Montserrat, Lesser Antilles

The Island of the Volcano that Refuses to Sleep

The "Jaden Sun" Ferry
The ferry that provides maritime connections between Antigua and Montserrat.
Lady in Red
Salem hairdresser's client in a mirrored dimness.
Resilient coconut palm
Coconut palm towers above St. George Hill and apparently above Soufrière Hills volcano.
a Dantesque peak
Sulfur and other gases ascend from the summit of the Soufrière Hills volcano.
End of the line
Abandoned houses lost in vegetation that has increased at a great rate in recent years.
at the door of business
A Salem resident gets some fresh air at the entrance to her Salem store.
End of Fishing
Harpoon fisherman pulls a small caique onto the beach at Line Kiln Bay
Great Fishing
A resident of Montserrat shows the late afternoon fishing on the sand of Line Kiln Bay.
Accounts made from an ex-City
Balcony of a Plymouth hotel filled with the ashes that buried the city.
Office Jungle
Vegetation and ash invade a Plymouth office.
Fern Jungle
Ferns take over the courtyard of a house atop St. George Hill.
spanish point
The big slab on which the old airport stood, under lava and ash.
Towards the Round Island
Cruise traveling through the Caribbean approaches Ilha Redonda.
In the Antilles, volcanoes called Soufrière abound. That of Montserrat, re-awakened in 1995, and remains one of the most active. Upon discovery of the island, we re-enter the exclusion area and explore the areas still untouched by the eruptions.  

Jermaine intensifies efforts to bring us to the vicinity of the volcano.

He underlines once again the exceptional character of the tour he was going to take us on. “Believe it's just for you. I haven't done this in years. Also because it is quite prohibited, so to speak!”

The introduction leaves us double intrigued. Near the volcano we had already been. The St. George Hill that advertised us had to book something special.

Jermaine stops the van in which he was driving us halfway down a hillside, like almost all of them in Montserrat, semi-invaded by tropical vegetation.

"From here, we're gone!" informs the guide, pointing to a padlocked gate. “Let's walk a while but it will be worth it!”

St. George Hills Rise to Panoramic Heights

In addition to a good bit, the remaining path was almost all uphill. For our part, with kilometers of the Antilles on our legs for several months, the effort did not bother us.

For Jermaine, the picture was different. We soon realized that not only had I not traveled to those ends of the island for a long time, but that I hadn't done any kind of exercise.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, path to volcano

Guide Jermaine approaches the top of St. George Hill and the Soufrière Hills volcano.

From fatigued, the guide became exhausted. From exhausted to worn out. So shaken by the slopes that we began to fear that he might be victimized by a heart attack.

We slowed down, stopped walking more often than we needed to. Gradually, little by little, we reached, in a trio, the smooth heights of St. George Hill, where the road narrowed and the vegetation not bothersome reached our waists.

We concluded that, by that time, Jermaine would be safe from collapse. We are dedicated to appreciating and photographing the new stops of Montserrat, elevated and lateral facing the Soufrière Hills.

So close that, if we were crazy, we would soon reach the volcano's sulfur crater.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, bulb

Nature holds a relic bequeathed by the Plymouth catastrophe.

Over the hapless houses of Plymouth and the blue Caribbean Sea.

From there, we could still perceive the sulphurous stains on the top of the volcano and how, from them, successive eruptions of toxic fumes shed.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufrière volcano, smoky crater

Sulfur and other gases ascend from the summit of the Soufrière Hills volcano.

The Unexpected Near-Implosion of the Eastern Caribbean Dollar

Invigorated by the imposing scenery, Jermaine sits on the grass and tells us some curious Plymouth adventures, one of them more fascinating than the others.

It was 1996. Several politicians in the region touted the Eastern Caribbean dollar as a prodigious common currency project, so stable and beneficial that they called on the largest Caribbean countries to switch their competing currencies and join the EC$.

We arrived in May 1997.

The Soufrière Hills that smoked in front of us had been erupting since July 1995.

It had buried Plymouth, the capital of Montserrat, and forced its inhabitants to flee the city.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, houses buried by lava

Solidified torrent of pyroclastic flows along Plymouth houses.

In the chaos of the stampede, valuables were left behind.

Among them, millions of Caribbean dollars poorly kept in a safe at the local branch of Barclays Bank.

A group of opportunistic thieves was inspired by a wave of looting perpetrated by other assailants, boat arrivals and other types of boats from the surrounding islands and seized the opportunity.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufrière volcano, fisherman's caique

Harpoon fisherman pulls a small caique onto the beach at Line Kiln Bay

Aware that no one was watching the surroundings, they dug a tunnel and blew up a vault made of cement half a meter thick, reinforced with steel grates.

After the blow, they escaped with more than 900.000 CEs, in bills between $5 and $100, none of them considered “on the market” or legal.

The coup forced numerous dealers to interrupt their activities to check the serial numbers of notes they had received during the day.

On the blurred threshold between the legality and illegality of money, while the Central Bank of the Eastern Caribbean did not find an effective solution to the imbroglio, the future of the EC was even questioned.

“Here in Plymouth, it was even more incredible,” Jermaine tells us. “A drunk who refused to leave town came up with talk that he was hearing ghosts at Barclays Bank.

As expected, no one called him. Then, what was discovered was discovered.”

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano

Villas lined up at the bottom of the slope of the Soufrière Hills volcano.

And the Conductor Incursion of Some French Sailors-Adventurers

Some time later, when Plymouth had little or nothing to plunder, some French sailboats anchored off within the Exclusion Zone. The absence of vigilance once again allowed all pretensions.

The navigators stayed for several days. They entered and left the abandoned city as they pleased and documented the adventure in photography and video.

Montserrat, island, Plymouth, Soufriere Hills volcano

The great volcano on the island of Montserrat, seen from St. George Hill.

His recordings resulted in mini-documentaries of surprising quality, as Jermaine called them.

They will have had at least a much more genuine tone than that of other achievements later carried out there.

When the Saga of Survival Reality-Shows Came to Montserrat

In September 2011, Season 2 of Discovery Channel's reality show “Man, Woman, Wild” featured an episode called “Volcanic Destruction”, all of it filmed in Montserrat.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, volcano intrusion

Vegetation and ash take over the division of a house.

Six years later, the producers of “Adventure to the Skin Flower” (“Naked and Afraid”) remembered Plymouth.

The synopsis of the episode describes that "A survival instructor and an officer withdrawn from the Armed Forces are inserted into the island devastated by a volcano of Montserrat."

The Destruction and Abandonment of Plymouth and the Vast Zone of Exclusion

Not that the entire island had been razed to the ground. The destruction centered on Plymouth and areas around the capital, including the airport and the island's old port.

The current exclusion area – the one we had re-entered – has made the entire southern third inaccessible, with two adjacent marine areas where lava or pyroclastic flows are expected to flow.

After 1997, with the devastation of Plymouth and the annihilation of the island's economy of which the capital was the engine, about half of the population found themselves homeless, homeless and without reason to stay there.

Most moved to the UK metropolis, where they arrived with full rights of residence and British citizenship.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufrière volcano, Office invaded

Vegetation and ash invade a Plymouth office.

The Pioneer Irish Colonization of Montserrat and the Triumph of the British over the French

This, despite the fact that in historical terms, Montserrat was colonized by the Irish, who arrived from the northern neighbor of Saint Kitts.

Later, as a result of the enmity of the Irish against the English, the pioneers invited France to seize the island (1666).

The French even invaded and stopped her. For a short time. Aware of French-speaking competition, the English conquered it and managed to ratify their sovereignty.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, hairdresser

Salem hairdresser's client in a mirrored dimness.

Over the years, they inhabited Montserrat with slaves brought from sub-Saharan Africa, forced to work on sugarcane and cotton plantations.

At the beginning of the XNUMXst century, the activity of Soufrière Hills was reduced to the emission of ash on the already uninhabited areas in the south of the island.

The Return to Activity of the Soufrière Hills Volcano and Definitive Abandonment

However, once again, in late 2009 and early 2010, in addition to the ash, a strong eruption released a new pyroclastic flow down different flanks of the volcano below.

This latest activity proved, once and for all, the impossibility of recovering the volcano's surroundings.

It consolidated the status of the Exclusion Zone, although divided into areas with different risks.

We continued above the bed of the Belham River, still in full daze.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufrière volcano, ferns in courtyards

Ferns take over the courtyard of a house atop St. George Hill.

In the years that had passed without dumping of ash, tropical scrub had already taken over the western slope and foothills of the Soufrière Hills again.

Responsible for that illegal contemplation for too long, Jermaine inaugurates the 3.5km return.

This time, always on the way down, the fatigue didn't bother him, but both the guide and we had estimated a much quicker and easier return trip.

Nobody thought to bring enough water.

With the tropical sun squeezing, we started to suffer from thirst. We are still planning a climb to a loaded coconut tree, facilitated by the machete Jermaine used to ride.

In the end, it was ripe guavas abundant there that saved us.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufrière volcano, coconut tree

Coconut palm towers above St. George Hill and apparently above Soufrière Hills volcano.

From St. George Hill, we return to the inhabited center and north of Montserrat.

We had lunch at a stool owned by a lady who served homemade Caribbean food, along with some workers who animated their meal with a conversation almost a discussion, owners of very serious voices, common in these parts of the world.

After the meal, Jermaine took us to the Jack Boy Hill viewpoint.

From there, we admire the east side of the volcano, the great lava-covered slab of Spanish Point, where, also buried, is the runway of the former WA Bramble airport.

Montserrat Island, Plymouth, Soufriere Volcano, Spanish Point

The big slab on which the old airport stood, under lava and ash.

From there, we ascend to another that crowns the northern end of the island, much higher, overlooking much of the south and the new John A. Osbourne airport, located in the village of Gerald.

Before returning to Olveston House, we stopped at the hospital to treat an ear that had become infected due to the dust projected by the jets from the planes, on the Maho beach of Sint Maarten.

Properly medicated, we said goodbye to Jermaine.

The next day, we dedicate it to visiting Brades, the current largest city on the island.

And walking through Salem, the village that had welcomed us.

In Salem, we talk to stubborn business owners.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, resident

A Salem resident gets some fresh air at the entrance to her Salem store.

Of those who resisted leaving after the destruction of Plymouth and assert that only in the extreme case they would leave their Montserrat.

In a busy hairdresser, we follow and photograph the slow plaiting of a client's hair.

We found out about the ladies' state of mind and some unexpected news.

Montserrat island, Plymouth, Soufriere volcano, hairdresser

Hairdresser from Salem braids a client.

One of them was that the company that owned the “Jaden Sun” ferry we had arrived at hadn't repaired it yet.

Well, with a return trip to Antigua the following morning, not knowing anything, was hoping for trouble.

In good Caribbean fashion, everything was resolved. After many phone calls, we were told to be at the airport at six in the morning.

Half an hour later, we were flying over the Caribbean Sea with a bird's eye view of the Soufrière Hills.


PS -   At the time of creation of this article, the Cumbre Vieja volcano from the island of La Palma, in the Canaries was in an eruptive phase that was as or more destructive.

Fortunately, to date, none of the villages on the island have been on the lava path between the volcano and the final destination of the Atlantic Ocean.

Plymouth, Montserrat

From Ashes to Ashes

Built at the foot of Mount Soufrière Hills, atop magmatic deposits, the solitary city on the Caribbean island of Montserrat has grown doomed. As feared, in 1995, the volcano also entered a long eruptive period. Plymouth is the only capital in a political territory that remains buried and abandoned.

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