Why visit St Helena Island? As I indicated in the preamble it was one of the reasons for embarking on this journey in the first place. The actual reasons might be even too complicated for me to understand. There is its history as a place of exile. First it was Napoleon who was send there and also found his last resting place on the island , his tomb bearing evidence of that in the beautiful Sane Valley. Having studied the French Revolution at school, the island became a place of mystery and intrigue.
Secondly from our own history there is the sad exile of 6000 or so Boer soldiers send to St Helena during the Anglo –Boer war. Another history lesson that left a unique impression of the Island. Lastly and probably what it all boils down to: it is one of the remotest places on earth, but possibly one of the most extraordinary places you can visit. This tugs at the explorer and traveller in us and leaves us with a sense of great excitement as we spot the island for the first time from the ship.
It looks pretty impressive, with sheer rock cliffs protruding from the ocean. A dramatic sight with the highest point at 820m. The barren cliffs are intersected with deep valleys which slope steeply from the central ridges. The ocean is a clear cobalt blue with excellent visibility and it is a shame that there are no sandy beaches and very little flat land on the island
We arrive at the port of Jamestown (the capitol) via tender boats as our vessel is too big to dock in the shallow harbour. Various catamarans and sail yachts however bob up and down in the slight current; we spot a young boy and girl with their cat on the deck of one. The stories they must be able to tell of life at sea!
Jamestown is a narrow stretch of buildings dotted around the main street. Situated in a deep valley with steep cliffs on either side there is a carnival atmosphere to greet us. With only 4000 inhabitants on the whole island and about 840 of them in the capitol we will be doubling their town population today. We collect our hired car at the tourism office (it was fairly easy with the help of Facebook and email to reserve it, and probably the best way to see the island)
Highlights of the island are abundant and to just have one day to explore is not fully doing justice to it. In Jamestown a must see, is the well-advertised Jacob’s ladder. Built in 1829 as an inclined plane, which was used to haul manure up from town and send goods down. The ladder is 180m high and has 699 steps angled at nearly 180 degrees. If you complete the ladder you get a souvenir certificate from the St Helena Museum. Needless to say no certificates was issued to us…..
The St James Church is the oldest Anglican Church in the southern hemisphere and we go in to light a candle as is our practice in churches the world over. The post office is a popular destination with the rare stamps of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha for sale .A philatelist’s dream but today we have bigger fish to fry.
St Helena is a British Overseas Territory and the local people are schooled in the British curriculum. St Helenians are extremely friendly and accommodating individuals, speaking with a unique English accent that seems very foreign on the ear. Where ever we go people go out of their way to point us in the right direction, share a piece of personal information and even invite us to join a wedding!
As South African we cannot visit the Island without paying respects to the existing Boer heritage. With our Suzuki Grand Vitara we head off to the Boer cemetery, now a well-kept memorial sight. The roads winds up and down and up and down again, in most places narrowing down to a single lane. What we see around us is magnificent though. Green semi tropical valleys with beautiful trees that canopies across the road. The grass is a brilliant green and gate posts and out buildings date back hundreds of years. Yet the island feels alive and breathing with a magical charmed energy and surprises around every corner. Surely fairies must live here.
The thing that is most striking of the Boer graves is the ages of those buried there. Seventeen year olds, twenty four year olds, and a lot of men in their thirties: a common denominator in wars, if you are old enough to hold a rifle you can be a soldier. The cemetery is overlooked by a serene little old Baptist church. It is quiet and peaceful around us; the spot almost seems to have stood still in time.
Off to another church we go- St Paul’s Cathedral. One of the local firemen is getting married and we are just in time to see the wedding party leave with great fanfare on the fire truck! The Cathedral built in 1851 is surrounded by graves dating back hundreds of years, housing the remains of past Governors, Bishops and Saints.
Leaving the cathedral we see the remains of High Knoll Fort towering over the island, views from there is said to be some of the best you could get on the island. Another spectacular spot for panoramic views is Ladder Hill (the top point of Jacob’s Ladder). The surrounding area is called Half Tree Hollow and we see some construction vehicles from a South African company (Basil Read) driving around.
Basil Read got the contract to build an airport for the island that will be serviced with flights from South Africa. The islanders have mixed feelings about it, but there is no doubt that it is going to revolutionise St Helena, hence the big placard in Main Street counting down: 45 months to go!
Our time on the island is too short and we end of with a quick stroll down Main street , pop in at the Castle gardens , have a beer at the Consulate Bar, chat with the local Police detective and buy some Tungi spirit ( locally made at the distillery) from the Star shopping store.
There are large parts of this beautiful island that we still have to see. That just means we will have to make a plan to visit when the airport is up and running in 2015!