Monthly Archives: July 2016

Geography Report: Montserrat


Basic Facts

Capital: Plymouth
People/Customs: There are currently around 4000 to 5000 inhabitants living on Montserrat. Most are descendants of African slaves, though there are also some Irish (it is sometimes called the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean).
Language: English, sometimes with an Irish accent.
Climate: In the winter the average low is 70°, the average high is 83°. In the summer, the average low is 74°, and the high is 88°. Average annual rainfall is 59 inches. Hurricane season is from June to November.
Food/Farming: Very little produce is now grown on Montserrat because the damage from volcanic eruptions was so severe.
Government: Montserrat is a British Crown Colony managed by a Governor representing the Queen. He supervises the executive council and the legislative council. The economy relies mainly on tourism.
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar.
Art/Music/Culture: George Martin, music publisher for the Beatles, founded a recording studio, called Air Studios, so that famous musicians could come to Monserrat to unwind. After the 1997 eruption, Elton John, Sting, Paul McCartney, and Eric Clapton staged a fund-raising concert in London, raising over $1.5 million for housing and relocation in Montserrat. Holidays celebrated are New Year’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Labor Day, Whit Monday, Queen’s Birthday, August Monday (Emancipation Day), Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and Festival Day.


When Columbus first sighted this island in 1493, he named it Montserrat because the terrain reminded him of the Monastery of Montserrat near Barcelona, Spain. The first settlers here were Irish Catholics moving away from Protestant rule on St. Kitts. In 1632 more immigrants arrived from the New World Colonies and Europe. Sugar cane was thriving, but the managers of plantations needed more workers, so over the next century they imported thousands of African slaves. A slave-based economy developed on Montserrat as on the other British territories in the West Indies. When slavery was abolished in 1834, most of the plantations were abandoned. Some were taken over by small farmers who planted lime trees, but eventually deteriorated. Britain had had almost continuous control of Montserrat, except for a while in 1665, when France made a bid for the Island, but the Treaty of Paris gave it to Britain permanently. Montserrat has remained a Crown Colony since.

Land forms/Flora and Fauna

One of the defining features of Montserrat is a volcano that dominates the whole southern half of the island. The Soufrière Hills volcano erupted in July of 1995, causing the inhabitants of the capital city, Plymouth, to evacuate the most populated area on the island. Salem became the temporary capital while ash was shoveled off the buildings. Volcanologists from the United States and the United Kingdom provided information on where it would be safe to live. The temptation of rich volcanic soil lured farmers into exclusion zones, and when the volcano erupted a second time, 19 people were killed. Over 50 were air-lifted by helicopters to hospitals in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Even the Montserrat Volcano Observatory had to be moved to a safer location. Then, in August 1997, the Soufrière Hills volcano came to life a third time, covering Plymouth in pyroclastic flow, burning and destroying around 80󠇯 percent of the buildings. The capital will probably never be safe again.

The Flora of Monserrat includes rainforests, fern forests, and of course, lots and lots of mango trees. The animals on this island are mainly comprised of iguanas, agouti, crapaud frogs, 7 kinds of bats, and many species of tropical birds.

Things to do

Visit the MVO (Monserrat Volcano Observatory), take a taxi tour of the island to view the destruction from the volcano, go to the beach or go snorkeling.


Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “Montserrat.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.

Boiling Lake, Dominica

One of the reasons we stopped in Dominica, “the Nature Island,” was to do some hiking. We knew that Dominica had a boiling lake up in the volcanic mountains, and thought it sounded cool. However, it could only be reached by a steep 16-mile hike over rough terrain. Despite this, and the six-hour time limit, Mom, Aaron, Sarah, and I still wanted to go. Dad stayed home to work and keep an eye on Sam and Rachel, whose legs are too short for such a long hike.

Several days before, Mom had purchased a National Parks Pass, which was required to go hiking anywhere in Dominica. We also required a guide to help us navigate the somewhat-confusing paths, a driver to take us to the capital city of Roseau and up to the beginning of the hike, and an alarm clock to help us get up at 6 o’clock in the morning to start the day-long journey. I am typically a late-riser, so hauling my butt out of bed at such an early hour was tortuous. We then ate a quick breakfast and packed lunch, snacks, and water into three backpacks. We were then picked up and ferried ashore by a ‘boat boy’.

The boat boys are a gang of local men in small dinghies and paddle boards, armed to the teeth with fresh produce, and whose only purpose in life seems to be to cater to cruisers. They, among other things, brought fresh fruit to your boat, helped get you around town and plan expeditions, and also gave good river tours. They also served as a water taxi.

We were met at the dock by two local guys: our driver for the day, Anselm, and our trail guide, Francis. We got into the van, and took off. The drive to Roseau was a little over an hour long, and Anselm was apparently very comfortable at high speed, even on the twisty mountain roads. And all the while, Francis gave a running commentary on the history of the surrounding scenery.

The road ended where the hike began: at Titou Gorge. Titou Gorge is, well, a gorge. It sits right next to the beginning of the path, and the Trois Pitons River runs out of the mouth. Before it flows on down the valley, it forms a large shallow pool. Francis told us that it was possible to swim over a hundred feet back into the gorge to a waterfall, whose waters come from a fresh mountain lake several miles away. It sounded fun, even though the water was bitter cold and the average depth was 15 feet. After a short potty break, we hefted our packs, and set off after the guide into the jungle.

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

Each leg of the hike was entirely different. The first few miles were through lush, wet jungle. The slope was gentle, and water constantly dripped from the leafy canopy overhead, turning the dirt between the stair steps to mud. Everything was either green, like the leaves, or brown, like the mud. Occasionally, we had to cross cold mountain streams that ran across the path. We took the opportunity to refill our water bottles at a mountain spring bubbling out of the rock.

And then there were the stairs. More stairs than you can count. All up and down the mountains, somebody (or more likely several hundred somebodies) had secured split logs across the trail to form crude stair-steps. Francis assured us that the muddy and sometimes slippery steps were a considerable improvement over past years before the trail was maintained by the national parks system. Judging by the difficulty of some parts of hike, even with the stairs, the steeper areas must have been all but impassable.

The next part of the trek was much steeper. The trail wandered up the side of the second-tallest peak in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park, and so did we. Even on a nice day, the Pitons are usually blanketed in clouds, and this was not a nice day. As we hiked along a narrow ridge, I drew ahead of the others. Off to either side, the no-doubt astounding view was obscured by blowing clouds. Occasionally, as I took a short rest between flights of stairs, I could see snatches of another mountainside off to my left. The blowing mist had another effect: to fog up my glasses. Q: What do you get when you try and clean foggy glasses on a dirty shirt? A: Muddy glasses.

We took a break to eat some snacks at the top of the mountain (we assumed that it was the top of the mountain, because there were no more stairs leading up). Frances said that you could see the entire island from this vantage point, but all we could see was white, white, white. We were half way to the boiling lake, and we were a bit behind schedule. Francis had brought a thermos of ‘cocoa tea’, tea made from roasted cacao beans, sugar, and milk; in other words, home-made hot chocolate. He shared some with us.

Step three of the journey led us down the other side of the peak, and into the Valley of Desolation. It was very desolate. The rocks wore an odd mixture of colors, from white to yellow, and even green. As we carefully clambered down the rocky trail, we passed a cold spring, a hot spring, and a really hot spring. In several places, steam jetted out of invisible cracks in the rocks, adding to the freakishness of the landscape.

Valley of Desolation, Dominica

Francis found some white clay, and painted all of our faces (including his own) with intricate patterns. We spotted some lost French tourists that had apparently been too cheap to hire a guide. They asked Francis for directions to the Boiling Lake. Francis said that they could travel with us if they each paid him $50EC (about $20US). They grudgingly paid the bill, and we moved on.

Francis, Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

The next and last leg of the expedition was somewhere between a hike and a climb. We gasped our way up several flights of stairs through more jungle, and scrambled up short cliffs and across lukewarm rivers trying not to get any more water in our already-soggy hiking shoes. We also passed a series of warm waterfalls and pools that our guide said we would go swimming in on our way back. Sarah, Aaron, and I drew ahead of everyone else, and so, after climbing up one last hillside, we reached the boiling lake first.

We were standing at the top of a cliff, with mountain behind us, and boiling lake before us. We wearily set our packs down by a rock, and went over to the edge to finally glimpse our objective. We heard faint bubbling noises coming from below, but we could see absolutely nothing through thick layer of mist–or was that steam? Several minutes later, Mom and the French people caught up, with Francis bringing up the rear. We sat on some handy rocks and ate our lunches. Francis was just making himself a special cigarette with “all natural smoking weed” when a soft breeze wafted away the steam cloud, revealing the lake in all its glory.

Boiling Lake, Dominica

It was surrounded on all sides by cliffs, except where a small stream ran out. The lake was about a hundred feet across, and an eerie milky bluish-gray color. And it actually was boiling. Right in the middle of the lake, the water bubbled and frothed like a pot on a stove, and steam rose from the surface of the water. A couple from Martinique, who had reached the lake before us, asked Francis if it was possible to go swimming in it. Francis asked them if they were out of their minds. We stayed by the lake for almost 45 minutes, enjoying the view and eating the last of the snacks, but when the fog rolled back in, we shouldered our packs, and started the long way back.

Boiling Lake Hike, Dominica

After about thirty minutes of steep jungle, we arrived at the hot waterfalls. We had been hiking in our bathing suits, so we just set down our packs, took off our muddy shoes, and climbed down into the pool at the base of the fall. It was so relaxing to sit in the warm rush of water cascading down the yellow rock after a long, damp hike. We washed off our war paint in the water, and generally enjoyed ourselves. But all good things must come to an end, and this was no exception. After ten minutes of sitting in the waterfall, we had to climb back out and put our shoes and packs back on, and get moving. And boy, was that wind cold.

The hike back through the Valley of Desolation was just as cool as the first time. If you listened closely, you could hear bubbling and boiling noises coming from underneath your feet. If the climb down from the peak was tough on the way down, the climb up was agonizing. Mom and the French people soon lagged far behind, with Francis staying with the stragglers. Aaron, Sarah and I waited up at the top for them, and when they eventually caught up, we started down. The trek through the jungle was longer than I remembered, but again, on the way up we weren’t extremely tired. About halfway down, it started to rain, but we didn’t mind. We stomped in the mud puddles that formed between the steps, trying to splash each other’s legs.

Tired, wet, and muddy, we eventually reached the bottom of the trail. We laid down our packs, and sat on a bench to wait for Mom and Francis. When they arrived, Mom joined us on the bench, and Francis went over to a small café. We went for a brisk swim in the ice-cold water of Titou Gorge, then we wearily lugged our packs for the last time the short distance to the van, where we were joined by Francis. I was so tired that I almost fell asleep on the way home, despite Anselm’s erratic driving. Back in Portsmouth, a boat boy ferried us back to Take Two. We were immediately accosted by the kids that had stayed home, asking all about our adventure. The day ended with warm showers, hot soup, and a good sleep.

Geography Report: St. Kitts and Nevis


Basic Facts

Capital: Basseterre, St. Kitts
People/Customs: The population on St. Kitts and Nevis combined is around 45,000, 90 percent of which are descendants of African slaves.
Language: English
Climate: In January the daily high temperature is 81°, and the low is around 72°. In July the average daily high is 86°, while the low averages 76°. Hurricane (rainy) season is June to November.
Food/Farming: Tropical fruits and vegetables as well as sugar cane are grown on the larger island of St. Kitts, but there is no sugar cane grown on Nevis anymore, only some fruits and vegetables for local use.
Government: The St. Kitts & Nevis Federation is an independent state in the British Commonwealth and is the smallest nation in the western hemisphere. It has a Governor-General, a National Assembly (legislature) and a Prime Minister. The economy relies heavily on tourism, but some local fruits and vegetables are grown.
Currency: East Caribbean Dollar.
Art/Music/Culture: The culture of this island is a mix European, African, and West Indian traditions. Most islanders are Anglican. St. Kitts has a popular dance troupe, the Masquerades.


The first British colony was established on St. Kitts (short for St. Christopher) in 1623 by Thomas Warner. France took over part of the island, and the British and French together exterminated all of the Carib tribes living there, before Britain ousted the French from their territory. The French repeatedly took control of the island, only to have it taken back again by the British until the 1783 Treaty of Paris declared St. Kitts and Nevis to be under British authority for good. During that time sugar plantations were very prosperous. In 1816 Britain attempted to link the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and St. Kitts and Nevis into one colony, calling it the West Indies Federation. The federation collapsed, and Britain tried to rebuild it without the Virgin Islands. Anguilla rebelled against the alliance and succeeded in retaining its connection with Great Britain, while St. Kitts and Nevis became a federated state inside the commonwealth.

Land Forms/Flora and Fauna

Both islands are volcanic, with grassy coastlines and rainforest interiors. Nevis has hot springs, a freshwater spring that is heated by geothermal vents from the volcano. Nevis is famous for its monkeys, and St. Kitts is also populated with numerous goats and chickens. Tropical trees such as mango and cashew grow abundantly on the islands, as well as the bright orange “flamboyant” or flame tree.

Things to do

St. Kitts is a populous island with many options for tourists, including hiking, taxi tours and an old British fort. It is a cruise ship port with a shopping district, water sports, and catamaran cruises. Nevis is quieter, with nice beaches, beach bars, and a few nice resorts. The first hotel in the Caribbean opened in Nevis in the 18th century, near the hot springs, which were reputed to be good for the health. The hotel, made of volcanic stone, now houses government offices, but one can still go and bathe in the hot springs, some of which reach 117°F. There are two museums in Nevis, one of which is the birthplace of American statesman Alexander Hamilton; the other is dedicated to Lord Horatio Nelson, whose wife, Fanny Nisbett, was the governor’s niece (her family’s sugar plantation is on the windward side of the island). Two of Nevis’ old sugar plantations were renovated and made into upscale hotels with restaurants and beautiful gardens. These sights can all be seen on a taxi tour of the island.


Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. “St. Kitts and Nevis.” Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean, 2nd Edition. 1998: Lonely Planet, Hawthorn, Australia.


TMF is family lingo for “Too Much Fun.” This is usually evident after several late nights or long days in the sun when people begin to feel a bit cranky and need a down day. We have had so much fun recently that we have had no time to load new photos and post new blog entries. “Down days” are now quite frequently spent sailing from one island to another, kids passed out on every available cushion. We are in the process of looking through lots of photos and catching up on writing about the places we’ve been, so you may notice some posts from islands we passed a while ago. Our goal is to be in Grenada by the first of August and to have some time to catch up on the school and work that has been on the back burner while we have been having TMF!

Geography Report: Sint Eustatius (Statia)


Basic Facts

Capital: Oranjestad
People/Customs: The approximate population on St. Eustatia is around 1200, largely descendants of slaves that worked on the plantations here. The metric system is used on St. Eustatia.
Language: Dutch is the official language, but English is most commonly spoken.
Climate: In January the average daily temperature is around 85°, while in July the average daily temperature is 90°. Hurricane season is June to December.
Food/Farming: Tropical fruits grown here include breadfruit, guava, mango, papaya, passionfruit, pineapple, soursop, plantain, starfruit, and tamarind.
Government: Statia is a part of the Dutch Kingdom and one of the 5 islands in the Caribbean Netherlands (formerly the Netherlands Antilles).
Currency: the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (about $2.7 U.S)
Art/Music/Culture: Public holidays on Statia are New Year’s day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, Queen’s Day, Labor Day, Ascension Thursday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day.


When Columbus found the island the natives called “Alo” (meaning cashew) he named it after St. Anastasia. The first permanent settlement was made by the Dutch in 1636, but the Dutch, French, and British traded control of the island 22 times. Statia is currently in Dutch possession. In the 18th century the duty-free port became a major trade center between Europe and America, exporting and importing molasses, slaves, supplies for colonies, and weapons. By the 1770s it was the busiest port in the world for legal and illegal cargoes, and an estimated 300 ships passed through the port per month. Statia recognized the newly created United States by shipping war supplies and returning cannon salutes. The British, angered by this alliance, retaliated by launching a naval attack on Statia that effectively ended its trade dominance. Today, St. Eustatius’ economy is based on fishing, small business, tourism, and oil storage and shipment. Though it is no longer “The Golden Rock of the Caribbean,” Statia’s natural beauty and rich history make it an interesting place to visit.

Land Forms/Flora and Fauna

The vegetation here is mostly scrubby, with drought-resistant plants like the endemic Statia Morning Glory Vine. The slopes and crater of the Quill, an extinct ash volcano, offer a variety of plants such as orchids, elephant ears, bromeliads, bananas, and other rainforest species. There are reptiles such as the Antillean Iguana, Green Tree Lizard, and the Red-bellied Racer snake. Statia is a migratory bird stopover for over 100 species, and has year-round residents, like the Killy Killy (American Kestral), Antillean Crested Hummingbird, and the Bananaquit.

Things to Do

Hiking Trails (in the Quill National Park and Boven National Park), Scuba Diving, Botanical Garden, walk through Historic Oranjestad (Colonial sites/Fort), Visit the Simon Doncker House Historical Museum.


Bendure, Glenda and Ned Friary. Lonely Planet Guide to the Eastern Caribbean. 1998: Lonely Planet Publications, Hawthorn, Australia.
“Caribbean Islands: Netherlands Antilles.” Random House World Atlas and Encyclopedia. 2007: Random House Reference, NY, NY.
Madden, Hannah. The Hiker’s Guide to the Quill/Boven National Park, St. Eustasius. 2009: Stenapa, St.Eustasius.