[Note: Day 100!!! Back in January that seemed like a long way off. Hard to believe we only have 15 more days of this great cruise.]
It was a beautiful sail-in to this little “dot” in the southern Atlantic Ocean. You could see the mountains going right down to the ocean from a distance.
A few quick facts about this island. It is volcanic with the tallest point on the island at 2,700 feet. The coastline is is made up of vertical cliffs cut by steep-sided v-shaped valleys. The coastal areas are rugged and barren whereas the higher elevations in the center of the island have lush vegetation. It is 1,200 miles from the coast of west Africa and is one of the most isolated places in the world. The island itself is only 47 square miles with a population of about 6,000 people. Jamestown is the capital and chief port with a population of about 1,500 people. The island is a British Overseas Territory and has its own Governor. St. Helena is also the island where the British exiled French Emperor Napoleon to in 1815 until his death in 1821.
Since this is such a small island, the ship only offered two tours. We did the Scenic St. Helena which gave us a broad overview of the entire island. It was a tender port, so after we arrived on the island, we were divided up into small vans (about 13 people) We were with BJ, Jack, and Charlie. Bard did the walking tour of the town of Jamestown. More about the town later.
In our van we only had a driver and ship’s escort. Guides were provided at each stop, so we used this driving time to enjoy the beauty of the island itself. I was overwhelmed with how lovely it was – so much more than I had expected. So, there will be lots of pictures in this entry.
Our first stop was at 1,000 feet elevation. This area is known as Two Gun Saddle from the time when it was heavily fortified by the English against any invaders. From here we could see the Briars where Napoleon lived for several months with the British governor of the island until his home, Longwood, was completed. It is the home behind the bright red bush in front. It is partially concealed by the tall green trees. Also in this area is the rocky heart-shaped waterfall (although there was no water now due to the dry season.) At the top of this steep cliff is High Knoll Fort (too hard to see in my picture.) However, it was large enough to house the entire population of the island back in the late 1600s.
As we left this area, I took a picture out the window looking down into the bay where the supply boat was anchored (where we were supposed to be.) This boat has a route between St Helena, Ascension Island (our next port) and Cape Town. This is how all the mail and food and any other supplies are delivered.
We climbed higher on these narrow, windy roads to our next stop – Napoleon’s tomb (the original one.) This area is known as Sane Valley and was chosen by Napoleon himself for its peacefulness and beauty. He was buried here upon his death in 1821 until his body was removed in 1840 and shipped to Paris where he is buried today. We had a rather long walk down a wide, grassy trail to the actual tomb, but it was worth it because of the beauty along the way. It is one of the three places on the island that flies the French flag and is maintained by the French Consulate. Doug and I took lots of pictures on the way down as well as on the way back up the hill because we truly were surrounded in beauty.
On our way to the next stop, we passed by more lush and lovely scenery. Here is an example. The roads were narrow and lined with small stone walls and greenery. After a lovely drive, we arrived at Longwood House where Napoleon lived after he was exiled to the island. The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens overlooking the ocean. Like the tomb, this home (now museum) is owned and managed by the French government in honor of their former leader.
We were able to go through the house, and there were guides inside if you had a question. I will just post some pictures that give a flavor the what the house had been like and the surrounding gardens. The white room was an example of how fabric was put around the walls (almost like wallpaper) to help control mold. It almost looked like a hospital room! In many of the rooms there were pictures and letters and official documents. I took this picture of a paper with Napoleon’s signature.
After this, we made our way to our next photo stop. However, along the way, I took lots of pictures of the interior part of this island with its lushness of green and flowers and little country churches and houses!) I think this is one of my most favorite islands in terms of beauty – and contrast with the rugged coastline.
Stitches Ridge forms part of a central ridge that runs East-West across the center of the island from which radiates steep valleys and gives this island its stunning landscapes. We stopped on this part of the ridge to see the southern part of the island in an area called Sandy Bay. The Sandy Bay Ridge is at an elevation of 2,451 feet. This area is the center of the main volcano that built the island over several million years leaving behind the prominent volcanic peaks (“dykes”.) Across the valley to the right sitting in the saddle of the hill is Mount Pleasant, the home of Sir William Doveton, the only islander who was knighted and where Napoleon visited in October 1820.
I think I could print an entire picture album with the number of beautiful photos I have of this island. However, for the sake of uploading this entry, I’ll continue to the next stop of our tour which was Plantation House – the official residence of the island’s Governor. This Georgian-style house was built in 1792 as the country residence of the Governor of the East India Company. It sits on a large, beautiful green lawn with its own tennis court and gardens (vegetable further down the hill.) But the most beloved part of this plantation is its 150+ year giant tortoise – Jonathan. You can see him roaming in front of the house and then the more “up close and personal” one! He is thought to be the world’s oldest living tortoise and probably the last existing example of his species.
We had one last stop. We left the beautiful green part of the island to make our way closer to town where the contrast in landscape was dramatic. Green turned to brown and large trees turned to scraggly bushes. We stopped at Ladder Hill where we stood at the top of Jacobs Ladder – 699 steps embedded into the steep cliff face. These were built in 1829 as an incline plane to haul things up and down the cliff from the harbor to the fort above. The challenge to many of the passengers (and mainly the young crew) was to climb this “ladder” and then go back down again to get the certificate to prove it! Barb, our tablemate and the one who climbed the Sydney Bridge, did this – of course!! The second picture is a view from the bottom I had taken earlier in the day. It is very, very steep! And this last picture is the one most of the people on our tour took – just a few steps down, look up, and snap that picture!!
We continued by van (not the stairs!) back down to the town center where we got off to get a bite to eat, a St. Helena postal stamp, and a souvenir from this remote island. Here is a picture of part of the main street – even the architecture is pretty here! We made our way to the recommended restaurant – Ann’s Place – and to get there you had to go through the town’s garden called Castle Gardens. It too was simple and pretty with some of the bushes trimmed to resemble different animal species. The dark green bush in this picture seems to look like some type of bird. BJ and Jack went with us to get a beer and snack. Here is where you had to order your food – a few feet from where you ordered your drinks! You can see Doug under all the ceiling flags!
BJ and I wanted to check out St. James’ Church – the oldest Anglican church south of the equator. At 3 p.m. today they had a special service for all of us as well as refreshments. We weren’t back in time from our tour to go. It was a pretty church both on the outside and inside as well.
As we were leaving to go back to get our tender, we walked through the Archway (which we weren’t able to see as well when we arrived since we were in vans and didn’t stop.) The leads to the main square. As you exit, you see the Wirebird above the entrance. This bird is part of the Plover family and is only found in St. Helena. Coming in, on the other side, you see the East India Company Coat of Arms (didn’t get that picture.)
As we were going back to the ship, I took this picture of the supply boat. You can see some cargo (green container) being taken off, but the wooden structure they were putting it on looked like it could sink under the weight!
The sail-in showed the island in the early morning light. The sail-away was even more spectacular with the sun drenching the entire island in a golden hue. It was a beautiful sight. We stayed out on deck until the sun went down and were rewarded with this equally spectacular sunset! It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. This island was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me – I thought it was one of the most beautiful and interesting spots I’ve been to (however, Doug wasn’t quite as enthusiastic as I was – but he did enjoy it!)
[An aside note about this island: a day or two later we heard fellow passengers discussing this island being the “miracle island.” The reason for that was the number of “disabled” passengers (those on motorized scooters, wheelchairs, and using canes) who had no problem getting on and off tenders, walking all around the island, etc. It’s amazing to see them ride up to the dessert bar on their scooters to get two handfuls of cookies and an ice cream cone and then be able to walk right up to take front row pictures as they waddle around on a land tour that has been advertised as not accessible for those physically challenged! It’s always amazing to see what people can do when they want to.]