Monday, January 08, 2007

Finding Unknown Destinations

Question: Where do you find off-the-beaten path outdoor destinations? I read that you recently returned from Montserrat. Where is it located and how did you hear about it?

Note: After I wrote this post, I learned the Soufriere Hills Volcano shot an ash cloud 5 miles in the air. According to the Associated Press article, recent volcanic activity began on December 24, which was my first day there. Who says traveling off-the-beaten path isn't fun?

Answer: Great question to ask. Coincidentally, I've adapted the tired and cliqued "the road less traveled" as my travel mantra. I love finding destinations void of swank hotels and fanny-pack toting tourists. There's something mystical about arriving in a country or city that's not dependent on tourism. Where the locals live comfortably without selling their inflated-price wares on street corners and your itinerary isn't filled with popular tourist attractions.

Don't misunderstand. I love picnicking at the base of the Eiffel Tower and viewing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I believe there's more to a travel experience than one you share with other people. Some may argue, but I believe there's a difference between a tourist and a traveler. A tourist follows the crowd, visiting every historic attraction and recommended restaurant in their worn guidebooks. A traveler seeks raw, uncooked places, untouched by redundancy. A place where the real attraction is often hidden and buried. Montserrat is one of those places.

Twelve years ago, Montserrat was the Caribbean's little secret. The small island, located 27 miles from Antigua, once hosted celebrities Stevie Wonder, Sting, and Elton John, who frequented the island to record at the famous Air Recording Studio. Then, after 400 years of dormancy, the Soufriere Hills Volcano erupted, crushed the island's tourism industry, and sent 7,000 of the island’s 10,000 residents retreating north or abandoning the island altogether. Today, Montserrat is slowly recovering and I went to see how a destination can recover from devastation.

I first heard of Montserrat while researching a trip to Puerto Rico. I was looking for short day-trips from Puerto Rico to other Caribbean islands and came across a short blurb about it. After more research, I realize it would make a great story. So, I went.
A whopping seventy percent of Montserrat consists of mountains that yield arresting and dramatic views. Peaks enshrouded in the rain forest reach as high as 30 meters. It’s haven for off-the-grid connoisseurs who can:

* Hike the Trail to "the Cot", with views of the coast and abandoned villages in the Exclusion Zone (the southern portion of the island inhabited and illegal to enter due to volcanic activity), snaked with lush vegetation and a banana plantation

* Climb Garibaldi Hill, with 800-plus feet of elevation, for a clear view of the Soufriere Hills Volcano and the "modern-day Pompeii", Plymouth, Montserrat's former capital, now buried in volcanic dust and ash

*Tour the “eruption” and volcano monitoring with scientists from the Montserrat Volcano Observatory, the organization responsible for monitoring volcanic activity

* “Lime” the night away at one of the island’s restaurants and rum shops, where locals indulge in Montserrat delicacies of Mountain Chicken and Goat Water

Finding off-the-beaten path destinations is not difficult. In fact, they're everywhere. Take Paris for instance. Paris doesn't qualify as off-the-grid, but what else could you see or do while in Paris that no one else thinks of? Jim Morrison and a few other celebrities are buried a Paris. You could take a day-trip and explore Paris' cemeteries. A few years ago, I spent an entire day at a cemetery in St. Louis searching for William Clark's grave. Morbid? No. Different. Yes.


Terah Shelton

Traveler. Writer. Ingenue.

No comments: