Every day at noon, a melodic chime echoes on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. A visitor from North Carolina, Krystal Bajkor, for almost two months, assumed it was clock marking time.
“I thought it was a lovely feature of a small island,” said Baker, a former financial analyst who is currently writing children’s books.
Then in June, her husband, a management consultant, learned that a pleasing-sounding “clock” was actually a daily test of a volcanic warning system. The Soufriere Hills volcano, which filled the island’s wide belt with rocks and ash in the late 1990s, continues to operate, creating clouds of hot gas that appear to float above the crater.
The meaning of the chime is one of the things that Baker would have missed if he were a typical tourist. Prior to the pandemic, most visitors to Montserrat probably floated for a day, mooring a yacht at the harbor or rushing a ferry, and then returning to nearby Antigua to spend the night.
In order for tourists to set foot on the black sand beaches of Montserrat, she must pass a rigorous background check and earn at least $ 70,000 a year. Until recently, she also had to promise to stick for at least two months. Instead, visitors have almost exclusive access to beaches as well as alternative realities that are about the same size as Manhattan, where the coronavirus appears to be absent.
Shortly after British territory detected the first few cases of coronavirus in March 2020, British territory closed the tourist border. Carefully resumed in April 2021 with remote worker program, both vaccinated and unvaccinated visitors need to be quarantined for 2 weeks and tested for coronavirus before exploring the island had. So far, 21 travelers from 7 families have participated.
The island is certainly not the only one devising creative ways to seduce visitors during a pandemic. Countries around the world have rebuilt a huge number of systems to keep money flowing in without jeopardizing the health of their locals. Malta has banned unvaccinated tourists from more than 30 countries, but offers hotel vouchers to those who appear to be safe. As of September 19, Israel began allowing tourists to enter the country, but only if they were vaccinated and traveling in groups of five or more.
Many Caribbean islands are trying to seduce remote workers with “digital nomadic visas” that allow visitors to stay for more than a year.
However, Montserrat’s program stands out even in unconventional seas of experimentation, as the island flips the standard visa period (the maximum amount of time someone can stay) overhead and instead requires a minimal visit. While other islands emphasize that they want remote workers to be easily accessible, Montserrat is a bubble of about 5,000 people who rarely wear masks or lock doors. Seems to be proud of making it difficult to participate in.
David Court, a professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, worked with his wife, travel risk analyst, and his daughter for three months at Monserrat, “they are very selective about who they accept.” Said. “”They were said to have actually turned down people. “
Whether the program has benefited the island depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that the stakes are high. The main driving force of the economy is the export of volcanic sand, not tourism. Still, broadcaster Rose Willock, who lost his home on the volcano, said, “When there aren’t enough people on the island, it’s always a challenge.” Prior to the pandemic, local businesses counted 18,000 to 21,000 tourists annually, according to tourism officials.
But, of course, the virus is even more pressing. As of September 15, 33 people were positive in the last 18 months, according to the Ministry of Health. One infected person died in April 2020, long before tourists were allowed to visit. Given that only about 23% of the population is fully vaccinated, it is widely understood that if the virus bounces across the island, the medical system cannot handle it. If that happens, it can set Montserrat back for years. A volcanic eruption left two-thirds of the population on the island. I’m recovering, but it’s slow.
“The pandemic can’t afford to overtake our situation,” Willock said.
Beach without tourists
Bajkor’s family first joined the program. Five months later, they are still there.
“I remember when the pandemic started. I was wondering if there was a place in the world that didn’t deal with this madness,” Bajkor said. In Montserrat, she believes she has found such a place. She breathed luxuriously without a mask at an art show and was able to drop her two children in day care with little fear of the virus.
“There is nothing that can kill you other than a volcano,” she concludes.
For the first two weeks, visitors set foot in the villa they rented. Car rentals were not accessible until the quarantine was completed, said Patrick Bennett, a family member who visited in May and June.
“They are cheBe careful, “he said. “Sometimes I hear cars slowly passing by.”
He said he didn’t feel trapped because he, his wife, and his 7- and 10-year-olds were from a 1,200-square-foot New York City apartment. Well, suddenly they had a huge balcony.
Bennett runs a travel website called Uncommon Caribbean, which focuses on remote areas. Even for him, experiencing a tourist-free island was novel. What he found even more interesting was the efforts of the locals on the island. They were the ones who stayed after the volcano drove thousands of people away.
He added that he didn’t feel excessive for at least two months. “You’re starting to swing things” isn’t until the second month.
Dr. Court, a professor of sociology, agreed that a minimal stay was part of the attraction. (His family was stuck for three months.)
“This pandemic gives people the opportunity to get to know people and places more closely,” said Dr. Court, who normally lives in Laurel, Maryland.
It was also beneficial to be the only customer of the restaurant. “You just start talking to the owner and they tell you their story,” he said.
In the evening, the family roamed Little Bay. Little Bay will become the new capital of the island as the volcano wiped out its original capital. “It will be pretty much thrown away,” said Court.
But it can be worse than the low population density during the pandemic.
“It’s not a huge success,” said Cloverley, who runs the small hotel Gingerbread Hill. She admitted that her answer was colored by the fact that she did not host a remote worker.
Andrew Myers, who runs a scuba shop, wondered why only those who earned more than $ 70,000 were invited. (Technically, major applicants need to earn $ 70,00, which can reduce the number of families.)
“I don’t think it was the best choice,” he said. By lowering financial standards, the island probably attracted more applicants. Still, he said it “successfully” in the sense that “Monserato remained safe.”
It is unknown how safe it is. As of this week, there were five cases of coronavirus on the island, all of whom were in quarantine, according to Premier Tourism Board spokeswoman Cherise Aymer. Beyond 21 tourists, technical workers and Montserrat residents also flew back and forth during the pandemic. The Ministry of Health did not say whether remote workers tested positive.
According to tourists, the residents seemed happy to see the new face. However, Dr. Court also met Monseratian, who lamented that his family could not come nearby …