On Thursday, 12 March, I was playing the violin in the streets of Fort-de-France, Martinique, when a stranger came up to me and said: “You’re playing Irish music? What are you doing here? You should be in Montserrat!”
My first thought was “What’s Montserrat?” I went online to look up the island as fast as I could. The next day I was beside myself and I soon realised why: I am in the Caribbean. I love Irish traditional music. Somewhere there is a small island celebrating St Patrick’s Day like nowhere else – this is a unique chance.
I could tell from the visitmontserrat.com website that the festivities had already begun, so I instantly called every sailor I had met during my 2 months’ travels between the islands of Guadeloupe. If I was to arrive with the ferry from Martinique on Saturday morning, someone might be able to get me to Montserrat. I had no luck on that account so I ended up buying a plane ticket from Martinique to Antigua – even though it was well out of my travelling budget. From Antigua, I took the ferry and I arrived in Montserrat Saturday evening.
Arriving too late to see the Martin Healy Band at the Cultural Centre, I got the chance to meet and to play with them at Java Lava Restaurant in St Peter, and at Sweeney’s Bar in Salem on Saint Patrick’s Day.
Being in Montserrat for Saint Patrick’s Day was quite an experience. The way the entire island was gathered in Salem all dressed up in madras and green; and the delicious food stalls all over the central square made you wish that every day was Saint Patrick’s Day. I got to perform on the main stage, accompanying Kate the Irish dancer on my violin. I also participated in the Freedom Run, which meant having sore legs like never before the next day – but it is still an experience I would not go without.
Talking to some Montserratians in Salem on the night of my arrival, I was offered to stay in a house currently under reconstruction – no electricity, but running water and a mattress which was already more than I could wish for. After a week in the house, I moved to the Hot Rock Hostel where Jennifer is working hard to get the hostel in shape for attracting young backpacker tourists from all over the world.
Back when I realised that I would actually be going to Montserrat, I had immediately contacted the Tourism Division and the local travel agencies mentioned on visitmontserrat.com to let them know that I was coming and to hear about the possibility to “play for food” in local restaurants. The Tourism Division has since been a great help and thanks to them I even got the chance to act as a paid French-speaking tour guide for a bus of Guadeloupean tourists.
It was a busy day when a 430-man strong, group of French ferry passengers happily stormed the island. This great experience allowed me to visit the abandoned city of Plymouth. I even surprised myself by the amount of Montserratian knowledge I was able to pass on to the tourists during the organized tour from Plymouth to Jack Boy Hill, Little Bay port area, the market, the MVO and finally the abandoned Montserrat Springs Hotel in Plymouth.
Seeing the semi-finals of Montserrat Idol was also a great opportunity to be part of the local Montserratian life and I couldn’t keep myself away from the karaoke afterwards.
During my nearly two-week stay in Montserrat I have had the chance to meet and spend time with a lot of amazing and interesting people. The hard-working people of Aqua Montserrat, International Volunteer Journeys, government officials, the restaurants, bars and shops from Isles Bay over Hilltop to Little Bay, just to mention a few. The people of Montserrat are always very welcoming. They greet you in the street and ask questions about you, and how you like Montserrat, which makes you feel very welcome here.
I still don’t know when I will be leaving Montserrat, but as I drank from the Runaway Ghaut, I knew that I would return.