Surviving the Volcano – Montserrat, the Emerald Isle

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Guest post on Montserrat by Ryan Drewes. Further information on the author at the end of the article.

When planning the perfect Caribbean vacation, what does one think about? Swaying palm trees, endless white sand beaches, sipping on piña coladas? Or maybe you’re the type that likes a little adventure, always searching for the island less traveled?

Soufriere Hills Volcano

I’ll be honest, prior to my initial visit to the island of Montserrat, I really didn’t know much about it. I knew an active volcano existed there, but that’s about it. It was actually a last minute addition to my travel itinerary, which also included the islands of Antigua, Dominica, and Jost Van Dyke. I was shocked to see that the short 20 minute flight from VC Bird International airport in Antigua, cost more than my one way trip from Newark, NJ. All it took was for me to be loaded into my 6 seated prop plane to know that it would be money well spent.

Montserrat sits in the Leeward Island chain, just south west of Antigua. Between Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano in 1995, this small island has taken its fair share of punches. Add a pyroclastic flow in 1997, and you may think to yourself, what’s left of this place?

As we approached the island, the thing that stuck out to me the most, was the pyroclastic flow that streamed down the west side of the mountain. I was unaware at the time, that the area it covered was the location of the old airport, WH Bramble.

Looking southwest over WH Bramble

We swooped in from the east and landed on the narrow airstrip of John A. Osborne airport. On the way to my cottage, we drove through the north side of the island (deemed the safe zone.) Every citizen that has chosen to stay, is able to safely live in this area. We also drove by Long Bay, which is currently being constructed as the new port and capital (the former, Port of Plymouth, has been completely destroyed by multiple pyroclastic flows).

You must be asking yourself, where’s the beach and more specifically, where are the bars? Well that’s the magic of the island. A throwback to the days of an unspoiled Caribbean.

Bunkum beach, located on the western side of the island, is a small black sand beach with a beautiful view of Redonda Rock and the Island of Nevis off in the distance. On the small path that leads down to the beach, is the Bunkum Bay Beach Bar. It’s sits above the beach, but by the looks of it, had been closed for some time.

Bunkum Beach

I was made aware of Bora Bora beach by the hosts of the cottage I was staying at, (it’s a little bit of a secret.) It’s a long stretch of newly acquired beach, which was created by the volcano. The Atlantic Ocean used to crash along these cliffs. I walked for hours by myself, combing for treasure along the coastline. It really made me feel as if I had taken a step back in time, to when the pirates and privateers roamed these parts of the world. Sorry to disappoint some of you, but you won’t find any beach bar here.

Bora Bora Beach

Bora Bora Beach

The first real beach bar I located, was the Isles Bay Beach Bar. Sitting on the Caribbean Sea, the view was stunning. Miles and miles of ocean followed by the distant horizon. To my disappointment, the bar was closed for the day. Due to a rare brain fart, I also decided not to take pictures.

Rendezvous Beach, the only white sand beach located on the island, lies in the north. Due to time constraints, I was unable to spend any time there. It’s accessible by a 1.3 mile hike from Little Bay, a 2.5 mile hike from the parish of Drummond or by sea.

The People's Place

Are you still asking yourself, where are the beach bars? Have you caught on to a theme yet? This small shack just up the hill from my cottage is where I spent every evening. Inside that door you’ll find some round tables, a small TV usually playing a cricket match, a handful of locals and some of the best local eats one can find. For around $12 U.S., you get to choose what meat you’d like (based on availability), as well as a heaping portion of sides. A small selection of beers, a local sorrel punch and some liquor make up the base of the bar. An eclectic group of individuals made up the crowd my one evening there. As I sat in the corner eating my meal, I couldn’t help but laugh at the conversations taking place. An elderly lady from Great Britain, a Montserrat local, a resident from Dominica and the owner John all conversing as if time were standing still. There are many rum shacks that line the streets as you wind your way through the various parishes, but I had no reason to leave this little gem.

I want to leave you with one photo that I took at a coffee shop that housed some artifacts of the 1995 eruption. This is a beach bar blog after all.

Surviving the volcano!

Note from the author
“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” I stumbled upon this quote one day while searching for a title to my photo album, which contained memories of my trip to St. John U.S.V.I., in 2012. I couldn’t stop thinking about how true it rang. That one week trip out of the “bubble”, opened up an entire new world to me. I knew it existed, but never really gave it a chance. Physically and mentally I was refreshed with a new outlook on life.

I was fortunate to have parents that took me away when I was younger to some of the islands, but being so young I barely have any memories of them. I took my first cruise in 1999 and again in 2009. I got my first real taste of the Caribbean at an older age. Fast forward 3 years and I find myself on the island of St. John U.S.V.I., with my girlfriend (shout out to Renee), completely immersed in my surroundings. Something clicked, and I knew traveling would now become an important part of my life. The following year I decided to stay 2 weeks in St. John, one week solo, and my urge to see more and do more grew stronger. Since that time I’ve been to Saba, St, Maarten (well it was a layover, but I did experience Maho beach), Montserrat, Antigua, Dominica, Jost Van Dyke, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Water Island, and St. Thomas. My journey has just begun, but in due time I know it will have been completed with a purpose. I can only hope more people will be inspired to step outside the “bubble!” It’s a special place, if you give it a chance.

Cheers,

Ryan

A special thanks to Ryan for writing this article. I look forward to sharing more of his stories in the future. For further information on being a guest author on this blog, please email info@beachbarbums.com.

Tom W.

Author: Tom W.

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