Farmer Darwin Bowen had paid the boatman $50 to take him to his village of Fancy at the foothills of La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent.
As they raced across the water last Sunday, he was filled with trepidation and hope.
Trepidation, because it was 23 days since La Soufriere had exploded causing him and his wife Chantice to leave all behind and flee their home to a safer zone.
The volcano had more than 31 eruptions since and, although quiet now, remains unsettled and still at the Red Alert level.
Bowen felt hope because Fancy, shielded by a ridge, had been spared the heavy ashfall that collapsed roofs in the nearby village of Owia.
The first unusual thing he noticed as they stepped ashore was that the beach near the village had changed.
“We had a stony beach before but it was now covered in sand,” Bowen told the Express in a telephone interview on Sunday.
He found their house intact but very dusty inside and then made his way to the fields of sweet potatoes and dasheen they had laboured on, hoping to harvest some produce but not a patch of grass was in sight.
Bowen dug into as much as four inches of ash and could not find any ground provisions.
“There has to be two reasons. Either the animals that were let loose ate all of it, or thieves stole our produce,” he said.
Bowen said homeowners were ordered to let loose their sheep, goat and other animals when they evacuated.
He said the hungry animals may have foraged the fields for food.
Despite everything, the Bowens are still hoping to return to their village to live.
“I want to go back. We are farmers. That’s our occupation,” he said.
But the prospect of returning does not look too good.
“The government wants to relocate all the people from the red zone to safer areas where they will give them plots of land to build houses and declare the areas around the volcano uninhabitable. But we will not get land to plant,” he said.
Dispossessed, the Bowens are in no man’s land right now, with no idea what lies ahead for them.
“We’re just taking it one day at a time and trusting God,” he said.
No where safe
Living in the safe zone has not been easy either.
Last week Wednesday, during heavy rainfall in St Vincent, they were forced to flee an apartment they were renting after a landslide crashed into the upper portion of the building.
Chantice recounted the ordeal: “We were praying and fasting from 12 o’clock that night until the morning and all night the rain was coming, the water flowing like a river next to the house. In the morning, we were preparing breakfast when we heard a loud noise upstairs where two women lived. Then we saw them coming down the stairs wet with mud on them.”
The landslide had crashed into the kitchen and a part of the living room upstairs.
Water began seeping through the concrete bricks onto the downstairs apartment and, fearing the landslide would crash on them, the Bowens packed up their belongings and sought refuge by a relative’s house in another area.
It was the second time they were moving since they left their village.
“When we first came to the green zone, we stayed by a relative but that wasn’t working out and that’s how we ended up renting the apartment,” she said.
The Bowens, who shared their story on an international online programme, said they have gotten financial and other help from outside but are having difficulty accessing it.
They said what they managed to receive, so far, they have been sharing with others in need.