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In 1436 Columbus noticed a rather mysterious and wonderful pearshaped island about 40 km off the coast of Antigua. He landed his wee rowing boat (someone said it was a little larger, but I remain sceptical!) and proclaimed, "I shall name this island Montserrat after that awesome monastery on the hills in Spain!" And so Montserrat was named! Years later some British people moved there to govern a few plantations, bringing with them some Irish and African slaves! They nicknamed Montserrat "The Emerald Isle" because it's fertile land reminded them of home - aww sweet. Nowadays most people think of Montserrat as "that place with the volcano" I myself thought of it as a highly dangerous place where few people lived because the island was destroyed by volcanic eruptions in 1995-1997. That was until last year a friend of mine was offered a job working on the relcoation project out there. He jumped at the chance, caribbean sun, sea and sand what could be better? Indeed. I first visited him in the summer of 1999 and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. It is a very unique island. The capital city, Plymouth was destroyed by fire, following a pyroclastic flow (burning ash) from the volcano in 1997. Similar flows have reduced a third of the island to an exclusion zone. 3-storey houses now appear as roof's and what were once huge factories were so badly covered and gutted that they now apear more like paddocks! Blackburne airport was covered by another pyroclastic flow, so the island can only be reached by helicopter or boat from Antigua. The boat is hired from L'Express Des Iles as part of the evacuation support. It runs twice daily from St. Johns in Antigua, with tickets starting from $30 US return. Although the largest hotel, the Bellevue, was forced to shut for a while, it has recently re-opened. It offers reasonably priced individual Carribean themed villas. These are love ly and the service is excellent. Although when I stayed there in March 2001 I was the only guest, so as you can expect all my requirements were met beautifully! There is a swimming pool and shuffleboard, plus the hotel is within easy walking distance of the island's only tennis courts! The beach is a stone's throw from the hillside villas and a morning jog along the beach is a must I find! A new hotel called Tropical Mansions has recently been opened in the North. Although it hadn't opened when I visited last it looked very nice with a view down to the sea and over much of the north. **UPDATE** The hotel opened last Spring and they now have a webpage! http://www.montserrat-hotel.com All the details are on the site, but if you are to lazy to have a look I'll tell you that rooms start at $80 and go up to $180 US (honey moon suite) per night! There is also a typical Carribean (sort of a mix between english and continental - fruit, bread, bacon etc) available and a lovely jacuzzi to relax in! Alternatively you can ring, fax or email them! Tel: (664)491-8767 Fax: (664) 491-8275 Email: email@example.com There are also many guest houses on the island. All are friendly and generally family run. There is a list of the best at http://www.carib-hotels.com/montserrat/gh.htm There are only a handful of beaches. The best is situated in the residential area of woodlands. Like all, but one, of Montserrat's beaches it has black sand. There is a small picnic and shower area above the cliff, but apart from that there are no other facilities - not that you could want any! Take a good book, a towel and your swimmy's, a little hamper of food and drink and you're all set for a wonderfully relaxing day! A little warning though - if you are on the beach at mid-day - WEAR SHOES!!! The sand gets incredibly hot and can be INCREDIBLY painful to walk on! There is also a beautiful reef there for scuba divers. The island's only white sand beach is Rendevous Bay and can only be accessed by foot or boat. The hike starts at Little Bay (where the ferry docks) and takes about 45 minutes. Take some sturdy boots as the hillside is very rocky! I would recommend you go on a Sunday and join in the weekly "JUMP-UP" with music and food and tonnes of Montserrations having a fab time! There is no better way to experience local life! If you're a keen diver, then there is an underwater trail for you to follow! Wolf Dive centre is located up the road from Woodlands Beach. Wolf Krebs, the German owner, offers lessons and courses for all standards at reasonable prices. You can also hire or buy some gear from his little shop (which also stocks paintings by his lovely wife, Anke) I would recommend you give him a visit. Check out this webpage for more info http://www.ehi.com/travel/carib/dominica/domitsl.htm Mountain biking is another great way to pass time in Montserrat. There are various outlets around the country, most you will see as you drive past, but a good idea would be to contact the board of tourism, situated along the main road in Woodlands. There is a very Caribbean ambience to the island, everything is very laid back. Shops open when the owners feel like opening etc. This isn't a problem as long as you don't need anything urgently! There are four supermarkets - Rams, Victors, Tina's and Park's. Victor's and Tina's are owned by Montserratians and the smallest. Rams and Park's are owned by Indians and open 'til late every day! The stock ranges (nearly all food supplies are shipped in from neighbouring islands) daily, so as long as you have an open mind about you're evening meal you'll get on fine! There are few other shops on the island, and most are geared towards meeting the everyday needs of Montserratians - the island has so few vi sitors at the moment. However, there are one or tow nice gift shops, mainly located by the port in Little Bay. As usual closing times vary, but if you fancy a browse, nip down when the ferry is due in - they are nearly always open then! Another gift shop worth a mention is that of Kevin West - a famous photographer on the island. If the door isn't open, nip around the back and bang on his front door. he's always happy to open up for special customers! He stocks a great range of his own photographs, most depicting the activities of the volcano. He also offers an interesting range of souvenirs, from celebratory jars of volcanic ash to "We Be Jammin'" T-shirts. A must buy for any visitor to Montserrat! There is very nice restaurant called Ziggys. It is situated in Woodlands in a tent! Marcia and John, the proprietors are very welcoming and the food is wonderful, especially the chocolate sludge! There are also lots of roadside snackettes as well as four supermarkets. Most of the population are seventh day adventists so don't expect to much to go happen on a Saturday. I can highly recommend Howes Bar in St. Johns! Mr and Mrs Howe (as they are known to all!) are awesome people, probably the friendliest on Montserrat, they are always welcoming. Their bar stocks, freshly cooked food and of course beer! There is also a pool table, so if you think you're good enough - challenge resident shark, Mr Howe, to a game! The people of Montserrat are one of a kind, for a start most have a slight Irish accent! There lives have been turned upside down but they still keep smiling. If you are a "rough and ready" type, and aren't looking for a 5-star hotel with hand and foot waiting, then Montserrat may well be the place for you! There certainly is no other place on earth like it! Visiting is such a fulfilling experience, you simply haven't lived until you've been there! For more info rmation have a look at http://www.caribbeansupersite.com/montserrat/ and I hope to see you all there, wearing your dooyoo t-shirts next time I go!