Thursday, August 17, 2006

MONTSERRAT

Montserrat

I guess I will stick with the island theme here and move south, way south from Maine, down to the British West Indies to the little island of Montserrat.

I first went to Montserrat probably around 1969 and returned again and again for many years until the trip became too much for Elizabeth. It was our favorite island in the Caribbean and the one on which we spent the most time, usually 2 or 3 weeks each June, as soon as school was out, and school used to be out a whole lot earlier back then. We were often on the plane by the 10th or 12th of June, and didn’t get home until after the 4th of July. We usually spent a week or so on one or two other islands, just to see how they were or to shop, but we always went back to Montserrat for the longest time.

My story of Montserrat will be a story of then, not now, as the volcano erupted in 1995 and kinda destroyed a big part of the island. The capital, Plymouth, is now buried under tons of volcanic ash and lahar from Soufriere, once about 3,000 feet tall. Believe it or not, I climbed that volcano back in 1972 and have a piece of the sulfuric rock here to prove it! It was a scary climb, the sulfuric “rock” path we climbed up was more like butter fresh out of the fridge in texture though not temperature, and crumbled under our feet from time to time causing the bigger members of our little expedition to slide down hill a bit. I remember our guide showing us where they used to climb, but the trail broke away during a serious cloud burst. “But,” he said, “It doesn’t look much like rain today!” That was so reassuring. This picture is from the top of Sufriere, probably 1973???

One arrived on Montserrat on a tiny plane from Antigua, a short hop away – maybe 20 miles or so, flying in parallel to some cliffs on one side, the sea on the other and at the end of the runway. Then there was a 45 minute ride to the other side of the island, a short distance on a flat map, but quite a long trip on a volcanic island! The trip wound its way thru tiny villages with half naked little brown children who would stand and wave at the passing cars, their little shirts clean and pressed and nothing else on down. The houses were painted all sorts of bright colors and often had goats, chickens and donkeys wandering around the yards, even the occasional cow might be seen. Our driver was always full of information about the island and who the people were, cousins or Brits or his brother’s house. We would detour to take in the government house or a favorite church. Sometimes he would stop and pull some bananas off a tree and give them to us or offer to take us to the local market place for some fresh Montserrat oranges or pineapple which I must say tasted like no other pineapple in the world. Talk about sweet!!!!! The fruit on the island was pure and untreated with chemicals and sweeter than anything you have ever tasted. I drool to think of it.

Eventually we would arrive at Vue Pointe (http://www.vuepointe.com/.) where we would stay for at least 2 weeks. Several days out of the week we would go into Plymouth. Most days, however, were just spent on the beach or in the water snorkeling. The sand on Montserrat is black except for one little side of the island where the surf is high. We would often walk the length of the beach until we got near the cliffs, wading thru the Belham “River” which was sometimes a foot or more deep where it met the sea.

Did you know that there used to be a very famous (in music circles) sound and recording studio on Montserrat?
On September 15, 1997 at Royal Albert Hall, Sir George Martin assembled an all-star cast to perform a benefit for the island of Montserrat, an island in the Caribbean that was devastated by a volcanic explosion. The artists that appeared at this show had all recorded some of their biggest hits at Martin's recording studio on the island. Included in this group are PAUL McCARTNEY, STING, ELTON JOHN, JIMMY BUFFET, AND ONE OF THE FINAL APPEARANCES FROM CARL PERKINS.

There are a number of songs that featured Montserrat – I don’t remember the titles, but one was about “Where we gonna go when the volcano blows?” Montserrat is mentioned in Kokomo. I remember when Ebony and Ivory was recorded there. Lots of steel drum music… one of the best groups that played back-up on many of the songs at that time lived on Montserrat and often came up and played for the folks at Vue Pointe. They were awesome! They could make those drums sound like a full orchestra. Sometimes they did classical music, sometimes pop.

Montserrat was a very relaxed, laid back little island with the friendliest people in the world. There was none of the cut throat high powered tourism stuff, no casinos, no phony glitz. Montserratians were content to be who they were, comfortable and proud without being arrogant. I don’t know how to say it, but going to the island was a bit like going “home” in a strange way. It was like putting on your favorite pair of slippers after a rough day at the office.

Vue Pointe is open again, new and improved, as they say. Personally, I cannot imagine anyway anyone could improve on the place. It is still owned by Cedric Osborne and his wife. You can read their story at http://www.vuepointe.com/story.htm. How I wish I could go back, just one more time – but they say “you can never go home again.” Ah, my grieving issues rise up again – grieving not only for my past but for an island so drastically changed. I adored the little town of Plymouth, wandering thru the shops, the market places, buying all kinds of treasures and the most delicious fruit at the outdoor markets. And the people – oh, the wonderful people with the Irish lilt in their speech, the kindness in their eyes and the joy in their hearts! Everyone was a friend.
I wonder if I could physically handle traveling to Montserrat today, if my old body could handle the trip, the walking, the climbing. I wonder………….. sigh.

Please visit http://mac2.innanen.com/~bill/montserrat/photos/149/index.php for pictures of Plymouth from 2004. They are so amazing… I must confess, I cannot view them without getting tears in my eyes. I just stare at the shots in disbelief. How could this be the place I loved to wander? The main index for tons of Montserrat photos can be found at http://mni.ms/photos/index.shtml. More general info can be found at http://www.ms/, http://montserrat.search.co.tt/ or http://www.visitmontserrat.com/.

These photos were taken by me or Elizabeth probably in the early to mid 70s, so the color is a bit faded. Oh, well… I guess I am pretty faded now, too. Several pictures are from postcards from the late 60s.

A friend sent me some more current shots of Plymouth and the volcano - maybe I will put them on another post. This has taken several hours... I am tired! And I do have some other things to do today. I hope you have enjoyed my little trip down thru memory lane to a land now partially buried in volcanic ash but still very much alive in my heart.

And, yeah, this last one... at the airport on my way back to Antigua and home... see? I told you I once was, well, maybe not skinny, but definitely not fat... and look at that hair! Not a gray hair to be found!

4 comments:

possum said...

For some unknown reason, several sentences - or parts of sentences - have somehow disappeared in the posting of this blog. Sorry if in reading it somethings don't make sense. i went back to the original copy still in my documents and the words are all there - all I did was copy and paste. Go figure. Likewise, some of the pictures just did not show up. Oh well - it is all a learning experience. j

Takin'pictures said...

Nice travelogue and good pictures. I had problems with the pictures, too. I went to another site, then returned three times before all of them finally appeared. Duh! I read the title three times and each time i thought, "Jan is misspelling 'monsterrat' and why is she blogging about a rat?"

Takin'pictures said...

Went to the "photo/index" link. Truly interesting and amazing photos there. Thanks for the link.

hiphoppe said...

So cool!