At some point, nearly all visitors to Montserrat visit Hilltop Cafe and Family Centre and meet owner David Lea. “We’re going to change the sign to say ‘welcome center’ because people come here to learn everything they want to know about the island,” Lea says. A 360-degree spin in Lea’s coffeehouse/museum/art gallery/community center provides an engaging glimpse of the island’s past and present.
Most perceptions of Montserrat are stuck in the past—specifically, 1995, when the cataclysmic Soufrière Hills volcano eruption began. As an amateur videographer who hosted his own television series, Caribbean Crossroads, Lea chronicled the eruption and aftermath and compiled his footage into a documentary called The Price of Paradise.
Visitors can watch the film at Hilltop, but Lea also enthusiastically educates guests about Montserrat through his multitude of more upbeat mementos. Works by local artists (including Lea’s wife, Clover) adorn the walls. And photos and albums memorialize Air Studios, where music A-listers recorded 76 albums and which epitomized Montserrat at its full glory.
What inspired your collection of mementos? I hated for things to get buried. I’d bring signs or other things home whenever I’d go out. I didn’t realize how much stuff I’d collected.
What do you want people to know about Montserrat today? It has been 10 years since we’ve had any seismic activity. In that time, people have rebuilt in the northern part of the island. Where we live used to be considered the country—now we’re in the middle of everything.
What do you like most about Montserrat? The island’s motto until a few years ago was, “The way the Caribbean used to be.” It is. People are still friendly. There’s very little crime. Everyone gets along well. We retain that; I hope people come [and] experience that.
David’s Must-Do List on Montserrat
The People’s Place (Fogarty Hill): Owner John Fergus is like the mayor of Montserrat. He serves goat water [a stew] and other local dishes.
Olveston House (Salem): This refined restaurant and inn was legendary “fifth Beatle” Sir George Martin’s home. Look for the Beatles pictures taken by Linda McCartney.
Woodlands Beach: It has showers, changing rooms and privacy. If you go during the week, youll usually be alone.
Montserrat Island Tours: Our son Sunny grew up here and leads incredible tours.