First Week on St Helena Island

In News & Travels by Fran Bryson

My, what a hectic week. Who says there is nothing to do on an island!

Sunday: landing ashore, dragging wheelie bags up hill to the hostel, settling in, dining in the only establishment open for food (Anne’s Place, run by Jane – has internet too). Drinks with Hazel, the wonderful and welcoming owner of the Consulate Hotel (best balcony in town overlooking main street), now a fine friend.

Monday: A public holiday – Queen’s Birthday and a Family Fun Day at a nearby town (everything is not far).  That was after I staggered up the 699 steps that makes up Jacob’s Ladder (ouch). One shop was open for two hours plus Anne’s Place (which is 7 days a week).

Tuesday: A tour cancelled today (by the house admin) for Government House (suggested local reasons for this vary from Gubernatorial hangovers to cleaning requirements after the invitation-only Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend event that included Queen’s Birthday Honours). Instead I was invited to lunch at a food van run by Julian who cooks truly tasty beef soup and the best ‘Plo’ I’ve had yet (local speciality; think a simple paella-style dish). As well as Julian, I met a bunch of true Saints (as locals are called) including a guy with the nick-name ‘Pursebag’ and another introduced to me as ‘Jack’ who was born here and lives in the UK (often just referred to as UK) here) and is a current gues0 radio host on Saturdays. He, with another Saint who lives in UK, play music, read recipes, impart gossip and dedications: priceless. Thanks Maria, Meg and Angie (the last is a Saint who still lives here) for that experience.

Wednesday: The Napoleonic Sites: The Briar’s Pavilion where N. spent his first two months. The Briars is the property providing the main setting for Tom Keneally’s wonderful novel Napoleon’s Last Island; Longwood House, N’s main residence where he had a twelve miles’ radius to walk and ride; Napoleon’s Tomb, from where his body was repatriated nineteen years after interment (still a peaceful place).

Thursday: Bit of an admin and sorting out day including a nice walk to Munden’s Battery – there’s a lot of batteries and other defence sites here (as one might imagine, although it has never seen active war). Note: there is nothing flat or level in — or even near — Jamestown. Jamestown is the capital town (which I am told, as it contains a Cathedral, is technically a city in British terms). Most streets, floors and walls are not flat or smooth; my bedroom floor is not level (although it is smooth). And the valley walls a harsh in their steepness as well as their lack of vegetation. So far, I have not escaped feeling off-kilter.

Friday: Tour to Plantation House (Governor’s residence) went ahead after the cancellation on Tuesday. Suitable number of photos of the Queen (who has never been here as Queen only as Princess). We saw two of the four tortoises that are some uncertain age but one is said to be maybe two hundred years old. Friday night drinks: usually happen at the Mule Yard but that was closed which confused a lot of people even though the alternative (called Donny’s and usually closed on Fridays) is only twenty metres away.

Saturday: Rest day, because all week, and still, I am rocking as if still on the boat. People starting to suspect an ear issue and not just normal getting-off-ship stuff. We’ll see I guess (but I certainly could do with some ‘on solid ground’ feeling). It would be also nice if my new sim card started working as it is supposed to. Sigh. The ship is back in tomorrow for twenty-four hours then it leaves for two weeks (but three before it takes me back to to Cape Town). The only other way I can leave the Island if needed is via Medivac (and unappealing if interesting-experience possibility).