Sunday, June 2, 2013

Montserrat Trip Part 1

The "Modern Day Pompeii" and "The Emerald Isle" are both terms used to describe the lovely volcanic island to the south of us, Montserrat.

Mostly by chance I was able to take an awesome one day journey to this British Overseas Territory and was fascinated at the island which is only 40 square miles in total.

 The nonprofit organization, Alliance Francaise St. Kitts Nevis once again organized a rare opportunity to explore more of the Caribbean. I knew the organization was planning a trip to St. Barths on Whit Monday, but I didn't really want to go without my wife since I knew she'd love to go and had to work. (Ross University usually doesn't observe national holidays here.)

I bumped into Karine, the director of Alliance at the Lodge Village Hash two days before the trip and she informed me that Tranquility Vacations had at the last minute canceled the trip for some unknown reason. She said she didn't want to leave the people who signed up hanging so she arranged another trip to Montserrat on the same day and asked me if I wanted to come.

Well, of course I wanted to come! Julie had been to Montserrat in 2006 and raved about how cool it was. With some last minute scrambling and passport collecting Karine pulled together a group of approximately 40 people to go on the ferry for a day trip.

 Well, of course I wanted to come! Julie had been to Montserrat in 2006 and raved about how cool it was. With some last minute scrambling and passport collecting Karine pulled together a group of approximately 40 people to go on the ferry for a day trip.

This One's a Go!!

The only catch was that we had to be in Basseterre port to catch the ferry at 5 a.m. since the boat ride would take around 2 hours and we needed to get there early since we needed time to explore, have lunch, and swim at the beach.

On board the ferry, Caribe Surf in Basseterre before sunrise.
The ferry, which is captained by Prince Mills is a beautiful boat but as soon as we made it past Nevis the waves picked up and we were initiated into being "real"seafarers. The ride became a roller coaster up and down of the stomach as the catamaran rode up on waves and slammed down into the bowls of water only to ride right back up again. I personally found it invigorating but some people were soaked as waves crashed over the canopy and there were two seasick casualties that I knew of.

I caught this spectacular view of the sun rising over St. Kitt's Southeast Peninsula.

The only other landmark between St. Kitts and Montserrat that I could see was this small cliff-lined and uninhabited island called Redonda Island. This island used to be known for it's guano mining by the British. Weird huh?? It's also apparently considered an independent kingdom and because no one lives there many people have called themselves king of this 1 mile by 3/4 mile country.

As much fun as the roller coaster ride was I decided I'd attempt to walk down to the lower deck and see what the ride was like down below. It was loud and marginally better but as I videoed the ocean I saw something I had never seen before, Flying Fish!!

They were the strangest creatures I had ever seen in the water. They were shiny and silver and as the boat passed near them they'd dart along the surface and then "fly" above the water for probably 50 yards. I was excited to see that and mentioned it to the crewman in the back and apparently they see them all the time. I maintain that my excitement was adequate for seeing such a strange new creature.

 Once we arrived at Montserrat I was kind of stunned at how tiny the country's only dock is:

Montserrat's dock in Little Bay.
We shuffled through immigration and customs and boarded our three taxi buses. Of course I took lots of pictures from inside the taxi bus, so many aren't the greatest quality but they're still interesting.

Yes, this is all the bigger the Immigration and Customs building is.
The town we arrived in was Little Bay, which is now the newly expanding and relocated capital. The old capital, Plymouth was completely buried in pryroclastic flow and ash after the  major volcanic eruption in 1997. The volcano began to show signs of activity in 1995 and still puffs ash randomly to this day.

Load Up!

A new building being built in Little Bay.
Since it was a national holiday many places were closed but the lady who runs the National Museum came in and opened the museum up just for our group. This was one character trait I noticed of the people of Montserrat, they were very friendly people.

After the museum the bus driver/tour guide took us on a tour of some of the new villages and houses that were built close to Little Bay. Remember before the eruption 12,000 people called Montserrat home and now it's around 5,000 but most of the original inhabitants lived in Plymouth so many new homes had to be built in new towns.

I quickly noticed how nice the British government funded houses were compared to St. Kitts government housing. The houses almost all had gardens and were well taken care of too.

This was the small residential area called  Lookout Estate.

We then stopped at a small convenience store called Arrow's Manshop. I asked the lady working inside what a manshop is, but she said the previous owner named it and they just kept the name. It wasn't anything intriguing, just a regular convenience store. If you crossed the street you could get a view of Little Bay's port though.

Montserrat is very hilly.
After buying some food and souvenirs at the Manshop we headed down the winding, yet smooth roads south, towards the exclusion zone. We stopped at a well known water spring and ghaut or ravine called "Runaway Ghaut." At one time the ghaut was an escape route for slaves during plantation days. The legend goes that if you drink from the water, which I didn't, you'll come back to Montserrat, which I will surely do anyways.

This is the mountain spring and below is the actual ghaut.

Back into the three vans we piled and our next stop was the Volcano Observatory. From here we would be able to see what we really had come to look at, Soufriere Hills Volcano.

Stay Tuned for Montserrat Part 2 Into the Exclusion Zone, where we enter the highly dangerous and mysterious abandoned city!