> Two epic trips to Montserrat, a UK territory in the Caribbean <
The Caribbean doesn't always have to be about beaches and cocktails. A few decades ago, Montserrat Island was a little piece of paradise in the Caribbean. Its slogan was “the way the Caribbean used to be”. Ironically, a big disaster hit the island in 1995. The Soufriere Hills volcano, thought to be dormant, roared to life after hundreds of years of inacivity. A series of extremely violent volcanic eruptions began and devastated the lower half of the island, destroying and burying Plymouth, the capital and only significant town, under layers of rock, pyroclastic flows and ash. Today, it is an ash and mud-covered wasteland – a modern-day Pompeii. Two-thirds of the island is off-limits, considered too dangerous to live at due to eruptions and venting that continues to this day. Needless to say the island offers volcano adventures for the intrepid traveler who don’t mind going a long way to ensure a permit to be able to arrange a visit to the abandoned no-go zone.
Ever since we were kids and heard about Montserrat, we always wanted to go there. On a previous trip to the Antilles, we found ourselves in Guadeloupe and had some extra days available, thus opening the opportunity to go for Montserrat. After all, we could see the volcanic cone of Montserrat from the northern beaches of Basse-Terre in Guadeloupe. Unfortunately, we realized that it was not possible, since we had to go all the way to Antigua to arrange onwards transport to Montserrat. Later, on a different trip to the Antilles, we found ourselves on the southern coast of Nevis. Again, we had a striking view towards Montserrat, and thus we started to inquire around the island. A local fisherman offered to take us there in his speedboat, but the price was astronomical and the trip he suggested sounded extremely rough. On a third trip to the Antilles we were finally in Antigua and quickly decided to not only do one tour but two tours to Montserrat.
During the first tour to Montserrat we flew into the island, bough a special permit on the police station and arranged an on-the-ground expedition into the abandoned Plymouth, in the forbidden Exclusion Zone beneath the still-active Soufrière Volcano. We engaged Sun Lea, of Sun’s Montserrat Island Tours. Sun grew up on Montserrat. His first hand personal account of his life and those of local Montserrations, before and after the eruption is both fascinating and tragic. Sun can arrange all the permits necessary.
On the second trip, we chartered a helicopter in Antigua and did a fly-over exploration of the island, volcano and Exclusion Zone. We umm'd and ahh'd over this for days, mainly because it was pretty pricey, but in the end we decided to just go for it. After all, experiences like these are priceless. We flew with Caribbean Helicopters, and spent around US$ 1.000 for a two-hour tour. The pictures we took speak for themselves.