Welcome to the Caribbean, where the islands changed hands between England, France, Spain, Holland, and others on countless occasions. Montserrat is no exception, and it is down to this fact that the island enjoys its symbolic ambiguity- discovered by an Italian, given a French name, ruled by the English, and the only one except Ireland to celebrate St Patrick's Day. Its gritty capital, Plymouth, was brimful of top-notch restaurants, shops capable of leaving you totally in the cold, dazzling yachts moored at the marina, and celebrities wallowing in the luxury of undisturbed privacy. It even seemed that the wounds left by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 had more or less healed and Montserrat once again became a safe port for those in search of the old Caribbean, just as it did years before for Catholics fleeing from religious persecution in Virginia. But that was before the Soufrière Hills volcano proclaimed its sulphuric dominance and started to write down the island's history from scratch.
The beginning of its reign fell on July 18, 1995, when it started gushing clouds of steam and ash, giving rise to almost 10 years of unstoppable destruction that claimed two thirds of the island, including Plymouth, and totally decimated the two major sources of income: tourism and agriculture. Today, 5 thousand people cram in the northern section of the island, and although it's been a while since Soufrière Hills last erupted, they know it hasn't yet had a final say. Nevertheless, just like ants immediately start rebuilding their broken hill, Montserratians have, too, rolled their sleeves up. It's hard to leave a place where the beguiling nature trails and intact rainforest can be hiked to no end, where 30 outstanding dive sites and miles of hidden coastline beckon to be explored, where the sun brushes tranquil black-sand beaches during the day and stars reach down to yield their magic at night.
For now, the partly reconstructed airport is far from what the locals would call busy and not even close to what it used to be until the late 80s. There's currently only one hotel and tourists expecting to sip tropical drinks in thatched beachside bars may be in for a major let-down. Yet, ceaselessly battered by calamities, Montserrat is still standing, and it needs tourists more than it ever has before. That it remains a curiosity makes the trip all the more rewarding.