Plymouth – the Caribbean’s modern day Pompeii

Plymouth was the capital of Montserrat, with a population of approximately 4000 people. The town and the island’s main source of income was residential tourism, an offshore medical school and Sir George Martin’s famous recording facility, Air Studios. But in July of 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano awoke from its 400 year slumber, erupting fresh lava. By August 1995, the first evacuation of local residents occurred due to volcanic ash, and by June 25, 1997, the town was fully evacuated. On this date, pyroclastic flows occurred in all directions, and the main business centre in the town of Plymouth was completely destroyed. 

Eighty percent of Plymouth is now buried under 30ft (10m) of ash, and with the only airport and the two major hotels in the new exclusion zone completely destroyed, tourism died. 

On Tuesday June 7, 2016, I was given a tour of Plymouth by Sun Lea, of Sun’s Montserrat Island Tours. Sun grew up on Montserrat.  His first hand personal account of his life and those of local Montserrations, before and after the eruption is both fascinating and tragic. 

Sun started the tour with a visit to the  Montserrat Volcano Observatory where we viewed a  documentary that described the history and impact of the eruption. The film was created by his father David Lea, a videographer who has lived with his wife and family on Montserrat for 36 years. David produced the film Price of Paradise which documents the story of the eruption of the Soufriere Hills Volcano. The film contains powerful images of the eruption and the town of Plymouth before and after the pyroclastic flows. 

With the images of the volcanic eruption fresh in our minds, our visit into Plymouth afterwards felt even more surreal. The devastation caused by the pyroclastic lava flows was all around us as Sun took us to view parts of the town. Steel frames that once supported buildings had bent due to the heat, boulders wedged themselves under structures, and buildings laid buried under layers of lava flows and mud.

 We toured what was left of Montserrat Springs Hotel. What I saw reminded me of life abandoned, but also frozen in time.

Sun’s personal account of places he grew up around as a child and adult, which has since been destroyed makes this tour of Plymouth a must do trip to appreciate and understand the very recent history of Montserrat and the people who live here. 

For more information, please visit Montserrat Island Tours

And for a place to stay while visiting Montserrat, check out Gingerbread Hill Montserrat

Life as a Coral Cay reef marine diver – Week 1

5.30-6am: I wake up to the sound of birds  and the sun peeking through the slated blinds.  Getting up, I admire and appreciate the stunning Carribbean waters from my room.

 I perform some yoga stretches to ease tired muscles from diving the day before, and some dance stretches so I won’t be too out of shape when I attend dance classes on my return to London.

 I prepare my own breakfast which consists of cereal and toast in any combination I fancy. I also bought some eggs from the local store Ram’s, so sometimes I make fried eggs. 

7.30am: Our field manager gives his morning briefing on the day’s plans including cooking rota for the day, scheduled diving plans, science lectures, and chore duties.

7.30: We all complete morning chores which consists of sweeping and mopping, or washing the breakfast dishes. It all works like clockwork with everyone pitching in.  A clean house is a happy one!

We all help with loading the jeep full of diving gear, including cylinders, have a brief time to sit before  collecting our personal effects to walk downhill to  one of the local bay’s for our morning dive. 

8.30am: Our shore marshall provides us with our dive brief, we kit up, buddy check and then enter the bay off shore. 

It’s hard work finning out but it isn’t long before we descend below the water’s surface. I explore the marine world of Montserrrat’s local reefs with my dive buddy close by. Our initial dives were fun dives, but the latter part of this week has been spent  pointing out  fish and invertebrates  as part of our science training.

9.30am: I exit the bay, feeling content with my dive. We all de kit, walk uphill back to base, help unload the jeep, hose down our kit, then relax, read, and study for our fish identification test,  and Internet browse before lunch.

12.00: Lunch is served which consists of pasta or rice, with beans, vegetables and meat. As a vegetarian I am well catered for.  After a second briefing for the afternoon, we all help load  the vehicle with our dive kit, find some time to relax and digest before  walking down to our dive site.

13.30pm: With our dive kit all back on, we enter the water from the shore  to either revise some skills, identify fish or invertebrates, or just explore the reef. On my third  dive this week, I was feeling more confident having not dived since January. The sea current carried me along under water. There was no need to kick my fins. Instead I just floated along, totally weightless and suspended in a hover.

On exiting the water, I feel happy with all the things we saw. With our fish identification lecture out of the way, diving felt so much more enriching knowing what you were actually viewing in terms of marine life. So many fun things to see and identity including lion fish, barracuda, spotted eagle ray, butterfly and angel fish.

With a second walk uphill back to base, my body was definitely feeling tired. We all help with unloading the vehicle including carrying tanks back downstairs to be refilled, rinsing our dive kit, then finally hitting the shower.

We have more free time before dinner. Instead of reading one day this week, me and Andy decided to walk 20 minutes up hill to the local shop Ram’s for food supplies. I stocked up on some personal items such as nuts, chocolate, cheese, crackers, Ribena and apples. I also had the shopping list for some of the others. Peta  wanted a 24 box of crunchie chocolate bars, Isobel decided she only wanted 4 individual kit kats as opposed to a box of 24, and Jess wanted a jar of peanut butter.

Having arrived back at base, it was time to update my dive logbook, study, read, and browse the Internet. 

18.00pm: Dinner was ready with another version of beans, frozen vegetables and pasta. Then a final briefing for the day. 

18.45pm: We had another lecture tonight, completing our fish identification session and a second lecture on invertebrates. After both sessions had ended, Isobel and I decided to review our fish with flash cards. I wasn’t doing so well, I’m blaming fatigue! The others watched an episode of Game of thrones.

More time to relax, read, study, browse and prepare for bed. The  view of the stars in the night sky from our open dining/living room were fantastic.

21.48pm: Time for me to head up to bed. I’m not feeling as tired I was before, but I know I will be tomorrow when  the day starts again. So I take myself back upstairs to my room. Goodnight!