I will soon be leaving this place I had never heard of before but which I have proudly been calling “home” for the last few months. Montserrat, West-Indies, also known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, is a rather unique island to live on.
Half of its population left following the Souffriere Hills volcanic eruptions of the mid-nineties when the capital Plymouth and more than half of the island got covered in pyroclastic flows and ash. Still today the southern half of the island is part of the exclusion zone and only habited by feral cows, goats and dogs.
Most people are now settled in the north and the only wetland area of the island which is teeming with bird and herpetile wildlife is currently being bulldozed to become Montserrat’s new capital. We are 8 members of staff living together in this huge house close the exclusion zone.
The Taj, named after the Taj Mahal because it's big and white and has a little dome on top,
is our field base and the view is mindblowing: volcano on one side, ocean on the other side. We have a pool that looks a lot like a swamp, a vegetable garden where nothing grows and three racist dogs ... Yes. Racist dogs.
It’s embarrassing. And they wee in the house and I walk in their wee and I do not enjoy that. But you do get used to having them around and they’re not much messier than some of the staff members. A dream team though. We all have different backgrounds but we share the same passion for nature and adventure.
We hike up in the Centre Hills and dive on the coral reefs.
We snorkel or walk from one place to the other and even going grocery shopping up north is an expedition. We have one car. The Beast. It’s an old army Landrover. Very uncomfortable, poorly reliable and people can hear us coming from miles away but it’s all just part of the fun. As a conservation organization we are also authorized into the exclusion zone for our scientific surveys and that is always quite impressive: the view on the deserted capital and walking in and around abandoned streets and houses. See everything that was left behind. Ash everywhere!
« Montserrat. Still nice, still home » is a sign that can be seen around the island and in poeple’s houses. We have one in the kitchen. The island is now home to about 6000 souls, descent from African slaves for the most part but the Irish heritage is very strong as well. Montserrat is the only place on earth beside Ireland where St Patrick is a National holiday.
Everything is green
and people proudly parade around in their traditional costumes to celebrate their Irish identity through music, dance, food, Guinness and more Guinness. There is also a small community of expats. Some are american and canadian snowbirds, some live here all year round. White hair, red faces, colourful hawaian shirts or flowery dresses and a Carib beer in one or both hands. But people here, expats and locals, are amongts the friendliest, most welcoming and smiling people I’ve had the chance to meet. Everybody says hello to everybody. Everybody knows everybody. It’s like a big village you want to be part of.
The sign by Runaway Ghaut says « If you drink the waters from this burn, to Montserrat you will return ». This tear-drop shaped island has stolen my heart and I do not need to drink the water from Runaway Ghaut to know I will be back one day. So I will leave it for you. Jud. For you to come and see all the beauty the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean has to offer.
Til we meet again,
Sunny Greetings from Montserrat.