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Thread: Montserrat trip report

  1. #1
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109

    Montserrat trip report

    Montserrat… February 4th – 8th, 2014
    After sending a week sailing around the BVI’s Lisa and I relaxed at my friend’s home in Antigua for a few days. He just built this two bedroom two bath cliff side pool home earlier this year. It overlooks a beautiful crescent moon shaped beach; the sand is so white it is near blinding.

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    It was all we could do to pack up for our trip to Montserrat. I have had the island on my bucket list for many years. It was about to get scratched off.
    Lisa and I flew from Antigua to Montserrat on “Fly Montserrat” airway. About $200 round trip per person from Antigua.

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    Flying in we could clearly see the "new land" courtesy of the volcano.

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    The Montserrat airport is very small, clean, and friendly people. For the first time ever I had my bags searched by customs immigration people. They were friendly, but all business. He unzipped my roll-aboard and pretty much moved everything around. Not sure why he decided to check the bag out, but it only took 2 minutes and off I went. Our villa owner, Clover, was waiting at the exit door. Her family owns a place called Gingerbread Hill. Basically it is a 3 story home that has a separate “villa” on each floor. We had the 2nd floor, a great sunset view for sure. Each villa has a different view so their patios are private.

    If you want to drive on the island you must get a local driver’s license ($20.). Clover suggested I obtain the license right there at the airport, so I filled out the papers and received a license to drive. Oh boy, left side of the road driving for the first time for me!


    On the way to the villa Clover showed us many interesting places that would help us during our stay. Grocery stores, restaurants, general stores, you name it Clover showed it to us. By the time we arrived at our place I knew where to find just about everything.


    On the ride from the airport Clover pulled over in front of a restaurant, The Peoples Place, and yelled out to no one in particular “You got chicken?” A guy poked his head out the front door and answered back what was on the evening menu. Lisa and I ended up back there later and pick up dinner to go. I had chicken roti that was to die for. Full of chicken, veggies, potatoes and just the right amount of curry. I quickly became friends with John, the owner. Seems like everybody stops there to pick up dinner. The place only had 2 or 3 tables inside but most people were doing take away. John was friendly and a wealth of information.

    John, the owner of The Peoples Place restaurant and his dining room....

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    We had our dinner at the villa. The grilled chicken was delicious. I had never had roti before and am now a big fan. I had never driven on the left side of the road so we elected not to drive after dark until I spent some time behind the wheel. I can say by the end of the next day, I was driving like a local.

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    The villa is pretty cool. The home is old but well taken care of. Our place takes up the entire second floor. The side facing the west is wide open and the view is fantastic, and the sunset is beautiful. Very breezy with a great sea view from the open layout. We have a huge patio dining area. No one looking into our space is nice too.

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    The next day we had scheduled an inland tour with a guide, Sunny, who also happens to be Clover’s son. He showed up right on time, 10am, and we spent nearly the entire day with him touring island and learning just about anything you would ever want to know about Montserrat. Most visitors are focused on the volcano area, which we did get a look at, but I was more interested in the “alive” side of the island.
    Montserrat’s Soufriere Hills volcano came alive back in 1995, and it has erupted on and off pretty much ever since. In 1997 it suddenly and unexpectedly erupted killing 19 people. It has been quite now for about 4 years. After the initial eruption, nearly 2/3’s of the residents left the island and have yet to returned. The main capital was covered in 20+ feet of ash, and nearly half of the island is now an “exclusion zone” and very much off limits. Lucky for us we know a guy that knows a guy, and received permission to enter a certain area that would give us an interesting glimpse inside the exclusion zone.
    The pictures do not really convey the devastation. The entire city of Plymouth was wiped out. All the areas around Plymouth were covered with ash, in some areas the ash is over 30 feet deep. It is sad to look at.

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    Our tour was fantastic. Sunny covered the entire inland. I’m pretty sure I met every resident on the island. I fell in love with a home that is for sale. Two bedrooms, one bath, fully furnished, private, a huge pool with an ocean and volcano view; $185,000…. By the end of our trip I was ready fly home and pack up my things.

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    The island is very green. The island is covered with lush vegetation, well paved roads, and my favorite; no motor scooters. None. I don’t think I saw one scooter. It was so quite. I love St. Barts, but the scooters really can ruin a nice dinner in Gustavia. The speed limit is posted at 20mph, and nearly everyone does at or near 20mph. Everybody waves at everybody. Drivers blow their car horn when they pass someone they know. By the time our visit was over I was waving at people all the time, because they were waving at me! People I met in restaurants or the grocery store were suddenly like old friends. I must admit, it was a little weird.


    On our second evening we had dinner at Tina’s Place. It had been suggested to us by several people. Nearly every restaurant is small, with only a few tables. Most all have a table or two outside. I had a lobster sandwich, it was ok. Lisa had a shrimp salad. 3 shrimp, lots of salad. Dinner and a few glasses of wine, $25. Can’t beat that for sure…. I know we will fine THE place to eat before we leave.

    Page 2 to follow,,,,
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  2. #2
    amyb is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Apr 2008 Glen Cove,L. I., NY Posts: 28,519
    Loving it. I get to see another neat place courtesy of your camera and your eyes. Thanks, Martin.
    Remember Yesterday, Dream About Tomorrow, But Live Today.

  3. #3
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Page 2,,,,,,,




    So I had some time to get acclimated to this left hand drive thing. We strike off and drive ourselves around the island, waving to everyone, occasionally blowing the horn. There are no tee shirt stores like on most of the islands. I nearly always wear tee shirts….I went looking for a Montserrat tee shirt and made half dozen stops before I found one I liked. There are numerous roadside produce stands, as well as a roadside jerk chicken stand that we tried. The chicken was about the best I have ever had. The cooker, a big drum style smoker type thing, was fired by coal! An old woman was tending the grill and I saw her tossing big chunks of coal in the cooker. I was amazed at the flavor.

    So now it is Thursday morning. We had been told about a very private beach, Rendezvous Beach, accessed by a hike up and over a mountain, which very few people ever get to see. Sneakers on, a few bottles of water in the backpack, sunscreen and camera and we are off. The hike was very challenging to say the least. Some areas were steep, slippery and covered with loose stones. But we made it and it was so worth it. We spent about 4 hours there, on one else showed up or even passed by in a boat. After spending time there, the hike back wasn’t so bad at all……….

    Hiked up one side to get this view looking down to where we wanted to go,,

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    Very secluded beach,,,

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    After the hike we checked in at a restaurant Sunny had pointed out. He said if the owner’s silver car was parked at the front door the restaurant was open. The car was there so we stopped in to see if we could come for dinner. The owner, Ponts, was like everyone else. Super friendly. He made us a drink and we sat out on his deck overlooking the sea and made a new friend. While we were there a young guy showed up, Ponts introduced him to us as one of Arrow Cassell’s sons. I cannot remember which one. Arrow Cassell is the singer that wrote and sang the original song “ Feeling, Hot Hot Hot.” Arrow Cassell died in 2010. The Cassell clan is from Montserrat. The son is making a name for himself and I figure we will soon be hearing his tunes on the radio.


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    We came back to Pont’s restaurant for dinner. His restaurant is pretty funky inside, decorated with all kinds of sea “stuff.” Hard to explain, the pictures capture it pretty good. He opened the restaurant for us and one other couple and made a very good dinner. I had grouper, real grouper this time, and lobster soup that was very good. Pont’s is a very nice and entertaining lifelong resident of Montserrat. He, like everyone we met, was a wealth of information regarding the island. When we told him we had hiked to Rendezvous Beach, he said we could ask anyone at the ferry dock to take us there by boat for $10. They would have even come back to get us. Maybe next time, though the hike was good for us… Friday morning, around 2am, it stated raining. The wind blew so hard I thought we would blow away. It rained frightening hard for better than 3 hours. Shortly after sun up the rain stopped and the sun came out, all was good. The wind blew strong all day.

    Inside Pont's restaurant,,

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    The Happy Hour deck,,,

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    Friday morning I checked in at a realtor to see what was out there for sale and/or rent. I am certain I will return and would like to spend a few weeks or more on the island rather than just a few days. The realtor showed us a few places and I fell in love with one. But you can rent a great private home here, with a pool and a sea view for $800- $1000 per week. As much as I would like to own my own place, as the prices are very good, it makes more sense to rent a place for a few weeks than the headache of long distance ownership.


    Friday evening we made our way to “Uncle’s bar and grill” and the weekly Ex-pat happy hour gathering. And again in record time we made many new friends. Some friendly old guys tried (all in fun) very hard to get Lisa to work the stripper pole. She really had them going for a while. I think it had been a while since any new faces showed at Uncle’s, although the number of people that showed up for the happy hour was about 50. Drink prices were crazy cheap, a glass of wine for $2, a vodka soda $2.50……… The food coming out of the kitchen looked really good too. We had dinner plans at Sir George Martin’s home, Olveston House, so we held off on ordering anything.


    Sir George Martin’s home is a guest house and restaurant when he is not here on the island. The legendary music producer usually spends Christmas, New Years and a week here or there at his home here. Gold and Platinum records and original pictures on the wall of the Beatles, Paul McCartney, Clapton, Elton John and so on that appear to be candid shots around the island. Some are signed by the person in the picture. The food here was about the best on the island. I think it is Montserrat’s version of a 5 star dining location. The service was impeccable, very prompt, courtesy, and as if the waiter was eyeing you he showed up as soon as you finished to clear away dishes. We tried several soups, fish and a local goat stew that was yummy. At $75., it was the most expensive dinner we had out, but we had a few cocktail and all. It was very inexpensive for what we had.

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    Back in the 60’s, 70’ and into the 80’s Montserrat was home of some of the biggest music recording acts of that era. The Beatles, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Dire Straits, The Police are among a star studded list that recorded hits at Sir George’s recording studio known as “Air Studios, Montserrat.” The studio was closed in 1989 after Hurricane Hugo caused significant damage to the building and Sir George decided not to repair it. The studio now sits in the Exclusion Zone. We were able to visit Air Studio with Sunny after stopping at the police station and signing our life away.

    Air Studio

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    The studio itself, imagine if the walls could talk, lots of history recorded here.. Sunny, our tour guide, said that Air Studio is the most requested spot to see on the island....

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    We stayed up late, sitting on our veranda overlooking the Caribbean. It was so dark out; the sky showed a million stars. I really like it here.
    Saturday morning and I did the dance of getting our Delta tickets printed out for our late afternoon flight from Antigua to Tampa, Fla. Our car rental guy had shown up early and offered to take me to the Chamber of Commerce to get them printed. They didn’t have a printer! We tried half dozen other places before giving up. It wasted about 90 minutes of time. Our Air Montserrat flight over to Antigua left at noon.

    On the way to the airport we stopped at The Hilltop Coffee House for a drink and found a hidden gem. The place is full of Air Studio memorabilia recovered after the hurricane. Albums signed by band members cover much of the walls. Reel to reel tapes hanging from the ceiling, with the music tape still on the reel. I asked the beautiful lady running the shop if she or anyone knew what was on the tape. Seems it could be anything, maybe a lost Beatles tape?

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    Off to the airport and a super-fast check in. Just for grins I ask the guy at the counter, can I use a computer and printer to get my Delta tickets? Sure no problem, and just like that problem solved. I pretty much only travel carry-on and it makes it easy to go right to security instead of the hassle of a ticket counter ordeal. What I didn’t know at that time was that it wouldn’t matter. I was headed for another baggage search at Antigua airport by a not so friendly Antiguan.

    Our flight was on a small twin engine, 6 seat, Islander.


    Our pilot was a young French kid. It was just Lisa and I on board and I sat in the co-pilot seat. We chatted pretty much all the way to Antigua. He lives on Montserrat, where does he spend his days off? St. Barts.....

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    Although they take your carry-on off the plane right in front of you, you still must go collect it from baggage claim. I did this and headed to my fate with the big customs immigration lady. I was nice; I hadn’t said two words to her when she told me to open my bag. I un-zipped my travel pro and stepped back as requested… it took me an hour to get all my stuff in there, with the 8 or 10 new tee shirt I had purchased on the sailing trip my bag was stuffed! It took her all of 3 seconds to up end my bag. She finished her crusade and left me to stuff it all back in, like right now funny boy,, and get the hell out of the way…. I walked off, dejected, needing a drink…. I found the bar and all was soon better.


    Our flight back to Tampa was pretty much flawless. Flew to Atlanta and cleared Customs there. No lines no waiting. I am certain I will return to Montserrat soon. I look to spend a few weeks there and really get into the island.
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  4. #4
    JEK is offline
    Senior Insider Joined: Jan 2004 In the ether . . . Posts: 55,347
    Martin -- your adventures are the best written, most interesting in the history of the Forum. Thanks for taking us along.
    The Marius 100th Birthday Party Memorial -- June 5, 2023

  5. #5
    JoshA is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Aug 2005 Annapolis Posts: 4,106
    Great trip report, Martin! Montserrat is way off the beaten path.

  6. #6
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Thank you John,, it so much fun making these memory's too........ and I love taking pictures.
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  7. #7
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Josh,,, not so far off the path really. Get to Antigua and a short 20 minute small plane ride to paradise...I think a lot of people pass over Montserrat because of the volcano. But the people are wonderful. There is talk of a small cruise port being built on the island. That will most likely be a BIG mistake for the island. They lost so much when the volcano erupted. The infrastructure is still recovering.
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  8. #8
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    You can get from Antigua by ferry, but no one really knew what the schedule was. Seems it just shows up, stays over night and leaves the next morning.

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    Pont's is pictured here... the picture at the restaurant with the young guy is Arrow's son..

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    Of course we took a sip !!!

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    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  9. #9
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Some young kid at Air Studios,,, what was his name?,, LOL

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    Helicopter used by observatory to check on the volcano, they check often....

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    Not sure these will show well, taken in paning mode

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    Scientist are studying the thermals to see if they can be used to power clean generators for island power.

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    A street gang,, looking for trouble,,,


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    View from my friends place in Antigua,,

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    Our villa sunset,,,,,


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    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  10. #10
    MIke R is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Stinson Lake - New Hampshire & Provincetown - Cape Cod Posts: 51,935
    I'm hooked brother...thats the Caribbean I fell in love with....

    maybe after Jost

    lets do a trip together
    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace" Jimi Hendrix

  11. #11
    noel is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2003 St. Louis, MO & Washington, DC Posts: 2,376
    Wonderful report and photos! Thanks very much!

    We are headed to Antigua in June and plan a day trip to Montserrat.

  12. #12
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Right now you can rent a really nice pool home with a sea view for $800-1000 per week. I don't see it increasing anytime soon, but the cruise dock thing may ruin everything down there. They are actively working on building the dock now. There is a lot of opposition to it, but the powers to be are moving ahead.....

    If they get a small cruise ship in and someone enterprising person starts running boats to the secluded beach it will ruin that area. I don't think cruise ship passengers will do the hike to that beach.. I would think that most would want to go view the volcano area, the half buried houses and hotels. I'm thinking they would set up a regular tourist road full of caravan style taxi's so they could take it all in,,,,,,, and , screw the island all up in the process.....

    I look forward to getting back there and staying in a private home/villa...
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  13. #13
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Noel,,,,, how will you get to Montserrat from Antigua? Round trip air on Fly Monserrat was about $200. .... The ferry runs maybe one day a week,
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  14. #14
    MIke R is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Stinson Lake - New Hampshire & Provincetown - Cape Cod Posts: 51,935
    cruise ships come and I 'm out.... we re trying to get away from that very thing, which of course the "experts" said for years and years would "never happen in St Barts"
    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace" Jimi Hendrix

  15. #15
    noel is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2003 St. Louis, MO & Washington, DC Posts: 2,376
    Quote Originally Posted by MartinS View Post
    Noel,,,,, how will you get to Montserrat from Antigua? Round trip air on Fly Monserrat was about $200. .... The ferry runs maybe one day a week,

    We haven't made plans yet but I've read about a helicopter tour from Antigua. We probably won't take the time for an overnight on this trip.

  16. #16
    noel is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2003 St. Louis, MO & Washington, DC Posts: 2,376
    Quote Originally Posted by Mike R View Post
    cruise ships come and I 'm out.... we re trying to get away from that very thing, which of course the "experts" said for years and years would "never happen in St Barts"
    Didi and I made a side trip to Dominica one year and when we woke up in the morning this was the view out our window. The dock they built sure changed Dominica.



  17. #17
    amyb is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Apr 2008 Glen Cove,L. I., NY Posts: 28,519
    Now Tim, that is downright frightening!
    Remember Yesterday, Dream About Tomorrow, But Live Today.

  18. #18
    NHDiane is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Aug 2003 New Hampshire Posts: 6,928
    Martin - I so enjoyed reading this beautiful trip report! Thanks so much for taking the time to post with pictures. This island has always intrigued me and you've allowed all of us here to get a spectacular view of the island and it's people. Clearly Montserrat is very low key with many hidden gems. Although I hate the thought of cruise ships docking there, I have to think that it will help to bring much needed tourist dollars back to the island ... The volcano has scared many away and it'll take a long time to coax travelers back. Thanks again for excellent reporting!
    Emma Peel: I suppose Mother warned you about women like me?
    John Steed: Until now, I didn't know there were women like you.

  19. #19
    phil62 is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Feb 2005 Glen Cove, NY Posts: 6,273
    I would think that the Volcano poses a much more serious threat than the cruise ships.

    Phil

  20. #20
    MIke R is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Stinson Lake - New Hampshire & Provincetown - Cape Cod Posts: 51,935
    Quote Originally Posted by phil62 View Post
    I would think that the Volcano poses a much more serious threat than the cruise ships.

    Phil
    no more than then the one in Hawaii or Sicily does...I did go close by the island a few years ago and the rotten egg smell was pretty strong
    "When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace" Jimi Hendrix

  21. #21
    markantigua is offline
    SBH Member Joined: Sep 2009 Columbus, Ohio Posts: 88
    Your friends place in Antigua looks like it's situated overlooking Deep Bay near the Grand Royal Antiguan Hotel.
    The cruise ship is leaving St. John's, Antigua, not Montserrat.

  22. #22
    cec1 is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2008 Posts: 7,042
    A really great report, Martin! Your description of Antigua "customs / immigration" make SXM sound like a piece of cake. Did you get any sense of crime / safety on the island?

  23. #23
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Everyone that I asked about the crime on Montserrat said there is very little problems at all.....

    Antigua, whole other story... My friends place is located behind a gate, that has a security guard 24/7....
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  24. #24
    cec1 is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jul 2008 Posts: 7,042
    Thanks, Martin . . . good to know. Montserrat sounds like SBH of many years ago.

  25. #25
    bto is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Apr 2003 Saint Louis Posts: 3,460
    Awesome pics and story telling, Martin. I have a friend who used to live on Montserrat. Looks like you and Lisa are living the sweet life, good for you.
    .

  26. #26
    PIRATE40 is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Jan 2005 Sarasota, Florida Posts: 1,805
    ...Was thinking about Saba next year, but Martin's little excursion has me doing some research....Martin, stop in when you have time.....Ron

  27. #27
    MotherOcean is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Feb 2009 Illinois Posts: 495
    Awesome trip report Martin and really enjoyed the pics. Thanks for sharing!
    It was my first look, baby that's all it took

  28. #28
    MartinS is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: May 2003 Snead Island, Florida. Posts: 3,109
    Ron,, Ill be out your way Thursday morning. I'll try to stop in.....
    Sometimes there's Justice, sometimes there's just us.

  29. #29
    lloyd is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Mar 2003 The Thousand Islands,ON Posts: 2,028
    Martin
    i just discovered your post now.Pat and I discovered Montserrat in the early '80's ,and it was wonderful.From the top of the volcano,where you could actually go,to Air Studios( I still have the tee shirt- which I don't wear,because it's irreplaceable!),to our villa we rented,where the guest book was signed by many of the" rock intelligentsia " who had been recording down the hill at George Martin's
    when you're here in June,let's talk about it at the office.

  30. #30
    Jim Kelly-Evans is offline
    SBH Insider Joined: Nov 2010 Philadelphia and Fire Island, NY Posts: 1,125
    Just found this post also. I was with a team of amateur (ham) radio operators who went to Montserrat in 1993. We didn't realize how dangerous the volcano actually was at the time. We walked up on the volcano at a place called "Galway's Soufriere." The capital Plymouth was a lovely town with an overlook that had the remains of a fortress called St. George's. It was a beautiful island. It's nice to see photos of it once again. The photo shows our ham operator team and a local ham operator who was our guide at St. George's Fort during our visit. Montserrat 001.jpg
    "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy." - Dorothy Parker

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