Time to be tourists
We arrived at our new port, Montserrat, in the dark. Tired after a long day of sailing, the anchor dropped and we went to sleep, totally uninterested in our surroundings. When we woke up the next morning and stepped out into the cockpit we were pleasantly surprised to find that we were all alone at the base of a tall, green mountain. There wasn’t a human in sight.
The only thing we knew about Montserrat was that it’s main town, Plymouth, was demolished nearly 25 years ago by an erupting volcano. We had done some research on the island (something we normally do when we get to a new place) but we weren’t quite satisfied with just reading about it. We wanted to get a better feel for the place we’d be staying for the next 36 hours. So, we decided to try something we hadn’t done yet on our trip. We’d take a tour of the island!
This was kind of a big deal. We try to stick to a budget and watch our spending. We had been pinching pennies since leaving St. Martin, but considering this island was home to an active volcano (something we’d never experienced before) we thought it was high time to act like tourists and spend a little bit of money. I was just thrilled to spend more than 1-2 hours away from Alli Oop doing something that was completely unrelated to the boat!
Drinking it in
After clearing customs, we met up with our driver, Joe. He was a local who’d lived through the volcanic eruption and has been sharing the history with visitors ever since. The winding roads led us up the mountain side where we saw mango and breadfruit trees that lined the roads, dripping with ripe fruits ready to be picked. Bursts of colors were around every corner. Tropical flowers dotted the hillsides and facades of sturdy homes. The air smelled incredibly pure and felt cool against our skin.
Along the way, we stopped at the famous Runaway Ghaunt, a mountain spring where people stop to get water. Legend says that if you drink from the spring, you’ll return to the island of Montserrat. Naturally, we couldn’t resist and drank and the water. It was just delicious!
After driving for 20 minutes, we ended up in Joe’s old neighborhood, which wasn’t too far from Plymouth. There, many homes still stood, fairly untouched, but completely over grown in vegetation. The ash from the volcano provided the surrounding area’s soil with rich nutrients, perfect for plant life to develop. Now, many locals have returned to their old properties and turned the soil into plots for growing citrus fruit and vegetables like corn and potatoes.
Once upon a time…
Joe showed us pictures of the island before the eruption. Plymouth, a bustling town which was the capital of Montserrat, flourished near it’s base. Businesses of all kinds, colorful homes, and a large marina were once a part of this landscape. It looked like a beautiful town, full of life. It was hard to imagine all of that existed and now it was just… gone.
As we neared the ‘exclusion zone’ we saw a vast, brown wasteland on the horizon framed by rising smoke. We had a perfect view of the burned and buried town of Plymouth. It was incredible to see the remnants of the devastation. The smooth slope that used to be the home of Plymouth was now a flattened landscape. Buildings popped up here and there along the hillside, but most sign of civilization had been buried 20 years ago.
In addition to this island shattering event, we also learned about another tragic occurrence that happened less than a decade prior: Hurricane Hugo. In 1989, the category 5 hurricane blasted through Montserrat with 140+ mph winds. Needless to say, much of the island’s infrastructure was destroyed including the famous recording studio created by The Beatles producer, George Martin.
Artists like the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and the Police all recorded albums on Montserrat. It seemed strange that this island was the old stomping grounds of such celebrities.
Hopes for the future
Little Bay, which is now the new capital of Montserrat, is starting to grow, but has a long way to go until it can reach the former glory of Plymouth. With literally no tourist economy, the island is trying to work it’s way back into the industry. In my opinion, the locals, who are such kind and respectful people, deserve some kind of prosperity after the struggles they’ve had to endure from Mother Nature. It made me a bit sad that such a beautiful island is virtually empty.
Montserrat is a very special place. With it’s interesting history and beautiful landscape it’s not hard to understand why. Montserrat definitely tugged on my heart strings and gave me a deeper appreciation for the strength of it’s people and the resiliency of their spirits .
We hope that our drink from the Runaway Ghaunt will prove fruitful and we can return to the island in the future. Hopefully when we do, Montserrat will be back on the upswing and filled with tourists enjoying it’s beauty.