Bagel in Montserrat
I’ve exchanged a blizzard in Boston for tree frogs and trade winds. I’m back in Montserrat in the Caribbean, one of Britain’s last overseas territories. It’s known as the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, because it resembles Ireland topographically and because of its Irish heritage: its first European settlers were Irish indentured servants the English shipped over from neighboring St. Kitts, who eventually became slave owners themselves.
Montserrat is one of a handful of places besides Ireland where March 17—St. Patrick’s Day—is a public holiday. Here, it also commemorates a failed slave uprising in 1768.
For the past six years I have spent March 17 here, where it’s part of a week-long, Mardi-Gras-like festival when far-flung Montserratians return for dancing, drinking, and to don the national dress of green, white, and orange—which also happen to be the national colors of Ireland.
At first, I was drawn to the island’s friendliness, but now it’s the actual friendships that keep bringing me back.
My friend, Iris, is running late, and though I’m hungry, I’m not in a hurry. When she eventually picks me up, we take our time driving along narrow winding roads.
Our destination is a quaint combination café and mini art gallery called Java Lava—a fitting name on an island with an active volcano. (The loudspeaker outside chimes at noon, and doubles as an emergency siren when necessary.) Montserrat’s Soufrière Hills volcano—long dormant—sputtered back to life in 1995, and a large eruption 1997 killed 19 people and devastated much of the island, including the island’s capital, Plymouth, and the island’s airport. The tourism industry was also destroyed, but it’s slowly returning as the island continues to rebuild and renew. Java Lava now buzzes with locals and visitors alike.
My friend Iris recommends a Caribbean Blend frappe, which is made with coconut cream. I need a quick caloric fix, so I order a scrambled egg-stuffed bagel packed with bacon. The eggs are fluffy and tasty, and I ponder how they fit what looks like a half dozen eggs between two bagel slices. Everything is fresh on this island, particularly the eggs. Montserrat has no chain restaurants. Chances are, anything you order will have been picked, harvested, or caught that very day, and your palate and your body will be grateful for it.
Customers come and go, some sitting and others opting for takeout. I meet several people, some I’ve met on previous visits. Later, I’ll head to the north of the island, to Pont’s Beach View Restaurant, where I will wait for my freshly caught fish to be cleaned and cooked. Again, I won’t be in a hurry.