We knew that the volcano had been rumbling for the past week and half. But it wasn’t until we took a road trip to the southern point of Bequia Island, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, that we learned that La Soufrière had begun to erupt ‘effusively’.
That afternoon, we had taken a bus south with Shiv and Olivier, two backpackers, to check out Toko’s Bar where whalers congregate. This is the only place other than the arctic where traditional whale hunting is permitted by the International Whaling Commission–‘Traditional’ meaning harpoons and open boats, and ‘whale’ meaning something the size of a Greyhound bus.
When we arrived at Toko’s, we looked like a small band of hippie tourists (which I guess we are). The steps down to the beachfront bar are shaded by a huge almond tree, and the stair’s decorative handrail is the rib and vertebrae of a Humpback. Large dories painted pacific blue, lemon yellow, and pepto-bismal pink were overturned at the beach’s edge.
At first, we thought Toko was suspicious that we were from Greenpeace. We explained we were interested in the whaling…thing… We then realized, he just thought we were idiots when he asked if we were aware that La Soufière was erupting. At this moment.
He pointed to the TV mounted on the wall where everyone was gathered. Government officials spoke very slowly about evacuating 16 000 people from the 5km radius of the eruption. They said the airport was closed. They warned citizens to expect hydro and water outages.
Unphased, Ian got Toko to talk about all things whaling over beers, while I researched ‘volcano-evacuation-preparation’ on my phone.
Unrushed, Ian asked about the hunt, the meat preparation, and how the oil is rendered. In a profound act of trust, Toko brought out a bottle of rendered oil and poured it into a shot-glass and took a swig, then poured more into the same shot-glass and offered to Ian. He lowered his mask and took a swig. Our entourage made plans to return for a whale meat dinner the following evening. Again, everyone (except perhaps me) was pretty chill about the volcano thing.
That evening, we got back to the boat and as the sun began to set, the plume of ash kept rising. And once the sun went down, the plume was lit up with flashes of lightening over the volcano.
Much of the ash that shot up 30 000 feet was blown out to the Atlantic but the rest started to rain down on St Vincent. In the morning, the boat was covered in a couple milimetres of ash, and the air was thick with dust. Breathing in left you with the smell of burnt brick and the feel of grit in your teeth.
At this point, Ian and I were on the same page as far as an evacuation plan. We invited Shiv and Olivier to come along and pulled up anchor in Port Elizabeth, heading south to Tobago Cays to wait for the dust to settle.
Over the next few days, the sky would clear and then there’d be another eruption. The possibility of the airport opening seemed less sure, so we headed to Grenada so I could fly back as planned to work in Canada.
Tobago Cays is a whole blog post itself, but I’m too lazy to write it now, while in quarantine in Toronto before heading to the arctic next week. En bref, small marine park made up of islands and reefs, and lots of turtles and some sharks and rays. Very, very beautiful. I’ll just post pictures below.
Ian’s still in Grenada repairing the auto-pilot, installing a windvane, and replacing the aft toilet. We’ll take a summer hiatus over hurricane season and then we’re back in the fall 😉 À bientôt