Pompeii in the Carribean
The island micro-nation of Montserrat is set back in a dusty corner of the Caribbean that the Queen never quite let go of. A UK protectorate to this day, the capital city Plymouth was built to suit England’s decadent, pampered Georgian-era aristocracy. The lands around Plymouth were once filled with chattel slaves, worked to the bone to fill the empire’s coffers.
But the colonial 17th century settlers overlooked one small fact when they set up shop on the island: They were building their paradise on the fringes of an unsettlingly massive volcano, with a bad case of gastroenteritis. The Montserrat volcano lay dormant for centuries, but finally exploded in 1995, decimating the island. Subsequent eruptions have left two-thirds of the country uninhabitable. The areas affected have been turned into a security-controlled exclusion zone by the local government, with the remaining population either leaving the country or re-settling on the currently unaffected northern tip. But with the most recent eruption in 2010, and a 70 percent chance of another one next year, it seems Montserrat’s zit is determined to slowly cover everything with its molten magma effluence.
To see the ghostly wreckage of Montserrat for myself, I chartered a helicopter from nearby Antigua, the bustling tourist island that’s a convenient tax haven and rehab hotspot for overstuffed celebrities. Approaching from the east, the once-bustling coastline of Montserrat was now a lunar volcanic plain, with great channels and craters meandering across its surface. The pilot informed me that, just under the thin layer of topsoil, Montserrat is still burning hot, killing my dream of an afternoon ramble across the ash fields.
The plumes of smoke billowing out from the mouth of the volcano took on weighted form as we flew closer. At the last minute, before being completely subsumed by fog and ash, the pilot swung around the lip and down over some abandoned, overgrown shacks on the hillside where we saw the matchstick-like remains of burnt out forests.
These pictures are of Plymouth’s Pompeiian landscape. There’s the submerged steeple of a cathedral; there’s an entertainment complex; the Governor’s former residence; and the island’s main branch of Barclay’s bank.