Fair on Longwood Green and climbing Flagstaff Hill

We had no time to sleep in after all the fun of the ball last night, as we had  decided to attend the bilingual service conducted by St Helena’s bishop at St John’s, up Market Street past Patsy’s mother’s shop, Romans. It was a steep climb in our Sunday best. The sermon, readings and all the hymns were in English, with some pointers to give the French the idea of what was going on. We met a Deacon, Catherine who we were to run into later in our stay as she is involved in other Island activities.

We wended our way back home via The Run, the creek that goes down through town to the wharf in a rock sidewall. It was a peaceful retreat with finch like birds flitting about.

 Then into the car and out to Longwood Green, where  a fair was in progress. A sailing ship had been put in place for the children and we had fish burgers with our friends.

   
 
The island craft of flax weaving was demonstrated. 

Despite the cloudy and windy conditions, we decided to climb Flagstaff Hill, which is one of St Helena’s 20 Postbox Walks. Down in town it was much warmer and I only had a cheap poncho for protection. We crossed a vast and windy plain where Boer soldiers had been held during the Boer War. It wouldn’t have been a pleasant spot.

   
   
This glamour photo shoot is me protecting myself from wind and rain. I needed my hands free for balance, so the bag is round my neck like a chaff-bag on a draught-horse.

The solemn event of the day was wreath laying at Napoleon’s Longwood Tomb, but embarrassingly, we arrived late and only saw the wreaths laid by the VIPs, including the French ambassador, Monsieur Mendelson, Napoleon descendant Prince d’Essling and the St Helenian Governor, His Excellency Mark Capes.

  
Delighting in the independence of the car, we drove down the new steep road to Rupert’s Harbour, which will be the island’s container terminal.

  
Even on a Sunday the road was hair-raising. Then drinks at the nearby Standard Hotel with Patsy and Philip and Marijke and leftovers from the ball together, our first and only dinner party at Fowlers Town House. Already we feel at home.

Donkey walking and a Regency Ball

  
We now have a shiny rental car, which facilitates exploring St Helena independently. Today we took part in weekly donkey walking. Fifty years ago, donkeys were an important part of St Helenian life, used for transporting the island’s flax crop and taking vegetables to market. Today, the flax industry has been replaced by synthetics and trucks transport veggies, so the some of the surviving donkeys are cared for in a sanctuary and taken for walks on a weekly basis. We joined four families to do this.

 
It  was windy and misty at High Peak, and my donkey, Cheeky Face, took off on a particularly windy corner, but luckily she stopped at the next patch of juicy grass. At the end of the walk, we gave them a carrot and cleaned the mud off their hooves.

 After lunch at Reggies Takeaway near the airport, Dave dropped me off at the top of Jacob’s Ladder and I descended tentatively while he carefully steered the car down, giving way to upcoming traffic. It was windy so I held tight to the hand-rail. It looked a long way down and very steep! I didn’t dare let go to take a photo – not like me at all.

We spent the afternoon glamming up for the Regency Ball, pert of the celebrations for the Napoleonic Bicentenary. The French had gone all out with their costumes and Napoleon put in an appearance. It was an enjoyable evening and gave us the opportunity to meet Marina Burns and her husband, Sean Who is Head of Government. They will be our hosts on Tuesday at the Briars Pavillion.

   
 

Written on Friday 9th October and posted now that we have access to wifi.

St Helenian tour in classic Chevvy

After farewelling Jason at the Coffee Shop on the wharf (the scene of many tearful goodbyes), we joined Colin Corker for his renowned charabanc tour of the island in his 1929 Chevrolet. First stop was The Briars Pavillion, which we Aussies were excited to see as Marijke and I are guides at The Briars, Mt Martha Australia.

   
 
We found that The Briars Pavillion had a restored attic. We return here on Tuesday for an official ceremony with the Head of Government, but for now we are happy to be guided by Trevor Magellan, who is a mine of information. In Napoleon’s day the Pavillion consisted of only one room, which is now open to the public. His secretary, Count Las Cases slept in the attic with his son, Emmanuel.

   
 
This is Trevor Magellan.

We continued to Longwood House, Napoleon’s home and prison until his death in 1821. It also was in beautiful condition for the bicentenary.

   
 
The garden featured an endemic ebony rose in flower.  

  The painted hills, seen from the car, are a multi-coloured wonder. 
The island’s highest peak is Diana’s Peak, located between two other peaks, Cuckolds and Acteon, which are topped with Norfolk Island Pines.

   
After a takeaway lunch near the new airport, we continued to Napoleon’s tomb, in a secluded valley. Th tomb itself is empty – Napoleon’s body was exhumed and taken to Paris in 1840. But it’s a peaceful spot.

 Colin then took us to the governor’s residence at Plantation House, where we met Jonathan, the 180 year-old turtle.

   
 
After observing the Castle and St James Church from  The top of Jacob’s Ladder, we negotiated our way down the narrow roadway called Ladder Hill Road back to Jamestown.  
 
Reaching Jamestown safely called for a cleansing ale at the bar in Mule Yard, by the foreshore, before watching the Fire Engine Pull, an event for Cancer Awareness Week. Everywhere we go we meet people we know from the Mail Ship or another island event. This is the fun of living in a small community.

   
 
One could get very fond of Island life, with its mix of community events and natural beauty.

(Written on Friday 9th October and posted when we have access to free wifi).

In the middle of an island….

Today we had a problem. I had arranged to meet Jason from the St Helena National Trust who had kindly agreed to show us the conservation work that he and other volunteers with the St Helena Conservation Trust were doing in the relatively unspoilt High Peak area. The problem was that we were to meet him on site in the middle of St Helena and our rental vehicle arrangements had fallen through. Philip to the rescue. We had met Philip on the RMS and he’d kindly offered to drive us if we were stuck. 

Well…we discovered just how generous this offer was when he picked us up after lunch and started driving up Ladder Hill. The two roads out of Jamestown are horrendously steep and single lane. Down gives way to up, and the speed limit is 20kph. Patsy, Philip’s Saint friend gave instructions as we took our life into our hands and gradually made our way up in low gears. Our housemate, Marijke also came along for the jaunt.

The meeting spot was high on the volcanic peak and Jason and his colleague Mike clambered and skidded down the hillside pointing out the island’s only remaining stand of mature endemic Gumwoods. The photo shows us under a Gumwood beside bamboo rat traps with a little shelter behind.

   
 
This is a close up of Gumwood.

Due to its isolation, St Helenian vegetation evolved without terrestrial mammals, but since contact with humans, settlers have introduced many threatening species.The Gumwoods are under attack from both terrestrial and tree rats, which if not eradicated can ringbark them. After Jason left us to finalise his packing, we helped Mike and Shayla by carrying the rat-traps that they laid under trees, adding a few grains of anticoagulant rat poison.

After this conservation work, we returned to Jamestown via Sidepath on the other side of the valley, drove right down to the seafront and shared a cleansing ale with Philip and Patsy at sunset. This, Patsy tells us is the traditional Saints way of returning to town.

  
Copied out of my diary for Thursday 8 October as the wifi was too expensive to post on St Helena.

Life on the way to St Helena

It takes five nights and days to get to St Helena Island, in the South Atlantic Ocean. It is a retro reminder of what ship travel was like in the 1950s, with deck shuffle:

  
Swimming in the salt water pool:

  
And of course there are romantic tropical sunsets:

  
Five course meals are served in two sittings. This particular trip is special, with nearly thirty French pilgrims, travelling to St Helena for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile to the island:

  
Here they stand to attention to sing the Marseillaise. We also had to dress formally for drinks with the captain, and had the opportunity to dress up for a creative hat competition. Marijke is an ostrich!

  
With 130 passengers, you could usually find a spot to relax, or socialise, according to preference.

  
The highlight of the cruise is day five, when we wake to the sight of the volcanic cliffs of St Helena rising foreboding from the Atlantic ocean. We can begin to understand how Napoleon must have felt.

  

Last Harrahs for Royal Mail Ship

  
Yesterday afternoon we boarded the Royal Mail Ship St Helena, bound for this remote island in the South Atlantic Ocean. This is to be one of its last voyages, as the ship is to be decommissioned next August. The opening of St Helena’s airport in February means that the passenger part of the ship’s service will no longer be required.

  
After the usual safety briefing, we settled down to a five-course feast in the dining room. By the time we finished, the Atlantic was rolling the ship about and many of us retired discreetly to check out the effectiveness of our seasickness remedies.

  
This morning, after a cooked breakfast, a few lucky volunteers were treated to a tour of the ship’s bridge with its navigational equipment. Since the Costa Concordia rang aground in Italy, procedures on the bridge have been upgraded and now two ship’s officers are on duty at any time.

  
The passengers are a friendly bunch and include twenty-seven French Napoleonic enthusiasts making the journey for the bicentenary of Napoleon’s exile to St Helena. As are we. Others are coming to set up the essential requirements of the new airport and harbour: fuel, air traffic control and security. Then there are some St Helenians returning home and South African holiday-makers. It all makes for some interesting conversation in two languages.

Tonight we dress formally for a cocktail party hosted by the captain.

(Written 3 October but not posted till 21 October due to high data costs on RMS and St Helena!)

Fabulous Capetown 

  
The Waterfront has a vibe by day and night, with brightly decorated sculptures of rhinos and tastefully restored remnants of days gone by.

   
   
People are posing for photos in front of Table Mountain even though it was blanketed by cloud.

But this morning we awoke to a fine day and caught the Hop-on Hop-off double decker bus and braved the hour and a half queue for the cable car, along with half the city.

   
 
Table Mountain was a riot of Spring colour, both human (see top photo) and floral.

   
   
The Red tour took us back along the coast, where more locals were at play.

   
 
We topped our sightseeing with a walk along the waterfront canal system and photographed high tea at the six-star One & Only hotel.

   
 
We felt as content and weary as this seal near the canal.

  

Puppies and hyena mums play before sundown

Coming out from their culvert home beneath the Kruger access road, mothers chilled out with their young.   

The chocolate coloured pup is very young and hasn’t yet developed his spots. It was most interested in suckling.

  
But it also experimented with cutting its teeth on a stick.  

His playmate was still chilling.  
And so was Mum:

  
A zebra trotted across the savannah

  
And as the sun set behind a giraffe with elegantly long eyelashes, we felt sad that this was our last Kruger game drive.

  

Wallowing in the heat at Kruger

At a waterhole just around the corner from Jocks Lodge, we came upon three elephants cooling off by spraying themselves with water.

  

 Just as we were setting up our cameras, they scrambled out.

  The cause was two rhinos that had arrived and chased them off.

  After checking out the lie of the land, they too wandered away, leaving the muddy waterhole deserted. Estien, our guide, took the 4WD down to a larger muddy wallow, where four rhinos were placing mud packs on their delicate complexion.

  On the back of one, the red-beaked oxpicker birds were cooling off; their beaks wide open. 

   

Cute baby animals with zebras, lions and a “Tusker”!

Our guide from Jocks took us out before sunrise and what a feast for wildlife enthusiasts!

Lions by resting the waterhole were a highlight:

  
But first Estian, our guide pointed out a trio of distant zebra.

  
  
Then a family of hyenas. One cub walked under the 4WD and sniffed at the running board.

   

Then we came across a rhino family. The curious baby sniffed it’s mother’s dung.

   
 
As the sun rose higher and the day became hotter, a hippopotamus kept cool in a wallow, watched over by a bird.

  
To top the morning game drive, we rounded a corner and came across an elephant with huge tusks. Estien pointed out that such “tuskers” are now rare due to previous poaching and genetic tendencies.

  
  
The end.