Friday, May 22, 2015

Mystical Montserrat

The island of Montserrat is really two extreme halves.  The north is lush and green with small villages surrounding the Central Hills rainforest.  The south has been laid waste by the Soufriere volcano that blew its top in 1995 and destroyed the main town of Plymouth, sending many Montserratians away from their homeland as their homes and businesses were destroyed.

Following the eruption of the volcano, the island had to quickly rebuild for those remaining and relocate it's capital and it's main harbour.  There's not much choice on Montserrat and with the Plymouth anchorage destroyed by lava flows, Little Bay in the north now provides the place of entry.

We arrived in the evening after a boisterous motor-sail from Nevis so awaited Friday morning to check in, but were glad to have made it before the weekend when all the rates go into overtime.  Our first day on the island, we decided to explore on foot.  I have to say that the scavenging taxi-drivers who greet you on these islands as soon as you get out of customs are the most annoying.  We ran into a particularly engaging character named Sarge who not only exhorted us to use his services for an island tour, but then followed us down the road and berated us as idiots for wanting to walk and not take his ride - really?

Undaunted, we set off down (and up) the road to visit the little villages along the way.  The main road winds along between the steep cliffs plummeting down to the ocean and the Central Hills, home of the Montserrat rain forest.  There is an extensive hiking trail system providing access to the forest so we headed for the nearest trailhead up on Forgathy Hill that would take us over Lawyers Mountain and down into the most southerly settlements of Woodlands and Salem.

As if they knew I was out of breath, this sign was posted half-way up a steep hill on the road.

Her way of being active?

At the Hilltop Cafe we found directions.
Our hike into the rainforest on this 'moderate' trail was anything but easy.  With the dry season, the trail is covered almost ankle-deep in dry leaves which made it super slippery.  On the steepest sections we were using cables tied to the trees to help us up the inclines but at the top of Lawyers Mountain were rewarded with spectacular views.  The bar is set high though and some of the other hikes may prove extremely challenging.

A view of Little Bay with Mowzer a little white speck tucked into the bay.
For the first time we heard birds other than Doves and Bananaquits, and kept our eyes peeled for the supposedly inquisitive Oriole.  Meanwhile we feasted our eyes on the growth of the forest such as we have only seen before on the heights of Puerto Rico, the cloud forest on St. Croix, or the very tip of Saba.  I think Montserrat is just a hint of what we shall see on some of the islands further south of here such as Dominica and Grenada.

We exited the forest back to the road that led us down to Runaway Ghaut (pronounced Gut) which is a stream (or river in the rainy season).  Again, since we have mostly visited the dry islands to the north, this is the first time we have seen natural springs in the forest.

The water was incredibly cool and sweet.
We continued our wanderings to the south, making our next stop at the National Trust botanical gardens which showcases the local flora and types of gardens to be found on the island.  Being the dry season, it seemed that most were gingers or frangipani, but the scents were like walking into the most exotic perfumery.

Our final stop was the little village (corner?) of Salem, the sleepiness of the locale at 4 o'clock in the afternoon belied by the signpost.  We gratefully pulled up a seat at the local bar for a cold Carib and as the tunes cranked from a couple of competing establishments  we got a feel for how this Friday evening might progress.

A sign that says it all.

Not sure of the Desert Storm association, but the beer was good and cold.

Notice the unrefrigerated eggs?  So long as they're fresh and never refrigerated, and if you turn them over every day, they will keep up to three weeks this way.  With a bar-sized fridge, this is a huge savings!

Tired from our rambles however, we caught a bus back to Little Bay where we settled in for a quiet but blustery night.  Tomorrow we have signed up for a guided tour that will let us see the southern part of the island and the devastation wrought by the volcano.

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