BURIED IN ASH

We set sail from Antigua to Montserrat, about 20 miles. Of course we set our poles out, our luck has been good so far. As we get closer to shore we are starting to wonder if our luck is running out when BAM we hear the sound, ZEZEZEEZEZEZEEZEZE, and it is a BIG fish. Matt is so excited he is shouting a million things at once but I am definitely hearing him say “Grab the camera!” Just as I race back up the companionway he loses the fish, but not the excitement. He saw the marlin jump out of the water just as the line broke. He swears it was at least a 500lb fish. He is so excited, it is the first time he has hooked a Marlin on Kokoi. Even though we missed catching a fish along this passage, the excitement of the Marlin on the line made it all worth it. 

We got settled early but customs was closed so we had to stay on the boat and listen to the bar on shore have fun during happy hour. The next day we walked into the small town near our anchorage that consists of a grocery store, bar and cemetery. From here you can catch a bus to a larger town and other parts of the island. Montserrat is a large island and a once lively place, however, in July of 1995 the Soufriere Hills Volcano that had been dormant for 400 years erupted and left the capital, Plymouth, abandoned and under a pile of ash. It displaced about 11,000 residents to other parts of the island or just to immigrate abroad. Today, the island feels small because  it has such limited usable space, half of it is occupied by the destruction of the volcano and no one is allowed to live there and only in some areas can one visit.

We got on the bus and asked to be taken up to the Volcano Observatory, the bus driver was definitely a local as he sipped his Guinness at 9:30am. The bus only goes a certain distance on one road before turning around to head back making the same loop all day, at the end of the route we were the only ones still sitting there. The driver was kind enough to drive us all the way up the hill to the entrance of the Observatory rather than make us walk. Along the way he offered to drive us into Richmond where you can see the remains of Plymouth and walk into some old buildings that are covered in ash, he said he would do it for $10.00 a person. He explained that no one is allowed in Plymouth, because the volcano is still erupting steam and ash, helicopters fly over the exclusion zone every hour to check to make sure no one is there. 
At this point we weren’t ready to accept his offer, even though we knew it would be a good deal, we still thought someone might be able to take us into Plymouth. We go to the Observatory and read the information about the volcano. From here you have a perfect view of Soufriere Hills, however, it was a little cloudy. After learning all we could, including getting a name of someone to take us to Plymouth we walked down the hill and caught a bus to a coffee shop that had a dive center underneath. Johannes wants to try diving while here. The dive center was closed so we went upstairs to get some coffee and use the wifi. I called the number they gave us and the woman explained she was to busy on Tuesday but could possibly take us Wednesday, we were planning to leave Montserrat so that did not work. I tried another contact that the cruisers recommend. He was currently on a tour and further explained that you cannot go to Plymouth. He would take us to Richmond for $100 per person.

We now realize, we are not going to Plymouth and the deal of the lifetime just passed us by at $10.00 a person.  We are hungry and hoping to find that bus driver so we walk out to the street to head back home and no sooner does our driver show up. We climb in and ride the bus until all the locals get off into a neighborhood,  once everyone is gone we talk to him about meeting up tomorrow. He says not a problem and to meet him in front of the grocery store, we get off the bus and walk around the area before heading back to the small town that only has a grocery store, bar, and cemetery.  The grocery store is called Kings supermarket and we remember it from last year. This place is owned by an Indian family and they have a freezer full of homemade Indian meals. We buy one of every meal he has in the freezer and walk back to our boat. 
It seems like Johannes is going to miss his chance scuba diving, so we give him a spear pole and go offshore to do some snorkeling and hopefully catch a big fish. The Lionfish in the caribbean are an invasive species with no known predators and are killing life on the reef. Scientists are still trying to understand the long term effect these non-native Lionfish will have on the Atlantic Ocean eco-system. Many islands encourage you to hunt them or at least report them. Johannes did his fair share of hunting them on that day. He shot about 5 and kept 3. Matt taught him how to clean them, being careful of the venomous spines, to get them ready to eat. We did not end up eating lion fish just yet as we had a whole pile of Indian food to get through. We ate the lion fish the following day for lunch – doing our part to save the reef!

The next day we see a cruise ship pull in and the mail boat come in. As we walked into town taxis and cars kept passing us by heading to the dock. Today is a busy day on the island for everyone to try and make a little money.  It took over an hour for us to see a bus go by, and we jumped into the first bus we saw. The driver looked very clean cut and professional and when everyone got off we asked him if he could take us to Richmond. He said he would do it for $20.00 a person. We agreed and he drove us there, explaining about his experience living here during the eruption and various ways the country has changed. The big business now is mining the volcanic sand and sending it to other islands as building material.  He also explained how many people are still maintaining their property, located in the limited access zone, in hopes of being able to move back in a few more years. He brought us into Richmond, the town right next to Plymouth, it is abandoned and has limited access hours for tour groups to drive through. He took us to what was a fancy hotel back in the 90s and today is covered in ash. We could see Plymouth from here and large boulders laying across the community, it was a very sobering experience. We were back on the boat before lunch time and as we all talked about the tour we realized that the bus driver that took us was the same guy from yesterday that was drinking a beer. He was all cleaned up so we didn’t recognize him at first. He mentioned he had other tours throughout the day so I guess he was ready. We lifted anchor and set sail to Statia but since it is a long sail we plan to stop in Nevis just for an overnight sleep. 
That is a police officer making sure no one tries to drive into Plymouth
The town of Plymouth left abandoned after the Volcano eruption
The Fancy Hotel overlooking the bluffs and ocean
The entrance into the hotel
The common area leading out to the pool
Covered in ash
The hallway is so covered in ash that you almost have to crawl through
The business of mining for volcanic sand
The houses cannot be occupied but they are still being maintained in hopes of returning one day
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