Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When a volcano destroys your Capital, keep calm and carry on

Soufrière Hills volcano.
Carry on...and perhaps do a bit of evacuating. Actually, since the volcano went from dormant to active in 1995, the population of Montserrat went from over 10,000 to around 4,000. The initial eruption and subsequent pyroclastic flows destroyed the capital city, many other settlements, and the main airport. Two-thirds of the island is now uninhabitable and off limits to the general public. But that being the case, the island keeps on going and the volcano doesn't seem to intrude on the locals daily thoughts too much.

Buildings buried in ash.
We were able to sail close to the ruins of Plymouth, the old capital city. In the past, there has been an exclusion zone that required sailboats to stay 2 kilometers away. But the volcano has been relatively quiet since 2011 so we were allowed to sail past without stopping during daytime hours. As we sailed downwind of the ruins, we could smell the sulfur from the fumaroles.

The abandoned houses near Plymouth.
Lovely hills just around the corner.
There is a big port expansion in the works that seeks to revitalize Montserrat's economy. There's also a plan for a new capital and many new public buildings.  It's ambitious and slow moving, mostly because it relies on foreign aid and loans.  Beyond the construction dust, it is a beautiful island that is nicknamed "The Emerald Isle of the Caribbean" because of its terrain and the Irish settlers that came to the island. St. Patrick's Day is a big deal here and gets a week-long celebration. Not certain if they drink green beer during the week.  And we're almost positive they don't dye the bay green. (Note to any Montserratians reading this: If you DO want a green bay, we can hook you up with some Chicago folks that'll make it happen.)


We enjoyed our stay on the island. We took a bus/taxi to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. The ride itself was an adventure through narrow, winding roads. Roads here have two directions: Up and Down.  The boys enjoyed learning about the volcano. The highlight of the trip for them was the beach near our anchorage. They got tumbled for hours in the surf and still wanted more.


On the way to Montserrat from Nevis, which was an uncomfortable motor-sail with one engine, we caught a huge King Mackerel. Unfortunately, the area we caught it in is a documented hot spot for ciguatera so we didn't eat it. Our next stop is Guadeloupe.

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