I know a lot of you know I love my volcanoes, though I don’t love the human trauma they cause. Lately, I’ve been watching the developments in Fissure 8, which first took over half of Leilani Estates and then pressed onward to the sea, taking out several hundred more homes in the process.
In the last couple of weeks, the flow has become less intense than shown above, and I’m hopeful that the flow will wane to a tolerable new normal before taking out more houses. That’s good, because there’s already been about 450 million cubic meters of lava flowing through the system.
I’ve honestly been glued to the volcano footage since it first started showing up on YouTube, preferring small channels that would go through the neighborhood like Apau Hawaii Tours. Later on, I added a couple more channels, the best of which is H.I.S. Survival.
What’s interesting to me is the human impact: going to bed and waking up with the sky a brilliant red all night. Friends losing their homes after previously getting a reprieve. Not to mention the heartbreaking tales of people whose houses are still standing but unoccupiable, but who don’t qualify for FEMA assistance because their houses are still standing.
Video and screenshot photo credit: USGS, screencap by me from their video.
Montserrat’s a beautiful place. As you sail in, it looks like many other islands in the Caribbean with some nice mountains with clouds surrounding them (as is so often the case with islands). We landed at Little Bay, which is at the north of the island.
We tour the local sights, including the proposed location of the new capital, and hear about how so many thousands of people on this tiny island have had to flee; over half of it is still in an exclusion zone, though there are (apparently) multiple, nested, exclusion zones.
The island has some lovely flora.
And, as we drive to the south, lovely mountain views to the north.
It was once a huge tourist destination where the rich and famous vacationed. Where a number of famous albums were recorded, including Jimmy Buffet’s song Volcano. Before that, it was one of the locations of many Irish slaves and indentured servants. In 1768, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish slaves revolted, but slavery was not officially abolished until much later.
At present, it’s known for how greeen it is.
Our buses trundle along, and our driver says she doesn’t think we’ll get into the exclusion zone. It’s Christmas Day, after all, and the police have to open it up, and they’re home with their families. We pull to the side of the road right before the first locked gate, aka the first level of the exclusion zone. Cruise staff go to a building near the gate with a couple of locals, and voila, we have a key.
Clearly, something was arranged in advance.
So we head up into the exclusion zone, but most of the homes look, well, normal. Like places that had been abandoned, but not in bad shape.
When we drive over a ridge and finally see the first real effects of the volcano at Belham Valley. It doesn’t look so bad. A small river of dirt, right?
On our way down to Belham Valley, we see an abandoned house. The driver pauses for a moment to point out that the volcanic gases have dissolved the steel roof over the last 18 years, and that every single building we’ll see has similar structural damage that may not be as visible.
We take the road in through the second exclusion zone gate and pull up to a well-traveled spot. We’re warned not to walk off the path where people have driven because the ground isn’t as settled as we think it is. The volcanic ash is much, much deeper than we think.
Was three stories tall. B.V. Before volcano.
You can walk up to and (if you’re brave and/or stupid) stand on the second story roof.
It’s not hard to see the volcano damage to the details of the structure.
We drive further into the exclusion zone, through a third gate. Some houses are really obviously damaged for good.
While others don’t look so bad unless you look more closely.
We climb through what used to be a hillside hotel, but is now a lookout point. Some of the houses look almost normal if it weren’t for the river of ash in the background.
Then, turning to the left, you see just how much ash there is, burying everything at least 2-3 stories for miles.
The lower half of the island is just a plain of desolation that used to be a capital city. The ash is not particularly compact, so in some cases it’s not even a little bit traversible.
It’s the weirdest thing. It doesn’t feel safe, yet it doesn’t feel as unsafe as it actually is. I had that experience in Hawaii, too.
We were very lucky to visit Mount Arenal on our recent Costa Rica vacations. I didn’t get to see Mount Arenal on my first trip in 2012. On that trip, I only visited the Papagayo region in the northwestern Guanacaste Province.
Mount Arenal isn’t the most active of Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes, but it is one of the most accessible from Costa Rica’s capital of San José. For that reason, almost 70% of Costa Rica’s tourists visit here.
Our vantage point where I took this photo came after a drive through the Arenal Volcano National Park, where we saw white-faced capuchin monkeys and quite a few birds. We didn’t see coati in the park, but we did see some outside.
After our trip to see the volcano, we relaxed in the hot springs nearby, fed by the heat from Mount Arenal. There are many, many hot springs in Costa Rica. We happened to visit the Tabacón hot springs, which was an amazing experience with so many high-quality pools to visit!
We booked our Arenal Volcano day trip through Swiss Travel, Costa Rica’s oldest and most respected tour agency. (Currently, they’re updating their website, so I can’t link to a specific tour.)
My Forthcoming Book: Coffee & Canopy
I’m writing a book about our Costa Rica and Nicaragua vacations. My new book should be out in late spring 2015.
Want Some Ideas for Your Costa Rica Vacations?
I have blogged about some trip ideas for Costa Rica Vacations.