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
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. 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. I'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. It 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)