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Background and The Trip "Over"


Destination: St Helena Island

The following information is all the result of my pre-trip research. It is probably more than you want to know.

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First discovered by the Portuguese in 1502, St Helena, a volcanic island ten and a half miles long and six and a half miles wide, is located far from any continental mainland in the mid-Atlantic Ocean 1,200 miles west of Africa and 1,800 miles east of South America; literally in the middle of nowhere. This remote location became its primary reason for settlement: it was a perfect place to exile prisoners including Boers, King Dinuzulu, Bahraini princes and, most famously, Napoleon Bonaparte, who died here of a stomach ulcer on May 5, 1821.

My primary purpose for going there is to swim with whale sharks. More about that later.

Approximately 3,800 to 4,500 people, accounts differ, (called "Saints" by locals but not by outsiders, I read) live on this British Overseas Territory, most being descendants of either British settlers, East India Company employees or former slaves. The capital is Jamestown, the only port, where 880 people live. The other two population centers are Longwood and Half Tree Hollow. The island is so remote that it boasts no native mammals with all the dogs, cats, rabbits, donkeys and goats-and four giant Seychelle tortoises-having been imported purposely for companionship, meat or burden, or in the case of rats and mice, accidentally. Jonathan, one of the Seychelles giant tortoises was reportedly hatched in 1832. If true, that would make Jonathan 186 years old and earn him the title of "oldest known living reptile on earth." Sadly, Jonathan has cataracts and has lost his sense of smell.

Due to the small population, telephone numbers are only four digits long. The same is true for license plate numbers on automobiles: four digits is all they need.

Astronomer Edmond Halley (who famously computed the orbit of Halley's Comet) came here in either 1676 or 1677 (accounts differ) to observe the transit of Mercury across the absolutely dark southern sky and realized that a similar transit of Venus could be used to determine the absolute size of the Solar System. The sub-tropical weather here, however, is often "cloudy." Halley also invented annuities and thought that the Earth was hollow, contained an atmosphere and might possible be inhabited. Charles Darwin, aboard the "Beagle" on his around-the-world voyage stopped here in 1836.

There are no ATM machines, credit cards, until recently, are not widely used, the mobile phone system is unique so virtually no outside cellular phones work here and the national currency is the St Helena pound which is linked at parity with the British Pound (Sterling). The bank will change U.S. Dollars or Euros into the local currency with a commission.

The island observes Greenwich Mean Time. The climate is tropically influenced by southeast trade winds. The warmest time of the year is from January to March when highs will range from 90 degrees at sea level to eighty degrees atop 2,700 foot high Diana's Peak.

Until the only airport (long planned but agonizingly slow to bring to reality) which, according to Reuters is "perched precariously on the edge of a cliff" was completed in 2015 and finally opened for commercial service on October 14, 2017, the only way to get here was aboard the RMS St Helena, a royal mail ship. Its final trip here? Just last week; I missed it. Today's air service is from the South African carrier Airlink which offers weekly Saturday flights from Johannesburg with a refueling stop in Windhoek, Namibia. The long time between the airport's completion and the inauguration of regularly scheduled flights had to do with wind shear problems that made landing from the south difficult if not dangerous. My flight here, SA8131, is only the nineteenth regularly scheduled flight ever to land here. Ever. That's amazing.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

2:22pm Depart Kansas City aboard American Airlines CRJ Regional Jet Flight #3435
First Class on Frequent Flyer Miles
4:57pm Arrive Chicago O'Hare Terminal 2
1 hour 35 minute flight in seat 2A

On the Ground in Chicago 3 hours. Air France lounge in Terminal 5 serves Emirates First and Business Class customers. (nothing to brag about)
I have a Blue Moon Belgian White Wheat Ale and some mixed nuts anticipating a fine meal aboard the flight.

CNN on the television is non-stop coverage of a school shooting in Broward County, Florida, where it is reported that "at least" 17 are dead. Most of the people in this lounge are international--Australian, Indian, French, Qatari, Chinese, Finns, Turks and more. They vocally don't understand how people in the United States have such unfettered access to guns. I say nothing because there is nothing that I can say. Out the lounge window are wide body aircraft from Qatar, the UK, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Dubai (of course) and more.

8:00pm Depart Chicago O'Hare aboard Emirates Airlines 777-300ER Flight #236
First Class on deeply discounted ticket somehow found by World's Greatest Travel Agent, Kathy Sudeikis (913) 671-7700‬

Thursday, February 15, 2018

7:20pm Arrive Dubai
13 hour 20 minute flight in seat 1K
Dubai is ten hours ahead of Kansas City


On the Ground in Dubai 4 hours.

11:25pm Depart Dubai aboard Emirates Airlines 777-300ER Flight #767
First Class on discounted ticket

Friday, February 16, 2018

5:35am Arrive JNB Johannesburg, South Africa
8 hour 10 minute flight in seat 1K
Johannesburg is eight hours ahead of Kansas City, two hours behind Dubai

Emirates Car takes me to Protea Hotel (by Marriott) at O.R. Tambo Airport. I would suggest avoiding the Protea O.R. Tambo as the staff has an "us vs. them" attitude and the rooms are well, depressing. As a lifetime Platinum Marriott member with over 2,100 paid nights to my credit, they reached out to me prior to arrival asking if I had any special requests. I had requested an early check-in for a high-floor room on the front of the hotel. After waiting four hours after my arrival for a room, they were finally able to scrounge one on a low floor in the back. They just aren't warm and friendly and welcoming here. Sad to say. I cancelled my reservation for next week; I'll try the Intercontinental when I fly back here on the way home.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

9:00am Depart JNB Johannesburg aboard South African Airways Airlink Embraer ERJ-190 Flight #8131
Business Class
One stop in Windhoek, Namibia, for refueling
1:15pm Arrive Jamestown St Helena
Jamestown is six hours ahead of Kansas City, two hours behind Johannesburg
6 hour 15 minute flight in seat 2A

This Airlink flight is offered only on Saturdays.1-1AirlinkWingTip.jpg If you miss it, you wait a week for the next one. There are no other commercial flights to St Helena from any other departure point; Johannesburg is it. We have two Captains; a handsome looking one and a competent looking one. 1-6Captain2.jpg1-5CaptainOne.jpgI'm sure they both are both. After a couple of hours, the island appears under clouds. Then, as we circle, the runway is in view. 1-2StHelenaFirstSight.jpg1-3Runway.jpg1-4SeatmatesCameras.jpg1-7WelcomeParty.jpgIt is perfectly safe save for the wind shear. We are briefed to expect an unusually rollercoaster approach. The two Captains thing is really cool about now. My seat mate shoots pictures as do we all. And then, we're down.

As we deplane, the unique part of this becomes more clear; the viewing gallery inside the terminal is chock-a-block with enthusiastic greeters.

I am met at the airport by a ground representative from my tour organizer, Mario, from Natural World Safaris who takes me to the Mantis St Helena Hotel which will be my home for seven nights. I stroll and then meet up with Basil George, my Jamestown tour guide, who takes me and a French couple (she is doing "as-built" drawings for the airport construction firm) and a British couple (she is an economist here on a two-year government contract) and we learn a bit of history followed by some St Helena coffee and finally a Windhoek Draft Beer. I'm spent. Tonight, I will be skipping supper.

In essence, I left our condo in Kansas City at Noon on Wednesday and arrived at my hotel on St. Helena at 2:00pm on Saturday
In the air: 29 Hours 20 Minutes
On the ground: 34 Hours 20 Minutes (27 Hours 25 Minutes in Johannesburg)

Posted by paulej4 11:34 Archived in St Helena Comments (2)

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Exhilarating but safe

Imagine a mere speck of a place surrounded by water with the nearest land some seven hundred miles away. Seven hundred miles is the distance from Kansas City to Cleveland or Charleston or Akron. And then imagine that that place is an even tinier spec: Ascension Island.

To reach a continent, you would have to travel further: Luanda, Angola is closest at 1369 miles, about the same as from Kansas City to Mexico City. Windhoek, Namibia-the spot where my aircraft refueled but did not take on or discharge passengers, is 1556 miles away…KC to Acapulco. Inhabiting those empty miles is absolutely nothing but salt water and alabaster sky.

St Helena is a forbidding and intimidating jagged rock of a place where a man like me comes when he has already been everywhere else. It is only 47 square miles big. Kansas City is 319 square miles in size. St Helena-the entire rock-is equivalent in size to two thirds of Olathe.

On days at home when I walk 10 miles, it is the same as walking coast to coast East to West; North to South would be but half of that. Here the major and significant exception would be that I would have to have climbed up and back down Diana's Peak which soars 2684 feet above sea level. That I am, obviously, incapable of doing. But, then, I did not come all this way to hike.

I was drawn here by a photograph. Today, I lived that photograph.st-helena-whale-shark-2.jpg

I feel safer because I am not a plankton.

I feel afraid because I am in the open sea with the largest fish and shark in earth's oceans, the (up to) 40-foot whale shark. Slowly swimming close to the surface of the water, mouths agape, solitary whale sharks scoop up tiny plants called plankton-along with whatever other animals and small fish that happen to be in their path. In this process known as filter feeding, the whale shark uses its enormous mouth as a food funnel.

I meet up with Brits Taylor and Mike in the lobby of the Mantis Hotel at 8:15 and we are soon picked up by Paul and joined moments later by still another Brit named Stuart. We pile into a pickup truck type vehicle piled high with dive gear and drive a half mile or so to the jetty where Anthony and his wife Maria arrive in a large inflatable boat. We're off from James Bay, around Rupert's Bay, around Sugar Loaf Point and barely into Flagstaff Bay when Maria spots a dorsal fin. IMG_5201.jpg

We are briefed: don't approach nor touch the whales; if they approach you do your best to avoid contact. When swimming with them, stay five meters away. Watch out for their tails. We are reminded of divers' and snorkelers' hand signals for "I'm OK," "I'm ready to get back on the boat," and "Help." And then, over the side of the inflatable we go.

The whale shark didn't attend the briefing. Unconcerned about us coming too close, she glided here and there paying no mind that there were four tourists and one guide in the water and proper distance was to be maintained. While I can confirm that I never did touch her I confess that I was much closer than proscribed…but it was her fault rather than mine.

She is longer than our boat so Anthony guesses her to be ten meters in length. Paul says she is pregnant. I say she is beautiful, peaceful, intimidating yet aloof. Breathing through a snorkel I find myself taking more breaths per minute than I normally would as this is a rush. After twenty minutes or so she glides away and we all pile back into the boat.

Anthony tells us that divers he hosted last week had been in the water with whale sharks many times but usually for a span of a couple of minutes when, unable to keep up, they would climb back into the boat to hurry ahead to make another two minute rendezvous. Not here. The whale sharks here circle and loiter. The idea of keeping up with them is replaced by keeping out of their way.

We motor for five minutes or so and we spot a pair. Back in the water we go and the earlier experience is repeated. We glide with them, over them, around them being mindful to keep our distance when possible…it often is not possible. I watch out for their tails and, again, don't touch.

Their mouths, alternately gaping and sealed are enormous. Yes, they could swallow you up but that does not occur to them. Their more aggressive shark relatives would disown them for what, for us, endears them.

I tire so, before the others, head back to the inflatable. Once on board one of this slow moving pair glides beneath us, then around us and then bumps us ignoring the rules. It is magic.

Paul has been in the water with us with a camera. My fingers are crossed that he has some great shots. I determined that my goal was to experience this rather than record it so my cameras, both the Nikon and the iPhone, never came out.

The word whale in their name refers to size rather than species because this fish has two pairs of five gills and so is not a mammal as are air-breathing "whales." Small eyes seem to follow you and then become bored with you.

Scientists say they have a lifespan of about 70 years and weigh twenty tons to much more.

The whale shark's head is flat with a blunt snout over its mouth. Brown and white spots adorn its back and sides over a white belly. There are two dorsal fins ahead of its large "dual-lobbed caudal" tail. Males sport one penis and then another slightly behind the first.

Each of the whale sharks we swam with was accompanied by twenty to thirty foot-long pilot fish which attach to the giant fish and clean him or her up by eating ectoparasites that congregate on the skin of the whale shark. They do a fine job, I would say, as these seem quite clean to me and, believe me, I was close enough to do an admirable inspection.

Like me, whale sharks prefer warm waters and migrate to maintain a presence in friendly confines. In 2011, reports say, more than 400 of them "gathered off the Yucatan Coast" of Mexico. In 1996, according to another report, a female was captured and found to be pregnant with hatched 300 pups inside her which would normally be born not all at once but over a prolonged period of time.

If you don't have the time or inclination or budget for come to St. Helena, there are many other places in this world where you can see or swim with whale sharks. Among them is the Atlanta Georgia Aquarium's Ocean Voyager exhibit built by The Home Depot. For $233.95 plus tax, non-members can swim with these giants and even get a t-shirt and souvenir photo. One other way to get a whale shark photo is to obtain a Philippines 100-peso bank note; the fish adorns the bill's back side.

Neither of those experiences can match this one. It was a rush.

I stroll back to the Mantis, stopping at the wharf side coffee shop for a cup of fine St Helena coffee and a breakfast sandwich while visiting with Jan, a Brit who is back on the island for a visit. She lived here a while back and worked as a prison guard. There were, she told me, nine prisoners.

I snapped a couple of pictures on the way back to the hotel to shower off the salt water. Here they are.90_IMG_5168.jpg90_IMG_5170.jpg90_IMG_5171.jpg

After a walk through Jamestown (I spotted a low license plate number) I met up again with Mike and Taylor. 90_Ladder.jpgIMG_5203.jpgOur plan is to walk up Jacobs Ladder and watch the sunset at Rosies Bar and Grill. Jacobs Ladder was originally an 1800s era two-car funicular (Cable Car) used to transport supplies from Jamestown and the port up the hill to Ladder Hill Fort. The rails and cars were removed (termite damage) and, in their place, now reside 699 a-bit-to-high steps that we tourists can take to the "suburb" of Half Tree Hollow at the top of the hill. Were it not for Rosies Bar and Grill I surmise that no tourist would find the trek worthwhile. The record for climbing? Five minutes, 16.78 seconds. Taylor, Mike and I do it in a half hour or so, stopping first every 50 steps to rest, then every 40 steps to rest and finally every time we couldn't take another step. RosiesSunset.jpg

We opted for Dinner at Rosies and called a taxi to get us home. Our taxi driver is the Director of Security at the St Helena Airport--a part time gig since there is but one flight per week. She was a great conversationalist on the drive down and I already feel safe and secure when our departure date arrives six days from now.

Posted by paulej4 13:11 Archived in St Helena Comments (1)

Heaven on St Helena

At 9:00, I am called for by Aaron of Aaron's Adventure Tours. Aaron Legg, a local entrepreneur on the rise is not quite a one man show as he is supported by his partner and others who help out when he is over-committed. Today, he has to worry only about me and some VIPs.
+(290) 23987 or 61597, aat@helena.co.sh or aaron61597@gmail.com.

The VIPs are the bigshots from Mantis, the owners/operators of the Mantis St Helena Hotel where I am a guest. Ignus, Sasha, Rose and Martin-all concerned with marketing activities-are on the island to figure out the best way to sell the hotel to the outside world. I am delighted to have them as company.

Jamestown.jpgWe set out from the hotel up the mountainside road stopping to look back at Jamestown which is built at the bottom of a ravine with steep sides composed of fractured volcanic rock which has a tendency to fissure and landslide on those calmly going about their business below. The situation is serious enough that a French company was brought in to build steel wire mesh covers and landslide nets so that rocks don't crush cars and homes below in the ravine.90_Netting.jpg

On the way out we see the Heart Shaped Waterfall which has, at this time of year, no water. I must return for that.

LongwoodHouse_Napoleon_.jpgNapoleon_sGrave.jpgOur initial stop is at Longwood House, the place occupied by Napoleon and his entourage from the tile of his exile in 1815 until his death six years later. High on a wind-targeted plain, this was converted from a farm owned by the once prosperous East India Company and then the Deputy Governor. Converted for Napoleon's use, it was selected at least in part because it was easy to guard and the former Emperor could be more easily and safely confined there. He roamed from this house on horseback, from time to time strayed beyond the boundaries set for him without much in the way of punishment for his transgressions. For the time, this was an exile of privilege as the conditions were quite fine. From Longwood House we drove a short distance-all drives here are a short distance-to Napoleon's Tomb where he was laid to rest in 1821 and remained until the French Government, after negotiations with the British, exhumed his remains 25 years later so they could be returned to France where they now lie in Paris at Invalides The aspiring Emperor of the entire world was 51 when he passed; the cause of death is listed as stomach cancer.

Sasha_Igni.._Rose_Aaron.jpgPetrifiedPufferFish.jpgPaulCliff.jpgLot_LotsWife.jpgFillForRunway.jpgCrabSandyBay.jpg270_CastleRockPoint.jpgFrom the old to the new, we next drove past the wind farm (where 25% of the island's electricity is generated) to Sugar Loaf Point and from there to the overlook of Prosperous Bay where we could survey to newly opened St Helena airport which sits adjacent to King & Queens Rocks. Four-wheeling from there over Woody Ridge we drove the switchbacks here and there until we arrived much later at Sandy Bay Beach beneath Lot and Lot's Wife crags which stand sentry to this part of the island. Continuing on we enjoyed Thompson's Wood, High Hill past the Donkey Sanctuary headed finally to Ladder Hill Fort high above Jamestown. Back at the hotel around 6:30, the day was a full one.

St Helena appears from the sea to be a lifeless volcanic rock but proves upon inspection to be home to many micro-climates which range from an artist's pallet of colorful sandy mounds to verdant valleys brimming with grass greener than you can imagine to rocky desert like plains. The thing that will hold it back is that it lacks even a single swimmable beach.

While in the company of Ignus, Rose and Shasha, I learned a lot I did not know about Mantis Hotels. Their web site is not, by their own account, ready for prime time but their hotel collection certainly is. They operate the Ice Hotel in Northern Sweden, the Zambezi Queen floating live-aboard Lodge on Botswana and Namibia's Chobe River, the 50 room/suite Sherry Netherland in New York City and other eclectic properties bringing the total to about eighty. Billed as "Hotels, Eco-Escapes & Lifestyle Resorts, I am ashamed that I had heretofore not heard of them. Led by Chairman & Founder Adrian Gardiner from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, (a one hour flight East of Cape Town) they are anything but a Marriott or Hilton. The Mantis St Helena at thirty rooms is mid-size for them with many of their properties limited to under ten rooms. The White Desert in Antarctica offers "spacious heated fiberglass pods designed to sleep 12" from which one departs for Emperor Penguin viewing. The Ranch at Rock Creek (Montana) sports 9 luxury rooms and 12 private 1 to 5 bedroom homes along with 8 canvas cabins halfway between Glacier National Park and Yellowstone.

Bush Lodge near Port Elizabeth offers 6 luxury tents, Hillsneck Safari Camp offers 4 more or you could opt for a completely mobile experience in nomadic luxury tented camps moving throughout Oman with Hud Hud Travels. On Santorini, the Iconic Santorini is "a Boutique Cave Hotel," with a spectacular setting on the caldera rim." I am blown away by and drawn to almost every property in their portfolio.

Returning to the Mantis St Helena for a shower, I plopped down at the bar for a few Windhoek Lagers to accompany my dinner of fishcakes and salad. Jan and Mike and Taylor dropped by for a nightcap and we regale each other with tales of our day's adventures. Fairy_Terns.jpgFairy_Tern.jpg

This is what travel should be.

Posted by paulej4 06:27 Archived in St Helena Comments (1)

At Leisure with Whale Sharks and an English Breakfast

Anthony calls for me at 8:15 sharp.

Anthony Thomas runs Sub Tropic Adventures here. Stadventures.com. sub-Tropic.Scuba@helenta.com.sh

Accompanied by Paul Cherrett, the three of us set out from James Bay "Passenger Terminal" after a bit of a delay caused by a shuttle boat drive shaft malfunction that tied up the boarding point for a while. This poor craft had been rushed into use when the regular shuttle boat broke down. Such is life on an island.

Aboard the inflatable Sea Hawk, the three of us head east around Sugar Loaf Point through three-foot swells and alternately cloudy skies. I am happy today to be in full wet suit as the temperature without sun combined with sea spray and wind makes my aging body know the cold too well. After a half hour or so Anthony spots the telltale shadow of a whale shark just beneath the surface only a split second before Paul saw the tail fin break the water's surface.OtherPaulPointing.jpgWhaleShark1.jpg

We powered down and I slipped over the side. Here the current was more pronounced than Monday and the fish was swimming at a less leisurely pace. The combination of those factors resulted in me wearing myself out keeping up. But the time I spent in the water with first one and then two whale sharks was again exhilarating and wonderful. Wide mouths first simply filter feeding and then turning toward me-making me think of Paul feeding-accompanied by their stowaway pilot fish hopping a ride make for a heartwarming and heartstopping few minutes.

But, as I said, I was soon worn out. I signaled for the boat (open palm waved from one side to the top of the head) and Paul motored the Sea Hawk over to my side, laid the rope ladder over the side and, after I handed over my mask, fins and snorkel, I-with a helping hand-climbed back aboard. Anthony had been in the water with me operating a very professional looking underwater camera. I am hoping for some wall-worthy photographs.Anthony_Wh..k_OtherPaul.jpgAnthony_WhaleSharkFull4.jpg

A swig of water calmed my stomach and rinsed my sea-water soaked mouth and I slipped my feet into the foot straps along the boat's floor and we began to motor back toward Jamestown. Along the way a pod of about 40 dolphins presented themselves 100 yards to starboard so we detoured over to join them. They rode our bow and frolicked alongside until they found us less interesting than we found them.

Dolphins-even baby ones-can swim at breakneck speed and leap high out of the water. They are beauty in motion and convey a family (pod) loyalty that makes them seem particularly appealing to humans.

Soon they raced away. We reversed course and landed at James Bay just in time to watch the overhead crane lift the broken shuttle boat out of the water where it could be-if parts could be found-repaired.

Into Anthony's truck, we drove a short distance beneath "The Castle", through the Archway and up Main Street, past the Tourist Office to The Inkwell Coffee and Bookshop. There, Anthony's mother and her fine crew cooked me a late English Breakfast consisting of two fried eggs, English bacon (more like fatty ham to us), sausages and beans accompanied by dark toast. Anthony and Paul, having enjoyed breakfast hours earlier, opted for "toasties," the British label for a toasted sandwich containing whatever you like. Mom's hot coffee topped off the meal during which Paul and Anthony and I shared stories of our lives and families and perspectives on the world.
Back to the Mantis, I rounded up the computer and headed to the patio to enjoy a glass of South African sauvignon blanc, a very young 2017 Granger Bay. The weather is quite comfortable-around 72-and has now turned cloudy with a brisk breeze. Frankly, I am happy to be ashore as this would make the sea both cold and bumpy.

Later, Taylor and Mike appear at the Mantis bar. We have a drink and a conversation and make plans for dinner. We will stroll across Main Street to Anne's.

34ABCDAADEB0D2D1BFE88A6DC92B40DC.jpgAnne's is a place with 20 or so tables but, by my observations, only a couple occupied at one time. There is tuna on the menu which, since this is prime tuna fishing grounds, fresh fish. I opted for stuffed tuna and it was quite good but perhaps overcooked. Taylors tuna steak, on the other hand, was perfectly done, and by her testimony, delicious. Mike opted for BBQ of a sort and didn't remark upon it one way or the other.

These two are remarkable company. Well traveled, knowledgable on many subjects, good with stories and quick smiles. I am fortunate to have made friends with them. As we ask the inevitable question one asks in places such as this, "What is your next adventure?" I advise them of my trip this summer to Cuiaba Brazil and The Panatal for a Jaguar river safari. Mike asks for more information; perhaps they will join.
Back at the Mantis bar we have a nightcap and call it quits. Another memorable day-exciting in its own way-has passed in the mid-Atlantic.

Posted by paulej4 05:12 Archived in St Helena Comments (1)

On The Level

The island is up hill and down hill everywhere except in the middle...and then not much is flat.

Nothing about St Helena is on the level except for the Saints who live here.

The only horn honking one hears is done to alert oncoming drivers at blind turns. In spots where Americans would lean on horns, Saints patiently wait, wave and chat with someone who might be nearby until the obstruction has cleared. I ask Anthony, "How many of the 4,500 or so souls on this island do you know by their first name?"

"Two thirds," he says. "Or a bit more."90_No_Parking.jpg

The island is home to young people who have never seen an elevator or escalator, a traffic signal, a local TV news broadcast or, until a few weeks ago, a passenger aircraft. When they did get off the island, until now, it was aboard the RMS (Royal Mail Ship) St Helena which took them to either Ascension Island 700 miles to the northwest in two days or 1950 miles southeast to Cape Town, South Africa in five days. It is 1400 miles south to Tristan de Cunha where the RMS used to occasionally sail. Otherwise there is only water.270_Ladder_from_Castle.jpg

I don't know that any of that is what makes them so friendly but they certainly are. I am greeted everywhere I walk and passing drivers, almost without exception, wave a greeting. Some smile and some don't but almost every one acknowledges friend and stranger alike. There is virtually no crime here with the exception being the occasional crime of passion; passion is here as it is everywhere.

There are a lot of cars but you seem to see the same ones over and over again. I am fascinated by four digit license plates. Here, though, the VIPs don't necessarily get the low numbers; they seem to be on regular vehicles, some old and not so fine and others somewhat less old and not quite fine.Plate5.jpgPlate6.jpg Plate7.jpgPlate9.jpgThere are no new cars here to my experience; the tariff to bring in a vehicle is 45%. They make the old ones last. It isn't Cuba because the tariff is not quite an embargo but there are many repair shops which wait patiently for parts that don't come when they're supposed to. Maybe that is why there are a lot of cars; you need a backup while your other one is waiting for a needed part.

The places I would like to hang out would be bars along the waterfront. Closed_Bar_2.jpgClosed_Bar_1.jpgThe problem is the the two that exist have yet to be open while I'm here. The Coffee Shop is open but not as a coffee shop would be at home: the hours are short. 270_Fast_Food_Shop.jpgCoffee_Shop.jpgThere are shops but they mostly have staples on offer...and then only when in stock. Everything, or nearly so, is imported by ship. If you want souvenirs there isn't a whole lot to be had. Tour_Bus.jpg None of that is offered as a criticism, instead consider these points as observations. However, if and when a second flight per week is offered--or even one day more than that--bringing in the tourists that many here seek, there will need to be a change or two implemented. Places will have to accept credit cards. The only place I've found that takes plastic is the Mantis. Hours will have to be extended. Tourists don't acknowledge Sunday as a day of rest or any day as a day off. And, maybe, even the honking will change as tourists step off the curb looking the wrong way at the wrong time at the wrong pace.

The accent here is not British and it isn't South African. It is its own thing. Most things are heard and understood without difficulty but, once in a while, a vowel is uttered in an unfamiliar way and an outsider cocks his or her head and furrows a brow wondering, "Excuse me? What was that you just said?" No worries. I get it quickly enough.

Today's tour is by Steve Evans of Green Wagon Tours. (00 290) 24415 or through the Tourist Office at (00 290) 24415 or vectormco@aol.com or greenwagon@helanta.co.sh. His vehicle for island-wide excursions is a safe Nissan Terrano and he bills his tours and both scenic and informative. He hails, somehow, from Alabama. Steve is great; he and wife Joan, a Saint, do hydroponic farming growing tomatoes and more for the local population.

I meet up with Stuart, Taylor and Mike for dinner; next door at the Orange Tree Restaurant next door. It was quite good. The conversation was sparkling. There is nothing like spirited conversation over dinner to make the meal. By 8:30, I am spent.Orange_Tree_Restaurant.jpg

Posted by paulej4 12:29 Archived in St Helena Comments (2)

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