Personal blog of Derek and Margaret, now living in Dominica, W.I., founders of Ozone Zone – an Independent Canadian book publisher specializing in coffee table books of architectural treasures and lush gardens. We also promote fine artistic photography. This blog contains unofficial reports and comments from our various trips, photo sessions and jobs – an unofficial scrapbook of our travels, explorations and photo-related work. See “about” for more.

Posts tagged ‘caribbean islands’

In the Eye of Cyclone – Our Encounter With Hurricane Maria

We wanted to post things many times, always too busy to do it. But now, hit by the hurricane – we just have to share with you this story. And – after 5 weeks since that, we just got an internet connection to use for a few moments –  so, here it is…

There are as many stories about Hurricane Maria as many people lived through this monstrous experience. While ours is not the most terrible ordeal, for we survived uninjured, we want to share our memories with you. This is my humble addition to all told and untold stories – Margaret’s and me being in cyclone’s eye in Dominica. This short story is dedicated to all directly hit by Caribbean hurricanes of 2017.

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Path of Maria – born to kill. She turned from her path just to go through whole length of Dominica with maximum impact. The lower red point is close to where our both houses were.

Day 0 – Monday (18th of September 2017)
When the shockingly nasty hurricane Irma chopped through Caribbean islands some 10 days before, it went very close to Dominica but didn’t really hit it. We all on our small island breathed easier. Perhaps too easy. A new tropical storm announced by media supposed to be not so bad, and again not to go over Dominica. Lots of us didn’t pay attention to it, thinking that after Irma the worst is over. Well, not exactly. It wasn’t. Reports eventually changed, but until last moment we were told that while Tropical Storm Maria may become a hurricane by time of crossing through Leeward Islands, it should be a small one and pass off the Dominica coast, somewhere on the sea closer to Guadelupe. We should just get some rain and a bit of wind. Terrible misjudgments by meteo services made us all just mildly worried. Somehow it reminded me of misinformation about the terrible storm Erika which damaged our island some two years before. Then too we were told the path of the storm should be east of Dominica, not affecting us directly. It was just at the last hour before it devastated our little country that instead of promised safe passage, Erica showed on meteo maps hitting us directly. Way too late to do anything.

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morning after hurricane. Shocking landscape near our home.

So it was this time. Just hours before expected passage, on Sunday evening reports started to be a little more worrying – yes, Maria will be a hurricane soon and may intensify a bit. Not on direct conflict path with Dominica, but a bit stronger than expected. We planned to do some last minute shopping on Monday morning, also delivering our usual load of fine breads to food stores. But on Monday morning tone of alerts changed drastically. The Hurricane intensifies and may be a category 2 by the time of its closest encounter with Dominica. People were advised NOT to go shopping, businesses not to open, and to prepare for possible heavy winds. All shops, offices and work places closed, but we still were shown by online weather sites that the path of Maria will pass in some distance to us from the east.

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the home we rented – two days after hurricane. You can see our white subaru – which we used as bedroom for weeks to come.

Only one site showed a disturbing image of Maria passing through center of Dominica. Should the http://www.windy.com be right, or they were mistaken, since everybody else predicted a different path? We were to learn the truth very soon.

Together with Margaret we experienced the Storm Erika, and also a terrible winter storm in Canada some 10 years ago. That one had wind speeds between 150 and 180 km/h flattening many trees and inflicting serious damage. That helped us recognizing wind speeds, and when in late afternoon things got pretty nasty, we could say clearly that we already have winds worthy a strong Tropical storm. Believing that the Maria will pass away from us, we expected these winds to stay with us until late night and then ease up. But they got stronger and stronger.

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cutting our path to freedom – Margaret’s turn to use chainsaw.

The old plantation house constructed solely of wood – the place we rent – did withstand previous hurricane David some 40 years ago, so we hoped it will cope with this one too. Power went out around 6pm, so we had no chance of checking any more storm details. It was easy to hear through closed shutters that wind was already stronger than we remembered from Canada (around 150-180km/h or 80-90 miles/h), and intensifying. By 8pm it became just unbearable. We had to fight with window shutters which were constantly bursting open, pushed by unbelievably strong winds. Every moment of an opened shutter meant heavy amounts of water sprayed inside like by a mega power-washer. The concoction of water mixed with soil, debris and finely shredded leaves and greenery.

We heard trees falling, stuff flying around the house and crashing with heavy bangs, roof slowly giving up to the intense power of wind. We were sure it is as bad as it gets. At one point doors to bedroom rapidly opened, pushed by heavy wind coming through opened bedroom shutters. I rushed to close them, and to my shock I saw in light of my flashlight branches of a big tree slowly moving through opened window and spreading on our bed. In desperation I grabbed the tree trying to push it away, but quickly understood that my efforts are futile. The tree was there to stay. But then suddenly wind gust changed and pulled the tree outside, giving me a moment to close the shutters once again. Scared and exhausted, we were standing in the middle of the house, ready for yet another dramatic intervention. Little did we know that what we experienced was just a gentle flavour of things to come.

typical-scene-of-destruction

Typical scene of destruction

Suddenly at 9pm mad winds stopped like cut with a blade. First moment of it was amazing – total silence. Perfect stillness of the air. You could smoke a cigar and watch your puffs go up in perfect order. But then came realization that this silence can mean only one thing – we are in the eye of cyclone! Contrary to most predictions, hurricane went just above our heads. We knew we had only minutes to check and fix whatever we can before the fun starts again.

But when it started some 15 minutes later, very quickly it became obvious that real problems are starting just now. Wind came from another direction, from more exposed side – the Caribbean sea. Blows to the house were so strong that it shake and made noises like a crashing sail ship hitting a reef in heavy storm. Huge bang announced a direct hit by a large tree growing next to the house. Roof broke allowing cascades of water in. We had no way of intervening and had to retreat to another part of the house. However, that started a wild interaction of wind inside and outside, with shutters ripped out of their hinges, roof being pulled out with terrifying noise of ripped metal, and water mixed with debris and shredded leaves ravishing freely inside the house. We both experienced that rare sensation when pressure changes so strongly and quickly, pushing your ear drums in very unpleasant way. Did you ever drive a car at about 180 km/h and rapidly open your window? Well, that kind of thing, only much stronger.

To make it more memorable, through all the rain, wind, and banging of crashing things, we constantly heard outside a very distinct and unusual sound – like huge ship engines running at full blast in far distance. A constant deep roar of passing hurricane.

Retreat-House

Damage of Retreat House

The wind intensified further and kitchen shutters flew away ripped from their hinges. We had to retreat to another part of our home. Where would it be safest? Bathroom? No, we decided for a storage room and run there with our dog, closing door tightly. But it was just a few moments before Margaret shouted – “look at the ceiling! My God!”. Indeed – we could see in dim light of our flashlight that roof was pulled up by the wind several inches, then let go, and then again going up – only higher. Sound of breaking wood did not make us calmer, and we decided we need to run from that place before roof takes off.

A glimpse at the bathroom confirmed our decision not to go there – there was practically not much left of it! With our options down to only our bedroom still holding on, we went there and tried to secure shutters, knowing this is our last place to hide. The roof above us started to break, allowing water to come. Margaret made a quick and brilliant decision. Closets! Our bedroom has two built in tiny wardrobe closets, each about good for one standing person. We quickly pulled our clothes out and went inside, each of us in separate closet. Dog went between Margaret’s legs totally silent, quiet, and scared.

Last two hours we spent in these two closets, listening to the destruction around us and praying that closets will survive.

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Street near waterfront

Do you remember a scene from Jurassic Park, when a guy tries to hide from a T- rex, and runs from room to room, only to see the beast systematically tearing walls apart to get him? It was quite similar to what we felt. A monster, perhaps King Kong or Gozilla ravishing the house to get us. But at last – after midnight winds eased up a bit. Not much, but enough to notice the worst is over. It is funny how quickly you can adopt. We came out of our closets and decided to have a look around the house. Winds which normally would be still terrifying, but just a bit less than these we experienced an hour ago did not matter so much any more.

We just knew things are getting calmer, and whatever did not break already will probably be ok. So, off we went for house inspection. Constant banging in the attic – several broken shutters and parts of roof torn away and allowing tonnes of water inside the upper floor, drowning our furniture and stuff just ready to move to our new home. Not good. Main floor – rain comes through the ceiling. But it is not just rain – it is the flood upstairs finding its way down through gaps in wooden floor. All furniture in living room wet and messed up. TV? Sound system? Well, you know – messed up to, like everything else.

We noticed that old wooden beams holding the ceiling are bowing in under heavy flood waters upstairs. Not only the rain in living room was not nice, but this looked like the attic may simply collapse, sending down water and all furniture and boxes stored there. That would bury our things and finish whatever remained from the house. A quick decision – chainsaw. We looked where the most of pouring water comes down, and cut an opening in wooden floor of main floor for water to run through. Then, an additional small cut in flooded attic – to let the water go down through that same location. We had instantly a waterfall in bedroom, with buckets of water coming down through the hole – and disappearing in the matching cut in main floor. At least temporarily – we saved the attic from collapse and reduced the flood of our earthly possessions.

remainings-of-known-hotel

remains of a known hotel

Further inspection was very brief – nothing left of bathroom. Not much left of kitchen. Pantry without roof and all cupboards forced open, with all things inside soaked with mix of water, mud, and shredded leaves. Some broken windows in office, terrible mess and flood in dining room where roof was hit by falling tree. Unfortunately it was where we stored most of our freshly imported bread flour. Most of the supply gone. We were simply too tired to bother with it. We went to the bedroom and fell asleep on wet bed until late morning.

whats-left-of-kitchen-in-our-new-home

what’s left of our newly built home. in the kitchen area.

Day 1 – Tuesday
We woke up early, to the sound of water dripping in our bedroom and rest of the house. It was still very windy. Quickly dressed in some wet clothes, off we went to see the world outside. The damage exceeded our expectations and came as a shock to both of us. Margaret cried a little – not for our situation, but for the sad state of our island. The land around us was almost bare – broken trees everywhere with some stronger trees either completely uprooted, or having most limbs cracked off, pieces from our roof and roofs of some other houses mixed on the ground. Plenty of unrecognizable wet stuff on the ground. Smaller plants gone, most bushes stripped off all greenery, palms broken or with tops twisted off.

The brown-grey tone dominated all landscape, with green colour almost non- existent. Rain still falling, but even through its sound we distinctly heard the noise of newly formed rivers in ravines near us. With all greenery gone it was easy to see land slides. More land slides than intact soil. It was easy to see that what we experienced with tropical storm Erika two years was just a child’s play. Proportions of Erika damage times ten seemed like a correct estimate. Our road to Retreat House completely disappeared under fallen jungle. Several meters high jigsaw puzzle of broken branches, palms and trees. We could see the Retreat House totally smashed, with roof and some walls gone. A total disaster. Other houses visible on next hill looked similarly destroyed.

Well, our own house was also smashed. Garage and storage shed simply disappeared, water system in rubble. A big tree broke our roof, and other half of roof totally gone. Everything around scattered in one big mess.

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Things seem to get upside down

Looking at the extreme extent of this disaster, with no radio or phone signal and unable to get any news, we quickly realized that perhaps the night of Hurricane was easy comparing with challenges waiting for us in next days, weeks, and months… We felt like Robinson Crusoe left alone on an empty island, trying to think how to organize things.
And then came days of desperate chainsawing our way out, fixing and drying damaged belongings, sorting salvaged food, learning about misfortunes of neighbours, and so on. Days of hard work and nights spent in our car which miraculously survived. A day when we went to see how is our newly built dream home we supposed to move into in the week following hurricane – only to discover that – despite it being built of concrete and super strong cement fiber elements – it was completely wiped out, attacked by hurricane with unprecedented fury and power. Days of pain and moments of happiness.
The spirit of sharing and mutual support, but also acts of looting. But – as they say – it is another story…
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It was only some two weeks later – when Dutch marines arriving in helicopter to give us a bag of rice – that our thoughts were confirmed. It was indeed a monster hurricane – they said. It should be category 7, only there is no such thing on official charts. Winds up to 220 miles per hour (410 km/h). And the eye went through the whole length of Dominica. As they also helped on St Martin which has been the iconic disaster of hurricane Irma, they also said we had it much worse than that. How comforting to
know 😉  We also heard about many deaths and horror stories in other parts of Dominica, learning that we were indeed among the lucky ones. With that come realization that – if we moved to our new house earlier and faced the hurricane there – we would most probably die there crushed by its power, with nowhere to hide. But all this and much more I plan to write in part two of this story, later on.

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crossing damaged bridge in Roseau

If you wish to help us personally or Dominica as a whole – please do so as it really is a disaster on unprecedented scale and every little gesture of help makes the difference. We lost almost everything including most of my pro photography equipment and our newly built tiny dream home. And almost everyone here lost a lot and has a terrifying story to tell.

Thank you!
Derek and Margaret
http://www.ArtPhotographyServices.com

My Paypal account for donations:   photosalon@ozonezonebooks.com  (set only for USD and Canadian Dollars) We bake bread and give out to people in our community. Your donations will help this cause too. Every little help counts! Thank you.

hashtags: #hurricanemaria, #hurricane, #caribbean, #extreme weather, #dominica, #maria, #disasters, #global warming, #atlantic, #derek galon
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Giraudel Flower Show 2016

_DAG8956-smWe were fortunate this year to attend the Giraudel Flower Show in Dominica, where we live now. This special event was held in the village of Giraudel situated on the slopes of Morne Anglais, one of the tallest mountains in the south. The village of Giraudel is known as the “flower basket” of Dominica.

At the entrance to the show

At the entrance to the show

Rich volcanic soil and frequent rains make ideal conditions for growing flowers and healthy vegetables this village is famous for. The Flower Show started in 1973 and grew out of local celebrations of Achievement Day, showcasing local produce, crafts and the best gardens. Since then it was run every second or third year with a bigger break after devastating hurricane David. _DAG8903sm

Sybil Alfred and Desmond Augustine at the Show.

Sybil Alfred and Desmond Augustine at the Show.

We, the Flower Grower Group, recently bought this piece of land and finally have a permanent home for the show,” explains Sybil Alfred- one of the organizers who is involved from the very beginning. “It is very much a community effort, everyone contributes in a different way and everyone is welcome – from small individual growers to commercial flower shops and gardens”.
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”We went into the small house containing flower arrangements. “This year’s general theme is ‘Flowers in a changing environment’”, says Sybil. “When you look around, you see trees being cut, too much garbage and destruction. We say- stop this and concentrate on natural beauty instead.” The display space is divided into sections with different themes and corresponding flower arrangements. Some of the themes are: “Prevent destruction”, “Protect nature’s diversity”, “Resilience”, “Bury careless damage”, “Eat local”, “Harmony with nature” and the last one: “We will bloom again.”

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The display is colourful and striking. Different varieties of Anthurium, Ginger and Costus are the most frequently used plants, together with Alstroemeria, Dahlia and Marigold. I really like a bouquet made of blue Agapanthus- these showy globes are three times bigger than what we grew in our garden in British Columbia, Canada. I truly started to be fond of these strong combination of reds, orange and yellow only when we begun to work on our book “Exotic Gardens of the Easter Caribbean”. As a gardener, I’ve always preferred pastels, whites and textural plants – but here, under tropical sun these vibrant colours really make a strong statement against the background of intensely green rainforest.

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We step outside into the sunshine and wonder around another section showing a variety of natural landscapes and different growing conditions on the island: from lush rainforest of the interior to dry Caribbean coast. This section is skilfully put together by Desmond Augustine, owner of the local plant nursery and a master florist. Here the display includes funky mannequins impersonating workers in the fields.
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But this is not everything: there is a tree house with ferns, a shade garden, a field of colourful zinnias, bromeliads… there is still so much to see! We had a wonderful time discovering all corners of the Giraudel Flower Show and ended up buying beautiful peace lily, spathiphyllum wallisii to be planted in our garden later on. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable Sunday afternoon.
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I wish you were here!
Until next time!
– Margaret.

If you enjoy this story, please SHARE, let your friends read it too!
Thanks!

Story by Margaret Gajek
Photos: Derek Galon, Ozone Zone. Please respect copyright.

Erika – the Lady Made of Rain

When it rains - it pours...

When it rains – it pours…

Danny is coming! Tropical storm Danny transformed to Hurricane 2, and is coming. People were a bit uneasy. When it came, seriously weakened and without much umph, leaving just a bit of rain behind – people were relieved. There was in the news that anther tropical storm – Erica – is on the way. But the hurricane weakened so much encountering difficult conditions – Erica will be even less noticeable, people thought. It should pass far away – on the other side of Montserrat, heading to Virgin Islands. Too far from Dominica to be concerned.

We went to bed to be awaken by hammering sounds of rain on the roof. So loud. A heavy rain and some remote thunders. But it was only in the morning when we so how powerful this rain is. A wall of water, mixed with stormy wind gusts. A constant humm of water hitting the roof like a power wash, and hiss of wind bending old bamboo and coconut palms. The power went off, our Digicel mobile phones can’t find the network.

Our driveway looks like a stream

Our driveway looks like a stream

We found a pool of water in the kitchen and some water in other parts of the house. Roof clearly gave up a bit under constant showering. We dried things, and now – sitting in dark living room we are waiting for the storm to pass. Water is all around us. Our rainwater tank which usually takes several days of rain to fill, overflowed pouring water through bursting excess pipes. Our driveway turned to a stream, front lawn to a pool. Dogs hid under our bakers’ oven – the most secure and concealed spot in garage area. It also is wet, but not as wet as most other places. They didn’t even want to leave for their meal.

It is now after noon, thunders still rolling from time to time. With power off it is as dark as in early morning hours. Rain does not ease, and I can imagine the mess on Eggleston road. For sure there are some fallen trees and land slides – possible the reason behind no power. We are happy our stove uses gas, not electricity. At least we can have some hot tea, while waiting for the storm to pass. Erika – the Wet Lady. She clearly sent Danny as a decoy to have a more mighty entrance with an element of surprise. And – she succeeded!

Our road to village is blocked by this huge fallen tree, another fallen tree and two land slides...

Our road to village is blocked by this huge fallen tree, another fallen tree and two land slides…

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This is what I wrote in the morning of Erica’s arrival on my laptop. Battery died soon after, and no power and phone made it impossible to comprehend the scale of destruction.  Only after noon when rains eased a bit we went to the Retreat House – our neighbours – to find out about situation. And, we were told of terrible misery and damage! We had no idea! Then more and more details and stories came to life as we met with other neighbours and I started our generator, so we could use some moments of internet.

The second fallen tree. It broke our power line.

The second fallen tree. It broke our power line.

People working tirelessly to clear the road

I will not repeat all the tragic details, nor I will repost photos of destruction down on the coast which were shown by various papers and media. This is just our humble contribution to the whole image emerging slowly as the aftermath of this tragic night. We hear more and more stories about stranded tourists, people lost in mud slides, boat trips to cut-off fishing villages… It just starts to give us an idea as to the shocking size of this tragedy.
We can only say we are amazingly impressed with all people of Dominica. No hysteria, no fuss, just the sober understanding that it is up to all of us to clean this mess, and we need to get to it. If any nation can pull together and overcome this disaster – it is Dominica. Wish us luck and pray for us.

photos and text by Derek Galon. No usage without authorization.

The Battle With Chikungunya – a New Weapon?

Aedes_aegyptiIn next three weeks we are moving with Margaret from Victoria in Western Canada to Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean. From no-mosquito zone, down to the zone of Chikungunya. When photographing in Dominica this summer, we’ve seen friends affected by this nasty virus, and we are fully aware we may be next in line to get it. Not only a painful and unpleasant disease to get, Chikungunya also acts as a negative tourism factor. Canada has a travel warning in effect, and I am sure other countries have similar advices in effect, making potential visitors vary and picking other destinations instead.

I am no tourism expert at all, but I am sure it has a negative effect on the whole Caribbean tourism industry. Surely, there are some measures in effect to control population of Aedes Aegypti mosquito, same as the Asian Tiger mosquito which is also capable of spreading the virus. But – can we do anything more to protect ourselves?

Somehow I’ve got quite deeply into the subject, spent lots of time, effort, and also money to research it the best I could. I learned that Aedes Aegypti – the tiny Caribbean mosquito – has very specific habits. It is mostly a daytime mosquito, it tries to stay very close to homes, cattle barns, etc. – but it is not typically living indoors. Contrary to popular understanding, it is NOT attracted to the UV light of popular insect catchers. You know these high voltage traps with blue light? They will kill lots of innocent moths but very few mosquitoes, and practically NO Aedes Aegypti! Similarly, the Asian Tiger mosquito doesn’t get attracted to these devices.

Asian Tiger, however, has different habits and is attracted to different things than Aedes Aegypti. There are many very expensive mosquito traps on the market. Some use a propane tank to produce CO2 to imitate human presence, some employ different methods or chemicals. Unfortunately, several scientific tests proved them to be mostly effective on mosquito species which are NOT the ones responsible for Chikungunya and Dengue Fever. Aedes Aegypti – the main culprit – clearly is one of the most tricky mosquitoes to catch.

Scientists in South America performed some successful tests with a very simple device. Typically you should avoid any containers holding water and left outdoors. Yet, the method mentioned above calls for a container with some water inside.

Have it under control and change the water every week or so. Mosquitoes are lured to the water, their natural breeding spot. They will lay eggs there. But it takes over 10 days for larvae to develop, and you empty the container before there are “ready” adult mosquitoes, all mosquito larvae will be destroyed when you pour the water out. You pour back some fresh water, and here they go again. By coming to your container they won’t breed in other uncontrolled areas. You invite them to breed, but then their larvae got destroyed, cycle after cycle. But you need not to miss a cycle, or you will have a swarm of personally invited mosquitoes! This is the most basic trap which costs nothing and helps controlling the pesky and dangerous mosquitoes. Because of  Aedes Aegypti specific habits, to make it most effective you should set such water trap near the house but out of your way, in a shaded, protected from wind area (back side? in nearby bushes?).

There is, however, another, new method I am quite excited about. I invested some money in obtaining samples of a new device created recently in response to several scientific tests. That device uses several factors to lure mosquitoes, and seems to be the most successful weapon so far. The decisive factor in them is a customized lure. Each species of mosquito is attracted to different elements. Some react to CO2, some prefer faint smell of lactic acid (a chemical present in our sweat), some favour yet other substances. A specialized developer I am in contact with, produces a clever device and customized lures for all species of mosquitoes. You can combine lures attracting a few species simultaneously. I did not have a chance to test the device (no Aedes Aegypti in my part of Canada), but I saw scientific reports, and I plan to test these devices when we will move to Dominica.

If these will prove even half as effective as reported, it may be a serious weapon in reducing the threat of these disease spreading mosquitoes. While in everyday life I am a professional photographer offering my high quality services to you, I intend to follow up on this, conduct some tests and report back to you on our blog

If working well, this small electric device may be able to help protecting you and your guests against mosquitoes, create a mosquito free zones in your homes, reduce number of Chikungunya and Dengue cases, and perhaps – if endorsed by Caribbean governments – it can help easing the worries of future visitors to this region.

Please click “follow” on our blog to hear more about it. You will be updated with every post from us. I intend to report back with honest and detailed comments about this device. We need to know if there is a new effective tool, or it is once again something not so reliable. If it works – I may even bring it down here commercially! Just give me a bit of time, we are moving in 3 weeks from now, need to unpack, settle down, then we can do some tests. We actually have a few extra units which will be tested by our friends in different areas of Dominica, to gather more detailed info. Stay tuned!

(And until then – you can try the water trap. I tested it here in Canada with other species of mosquitoes, and it works really good. Cheers!)

Plymouth – the New Pompeii (Margaret’s Notes)

Plymouth – view towards volcano

Some days ago we posted our memories from visiting city destroyed by volcano – Plymouth, in Montserrat. You can see link to that post on the right side, along with link to the story about our whole Montserrat trip.
However, that previous post was quickly written by me – Derek. I am always busy taking pictures, taking care of my gerar, and looking for potential shot. Margaret, on the other hand – being a writer and researcher –  has a totally different point of view, and she notices things I don’t. Therefore – both being deeply moved by the visit to Plymouth – we decided that Margaret needs to share her notes with you. Here it is…

It’s a bright early morning, but I already feel the heat building up. No wonder, it’s summer in the Caribbean. We are standing on the platform of Montserrat Volcano Observatory, waiting for a vulcanologist who will take us to the exclusion zone lying at the foot of the active volcano. There are five of us waiting, including a French photo-journalist, Derek, myself, and two people who work for the Montserrat Government. Our guide is half an hour late. As we strike up a casual conversation, I gaze at the Soufriere Hills volcano dominating the landscape, majestic and mysterious, partially covered in clouds. Soon we will be much closer to it. We are filled with excited expectation…

Our guide finally arrives and we follow his jeep, driving through a verdant landscape towards the sea. After passing the last inhabited houses – beautiful villas shaded by scarlet blooming flamboyant trees – we arrive at the check point manned by a volunteer – a retired policeman. Since we have special permit, we are allowed to pass further – past the gate to the exclusion zone. Our guide tells us rather harshly that we have maximum two hours’ time to explore, need to keep eye and voice contact, and “you have to leave immediately when I tell you to.” I notice his hands are shaking when he opens the gate padlock. I wonder – is it because he is aware of an impending danger of which we are blissfully ignorant?

Finally, we reach the site of what once was Plymouth, the capital city of the island, to begin our exploration. We leave our jeep’s motor running.

One of school buildings

As I’m getting out of the car my feet sink in a soft, silvery-grey ash, under which I sense another surface, hard as concrete. I look around at the landscape and I’m gripped in terror: the whole huge area is grey desolation and ruin. What remains of the city is buried under incredibly thick layers of mud and ash, following the eruption in 1995 and later pyroclastic flows. Now I understand why Plymouth is named “the new Pompeii.”

We are silent: this sight is inexpressibly moving. “Look at this house, it used to be three-storey high,” says Atsumi, our Montserrat host, pointing to a building in front of us. You can barely see its destroyed roof now; the rest is covered in ash. Derek disappears inside one of the buildings which still carries a visible sign “Ambiance” painted on the wall. He utters a cry and I follow him. What I see is a scene frozen in time:

A desk with computer thickly covered with ash… a phone book with yellow pages still open…

a child’s crib with toys scattered around… On the ash-covered floor, a watch dropped and smashed. Near the window a broken lamp with a grey cap of ash, surreal-looking roll of some fabric with colour and pattern impossible to discern under its thick ashy cover, and a mannequin used as a form for dress-making. Clearly, the home of a tailor, whose family left it all behind in a wild rush…

I step outside to take a deeper breath. There is another photographer with us, that French journalist. I can see him running in my direction. “What did you see?” I ask. “A bar that looks like people just left, leaving broken glasses and newspapers on the floor.” He and Derek move quickly from building to building trying to capture photographs of as many sights as possible. Another building of interest – elementary school. Rooms are filled with mud and ash to half their height. A chalkboard full of scribbles, and table almost completely drowned in ash add to the eerie feel of the whole place.

Our guide nervously calls his office to confirm volcano conditions still permit to continue our stay. “If the volcano decides to emit pyroclastic flows now, what are our chances of survival?” I ask our guide. “We have only 2 minutes until it reaches where we stand. It’s not enough time to escape,” he answers quickly. It’s not just the spewed hot rocks and ash that pose the danger: the hot steam and pressure accompanying them are equally destructive. It’s easy to believe that, since all the time we walk there, we’re surrounded by pungent sulphur fumes. “If anyone feels sick because of sulphur gas, we need to get immediately out,” cautions our guide.

There is no colour here, except for corroded iron structures covered by reddish rust in a vast sea of grey ash. There is an overwhelming silence: no bird songs or sound of leaves rustling in the wind. It’s like a desert – no, in comparison the desert is full of life!

I find myself in front of a bakery – so the signboard reads. Glimpsing inside through the shattered windows, I’m suddenly aware of a sound of flipping paper pages at my feet. I bend down to see it closer. It’s a Montserrat passport of some widely travelled lady. Was it lost in the haste of evacuation, dropped out of an open handbag? What happened to its owner? I wonder.

Our last place to see is a church on the outskirts of town. We walk over an iron gate, almost totally buried in ash. The church is surprisingly bright inside; rays of light enter through a broken roof illuminating the nave. I notice pages of a music score – Handel’s Messiah lying on the floor. As I’m leaving the church, I think about all the people who lived in this destroyed city – close to four thousand residents, whose lives were changed forever after the eruption.

Our guide is visibly relieved when we are leaving the site. After just 5 minutes’ drive we can again hear birds singing.

Post written by Margaret Gajek, author of Tropical Homes of the Eastern Caribbean, and Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean

Photographs copyright Derek Galon, Ozone Zone.

As we both are deeply moved by the visit to Plymouth, Derek created three commemorative limited edition posters showing selection of his best photographs from there. You can see them at Gallery Vibrante, which offers Derek’s art photography for sale. Also there you can see his other best images from Plymouth (in Architecture and Travel categories).

Thank you for your visit. As always – if you like it, SHARE it with freiends, please.
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Cheers! Until next time!

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