8 – 10 November 2012
As always when I travel early, I don't sleep a lot – this night was not different so I got up and left early knowing that I'd had to spend some time locating the Montserrat ferry dock. The bus came (surprisingly) quickly so I was in St John's at 6.10am. I asked many people and as expected most answers were different from each other – challenging people's actual knowledge made it clear that nobody really knew. As always I went with the majority and the closer I got to Deep water harbour – about 3-4k from the city centre - the more uniform responses. Passengers are supposed to show up at 7am 1½ hours before departure, but I was the only one and even the ticket and immigration ladies were surprised by my desire to comply with the rules..... Long waiting time before we left ½ hour late at 9am - a smooth ride in the lovely weather.
The indigenous people called the island “Land of the prickly bush” but the current name is from Columbus who believed the island reminded him of the landscape north of the monastery Montserrat near Barcelona. Irish Catholics flew from protestantism in St Kitts and settled in 1632. Except for a few short periods with French occupation the British have ruled the island ever since. The island has experienced the same history with declining sugar market in the 1800s but has managed to stay self-sufficient until hurricane Hugo devastated the island in 1989 and volcano Soufriere erupted in 1995 destroying the capital Plymouth and making the whole Southern part of the island an exclusion zone. Many eruptions have taken place since – the last major one in 2010. At the time of the eruption Montserrat was prosperous and there were many big plans e.g. to construct a cruise terminal. Today many locals are pleased with the consequences of the eruption because it shelved all plans and set the island 20 years back in time.
In Montserrat I was first through immigration and customs and I didn't walk far before I got my first and second ride (without even asking). I immediately felt this island was special – with only 5,000 people everybody is very close and as a stranger I instantly felt embraced by the community. My second ride Ishmael took me close to the so-called “Eco lodge/camp ground” where I was going to stay... nobody was there and it took about an hour before I found somebody who knew the owner's brother Paul Payne and could call him. Trying to pitch the tent at the wooden platform had its challenges (with my one-pole tent it required nails), but worse I realised that all the lines were messed up after the last washing – a bit frustrated I never managed to straighten it out completely...?! The place had a nice view and I could use the internet outside the owner's house but it wasn't worth the money – USD 20 per night to pitch my tent and nothing but dirty toilets and showers – the ecological part I never found (maybe another word for primitive).... the place had no resemblance to what I was promised on the internet and had I not committed to it online, I would have walked away and asked some locals to pitch the tent in their garden.
I quickly got to know the “neighbours” - a lot of goats, China from Haiti and Orwell who celebrated his 60s birthday (with a lot of liquor from early morning). Back on the road I got picked up by police officer George who voluntarily became my private chauffeur for 45 minutes – we went to the bank, the supermarket and the tourist information...if more people were like this the world would be a better place. After touring the main village I got a ride back with David – a guy whom I previously made a guesthouse request to but who couldn't accommodate me, because he was fully booked. He showed me his very cosy place and I met his nice family.
The next day I was up fairly early to walk to Garibaldi Hill from where it's possible to see Soufriere's devastations including what is left of Plymouth. A immediately got a ride to Selem from where I had to walk the rest of the way. There was no signposting so I had to rely on local advice which turned out to be very qualified – small paths and great short-cuts. Across the dry river and up Garibaldi Hill – as usual sweating like a pig. From what I had been told I was a somewhat disappointed – there was quite a distance to the devastations and they weren't as comprehensive as expected. It was still early so I spent the afternoon walking the Oriole Trail – again it took local knowledge to find the trail head. Half the trail was prepared for tourists and thus boring while the other half was okay with "original” rainforest trails.
Some of the great hikes are inaccessible without a 4WD and at this time of year allegedly also without a machete. Consequently, I didn't really know what to do the last day so I was still at the camp ground when the owner's brother showed up to collect payment. He lso wanted to charge me a lot for the internet access but since he hadn't told me beforehand, I refused to pay. He became very aggressive, called me all kind of things and claimed to have used USD 100 to get the place ready for me – since everything was filthy I was tempted calling him a liar... or in case he really did pay an idiot and a terrible business man. However, I stuck to my decision of not letting things like that influence my life, so I only declined paying, called him unfair packed my stuff and left. A small scratch in my idyllic perception of the island – too bad the only unpleasant person I met was the one I stayed with...
I got a ride to the library where I used internet for some hours - not boring! All the local kids are invited on Saturday's to increase their interest in reading - however, for some books were not interesting enough....they chased each other around the room and at one stage I could hardly see my screen from smoke after somebody had ignited fireworks. The rest of the afternoon I spent on the beach close to the ferry dock – not a very nice one but then again Montserrat is not known for its beaches. Early evening I got a ticket to the Nevis ferry that left at 8.30pm after a meticulous seciurity check.