Touring the Buried City
Late last year we were privileged to take a tour to Plymouth, Montserrat's former capital city, which was buried by lahars from the volcano. The Montserrat volcano does not produce hot, gooey streams of lava like the Hawaiian volcanoes, but instead produces alot of (also hot) loose rock and dust, which is subject to erosion. When there are heavy rains, the water of course runs to the low areas, carrying rock and sand and Plymouth was a low area.
This once beautiful town, is now for the most part buried. To visit, you must go with a trained guide and you must stay on the trail: the primary reason is that there are buildings buried beneath covering rock and soil, and there is a chance that if you wander off, you'll walk over a buried roof which might collapse and drop you forty feet to the floor.
Not a pleasant prospect.
There are several tour guides, including Winston Tellesford and Norman Cassell. Winston is the man from who we rent our car when we go down; he also does tours and is a former high-ranking Montserrat police officer. We went with Mr. Cassell during the Christmas break, along with about a dozen other folks, on an old yellow school bus.
It's hard to imagine what Plymouth was once like. Basically what you will see are the top floors of the tallest buildings, and it is amazing what the force of the water has done to what is left. Yet, it's very peaceful, and the area is not yet overgrown with colonizing plants, so it is easy to walk around and look. The guide's commentary puts it all into perspective, and it's sad to see people point to a ridge in the distance, and say, "that is where my house was."
The tour also stops at the Montserrat Springs Hotel which is outside of Plymouth at Richmond Hill, where you can walk through and see the old swimming pool and lobby filled with volcanic ash. This once beautiful hotel had just been remodelled and was set to reopen when the volcano was born. The damage here is basically from volcanic ash fall, and the ravages of the tropical climate on abandoned buildings. The ash is like talcum powder: light and fluffy like snow, but when it gets wet, it is very heavy and it doesn't melt.
The volcano ceased eruption after fifteen very active years, about six years ago, although it still emits plenty of fumes and is by no means dormant. We bought Moonshadow two years ago, and we hope that the volcano remains quiescent. The south half of the island is always on our minds, and a tour through Plymouth is a good reminder of the power of nature to disrupt the plans of Man.