The Reason I Came
02.17.2018 - 02.24.2018
Anthony presents me with a memory stick when he sees me this final morning.
It is a feast for the eyes. I think no commentary is required; here you go.
Literally in the middle of nowhere
The Reason I Came
02.17.2018 - 02.24.2018
Anthony presents me with a memory stick when he sees me this final morning.
It is a feast for the eyes. I think no commentary is required; here you go.
02.24.2018 - 02.24.2018
Getaway day dawns. I have only to pack and run down to the Coffee Shop to use up my remaining St Helena pounds (not convertible anywhere in the world except here) and retrieve my three bags of St Helena coffee and have breakfast at the Mantis before our scheduled "Half Eleven" pickup for transport by Mario back to the magnificent St Helena airport and our Airlink flight back to Joburg. I couldn't resist overtipping Mario using five crisp new US $2 bills just to see his reaction. He looked puzzled as if I were putting something over on him but he happily accepted them nonetheless. I suspect he will get an even more suspicious look when he takes them to the Bank of St Helena for conversion. I wish I could witness that.
We (Stuart, Taylor, Mike, Ignus, Sasha, Martin, Rosie, Jan, Peggy (who I don't think I have mentioned) Peter (a commercial fishing executive who I haven't mentioned either) are all on the same flight. Everybody here, remember, is on the same flight as there is, need I remind you, but one flight each week. This is only the nineteenth commercial departure from here in the history of the island.
Intrigued by the airport situation, I Googled the airport and quote here from the FAQs on its website:
"I am a nervous flyer. Should I be worried about windshear at St Helena Airport?"
"St Helena Airport is open and operational. The isolation of the Island together with the potential for windshear has meant that St Helena Airport has been classed as a Category C airport. Category C airports have additional considerations for approach, landing or take-off. Difficult wind conditions, including turbulence and windshear, are encountered and safely managed at many airports around the world and St Helena Airport is no different."
"There has been extensive work undertaken to understand and mitigate the potential for windshear at St Helena Airport. Safety is our number one priority. The decision on whether a flight takes place as scheduled rests with the pilot - flights will only take place when the pilot is confident that conditions are favourable."
"During Airlink's proving flight visit in August 2017, they carried out a total of 13 flight trials at St Helena Airport. These included 'touch and go' - where the aircraft circles the runway, comes in to land, touches the wheels to the runway, and immediately takes off again for another circuit. All of the trials were successful and subsequently the final approvals for the scheduled air service were granted by the South African Civil Aviation Authority."
"All necessary regulatory approvals for the scheduled air service to St Helena are therefore in place. A short video of Airlink's proving flight to St Helena is available at the following link: https://youtu.be/kiecNLqWrMA
"We recognise that some residents on St Helena might not have flown previously. Island residents might like to visit St Helena Airport to witness the arrival of a flight. The restaurant and viewing platform at the airport will be open to the public on flight days commencing on 14 October 2017. Staff at the Airport will be happy to answer any questions."
That is, to be sure, quite a wonderful answer to the "I'm a nervous flyer" question. To add to this interesting point, here is the text (I asked to flight attendant to provide it to me) for the announcement they make prior to landing here. Her instructions read as follows:
Flight Attendants: "Please take note of the following announcement when operating HLE flight: "Ladies and Gentlemen, We will be landing shortly. Please fasten your seat belts. As we prepare for our landing at St Helena, I draw your attention to the fact that St Helena airport is known for difficult landing conditions and I caution that we could experience turbulence on our final approach to the runway which may result in a short period of discomfort. Ensure that your tray tables are secure and bring your chair back in the upright position. All carry-on items should not be placed under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins."
When we arrived, that announcement was delivered clearly and sternly and, for the first time since I have truly pondered the phrase "Final Approach" gave even me a bit of pause. And, yes, last Saturday's landing was a bit more roller-coastery than what I would consider to be normal but far from threatening. For most flyers, I think, had there been no warning little notice would have been taken. Our takeoff was also a tiny bit bumpy. If you have taken note from earlier installments of this blog, the runway at both beginning and end is framed by an abyss. The air apparently swirls and darts and, therefore, so (at least a bit) does the arriving or departing aircraft. For us, however, both in and out, it was much ado about not much.
On the way home, only 42 seats are filled on the aircraft-not a good sign for the profitability of Airlink or the success of St Helena tourism. (I think 78 seats were filled on our flight on the way in and I did not have the presence of mind to count the deplaining passengers who arrived just now) I think I heard that only four of the thirty rooms are reserved at the Mantis for the coming week.
We don't have to stop at Windhoek, Namibia, on the way back as we weigh less and the tailwind makes it unnecessary. It is a mere four-and-a-half hours to JoBurg.
One more tidbit of potential interest is this: Prior to the closing of the Embraer E190 forward door, one of our three flight attendants made the following announcement (here paraphrased): "For the purpose of achieving the proper weight and balance on this aircraft for takeoff from St Helena, I would now like to ask five passengers from rows three through nine to kindly move from their seats to any open seat in rows 19 through 25." Then, she waited. "Kindly, I need three more passengers from rows three through nine to kindly move from their seats to any open seat in rows 19 through 25." After that apparently took place as requested, she then said, "I would now like to ask eleven passengers from rows ten through eighteen to move to…" and so on. (I don't have the rows perfectly quoted here but you get the gist of it.
Of course, you probably already know, with any aircraft you don't want too much weight in the forward part of the aircraft on takeoff. A too heavy nose makes for a difficult if not dangerous departure. After the aircraft reaches cruising altitude, everyone can move back to where they were without either positive or negative effect. But, I suppose many fliers don't really understand that. This game of musical chairs without the music peeved some and amused others. One wonders why, when seat assignments are made by the computer, they don't simply spread people out precisely as they need to for proper takeoff weight and balance. But then, on this trip there have been many things about which one wonders and one is best served by not wondering and, instead, just accepting.
Before I forget it let me point out a not-so-good last impression of St Helena. At security, my backpack was lightened by removal of my plastic bagged liquids, MacBook Air laptop computer, iPhone and iPad and run through the x-ray machine as is done everywhere in the world.
Here, however, my backpack was then not merely secondarily searched, it was emptied entirely before I was allowed through. Every pen, credit card, tissue packet, nail clipper, camera, power cord, sweatshirt, eyeglass case, St Helena coffee package, travel document, cash reserve, sunglass case-everything was taken out of the backpack and arrayed on a table for latex gloved officials-one in training-to peruse. Then, it was all replaced but certainly not as I had carefully packed each bit because only I could do that and get everything in its correct position and still zip it closed.
I don't know if that is standard operating procedure or if I was taken for an apparent desperado such as myself but, whatever the reason, it was annoying and something that in crossing into and out of over 100 countries has never happened before and I hope never happens again.
Oh yes; they also made me check my bag on the way home. I do so hate that.
We fly over the Namibian Dessert, I have a fine Airlink meal. There is a trivia contest in the Airlink In-Flight Magazine where one of the trivia questions is about Anthony Scaramucci and we arrive at Johannesburg a bit early. Oh, and my bag made it. The Intercontinental (wonderful, by the way) welcomes me and I'm one step closer to home.
02.23.2018 - 02.23.2018
As instructed last night, I this morning report at nine o'clock straight up to the office of the St Helena National Trust for a tour, pre-booked, entitled: Diana's Peak & Coffee Plantation Tour. Here is the description: "This morning you will join the St Helena National Trust for a guided walk through Diana's Peak National Park. At 823m, the summit of Diana's Peak is the highest point on the island, providing spectacular views over the surrounding landscapes En-route you will also observe St Helena's endemic flora & fauna, and learn about the conservation efforts surrounding them. After lunch, enjoy a tour of the coffee plantation at Rosemary Gate Coffee Estate, followed by refreshments and local coffee."
At least, that's what it said.
The nice lady at the National Trust office just across Main Street and up a bit, Amanda (Mandy), seemed a bit put out with me before I could even say Hello. She peppered me with questions that I was unprepared to answer such as, what time are you to be dropped off at the Coffee Estate? What is it, exactly that you expect to see, etc.? She was angry at me, at the St Helena Tourist Office, at Anthony and you too had you been there. Benjie was introduced to me as my driver guide, but he was quite the introvert with nothing much to say. I suggested that a call to Anthony could sort out any questions she might have but she didn't know his number and had to way to find out what it was. I walked across the street and asked the hotel for his number but when I returned she had washed her hands of me and so it was just me and silent Benjie to figure things out.
The bad news is that there was no lunch and there was no refreshment and no local coffee to drink. After a good long time, Benjie did come around but I wasn't the best listener as I was mightily frightened as he took the switchbacks with a higher speed that I would have thought safe in our slightly seedy Suzuki with a mostly broken passenger seat and torn rear window.
The good news is that I had a great day in spite of them.
After we safely arrived two thirds of the way up the road to the top of Diana's Peak we had gone as far as a vehicle could take us and we set out over a well-maintained path and some new/some old staircases for our climb to the top. There are actually three peaks: Mount Actaeon, Diana's Peak (the center of the three) and Cuckold's Point. Mostly shrouded in fog and low cloud this morning, the view came and went in a spectacular fashion. Benjie pointed out many species of flora & fauna (check that off) and lots and lots and lots of varieties of insects, none of them this morning in the mood, thankfully, to bite.
We ran across a crew of Saints with machetes hacking away at flax plants which have overgrown not only this mountain but also a good bit of the island. Brought here and not native, the flax plants were grown so that ships calling on St Helena could replenish their rope supplies but using these plants to braid new ones. This turned into an industry that was a major export back home to England until the Royal Post stopped requiring string to be used to secure packages for the Royal Mail. The market for exported string collapsed, the jobs vanished and the plants thrived. A pest today, this crew hacks away. My guess is that will have eradicated this plant from St Helena after about 500 years-if they work straight through.
Halley's Mount is included on this hike and is the spot where Halley of Comet fame came to scout the heavens. I am told-not by Benjie-that he was often frustrated by the same thing that surrounds me from time to time this morning: cloud cover.
We hike back down, climb into the Suzuki and race to Deadwood Plain in hopes of finding a Wirebird nest. Benjie wants to show me some Wirebird chicks and I am keen to see them but, alas, we could locate no nests.
We raced next to the Coffee Plantation where I was, at about 12:15, dropped down the hill and outside the gate with a succinct goodbye. On the way I inquired about the promised lunch but Benjie said there was none to be had on this part of the island. I knew I was to be picked up at the Coffee Plantation but not until 2:30 (or, as they say here and in the UK, Half Two.)
The intrepid traveler, I marched through Rosemary's Gate and up the well-tended drive to the top where a well-tended cottage sits beside a small coffee pulping, composting, fermenting and washing facility abuts a drying spot, grading and sorting shed and roasting room. A grinding machine finishes this lineup.
I am eventually greeted (he didn't hear me arrive) by proprietor Bill who, along with his wife, own this operation which is surrounded-as you would expect-by what I would estimate to be less than two acres of Arabica coffee from seedlings to mature plants.
Their life is full: They weed and mulch constantly. Coffee plant flowering normally takes place around this time each year. The cherry develops over an eight month span until it is red and ripe and ready to be picked, pulped, dried, etc. Bill had plenty of beans in the drying phase and was roasting them when they reached the correct moisture content (11%). They don't get much yield; just enough to fulfill the needs of their coffee shop on Jamestown's waterfront and precious few bags for sale. At ten UK or St Helena pounds per small 125 gram bag, this may be the world's most expensive coffee. It is quite good.
Bill does tours like the one he provided me by appointment. Phone: (00 290) 4371 or 2015 or email to email@example.com
As our tour was winding up, Bill face took on a concerned expression as he said, "Oh, my; I have nearly forgotten to run and get my eggs allotment." I asked if I could come along as it was still early, only about 1:30 and my pickup was still an hour away. "Hop in," was his reply and we drove down the valley, around the hairpin turns and in short order arrived at an egg producers facility where we unlatched the gate, opened a shed door, grabbed four dozen eggs, scurried them back through the gate and into the back of the car so we could zip back up the hill, through Rosemary's Gate and back to his cottage where he could stow his precious cargo. His wife-Jane I think-was away at the coffee shop down in Jamestown and she would not have been pleased, he implied, if he had forgotten these precious eggs.
We have been out of eggs at the Mantis. I look longingly at Mike's supply and consider offering to buy a few but I don't. I doubt he would have parted with them in any event.
He did agree to grind three bags of coffee for me and send them down to the coffee shop for pickup tomorrow morning before I leave the island.
At the appointed time, Anthony (bless him: he is the rock on this rock) arrives with Mike and Taylor-my by now best friends in the entire world-and we're off to our next stop: The Distillery.
Paul runs this one-man shop. He makes a cactus-based liquor (think tequila but not), a spiced rum, gin, a coffee liquor, and even some wine. St Helena's Breaking Bad Walter White, Paul traveled to Germany to get his impressive still, took two weeks of lessons from them and then spent a good bit of time watching YouTube until he mastered his craft. We sampled it all but I was concerned since I had only a tiny bite of toast for breakfast this morning and thought it a bad idea to be tasting that much alcohol on an empty stomach.
Anthony saw my concern and volunteered to run home and make me a snack. He soon returned with a fried egg sandwich (again, recall that the fanciest hotel on the island cannot obtain eggs), some crackers and even a bit of cake for dessert. Fortunately, Anthony lives virtually next door.
Taylor and Mike and I were soon joined by Ingus, Sasha, Rosie, Martin and Matt from the Mantis and we all merrily tasted and laughed and enjoyed the magnificent view from this entrepreneurial distillery halfway up a mountain on an island in the middle of the far reaches of the Atlantic Ocean.
Anthony, bless him again, collected us (actually we sort of collected him by walking over to what we thought was his house but was really somebody else's) and drove us back to Jamestown. Paul told us that his wife, Sally, ran the Standard-one of two pubs in Jamestown. The three of us simultaneously got the bright idea to visit the Standard on the way home to the Mantis for a Windhoek Lager and some local color. Sally wasn't on duty yet when we arrived but we enjoyed a beer and then, for good measure, walked across the street for another at The White Horse, the other pub in Jamestown.
The conversation at The White Horse was better than at the Standard but both are recommended.
Back at the Mantis we decided to dine in. The starters on the Mantis menu are enormous; one need not order a main meal-but we did. And, we topped it off with some vanilla ice cream topped off by, for one order, Paul's spiced rum and for the other order, Paul's coffee liquor.
Amanda of the National Trust long forgotten, it was a fine final day on St Helena.
02.22.2018 - 02.22.2018
Met by Anthony at 8:30, we are off to the passenger dock and my first ride aboard his other boat, The Sea Horse, a 30' Cygnus Cyclone.
We are quickly, with Chris as deckhand, off on a short jaunt to the vicinity of Lemon Valley Point to see if the Pantropical Dolphin Pod is in residence. They are. Oh my, they sure are. 400 or so, we think. They are having more fun than even I am having.
Next to Egg Island, home of the Brown Noddy. Their guano sculptures abound.
Headed back, we run across my diving buddies who are wreck diving in Lemon Valley Bay. Note the wetsuits. The water can be a bit brisk.
Back to the pier, Anthony takes me to meet Patrick, his father, who shuttles me to Plantation House, the Governor's Residence. There, Debbie gives me a private mini-tour apologizing all the while about the state of mayhem that is the house. It seems that the Governor is getting married here on Saturday. Lisa Phillips currently holds the post of Governor, having come here from a previous posting as Head of Office in Kenya. She is, notably, a Commander of the Order of the British Empire…and in two days perhaps, a blushing bride.
Here reside four Seychelles Giant Tortoise. Elder among them is Johnthan, most certainly born in 1832. He arrived in St Helena in 1882. He is the oldest known living non-plant on Earth, holding that title since 1965 when Tu'I Malila died in Tonga at the age of 189. (Unless you count the unverified claim of Adwaita, an Aldabra Giant Tortoise that died in 2006 in Kolkata, India, at the reported but suspect age of 255. Jonathan graces the tails side of the St Helena 5 pence coin. (Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II claims heads)
From time to time while driving here, one passes a solitary telephone box. For those younger readers, this is what that looks like.
We head back into Jamestown where Patrick drops me at The Inkwell Coffee Shop and Luncheonette where the proprietor is Anthony's dear mum. She has, at Anthony's request, saved me a piece of fresh caught local tuna which, along with a salad and a cappuccino, I devour for lunch.
After stopping at the Bank of St Helena I stop to change $100 US into Government of St.Helena pounds lest I run out before departing. I get 67 and change. It is a short walk back to Mantis during which I smile and wave and speak to everyone I pass because that is, to be certain, the custom here. Nobody has their head buried in a smartphone, nobody has ears full of earbuds for music, nobody avoids eye contact even with a tourist. I cannot say that I have ever, in 0ver 106 (I think) countries visited thus far in my life, ever experienced that.
After penning all of this I am off to, where else, the Mantis Bar where I find Taylor and Mike. After a Windhoek Lager or two, Stuart joins us and we all a taxi to take us to Rosies, high atop Half Tree Hollow for a sunset dinner. Great company, lots of good food for a little price accompanied by the endless Atlantic at sunset. Its a tough life. The only downside? The taxi up was 4 pounds flat but the taxi down was 2 pounds each. Taxi drivers: you've got to watch them even in St Helena. (Two nights ago the ride down for three of us was 3 pounds)
The Mantis Bar was buzzing but after a bit of time and more fine conversation there I decided to retire. That's my day in St Helena. There is an ice storm in Kansas City. Its good to be here instead.
You won't be disappointed
02.17.2018 - 02.24.2018
About the Mantis St Helena. It is the best accommodation on the island without question
Great in every way is, from me, a strong endorsement. I've stayed in various lodgings in well over 100 countries and, given its location on St Helena, the Mantis has exceeded my every expectation.
At this writing, the manager is Matt Joshua who I first met at the airport. He was there to personally greet me and other arriving passengers-perhaps because three members of the Mantis management team were on the same flight. In any event, I felt like an underserved VIP.
The rest of the staff is universally welcoming and efficient.
Formerly the Jamestown Hotel (there is still a phantom WiFi signal by that name floating in the ether that nobody seems to be able to locate), the Mantis has eight "Heritage Rooms." I am in #4. My key fob (leave it at Reception when you leave the hotel, please) is fashioned from portions of the some of the old floorboards which had to be replaced during remodeling. The Heritage Rooms were, in 1774, Officer's Barracks; the site has a new "wing" in the back containing 22 "contemporary" more modern lodgings. The entire property is non-smoking.
As for internet, the WiFi in Room 4 is excellent which is also the case in the lobby, the bar and the courtyard. There is no signal in the dining room due to thick walls between it and the router. It's free-up to a point. Ask for details based upon your rate. That is not the case elsewhere on St Helena. Several spots have WiFi but there is a charge for it and it is slow…at least as of February 2018.
If you have a choice of rooms, I recommend one of the Heritage rooms but I suspect you won't be disappointed either way.
The ceiling in my room is about 15 feet high but the air conditioning unit makes short work of refreshing and cooling the air inside. There is a king bed with new linens a 32" Samsung on the wall over a 6-foot desk that offers work space and a home for the hot water kettle and Nescafe packets for morning coffee or tea. There is a small fridge but no mini-bar.
My bathroom sports an oversized shower (no tub) with a rain head, new fixtures and plumbing and plenty of counter space for toiletries. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion ("Just So Pure Spa") and bar soap are provided. The towels are thick and new-at least as of this writing. The lighting is good, supplemented by a large window in the shower covered by adjustable slats. I don't much care for the fact that the exhaust fan is triggered by a motion detector and it runs for three and a half minutes even when I wish it didn't until it figures out that I have left and it can rest.
There is no closet but, instead, an oversized wardrobe with room for folded and hanging clothes. It also contains a nice robe, slippers and an in-room combination safe large enough for a laptop. Three electric outlets at the desk are of the Type G three-pronged UK variety with one other being the Type M used in South Africa. One USB charging port is offered as well. Current is 240 volts, 50 Hz (the same as South Africa and the UK) so, Americans, make sure that whatever you plug in (bring an adapter for that purpose) says 100-240V. If that 204V marker isn't there you'll burn out your device.
There is no electric outlet in the bathroom but a pair of outlets exist just outside for the hair dryer which you can find on a shelf in the wardrobe. For the dryer and/or an electric razor, you may have to stretch the cord a bit. There is a magnifying makeup mirror on the desk which also houses a desk lamp and a telephone.
Art around the hotel is mainly photography of spots around Jamestown and the rest of the island. The lobby offers a sitting area that will accommodate about a dozen guests.
Breakfast is as you would expect, either continental or from the menu and service is prompt and crisp and friendly. Don't worry, they insist, about the floor which bounces a bit much for my taste whenever someone walks by. The building is very old but, the assure me, won't fall down. For lunch or dinner you can opt to dine at the bar or outside on the inside courtyard. The kitchen closes at 9:00.
The bar offers five stools, lots of bottled beer (including for some reason Budweiser tall cans which nobody ordered during my week here), a full complement of liquor and enough wine variety to satisfy all but wine snobs. There is even a bit of prosecco and champagne. If I had it to do over again I would grab some alcohol at duty free on the way to the island.
If you like a particular variety sold only by the bottle but only want a glass or two just ask them to mark the label for you and set it aside, inside the cooler or not, for your next time in. JJ, our bartender during the evening hours this week, was more than happy to oblige.
Be aware that due to the remote nature of this island there will be, from time to time, shortages of this or that. When there are no eggs on the island, there are no eggs for anyone. Limited freezer space at the Mantis means it will someday be no exception. They ran out of a couple of things while I was here but nothing significant.
The Mantis accepts credit cards (AMEX, Visa, MasterCard and Maestro), British Pounds and St. Helena Pounds but not US Dollars of Euros which must be changed. The Bank up the street handles that. There are, at this writing (February 2018) no ATMs of Cash Points anywhere on the island. I suspect that will change sooner rather than later but who knows.
There is same day laundry but no dry cleaning. The TV offerings are sub-par for American tastes but that is true most everywhere around the world. The is SKY news but, in my room for some reason, no BBC News. They have History, Nat Geo, Cartoon, Discovery, Disney JR, E!, four offering entertainment and three or more with "sport."
My room (no photos on the website) which faces West through an unfortunately filthy window toward the courtyard and the steep rock wall of Half Tree Hollow and the forbidding Jacobs Ladder, offers one overstuffed chair as side furniture. Room three-it was open one day when housekeeping was inside and is featured on the website, has at least two overstuffed chairs and faces Main Street. I didn't venture inside. The photographs on the website mantissthelena.com are all accurate and up to date. For some reason there are no photographs of the courtyard; an oversight to be addressed as many of us liked to linger there for communal cocktails and conversation under umbrellas while being serenaded by the many birds which call St Helena home.
Wheelchair access is available for parts of the dining room, bar, courtyard and a third of the Contemporary Rooms but not the Heritage Rooms or reception. The hotel is built on a sloping hill and the main floor has been necessarily divided into three levels with ramp access for the middle level. Not perfect but not bad either.
1 Main Street
St Helena Island
T: +290 25505
M: +27 (0) 78 1401 529