Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Montserrat Trip Part 2

Ah, so where were we??

We were headed to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory.

And another picture to prove that I actually was there, Haha.

As I was doing some more research about Montserrat and the Soufriere Hill Volcano online I found some fascinating video that was taken during the eruption and many more fantastic videos explaining the eruption and what took place. You have to definitely "google"Montserrat Volcano and watch some of the video because there is no substitute for these videos and actual footage. A great one to watch is this one but there are many others.

You can also watch video of actual footage of scientists observing the aftermath of the eruption as viewed by them in their helicopter.

The only disapointing part about going to the observatory was that it was closed, but I expected it to be on a holiday. From other research I've done I read that the Montserrat Volcano Observatory is one of the best in the world because they monitor the volcano 24 hours a day, all year around and in doing so they've learned a lot of great scientific information about volcanoes. Check out their website here: http://www.mvo.ms

At the MVO, for the first time we could see the northern side of Soufriere Hills from the observation deck, but that wasn't enough to whet our appetites. We wanted to see Plymouth and what remained of it.

The view from the observation deck. Below is the helicopter landing pad and you can't see much of The Soufriere Hills Volcano because of cloud cover.
We were all anxious to get an up close view of the volcano so off we went up to the one road leading into the exclusion zone. Our first sign of volcanic activity was in the Belham Valley where ash flows had at one time completely engulfed the river bed and road. Now they actually sift the ash and export it for construction material of some sort.

We drove past some abandoned houses that appeared to be falling down and then we hit an unexpected obstacle.

A locked gate into the exclusion zone, the taxi drivers didn't have the key, and the guard at the guard shack was nowhere to be found. That's a real bummer!

He must be celebrating Whit Monday.
Very quickly we had three busloads of unhappy campers and the taxi drivers looked confused but we weren't giving up. We wanted to see the volcano!

Of course I didn't have to even say a thing because the other travelers with us demanded answers from the taxi drivers/tour guides and rightfully so. A great argument by one of the ladies was that we had come all this way across bumpy seas and this was the highlight of the trip. She said if she'd known we wouldn't get into the exclusion zone then she wouldn't have decided to come on the trip.

To make a long story short, one of the drivers called the police who were there in an amazing amount of time, considering how windy the roads were and how far we now were away from civilization. He was very friendly and I liked his uniform.

Saddle up! On into the most dangerous part of our voyage, so far at least.

Along the road to Plymouth we saw a geothermal drilling rig. Our driver told us that this was the second exploratory well to be drilled on the island and the first one was very successful. It makes sense. Use the earth's heat to make your energy. They've talked about this in Nevis and I believe that's all the further they've done, talk. Montserrat is making it happen.

Along the road we went. We were definitely on a sort of ridge line or plateau and soon we were overlooking Plymouth. I don't know what to write, or have the words to describe what Plymouth looked like, so I'll let the pictures do the talking.

The former AUC Medical School is at the top of the photo, center. Photo Courtesy: Irene Gunn.
The following are AUC Medical School photos from 1983.

American University of the Caribbean 1983. Photo Courtesy: https://picasaweb.google.com/ABE7777/1983Montserrat#5174993842569157522
These are all photos of Plymouth, or what used to be Plymouth, a thriving capital city of thousands. I found an old photo of what Plymouth used to look like before the volcano erupted.

Before. If you look closely in some of my later pictures online you'll see only the pier on the left survived.
Gas Station

Even The Government Headquarters were ruined.
A strange feeling of eeriness and silence really makes your adrenaline pump and your mind race thinking about what it must've been like to be in these houses when the eruption took place. I read that the capital was evacuated in 1995 after the volcano started to show activity, but mistakenly the residents were allowed to return and less than two years later Soufriere Hills blew it's top, literally.

Thankfully, the city was evacuated after the volcano erupted and the first pyroclastic flow rolled over the eastern slope into the ocean. Amazingly only 19 people died during the entire event. Imagine if the capital hadn't been evacuated quickly. Thousands would have perished.

Everything inside the houses was left behind. There was no time to take anything with them. I took a few pictures inside the door and windows of a house, where clothes still hung in the closets.

As you can see anything that was metal was chemically burnt by the ash. The buildings paint and roofs were also burnt chemically and some roofs caught on fire from flying hot pyroclastic rock.

Right behind where we had parked was the town's museum, which was an old windmill converted into a display area. I walked in, climbed up the stairs, and was able to get some awesome shots from a higher vantage point.

Museum 1983 Photo courtesy: https://picasaweb.google.com/ABE7777/1983Montserrat#5174994065907457122
Museum Now. See the people looking out of the window?

Check out the corrosion and erosion of this old generator near the museum.

Yep, this once was a generator.
The entire place was just weird. Everything was a ghost town and something that kind of reminded me of St. Kitts was that there was an American medical school in the city at one time too.

After most of us had starred at the abandoned city for possibly a half hour we rode over to an old hotel resort closer to the water. I thought we'd just look at it but the taxi drivers motioned for us to come inside and check it out. Wow!

The Montserrat Springs Hotel I'm sure at one time was a beautiful place, but now the floors were covered in ash, the roof looked like Swiss Cheese, and a person could walk on the hardened ash that filled in the Olympic-size swimming pool.

Here are other pictures of the abandoned hotel:

If you really want to see something cool, I found old photos online of the hotel before it was destroyed!

Before. Photo Courtesy: https://picasaweb.google.com/ABE7777/1983Montserrat#5174993833979222914
Here are some more hotel pictures:

Yes, that's ash near the bottom of the door.

After seeing all the devastation and imagining how it all used to be I couldn't help but feel a little down, but we headed out of the exclusion zone and to one of only a few places that would brighten your day at that point. The Beach!

Alliance Francaise had arranged a catered lunch for us at a pavilion on the beach. It was really beautiful and it reminded me of a public campground or state park at home. I ate and then had to jump in the water, snorkel, and compare it to St. Kitt's snorkeling. It was nice but we didn't have much time to really explore.

We need one of these in St. Kitts, a nice public pavilion.
What a beautiful beach!
Check out the house on the hilltop.
And of course my favorite picture.

No Rush

After the beach we were back on the ferry to St. Kitts. The way back was much smoother since we were heading with the waves to our backs. We arrived in St. Kitts just around dark. It was a long mind and eye filling day and I was ready for some sleep, but It was an incredible one day trip. I'll definitely be back and hope Alliance Francaise will schedule another trip to a neighboring island soon.

I definitely recommend Montserrat to everyone who is in the area or can make time to see it. What an experience!

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