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June 11, 2002
Sightings of Fellow Expatriates in Montserrat

We were up at 5am to leave by 6 for Montserrat. After an 8.5 hour, 41 mile sail we find ourselves in Little Bay, Montserrat, taking care to steer clear of the southern part of the island where the active volcano lies. Clearing-in here was a bit of an exercise as we had to visit three different offices to complete the task (customs, port authority, and immigration). The customs agent must be friends with the gentleman George that he recommended we speak to about a tour of the island, as he offered his name unsolicited. As we left the final office, George the cab driver indeed approached us personally and offered to give us an island tour the next day. After negotiating the price in advance, we arranged to meet him the next morning at 9am.

Back aboard Force Five that afternoon we looked around to find that every boat in the anchorage was flying an American flag. Hoping to meet new friends, I was disappointed that we still haven't raised our own. Curt has been hesitant to put it up for a number of reasons. For one, the boat isn't U.S. registered (it's still South African until our paperwork is complete). "But," I rebut, "we could fly a 'crew flag'" letting people know that the crew on board are Americans- not indicating our boat's country of registry. However, we've heard that American flags tend to put dollar signs in the eyes of the locals, and he doesn't want to draw attention to us. Nor does he want to be lumped in with any negative social stereotypes Americans have developed for themselves. And me… I just thought maybe our fellow countrymen might be happy to see another American and invite us over for sundowners (cruiser speak for happy hour). Yes, yes- I suppose we could make the effort and go introduce ourselves- but I'm still feeling like the shy new kid in the class. Curt and I had happy hour in our cockpit, just the two of us.

June 12, 2002
Montserrat- the Emerald Isle After the Eruption

George promptly meets us at 9am the next morning. By the end of the day, we'll find that our host is an earnest businessman, and a knowledgeable guide. It's clear, as he boasts at the immaculate condition of his 10 year old Nissan that he washes each day, that he takes pride in that which he gets in involved.

Our tour begins on the north side of the island and Curt has to continually translate George's thick island accent for me (sounds like "Dat de ting mon'" when he's trying to say, "that's the thing man"). A native of Montserrat, George tells us that the island is a British colony, and prior to the 1995 eruption, bustled with a population of 12,000 farming and fishing inhabitants. They also had a thriving tourist industry here and many Americans and Canadians had bought homes here to escape cold winters. Then, in '95 the Soufrierre Hills Volcano started erupting destroying the capital town of Plymouth and most of the southern part of the island. Living and business conditions dropped dramatically with almost daily volcanic dust polluting the air. Almost two thirds of the island's population has since left the island and of those that remain, anyone not already living in the north has had to relocate there as they've lost their homes. He takes us through the government subsidized housing and we're impressed. Families without children received $41,000EC (Eastern Caribbean currency) toward their neat little home and those with children received $53,000.

The rest of the morning George takes us around the island showing us the volcano (not dangerously active this particular day), the desolate lunar landscape of Plymouth- now covered in volcanic ash, and through the sweet and lush towns that now remain. George was born here and "on island" when the volcano erupted. His friends and family have all been directly impacted by the disaster, and so the stories he tells are filled with emotion when he talks about families that have had to desert their homes and move without warning, of jobs lost, and the outlook of the island now. I'm impressed at the optimism he relays on behalf of himself and his island. The natives are trying to rebuild the tourism there and seem devoted to the land that's their home, regardless of an uncooperative volcano. Therefore, we didn't mind so much when he stopped at the local boutique of a friend (unprompted), and convinced us to have lunch at his favorite local restaurant, the Attic. We smiled to ourselves at his industriousness and relinquished our agreed upon payment at the end of the day feeling that George had more than fulfilled his end of the bargain for an educational and entertaining island tour.
Back on the boat, we decided to cool off with a little snorkeling. On our way over the cliffs reputed to be the best spot, I checked out the names of the other boats in the anchorage: Mystic Adventure, Packett Inn, Tolerance, Sister Wind (two women), Borealis… you know- just in case the opportunity came up to introduce ourselves. It seems that they must all know each other as we saw a dinghy filled with six or so people in snorkeling gear headed the opposite direction, dropping people off at one or the other of the American boats. Again I felt a bit like my parents had just transplanted me into a new school and I didn't have any friends yet. Curt doesn't seem to mind, but I must admit with some chagrin that I think some new friends might go a long way to helping distract me from the thoughts of those that we miss so much at home. It's a strange thing to experiencing so many new things with our new lifestyle and not have anyone to tell our stories to.

Back on Force Five, I sheepishly turned on our VHF radio just in case (you never know), someone called to say hello to the unfamiliar boat in the pack. Curt inquired about why it was on, as we really haven't had it on while at anchor and have no other reason... I'm sure he knew the reason. Even though I felt silly, I left it on anyway.


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