evacuation ended up being permanent. The exclusion zone set up around much of the island was in place for years, meaning some people couldn’t return home until only recently. It must have been really awful.
Now there are just a lot of trees where there had once been homes, schools and shops. The fertile ash has turned the already lush tropical land into a take on Jurassic World (minus the dinosaurs)! From the top of the Volcano you can still see steam rising which gives an eerie aspect, one that would keep me up at night in my bed at the base. However, locals very much get on with life as normal, old photographs from 1997 showed the pyroclastic flow surging down the hillside with a fruit market in the foreground and people chatting in the street – not the mad running for higher ground far away I would have expected!
Montserrat was just a short stop off on our way to Bonaire – another three or four days sail away – but was a really lovely and interesting island.