Today however, we came to see what most people come to see on Montserrat. The tourism industry (limited as it is) here is based on showing the spectacular, much like going to the old-time circus to see the bearded lady or the siamese twins, and in that respect Montserrat delivers.
Henry did a little internet search and came up with Sunny who offered a full-day tour of the island and that is exactly what we got. We highly recommend this young man who grew up and lives on Montserrat today as a musician, computer technician, tour guide, vulcanologist and property manager. As he explained to us, employment here is difficult so you must create options for yourself.
We began the day by continuing our explorations of the north end of Montserrat where everyone lives today. The new airport which was unfortunately built too small to accommodate anything much and thereby limits economic expansion, the north-american style developments with cookie-cutter houses that were built to house many of the displaced islanders who have lost not just their homes but all that they owned, and the new schools, community centre and government buildings all provide the impression that Montserrat is recovering and moving forward, if somewhat tentatively.
|The new airport that unfortunately cannot be expanded and is too short to land the larger island-hopper aircraft.|
|The new homes are being colourfully painted, sometimes looking like a competition on who can outdo the other with the most outlandish colour scheme.|
The island is controlled by an Exclusion Zone that has varying levels of intensity depending on the current activity of the volcano. If you happen to live in an area that is Zone C, you can expect to be evacuated at any time, and therefore everyone has moved to the north or at least Zone B to live. Beyond Zone C is completely inaccessible to everyone except those scientists who have a need, and the means of escape, to study the present situation.
Throughout the tour, Sunny provided us with the historical facts and also his personal experiences of living with the volcano in their midst. What was so interesting was that although the Soufriere Volcano awoke in 1995, it was not one cataclysmic eruption that caused the damage to Montserrat and obliterated the capital of Plymouth along with many other villages. It was instead an ongoing series of events from that time with the most devastating in 2010 when the dome of the volcano collapsed again sending a huge flow of ash and rocks down the eastern flanks of the mountain and extending the shoreline a good half-mile out into the ocean, completely burying the old airport in the process.
|Soufreire Hills Volcano shrouded in cloud and sulfer gases.|
|There's an airport buried in there and the tower used to be near the coastline.|
|Amazingly the old sugar mill tower has still survived, just look at the size of the boulders though that litter the landscape.|
|Zone V encompasses most of the southern end of the island and up to the peak of the volcano.|
We crossed the Belham River which now fills the entire valley with a winding flow of sand, gravel and boulders. When it rains heavily and more is washed down, bulldozers have to clear the road to access a small enclave of upscale homes that lie on the hills south of the river.
|The sand filled Belham River and the site of the old golf course, buried many feet below.|
Our final area to visit was in zone C just on the outskirts of what was once Plymouth. The devastation is complete and yet continuing daily as more ash falls. With the stench of sulphur in our noses we tried to take in the magnitude of the scene before us.
|Water is creating a new ravine above the old town site.|
|Abandoned and destroyed homes and the old medical school that has now relocated to Sint Maarten.|
|What is it with these old sugar mill towers - they sure knew how to build them!|
|Sunny showing us the reception desk at the hotel. Notice the doorway behind giving an indication of how much ash is on the floor.|
|Papers lie on the desk where they were left, but the metal legs of the chair have completely rotted away.|
|The label at this end of the swimming pool indicate it was 10' deep.|
|This suite had a kitchen, now almost completely filled with ash. The louvre doors are still in remarkably good shape.|
|The old steps have been cleared but this really shows the depth of the ash - remember we are far from the main area where the ash fell, this is just what has blown in on the wind.|
|The home and studio now lies abandoned in Zone C.|
|The old gates welcome you to Air Studio. Seems you can make just about anything out of rebar down here.|