I had every intention of bringing you all a nice description of our experiences in St. Helena, that tiny island in the South Atlantic Ocean, along with great photos, and what happened? We left you hanging on Day 8!! (But we made it, obviously! And I write this now, as we prepare to leave Ascension Island on our 3,000 mile passage to Trinidad and Tobago).
There are two WiFi hotspots in Jamestown, Anne's Place (a snack bar/restaurant) and the Consulate Hotel. Shortly after we arrived, we bought a voucher at Anne's Place for £3.30, which got us 30 minutes of internet time. I had to send forms to Ascension Island (our next stop after St. Helena) to get an entry permit, and, when my email, with only a small attachment, was still sitting in my outbox at the end of my 30 minutes, I realized that I would never be able to upload any photos, or do a blog update via the internet! So I'll have to do the photos at a later date, which is a pity, because words cannot fully describe the vast differences in landscape, the old buildings and forts and friendly people that we encountered here!
We arrived in the early hours of the morning on Thursday, January 18th. The only indication (other than our chart plotter) that the island was there, were a few lights warning mariners of the dangers ahead. Slowly, as dawn broke, the mammoth rock that is St. Helena started to form, and we wondered again of the Portuguese explorers of the past, who discovered this island in 1502, and how on earth they possibly came upon it. It must have been by accident, because it is literally in the middle of nowhere. They must have been so excited to find a new land, but was their excitement short lived, when, on first sight, it seems that it is just a barren lump of rock sticking out of the ocean? How long did it take them to discover the lush, green interior and the beauty of St. Helena?
Our trusty spinnaker had pulled us for days and nights on end to our destination, and after 10 days, we finally lowered it and motored the last mile to the big mooring buoys that are made available to visiting yachts. Since we arrived early, we used the time to clean the boat and get everything back in order (if you haven't realized by now, Captain Dave runs a tight ship!). He and the kids washed the salt of the 10 day passage off the outside, and I scrubbed and cleaned and wiped and tidied the inside. Soon it was time to go ashore to clear in at customs. We'd heard different reports regarding check-in – some boats reported they had to go ashore to check in, while others said the authorities came to them. In our case, Port Control asked us to come ashore, so we hailed a water taxi and went on our way. There is no safe place to land your dinghy in St. Helena, so they run a water taxi, for a small fee, that ferries yachties to and from their boats to the wharf. The
painful thing with check-in here, were the fees: £35 harbor dues, £17 per person at immigration (£68), £2 per day mooring fee and then the taxi fee, which in the end was about £20. But we were here, and after our passports were stamped, and our fees paid, we were free to roam about the land!
Jamestown in nestled in a valley between 2 very steep, very barren mountains. There is one street, and you enter through an archway, part of the old castle, that has been there since 1832. On the one side, is Jacob's Ladder, 699 steps that go straight up, as if it's a ladder climbing up into the sky! It used to work on a pulley system, where they would bring supplies up to Ladder Hill Fort, strategically sitting on top of the mountain. On the other side, on Munden's Point you can see the remnants of more fortifications, a reminder that this island was a strategic port of call during the British Empire.
On Friday morning, we decided to take a walk to the "Heart Shaped Waterfall". We walked and walked, out of town, up windy roads, asking locals along the way, if we were on the right track. "Oh yes! It's just around the corner…just keep going", was the usual response. So we kept going. Eventually, we saw a tiny sign off the road, that said "Heart Shaped Waterfall". Yes! We were almost there! Well, not quite. That sign took us just to the start of the track to the waterfall! Another 45 minutes or so later, we finally stumbled on the waterfall, which turned out not to be a waterfall at all! No-one had told us that the waterfall only falls in winter, during the rainy season! As we sat at the base of the waterfall, all 4 of us strained to try and see this famous heart shape. We looked at it from every angle, trying very hard to imagine any type of heart shape. No-one could see it! It was only the following day, when we took a tour, and the tour guide s
on the side of the road, and pointed it out to us, could we clearly see the heart shape! I then also read a small caveat at the bottom of the description "the waterfall is best viewed from the road". ARRGGHH! We had walked almost 3 hours to see it, when all we had to do, is view it from the side of the road! But never mind, it was good exercise, and the walk, once on the track, was lovely, as we walked through ever changing landscape, from dry, grassy land, to lush, green forest, and the base of the waterfall was gorgeous, even if there was no water falling, just a light rainy mist!
We also had another treat in St. Helena. Dave's sister, Kim, organized for us to stay 2 nights at "The Consulate Hotel", and then the owner, Hazel, threw in another night for free! The hotel was empty, and she said it made no difference if we stayed 2 or 3 nights. Hazel is possibly the kindest person we have ever met. She took us under her wing, and spoilt us rotten! The hotel itself was so full of history, it was amazing. In the dining room, one of the beams on the roof was the original wooden mast of a ship, called the "Darkdale" that caught fire and sank off the coast of St. Helena in the late 1800 or early 1900's. Also in the dining room was the steering wheel and other original artifacts from the ship. The hotel itself also had a long history, being built in the 1800's, and you could still see the walls that are about 2 feet thick! It was such a treat to stay there, and be off the boat and away from the rolly anchorage for 3 nights!
On Saturday morning, we were able to take a quick tour of the island, with one of the local tour guides, Robert Peters. Unfortunately, Robert had another tour in the afternoon, and had to be back at 1:30pm, so we felt our tour was a little rushed. Our friends on Shuti, who arrived on Saturday morning, took the same tour on Monday, and they were underway for the entire day, from 9:30am to about 4:30pm, whereas we only had 3 hours, which was unfortunate. But it was still great to do the tour, as it gave us a good general overview of the island, and we were able to get a car on Monday, and go back to the places we either had missed, (like the Napoleonic sites), or wanted to see again. And we were able to see the incredible differences in vegetation, from the dry, desolate, rocky landscape, to lush, green rolling hills with forests and meadows! It's quite bizarre and amazing to see! While Dave and Benjamin relaxed in the hotel on Saturday afternoon, Gaby and I went for a
and ended up climbing Jacob's Ladder! It took us about 20 – 25 minutes (we unfortunately didn't time ourselves), and took in some spectacular views at the top!
Absolutely everything closes on a Sunday in St. Helena, and it was a ghost town! Gaby and I went for another walk, this time exploring the 3 Sisters walk and up along Munden's. It provided some spectacular views of the anchorage and Jamestown. We had also planned to meet Shuti in the afternoon, to all climb Jacob's Ladder together, but by this time, Benjamin had come down with a nasty cough, fever and flu-like symptoms. He was not feeling well at all, so we thought it best not to do the climb, and had to give Shuti the bad news. They climbed it without us, and we watched as one by one, they reached the top: First Yoav, then Eyal, then Momi, then little Dror, who had been with Lilach the whole time, but suddenly got a burst of energy and left her behind!
First thing on Monday morning, Dave headed off to the tourist office, to see if we could get a rental car. We'd been told that there were no cars available, but Dave was determined! He came back with two thumbs up – he'd secured one! So on Monday, we packed up our stuff and quickly took it back to the boat, and then headed out to explore in our rental car. Poor Benjamin was not well at all, and slept for most of the drive. First stop was Napoleon's tomb. Napoleon was brought to St. Helena as a prisoner after his defeat in the battle of Waterloo in June 1815. It took 2 months for the HMS Northumberland to sail to St. Helena, and Napoleon landed at Jamestown on 17 October 1815. He spent the first night in Jamestown, and then spent 2 months in a house called "The Briars", which we saw from a distance. Soon after, he moved into "Longwood", a beautiful house in the hills, where he spent 5 and a half years before his death at the age of 52, in May 1821, aft
prolonged illness. It is said that he was frustrated at being confined on the island, but he had free reign, and would ride his horse around, and explored pretty much the whole island. He loved the beauty and tranquility of the Sane Valley, which is where he was buried and where we visited his tomb. Almost 20 years after he was laid to rest, the French exhumed his body in 1840 and took his remains to France.
The island's remote location meant it was an ideal place for the exile of key prisoners, and along with its most famous prisoner, Napoleon, the island also housed some 6,000 Boer prisoners, brought here from South Africa, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902. We visited the sites where thousands of Boers were housed in rows upon rows of white tents. Also brought to the island in 1890 as a captive was Chief DiniZulu, the son of Zulu king Chetswayo. We drove all over the island, marveling in the sheer magnitude of the dry, barren rock faces, and then the lush, green hills and forests that could have convinced a soul you were in England. Many of the hillsides are covered in flax, which was imported from New Zealand, and was a thriving industry until the 1960's. The fibres from the leaf of the flax plant were used to make rope, and the flax was exported to many parts of the world. For a long time, donkeys were used to transport items around the island, and today, ther
e is a
donkey sanctuary for those poor little guys who are now living their last days out in peace!
We were also curious to check out the new, controversial airport that has been built on St. Helena. Up until the last quarter of last year, when the airport finally opened after many delays and problems, the only way on and off the island was by ship, the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St. Helena. This ship is a combination of cargo and passenger ship, and has been serving the island for the last 27 years, and its predecessors for many years before that. Many "Saints" (the name given to local St. Helenians), were opposed to the airport, thinking that easier access to the island would destroy its unique character and completely change the dynamic of the island. The airport, however, has been fraught with its own problems, and we heard many different stories as to what those actually are, but we understand that because of St. Helena's sheer cliffs, the wind shear on the runway is so strong, that bigger planes cannot land, and while originally they had planned for 737's to be
to land, now, only a small Embraer plane, which can carry only 74 passengers can land. Now, each Saturday, a plane that flies between St. Helena and Cape Town brings a handful of tourists to the island. Supplies will still have to be shipped in by cargo ship, but the RMS St. Helena is being retired after many years of service, a sad ending to a way of life for so many Saints. (We will have the privilege of seeing, and boarding the RMS St. Helena as it makes it last stop in Ascension Island, before being decommissioned).
We returned our car and headed back to the boat. We spent the following day just relaxing on the boat. Benjamin spent the day in bed, and took a while to recover. We put him on antibiotics as it sounded like the cough had gotten into his chest. On Wednesday, Dave, Gaby and I went for a quick snorkel on the wreck of the "Papanui", a passenger ship that had been transporting 360-odd people to Australia in 1911, when it caught fire and sank in the harbor of St. Helena. No-one died, and the survivors were cared for by "Saints" until another ship could come and take them to their destination. Dave also spent 3 hours in the cold water, scrubbing the hulls, so we would have a clean bottom for our trip to Ascension!
We then went to shore to get our final provisions and say our farewells to Hazel and Kathy at the Consulate Hotel. Timing is everything in St. Helena with regards to shopping and/or eating. On Wednesdays, the shops close at 1:00pm, so we had to rush to make it before they closed, but I managed to get a few oranges, two loaves of bread, some frozen veggies and, very importantly, some chocolate, before the doors closed for the day! We then went to see Hazel, who loaded us up with her whole kitchen, it seemed! She gave us a case of long life yoghurts, carrots, tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, all from her farm, and the most precious commodity on the island: eggs! Eggs are almost impossible to come by on St. Helena. Hazel has some chickens on her farm and had been saving eggs for us over the time period we were there! We felt so incredibly spoiled. She wouldn't accept payment for any of the food, and asked only to "pay it forward". So, as a start, we gave some egg
"Shuti". Gaby declared that Hazel is possibly the kindest person she had ever met, and we certainly agreed with her!!
So early on Thursday morning, January 25th, while it was still dark, we let go our mooring lines and headed off in the direction of Ascension Island, some 700 miles to the NW. We had a good passage with relatively light winds, which was fine, because no sooner had we left than Gaby, and then Dave got sick with whatever Ben had had. Coughing, fevers and body aches, the virus we'd picked up was pretty nasty. Luckily, we have plenty of antibiotics on board, and a direct line to Dave's sister, Kim, who is a nurse, (and also has direct access to doctors!), and who told us what to take and what to do. We arrived 5 days later at Ascension Island, a volcanic outcrop even more remote and more stark than St. Helena, an island that we didn't have much information on, and didn't really know what to expect, but that has certainly exceeding any expectations we had!
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