Friday, 4 September 2015

Searching for Napoleon, in the middle of the South Atlantic.

[Hello, again!    As a change from the usual news of the Falkland Islands, I have enlisted a guest blogger this month.  Earlier this year, my best friend, soul-mate and darling wife travelled to the very remote islands of Ascension and St Helena.  For reasons too boring to go into, I stayed at home watching the PC, in case a Skype message appeared.  It didn't....until she arrived at Cape Town!

Below is her account and photos of her trip to find Napoleon's (almost) last resting place.....!]

RMS St Helena
 Until the new airport is opened next year, the only way to get to St Helena is by ship.   It is about 1,200 miles  west of the Angola coast and 2,500 miles east of Rio de Janiero.  The only ship that regularly calls there is the Royal Mail Ship, St Helena, which plies between the UK, Ascension Island, St Helena and Cape Town.
 Fortunately for residents of the Falkland Islands, getting to Ascension Island is relatively straightforward.  Twice a week, flights to and from the UK (RAF Brize Norton) refuel there.  Ascension is near the Equator and a fascinating place. See earlier blogs for more detail.
"Ascending Ascension"  >

Welcome Aboard!
So, in March, my wife and our friend, Bx, flew 4000 miles north to Ascension, to wait for the St Helena.  On the following Saturday, they boarded one of the last voyages of the ship to Cape Town.
John the Purser organising deck games.
 It takes almost three days sailing to reach St Helena.  On board, there are a wide range of activities to entertain passengers, despite this not being your normal cruise liner!
Calm waters in the seawater swimming pool
 Eventually, just when you are getting the hang of deck quoits, the looming hills of St Helena come into view.  As in Ascension, there is no harbour, so unloading cargo and passengers is a time-consuming business.
Arriving at St Helena
 Due to the irregular pattern of the ship's schedule, passengers could either stay 1 night on the island, or wait for the ship to return from Cape Town in 2 weeks, to take them back to Ascension.  My wife could only stay one night, so there followed a whirlwind 24 hours of touring to make the most of their time.
Raising the flag
Once ashore, they checked in to their hotel, then found the tour "bus" which would help them explore the highlights.
Wellington Hotel, Jamestown
 The island was discovered, uninhabited, by the Portugese in 1502, but most of its development happened in the early 19th century, when it was decided to use this remote re-victualling outpost, as the secure exile for Napoleon Bonaparte, recent loser of the Battle of Waterloo, and general troublemaker of Europe.
The tour charabanc!
 For more information about St Helena, try here >>
Distillery shop
Making use of the plants that grow there, the world's most remote distillery produces Jamestown gin, spiced rum, Cacti pear spirit and Midnight Mist coffee liqueur.

Longwood House - Napoleon's residence
 Napoleon served his exile in Longwood House, a plantation mansion.  He died there in 1821, and was originally buried in the island, but his body was re-patriated to Paris in 1840.
A corner of France
 However, the house and grounds were given to the French nation in 1858, in recognition of the importance this spot has in its history.
This way to the tomb
A vacant plot.  
Jonathan may have met Napoleon!
 The island is about the size of a sheep farm on the Falklands - about 10 miles by 5.  47 square miles or 120 square kilometres.  The population is just over 4000, but many "Saints" live and work in the UK or Ascension or the Falklands.
The Governor's Residence, Plantation House - with tortoise lawn-mower
 The old Georgian plantation houses still have their elegant gardens, kept trim by the roaming wild tortoises, some of whom may have been sprightly youngsters when Napoleon was around!
Beware of the Tortoise

Jacob's ladder
 The island was fortified to help repel potential rescuers of Napoleon, and a ladder of 699 steps was built to connect the capital, Jamestown, in the canyon, with the fort, on the hill above.
Top of the ladder
Jamestown from 700 steps up
 The main town, Jamestown, nestles in a narrow canyon.  Most of the island is covered with flax, which once supported an industry making rope and string. Now exports come from the distillery and from production of what is said to be the world's most expensive coffee.
Harbour view
Wifi and shade at the Consulate Hotel
The road to the new airport
But all this remoteness and solitude is about to be ripped apart by the arrival of an airport next year.  It will have regular flights from Johannesburg, from where travellers can connect with the rest of the world.   However, there are many people who would have liked to have seen a regular flight connecting the islands in the South Atlantic, not least those Saints who travel home to families at Christmas.  Now they will have to fly via London or Brazil to South Africa first!
All too soon, passengers and freight were brought on board, and the trip resumed.
Farewell to St Helena
Time to slow down and enjoy the trip.....
Back to the challenge of deck quoits
Life on the ship makes the most of calm sailing conditions and sunny days with traditional deck games and a pool to cool off in.
The Captain's sundowner cocktail party..
Deckchairs were rearranged.....and the pavilion made ready.
If you ever wondered what "rearranged deckchairs" looked like......
One eagerly-anticipated activity was the 'Crew versus the Passengers' cricket match.  Recalling the almost-forgotten days of slow travel before long-haul flights, when touring cricket teams had to spend six months on a ship to reach their opponents on the other side of the world....Oh, did anyone see the Ashes this year?
Crew vs Passengers cricket match
 Playing cricket on a ship really helps improve your game, especially if you are in the fielding side.  There were some complaints about dampness on the boundary, though!
The winning Quiz team!
Post dinner entertainment caters for varied interests and talents, bingo, darts, quizzes being more familiar to most than frog racing. 
Last night prize-giving and frog-racing
 The journey from St Helena to Cape Town takes 5 days, but they fly by and all too soon a familiar shape comes into sight.......
Sunrise over South Africa
Unmistakable Table Mountain
 Do you remember the Tony Bennett classic  "I left my heart in San Francisco....."

Well, Spike Milligan of The Goons wrote a tribute....
"I left my teeth, on Table Mountain..
High on a hill, they smile at me!"   :-)
Farewell to the RMS.  Only a few voyage left.....
The RMS finishes its regular schedule, providing supplies and a link to the outside world for the St Helenian population, in April 2016. After three special voyages that take in a trip up to London and a final trip to the even more remote British Oversea Territory of Tristan De Cunha it will sail into Cape Town for the last time on 15th July 2016 Flights will be the new link to the Island, but the joy of slow travel will be lost.

So, a fascinating and unique journey.  Now, all my wife had to do was to get back to the Falklands from South Africa.....easier said than done!

1 comment:

  1. Lovely photo's a beautiful reminder of a wonderful 5 weeks: looking forward to Tristan da Cunha. It was a privilege to glimpse a bygone way of travelling. So refined.