Twenty years ago, Montserrat marketed itself as being ‘The way the Caribbean used to be.’ Little did anyone know that in a few short years the slogan would become horribly ironic for anyone who harkened back to a pre-Palaeozoic era when volcanic eruptions shaped the planet. A series of volcanic eruptions beginning in 1995 devastated the lower two-thirds of the island. By 1997, the capital and only significant town, leafy Plymouth, was an ash-covered wasteland.
Today almost 5000 people live in the northern one-third of the island that was unaffected by the volcano. Long the refuge of goats and a few herders, new settlements are rising over the steep brown hills. To the south, the rolling green hills that once inspired fanciful comparisons to Ireland (you know, the palms of Cork), are scarred by ash and lava flows.
It’s all been quite a shock to this tight-knit island community. But more than 10 years after the calamity, life is moving forward. Visitors can see a new centre for the island taking shape around Little Bay. On drives down the coast to the exclusion zone, you can get a feel for the island’s rich tropical life and take in jaw-dropping vistas of the destruction.
You can see everything on a day trip to Montserrat. Some, however, will relish the solitude and enjoy the chance to become a part of the island’s rebirth. Just know that things which go bump in the night may be a boulder shot out of the mouth of the volcano.