It was a toss up that morning of where we were headed.  I really wanted to go to Montserrat, it has been on my top list for this trip.  I mean an island, with an active volcano???  You can’t pass that up!!  Salida and Makai were headed for Antigua to take on fuel and meet up with Fine Line and Dawn Dancer.  As we left Nevis that morning, we hit higher than expected winds and higher than expected seas.  After being beat up for an hour, and the prospect of 7 or so more hours of this heading for Antigua, versus about 4 to 5 for Montserrat, we said good bye to Makia, Salida and headed to Montserrat.  Great choice.

In 1995, with 11,000 people on the island, the Soufriere Hills volcano erupted, destroying the town of Plymouth.  Tons of ash came down the mountain, burying the town and extending out to the sea, extending the coastline.  The government came in and put in an exclusion zone.  About two thirds of the population left.  The island started getting back to normal, but then the dome on the volcano  started building up again.  In the summer of 2003 the dome collapsed, spewing out more ash, and killing 19 people.   Another close one for the islanders, and it looked like the worse could be over.  Unfortunately, the dome is building again.  In May 2006, the dome collapsed again, dropping another inch of ash over the town.  More people left the island, with the British government paying for relocation for those who wanted to leave and head either to England, or to Antigua.  The population started dwindling down to the current 2000.  If the population drops to 1000, the British government will close the island.  The volcano is still active, with more rumblings this past May.

As soon as we had anchored, a dinghy appeared at the back of our boat.  It was Patrick, from the catamaran Passage.  He and his wife Sylvie, both from France, had pulled in earlier.  Patrick stopped by to see if we wanted to share a taxi for a tour of the island.  Of course. 

The tour consisted of a ride to the Volcano Observatory, and then a drive around the island.   The observatory showed a video of the eruptions, and the outside deck offered a great view of the volcano.  Steam was streaming out the side vents on the volcano, and you could tell the dome was building up again.  After that, Christian, our driver, took us into the exclusion zone to see the ash flow. 

    When the ash and rocks spewed from the volcano, they formed a river coming down the side of the mountain, burying the town of Plymouth in its path. Rocks the size of houses, exploded from the dome and made their way to the town of Plymouth, following the flowing ashes. Christian drove on the ash “river”.  The ash here was 58 feet thick.  Christian stopped the car and let us walk on the ash. It was like being on the moon.  Large gray rocks, sitting on top of gray dust, and not a soul in sight.  Tristan felt the ash and then “knocked” against the road. It was hollow sounding.  Very weird.  I picked up a few small rocks to bring back with me, and Tristan picked up what he thought was a rock to take with him.  Christian took it from him, telling him it was ash and he couldn’t bring it in the van.  Not a friendly driver.  From there we drove up to a hill as far as the van could go, then we had to walk, almost straight up, to the top of the hill, where we had an unobstructed view of the devastation.  Unbelievable.  It was as if a nuclear bomb had gone off.  Everything was grey.  The buildings were still intact, but the ash filled the interiors to the second floor.  No animals, no birds, no people, nothing,  Just ash.  From there we drove through the country club, and on the golf course.  Beautiful, expensive houses, still fully intact, lights hanging from the ceiling, glass still in some windows, beautiful carved wooden doors, and ash filling up the space to the second floor.   We stopped by a hotel in the exclusion zone.  There were curtains in the window, glasses on the counter, an open  magazine next to a chair.  Everything was just as they left it after the last explosion.  It was so erie.

Montserrat also has a green side, it isn’t all gray.  But the volcano has done more damage than just to the island, it also seems to have put a pall over the people.  Monterratians are not unfriendly, they just seem tired, a little wary, as if waiting for the other shoe to drop.  The schoolchildren, usually the most animated on other islands, passed us with small smiles.  The people here have seen it all, death of friends to the volcano, loss of property and the pain of family members who have chosen to leave and start anew in another land.  I believe there is also a big fear that that Britain could close the island and force them all to leave.  It’s sad.

On the tour, our taxi driver stopped alongside the road, where a freshwater stream was cascading down the mountain.  We all took a drink from the cool, refreshing water.  Legend has it that if you drink from this stream, you will return to Montserrat.  May Hope take a long drink. 

 Abandoned houses in the exclusion zone  Ash flow

 River of ash  

    Town of Plymouth     

 You can see the cruise ship dock that was put in and never used, as the lava flow surrounded it, extending the coastline out another kilometer. 

 Gullies formed by the lava flows.