Bye Bye Montserrat

January 26, 2017

Last night we dined at Olveston House, the home of Sir George Martin who recorded many musicians at Air Studios in Montserrat. Sir George died last year but his wife and daughter still own it and it is being run as a B and B and restaurant a few days per week. There is room for thirty-six diners on the verandah that surrounds three sides of the house. We had seafood chowder or pumpkin soup, grilled wahu or tuna with fries, veggies and salad and we could not resist cheesecake or ice cream for dessert. Every meal was delicious and the price was about forty percent less than the night before at Watermelon. A highlight was touring the house to see a platinum record framed in each bedroom and photos by Linda McCartney in the hallway.

We had a very early wake up call this morning. I set my iPad to awaken us at 5:30 AM. I awoke suddenly from a complicated dream and tried to find the lamp switch to reach my iPad. Brian clicked the light on his watch and said it was only 3:30 AM. I asked what alarm was going off. He said it was the next shift of tree frogs. They certainly sounded different from the ones I fell asleep to. I went back to sleep until the iPad alarm awakened me.

One of the wonderful things about the Taj and this climate is that once dressed in skort and tank top, I walked out of our bedroom door and was immediately outside admiring a full sky of stars and a cruise ship coasting by on a calm sea. I like winter but it’s such a big deal to put on sufficient gear to weather the elements.

A swig of orange juice, a cup of tea and a few corn flakes with yogurt and I was hugging our friends good-bye. Everyone arose for our departure but only Bryan had the task of driving us to St. John to the airport. We were pleased to know later that he found breakfast and gas to get him back to the Taj.

We did not stop at Runaway Ghaut for a drink of water, insurance that we will return to Montserrat. We had drunk from Runaway Ghaut at the end of our Cot Walk; so, we are covered for a return to Montserrat. At six in the morning there are far fewer vehicles or pedestrians in motion on our Grand Prix style hairpin turns.

At the John Osborne airport we were accosted by our first mosquitoes on the island. We did not have long to wait for Reginald to check our bags and passports and take our departure tax. All seven passengers were ready for our 7:30AM flight. From takeoff to landing open Antigua was exactly eighteen minute. It was beautiful looking into the turquoise Caribbean, seeing the coral reefs, a five masted schooner and the toy sailboats moored in Antigua. We spotted the fort ruins near where we stayed two years ago. There was no sign of the old resort but no sign of a new one being built either.

There was no lineup at the airport in Antigua, no wait for our baggage. We had to walk over to the old airport to buy breakfast at the Big Banana. It is a good thing we were in no hurry for our next flight. I think the chef had not yet got out of bed. We enjoyed a good full breakfast of omelette or eggs and bacon/sausage with toast and tea/coffee…all on island time…slowly.

We had to don our long sleeves and legs to walk around in the new airport, cool air conditioning. Not too much to see or buy, but Brian bought a bottle of Antiguan rum in a skull -shaped bottle.
Our Air Canada flight was on time for departure; so, 3600 kilometres, two movies and five hours later we were landing in Toronto. I enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children and Bridget Jones’ Baby.

Fifteen minutes after leaving our 320 Airbus we had cleared Customs and Immigration and were hugging Brilynn who delivered our car to us. Brilynn only had to wait a few minutes to catch the train to downtown. We are looking forward to a phone visit with Brilynn tomorrow.

Leaving the airport during rush hour is always slow, but not to bad. It’s a balmy 4C with no snow, but we are still pleased to have heated seats in our RAV4. It is a change from 28C. 7 PM in Niagara and now in search of supper. What a fun holiday we have had. We are so fortunate!


The Last Hurrah

January 25, 2017

If you are confused by what appeared to be a duplicate blog two days in a row, there really is a write-up for January 24th. Just click on the link that still appears to be about critters and you should be able Tom find out about our hiking adventure. We have since read that others had very similar experiences trying to find their way on the Cot Trail. More signage is needed.

This morning Brian walked down to the beach at Hank’s Bar to try for one last attempt at fishing. Again the brown pelicans were more successful. I walked with Brian to where the road split then walked up Garibaldi Hill to where Stephan is building a 6000 square foot home. I don’t know Stephan but we heard the house has been in the building process for a year and a half. So far they are just starting to lay plywood over the foundation. The owner will have a great view of Isles Bay.

I walked 5.8 kilometres this morning in an hour and twenty minutes, stopping to take photos. I also took time out for a swim in waveless water at the beach. How unusual! I had my goggles on. Although the water was clear, all I saw below the surface were sand patterns.

Back at the Taj I needed another swim in the pool before all of us boarded the people mover, an eight passenger rental van, for a descent to a bank run and shopping in Cudjoe Head. Except for withdrawing money from the bank and buying fresh buns at the bakery, most other errands were unsuccessful because of a closed store or office or a store with no products. Some of us visited the artistic clothing store. The artist makes bright colourful dresses tops, pants and sheets in batik or tie dye. No purchases were made; so, some might say we were successful in not spending money.

I checked out a couple of the nearby stores; most were packed in narrow aisles with a huge assortment of goods. The best place to visit was the public library. It was air conditioned.

It was great to get back to the Taj to relax with a tuna melt and cold drink.

Yesterday afternoon we had one of our daily swims at our Isles Bay Beach just below us. The waves were calmer but nothing like this morning’s calm seas.

We went out for dinner at the Watermelon Cottage a couple of kilometres north of us. Trevor, the owner, chef and server, lives in the cottage which is completely surrounded by foliage. We felt as if we were in the rain forest. The dining area is open on three sides. One side opens to a pool and loung area. We had a table set for eight in the middle of the restaurant. Dining is by reservation only and Trevor never accepts more than twelve people. Last night he limited it to the eight of us. The one page menu changes daily. Everyone pretty well opted for the four course menu: coconut shrimp or escargots, lettuce salad with beets, filet wrapped in bacon with fries, broccoli and cauliflower, chocolate layer cake with mocha icing or butter pecan ice cream. All delicious. All accompanied by a steady stream of chatter from Trevor who has lived on the island for thirty-nine years after years spent entertaining on cruise ships and a couple of years in musicals on Broadway.

Trevor’s restaurant was filled with an eclectic mix of art and artifacts including a tiny operating carousel, carved masks, a camel, figurines from various cultures, a large hanging drum, a huge yellow butterfly kite suspended from the ceiling, the flower arrangements on the table include tiny birds of paradise.

We finished our evening star gazing.

Island Critters

This blog got replaced by January 24th; so, I will try again.

January 23,2017

We did go for another walk, checking out the homes hanging on cliff tops draped in colourful flowers. We were accompanied by a kestrel as we kept our eyes peeled for iguanas. They have not chosen to give me a close up view. My telephoto just is not good enough. The forty foot tall almond tree beside the house is home to at least three iguanas. We spot one to two foot long striped tails hanging from the thick foliage. Occasionally we see a spiny back. One fell from a branch yesterday but successfully clung to a lower branch and would not look at us. This afternoon one posed for me, caught as he was between a concrete wall and the road.

Brian and Bryan cracked open a coconut yesterday throwing a big rock down on the coconut. That action successfully severed the husk off the coconut but did not crush any feet. Yeah! Today they are busy playing in the dirt, reconstructing a stone wall that collapsed when the gardener was trimming. The third Bryan, renamed Peter, is using a pick axe to try to remove stumps. Are any of them wearing steel-toed boots? No! Apparently Keene sandals or canvas tennis shoes are sufficient.

Sunset was a long display, changing from lemon to fuchsia to papaya with all the shades in between. The colours lasted for at least twenty minutes past sunset and every photographer was trying to capture the uncapturable. Awesome beauty!

We played an outrageous game of Trivial Pursuit, Baby Boomer edition. If you have never played this edition and you are a baby boomer, don’t bother. Most questions focus on the fifties. It is advisable that you were born in the thirties to answer these questions. Even our two kings of trivia, Brian and Peter (how did they get on the same team?), were struggling after what looked like an easy start.

I baked an angel food cake in a springform pan for Brian’s birthday. We are a day ahead of schedule for that but we will be out for dinner tomorrow night. I was pleased that the cake did not flow over the sides and make a mess of the oven. It sunk a little in the middle after I took it out of the oven. That just makes a bigger receptacle for chocolate whipped cream. Susan is going to make an island treat: coconut chicken for supper.

Three out of the four us who went to the beach at noon challenged the huge waves. It was easier to get back to shore than I feared.

This afternoon the ladies walked up, up the hill to Shann Murrell’s art studio. She does very pretty collages and paintings, makes cushions, silk scarves, note cards and jewelry. I took a photo of Shan with a large Montserrat WI batik. I took the photo for you, Cory. I thought it was for the Women’s Institute, but of course, it WI stands for West Indies. Shann said lots of people make that mistake. You can see her art on Facebook.

I really wish I had my hiking poles with me. I am sure I could do double time climbing all these hills if only I had my poles.

Time for a swim!





Hiking in the Centre Hills

January 24, 2017


Happy Birthday, Brian! The songsters at the Taj composed an awesome birthday song for Brian. See the lyrics below. A song was composed for Al’s birthday too. We may have a new tradition for Cobble Beach. We just have to have Al and Barb build at Cobble to be sure they are available for song writing. Of course it has been mentioned that we are a very connected group. Everyone whips out their iPads over morning tea or coffee to connect with the world; so, perhaps Al and Barb could send us lyrics, but we would rather have them at Cobble.

We rotated in to play pepper last night to keep our numbers to six. The end result was that the men won. I had the best practice hand ever before we officially started. I am sure that the women would have won if we had used the practice hand. We went to bed well after Venus, and even after most of the houses on Garibaldi Hill had turned out their lights. Was it that bottle of champagne that kept us up later?

Yesterday afternoon six of us went to try snorkelling at Lime Kiln Beach. Upon arrival we should have known the the waves were way too big to even bother. Only Susan and Barb were smart enough to stay on the shore. Brian returned to shore after getting through the waves and feeling seasick with the wave action. I followed Al and Bryan farther out. I was rewarded with a glimpse of tube coral, fan coral and two fish before the water was too cloudy to see anything. After that I bobbed up and down waiting for the other two to agree there was nothing to see. Happily we survived the waves upon reentry and did not get dashed upon the rocks. Sadly Al lost his mask and snorkel to a wave that probably took them across to Redonda or buried them in the sand deep in the sea.

Today we decided to hike the Cot Trail in the Centre Hills. The guidebook describes this as a light walk throughout, 2.6 kilometres and an hour and a half long. We agree that a wide, mostly paved trail at the beginning was easy except that it was all uphill. We did have vistas over Olveston, Olde Town and Salem although some of the shorter people in our midst found that the tall grasses got in our way. There were huge leafed philodendron, lots of banana trees with big bunches of green bananas and an enormous red flower with each bunch. It was easier to spot the flora as it did not move so banyan trees, bamboo and locust trees were easy to identify. The yellow butterflies and red rim butterflies were easy to spot but they did not pose. Perhaps we needed to be out earlier and make less noise to see and hear birds. We saw one live agouti and the remains of another.

We forged a new trail somewhere close to what should have been the end of our trail. We did not do this on purpose but we missed a left turn somewhere and found ourselves on a narrow descending path that was slippery with leaves and short on handrails. It was especially difficult for those of us who did not have a walking stick. We do not think any humans made this path. Perhaps it was an animal path then a waterway during the rainy season. The end result was that we survived our descent, discovered part of the Oriole Trail and made our way back to the Cot Trail via the Duberry-Cassava trail. This last trail was well marked and easy. Next we only had to walk back along the road to our people mover without being run over. There was a blast of the noon siren as I stepped across the road. Because this siren was on a tower ten feet behind me, I nearly jumped out of my skin thinking a truck was about to squash me. We hiked 4.5 kilometres in two hours and seventeen minutes. We needed to resupply the fridge with Caribs on our way back to the Taj even though some of us just wanted to fall into the pool. In good time both were accomplished and we relaxed in the shade of the coconut palm.

Siesta time!
67 Here in Heaven ( to the tune of Dancing Cheek to Cheek)
Sixty seven
here inHeaven
With the beaches, hiking, beer and Tilley hats
Makes you forget about the spiders bugs and rats
When we’re all together here in Montserrat

it’s your birthday
Visit Rendezvous with kayak or portage.
Watch the sunset turn from golden to orange (French)m
But when you blow your candles don’t burn down the Taj

Back in Cobble , We’ll all wobble,
When you carry on as if you’re 22
But we’ll all be at your door to ask if you
Can you help us do the things that only you can do!

When we are with you, it’s not an issue,
When we’re left behind in baking and repairs
We will follow you to earthly ends and more
Just because we are friends forever more.

Sixty seven, here in heaven,
With the beaches, hiking, beer and Tilley hats
Makes you forget about the spiders bugs and rats
When we’re all together here in Montserrat!

Riding the Waves

January 22, 2017


Last night we danced under the stars. Al and Barb gave us bachata lessons. I would say that they taught us the bachata but that might imply we learned it. More lessons may be required. We, even Brian, notorious for not dancing, had lots of fun trying.

John and Pam regretfully left for the airport and Canada this morning. Their month passed too quickly. And then there were eight.

A gardener spent the morning cleaning up the undergrowth. In the process a wall, lime tree, banana trees no frangipani were rediscovered. The kestrels have been sitting on the wire to profit from what the gardener exposes. A lizard lost his tail to a kestrel.

We drove to Woodlands Beach this morning hoping to find clear water for snorkelling. The water was very clear but there were also large waves crashing on the shore. Once past the waves it was easier swimming than it has been in big waves, but also a little cooler. The rocky area at the point, closer to the shore, would have been the best snorkelling area but it was too rough. Brian and I only saw sand patterns as we did not swim as far as Al and Bryan who wore life preservers and flippers. They saw a variety of colourful fish.

We had fun swimming then walking the beach trying to get interesting wave shots. A sign at the beach wishes us well: “May your life be filled with relaxing sunsets, cool drinks and sand between your toes.”

Once again, supper provided us with lunch for today: rotis, salad and the remains of chocolate cake. Brian and I are on chef duty this evening: roast beef and vegetable stir fry and roasted squash. Brian has made a few loaves of bread this week. Each one has been gobbled up.

I might work up the energy for a walk and another swim…or not. Reading in the shade of the coconut tree is good too.

Montserrat Memorabilia

January 21, 2017

The past two evenings we have reclined on the deck marvelling at the stars. Every now and then someone gets out an iPad to identify a constellation. The brightest star in the sky is the planet, Venus, in the northwest. It is so bright there is a reflection as it descends into the sea. When it disappears into the water, that signals bedtime, usually around 9:40 PM. I am not positive as I am often among the first to head for bed. We do not often, if ever, observe the heavens as long in Ontario, as we need more clothing and/or insect repellent. No mosquitoes send us for cover here.

Each evening one cruise ship sails past from north to south. While at Hank’s we watched the sun set with a sailboat in the foreground, a barge of sand crossing through the sun and platoons of brown pelicans putting on a comic air show crashing into the sea. What a pleasurable way to eat our seafood platters and drink Carib beer or rum punches.

Last night, for the first time we pulled our blanket, a duvet cover, over our single sheet. The temperature must have dropped to 25C.

The last two night’s the roosters crowing in the wee hours have been seriously in need of voice lessons or someone has been murdering them. For sure they have failed Crowing 101.

This morning after yoga and a swim in the pool we went to the Hilltop Coffee House in Brades to have their Saturday special of waffles with delicious coffee. After David Lea gave us a tour of his photo and memorabilia collection, we decorated our waffles with whatever pleased us from the dishes assembled on the bar: blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, shredded coconut, chocolate, raisins, peanuts, chocolate sauce or male syrup and whipped cream. No sugar highs here!

David and his wife Sun have been here since their hippie days. Their son, Sun, gives tours of Plymouth. He was not available for us. David has been involved in several video productions about the volcano eruption and Plymouth. He also authored a book, Through My Lens, about Montserrat which include his photo collection about the volcano, Plymouth and George Martin’s Air Studios. His photos cover the walls and the tabletops under glass. He also has posters from those early days as well as signs and memorabilia recovered from Plymouth and the buried Belham Valley Golf Course. David is the local historian, a very engaging host.

We found Plymouth Nuts in the narrow aisles of Ashoks’ grocery store. Benjamin’s factory is just down the hill in Brades, but not open on Saturday.

The waves are big again. Yahoo! And the sky is cloudless blue. The volcano is very clear. All we were missing was a water ready camera with a photographer in the water to get our ten bobbing heads with the volcano in the background.

We ordered roti for tonight from Joe’s wife. Joe just delivered them. We are having an awesome chocolate birthday cake a day late for Al, but just right for my sister.

Happy birthday, Rosemary!

Visiting Plymouth

January 20, 2017

The highlight of today was visiting the ruins of Plymouth, formerly the capital of Montserrat. The Soufriere Hills Volcano blew in 1997 decimating the capital, the airport and a good portion of the homes on the south end of the island. Although there have not been further big disturbances since 2010, the volcano continues to puff out steam and there has been no thought that Plymouth will ever be excavated or rebuilt; thus, what we visited today was a modern Pompeii.

Until two years ago no tours of Plymouth were allowed but now there are a few local guides who can lead groups into the edges of Plymouth. This requires a police permit, which costs $150 EC$ regardless of the size of the group. Charles Daly took us on a haunting sobering three hour tour. Charles had to have a two way radio to be in communication with the Montserrat Volcano Observatory to let them know when we were entering the evacuation zone and when our eleven souls were exiting from there.

Fortunately Charles expertly drove his twelve passenger van as he had to dodge large trucks loaded with sand headed for the barge on the beach or meet the empty ones going inland for their fresh load of volcanic sand. This sand is the one lucrative export of the island. It is shipped to neighbouring coral islands for cement production for construction.

Charles paused in a few places to explain what we were seeing and allow us to take photos. We could not get out of the van as too many trucks were careening by. As well as the danger of being run over, they were leaving in their wake great clouds of dust that surely would have left us gasping and coated in dust. What we were seeing was the third or fourth floor of buildings as the lower part was completely buried. Many roof tops were gone or only the skeleton joists remained. Some rooftops were still intact. Remarkably there were quite a few glass windows that were still whole.

When we reached what would have been the port, now gone and replaced farther out with a short single pier, we got out of the van and were able to walk about seventy feet toward the remains of Plymouth. Our police escort was waiting for us to ensure that we did not go too far, that being beyond a long mound which appeared to be the original shoreline.

I found this to be an emotional experience: sad to see a whole town annihilated, to imagine how five or six thousand lives were changed, how a friendly happy community was destroyed and dispersed, never to return. Many of the inhabitants were relocated in England. Six of our group had experienced this town prior to volcanic eruption. This was their first time to return to Plymouth. I can imagine that they had stronger clashing emotions: fond memories of where they had shopped and dined and wandered the streets and sadness at its demise.The good news is that not many lives were lost as people had sufficient warning to evacuate.

Charles drove us to another spot where accompanied by our policeman, we were able to walk between what was Rams grocery store and Rams Hotel. Again only the top floor was visible. We stepped carefully on what was a street, now well buried. A clock tower which was twenty-eight feet tall is no longer to be found. Looking in door and window openings we could see a desk, chairs and a safe covered in lots of dust.

The backdrop for most photos was a different side of the volcano from the view we have from the Taj. It was also quite a clear view of the summit.

Charles drove us up to the former Montserrat Springs Hotel, stopping for us to view the inside of a three storey house that was divided into three condo units. From here we had a view over Plymouth in the valley. A ceramic Christmas tree was on one of the shelves. A table and chairs still stood. On the dust of the walls visitors had signed their names.

Charles drove us around the top of Richmond Hill. Wherever fuschia or bougainvillea draped itself over trees at the road’s edge we were sure to see a house if we looked more closely beyond the colourful display.

Charles drove us down a very rough rocky road to Foxes Bay. He said he had not been on that road lately and would not be back anytime soon. The acacias reaching across the road must have been seriously scratching his van to say nothing of what was happening to the suspension.

A walk on the beautiful beach was a refreshing relief from the hot van. The air conditioning was struggling to cool us. Charles drove us up the winding steep narrow incline to the MVO to return the two way radio then we wound down through Salem to the Taj.

It was truly an amazing tour, a good way to celebrate Al’s sixty-fourth birthday. We will continue celebrating by singing the Beatles tune at Hank’s Bar where we are going for dinner after a swim in the sea. This will be a fitting close to an adventurous day. Brian and I walked down to the same beach this morning at 7 AM, Brian to fish and I to swim. No luck for Brian, but a success for me.

Hiking to Rendezvous Bay

January 18, 2017

We are frequently awake to greet the day before 7 AM. The 5 AM call from the rooster has nothing to do with this. It is light from 6 AM to 6 PM; so, more daylight than we are used to at home at this time of the year.

Brian brings me my orange juice followed by tea but since it is so beautiful to read the Owen Sound paper looking out at the morning sea, I take my cup of tea out of the bedroom. I am keeping up my thirty minute yoga habit. After a leisurely breakfast I was surprised that folks were rushing to be ready for a 9:30 AM departure for our hike to Rendezvous Bay. I thought we still had an hour. For some unknown reason my iPad had not switched to island time so I was an hour behind schedule. I still was ready in time for ride north to Little Bay.

We walked past the concrete block factory to access the trail to Rendezvous any, the only white sand beach on the island. It was a hot walk to the top on a narrow path where we watched our feet diligently to avoid the prickly acacia. We had to stop now and then to admire the view back to Little Bay where sailboats bobbed and container ships glided. We picked our way down carefully to Rendezvous, fortunately more shaded as sweaty rivulets already ran off my chin. What a delight to shed running shoes and shorts and plunge into the sea. Brian scolded me for swimming out too far but it was sublime!

It took us an hour and a half to hike 3.5 kilometres, an ascent of 172 metres and descent of 189 metres. We spent an hour and a half swimming and walking or tossing a frisbee on the beach, also chatting with an American couple who had kayaked around to the bay in twenty minutes. They almost got flipped out of their ocean kayak by a big wave, but they managed to keep it upright.

Upon our return all eight of us were more than ready for a drink at Johnny Ponts’ restaurant, built into the hillside by Little Bay. Even I had a Carib beer even though beer is not typically my drink of choice. I followed it with a rum punch that almost flattened me. I was content to have a spicy pumpkin soup followed by a green salad while others had the full meal deal of Wahu (fish), ribs or chicken accompanied by potato, salad and veggies. As we ate and chatted we watched hummingbirds and banana quits dart in and out of the foliage and boat paraphernalia that dangled from the ceiling.

Bryan was alert enough to drive us back to the Taj where everyone settled in for a siesta.

Then a dip in the pool to wake up. Life is wonderful!


Volcano Watching

January 17, 2017

Barb, Kate and Fran, I know you especially want to know who won at cards. Although the men won the first game, the women whomped them in the second game.

Last night the loud downpour drowned out the tree frog serenade.

We saw more of the Soufriere Hills Volcano summit today than on any previous occasion. Streaming stacks of smoke continuously puff up from the summit.

The midday sun has a somnolent effect and draws us to recline in the shade or even to retire to our beds and doze. Of course we have to store energy to walk down to the beach. Although it is a ten minute walk, we do detours to make it at least a twenty minute hilly walk. We see plenty of beautiful homes and flowers: hibiscus, bougainvillea, azaleas and flowers the names of which I do not know. When we ascend to the Taj we need another swim in the pool followed by gin and tonic or a rum punch with nuts and or cheese.

Barb and Al met Montserratian Benjamin on the plane coming down. Apparently he has a cashew processing plant and sells Plymouth Nuts. We have tried to find his factory but so far no one even knows who he is and has had not heard of Plymouth Nuts. Apparently there was a time when cashews were grown on the island, but no more. The iguanas are happy lounging in the plentiful almond trees.

Chicken is on the menu this evening and Barb and Al are today’s chefs.


Showers and Sun

January 16, 2017

Rain, Sun, Rain, Rainbow

It’s a loud downpour this evening after a day of intermittent light showers and sunshine.

A tough day: I read a lot, sometimes sitting in sunshine, sometimes retreating few feet to be sheltered from a shower. I enjoyed swimming in the pool and in the sea. The waves were enormous in the sea, fun to be in if you were tall enough to get past the breakers and able to jump up with the waves or dive into them. We had to time our race to shore between the big waves. Some of our party were too short to safely enjoy the waves.

After an hour and a half power outage we are now ready to challenge the men to a game of pepper.