A Travellerspoint blog

St Helena

So long, and thanks for all the fish

I've conjugated my last Saint verb (I is, you is, we is, he is, she is, it is, they is, us is). I've sadly eaten my last coconut finger and plate of pilau, and drunk my last shipwreck. I'm back aboard the RMS St. Helena, and the island slowly fades from view. It is bathed in glorious evening sun and the dolphins are playing around the ship.

Damned i'm going to miss this place.

I never really had any idea what to expect before I headed to the Island. Part of me was literally sh1t scared at the thought of being stuck on such a small remote lump of rock for so long (as a comparison, the 4mnths i spent on the island is the longest spell i have been in any one country for well over 10years, and even 3month spells have been very rare) and I had visions of hating it so badly that I would be attempting to leave within 3days by swimming and aiming for Brazil (for those that are unaware, my swimming technique is generally known a drowning and i am unable to even float unaided). But Iloved it.

So beautiful, so friendly, so rewarding, so fulfilling. I can't even give a specific high point a there have been so many. It truly is an amazing little island. And there is so much I haven't yet managed to do. And yes, i'm already plotting how and when i can go back. Hopefully for a longer stay.

As for now, It is time to leave. I have things do, people to meet and new places to explore. The next episode of the adventure starts here.

(((with apologies for the huge delay in entries. I've been lacking such luxuries as electricity and internet for teh last 6weeks or so. Hopefully more entries will follow in the next day or so)))


Posted by Gelli 04:18 Archived in St Helena Tagged boating Comments (0)

Mmmmm. Tasty.

I have always travelled on my stomach. Actually, that's not quite true. The only times i've travelled on my stomach have been when i've been lying down sliding down something at a great rate of – generally uncontrolled – knots, such as a sand dune. What I mean is that i love to try out the local food and delicacies wherever I go.

Admittedly, this has led to me tying some very strange things in my time (live scorpion on a stick is probably the most unlikely, and silk worm larvae the strangest tasting), but I have always believed that regardless of how evil these things may sound, It has to be worth a try.

St. Helena is spoiling me.

There are no particularly strange foods here, but lots of damned good ones. The standard of fish – and I love my seafood – has been superb and there is variety as well: Tuna, Wahoo and Marlin are the most frequent, but other fish are also available, whilst St. Helena fish cakes (which often include a good sprinkling of chillies) are rightly considered a highlight. I have not yet been entirely convinced by tomato paste sandwiches, despite their omnipotent-ness, although they can be pretty good. I think the thing that gets me is that everybody makes their own tomato paste, yet finding an actual tomato can be nigh on impossible.

Pilau (or Ploe, as it is widely known), on the other hand is the sort of food that i can more or less shovel down as much as is put in front of me. It's basically a dish of curried rice, with chillies, onions, veg and bits of pork or chicken mixed in. It sounds fairly mundane, I know, but it is more than the sum of it's parts, and really really good.

The local beef, pork and chicken and their products are fantastic, and the ubiquitous Braai give ample opportunity to get good barbecued sausages, steaks and chicken legs.

And then there are the desserts. I've never been a big one for desserts and have no sweet tooth, but the pumpkin fritters are universally fantastic, the (normally bright pink) coconut fingers are wonderful, and there are vast amounts of marvellous home-made ice-cream and cakes made every week. One cousin makes 4 or 5 large cakes every week, and yet they still seem to run out frequently.

In fact, i reckon i could happily live off Pilau, St. Helena fish cakes and tuna, with the occasional braai thrown in for variety.

Add to that the wonderful local fruit (when you can get it) and hugely sought after local coffee, and I am a happy man. So happy, in fact, that half of my clothes no longer really fit...

I still haven't found a mushroom though.

Posted by Gelli 08:27 Archived in St Helena Tagged food Comments (0)

Brave. So very brave.

Oh, and there was the Wedding.

Following on from the previous posts late, late appearance, here's another one.

I somehow managed to get right through the previous sheepish and late post without even remembering the wedding. “Wedding?!” I don't hear you cry. “Kiki?!” I do miraculously here some of you snigger away, despite being many thousands of miles away.

Alas for you (but definitely not for me), the lovely Kiki has yet to make her appearance here and the wedding was not mine. A couple I had met on the way down – Pamela, a Saint, and Andy – had come back to St. Helena to get married. I had got along well with them, and spent some time with them on the Island as well, and had been invited to the wedding. I joined the assortment of family and friends in helping to prepare (and clean up) the church and community centre which was hosting the reception, in a manner and as part of a collective help of a sort that you would rarely see in Europe.

The wedding and reception themselves were great. Glorious sun and seemingly half of the island out and about and involved in one way or another: It was also, apparently, very traditional and that added to the experience as well. If i hadn't felt it before, the whole experience really made me feel that I kind of belong here. Danged it, but i'll miss this place




The horseshoe on the wall is a local tradition. The Bride and Groom sit underneath it, and great the wedding guests with much hand shaking and smiling, before the guests drop envelopes with their offerings into the large well next to it


Posted by Gelli 02:22 Archived in St Helena Comments (0)

Seasons greetings. Well after the end of season, naturally

It has just occurred to me that I never actually said anything about Christmas and New Year, which as they are the events which dominated my visit, seems a little remiss of me. Longer term followers will note that it is not the first time i have been stunningly inept at mentioning major events. At least i'm consistent.


Christmas was more or less the same as normal. Well, except for the fact it was hot and sunny. And we had curry for Christmas dinner. And Santa was wearing shorts. Ok. Perhaps i should have said that it was almost entirely different to a typical European Christmas except for the fact that Wham were played on the radio with alarming frequency.

Here, Christmas takes on a bigger importance than normal, because lots of people come back for a short visit: Boat tickets get snapped up well in advance and hoardes of Saints return (often for the first time in several years) to visit their families and friends, and thus the population swells whilst the general mood of the Island dramatically rises.

In the run up to Christmas, there were a number of parades into town, which basically gave everybody the chance to dress up and look a bit silly whilst walking down the road into town, and collecting money for charity. Santa made his inevitable appearance more than once, and I have to say the one thing I could never get used to, was Santa wandering around wearing shorts (especially when he is also refreshing himself with a beer & cigarette as I saw at least twice).




For me, the other big thing is that it never really felt Christmasy. Admittedly I have not been a big Christmas fan for some years, but normally i at least get some kind of feel for it by the 23rd or 24th. This Christmas, I never got the Christmas feeling at all.

Christmas Day itself was great, and spent happily with family. Christmas Dinner was a typical Saint dish of a bit of everything: Roast potatoes, Beef, Chicken, Veg, Rice and Curry (which over seems to be used instead of gravy) and all gorgeous.

Boxing Day, everybody heads to town to (a) get involved in assorted games on the Bridge – involving all the old classics like the golf-ball and spoon (eggs are too precious to waste), sack and three legged as well as mammoth rounds of tug of war (b) see all their friends and family, and (c) get drunk which goes on well into the night with people decamping to the seafront.



The kids enjoyed themselves before the serious sports started. I was asked to join in the tug of war, but as everybody else seemed to be builders or fishermen and be at least twice my weight, I decided against it...



New Years Eve is much the same as most places, with the slight twist that everybody dresses up in their finest gear. Me being me and not really having any fine gear, i wandering around town both slightly sheepishly and just a tad inconspicuously. But I just wasn't in the mood. I rarely am at this time of year, due to the tragic incidents of the previous week, when a friend of mine from one of the visiting yachts, Wendy, had died. Worse, as those of you who happen to more of history will be aware, NYE is historically not a good day of the year and I ended up being particularly un-celebratory. True to form the curse hit again. Sometimes, life just really, really sucks.

Wendy, I just wish I had had chance to get to know you better. And Georgi my friend, you will be truly missed.

Posted by Gelli 04:12 Archived in St Helena Comments (0)

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?


Every couple of years, the Governors Cup Yacht Race takes place. A number of hardy souls set out from Cape Town with the aim of sailing the 1700ishmiles to St. Helena as quickly as possible. Actually making it is a major achievement. Under 8 days is a great time, and 10 days very good. But to do that, of course, requires that you get a bit of wind....

Which they didn't get.

This years yachts headed out of Cape Town on January 29th, and many could still see Table mountain a few days later. Let's just say that it was not a great year for wind which, to be fair, is a reasonably important requirement for most yachts. All of which mean't that the first yacht to cross the line until almost 13days later: in a previous race, everybody had finished quicker than that.

But apart from that, it went quite well. A couple of boats broke stuff (one turned back, another ended up getting a tow) and a couple of skippers broke things (ribs, mostly), whilst of the two boats of particular relevance to Saint Helena – Diddakoi, wholly owned and crewed by Saints, and Patches, crewed by RMS St. Helena crew including Saints – also did pretty well: Diddakoi came second on handicap, whilst Patches more or less won everything going except being first to arrive in James Bay, includingg winning overall on Handicap.

For us on St. Helena, it was an interesting diversion: Race updates were frequently given on the radio, and the yacht club put on a number of events as well. Add that to the fact that two other races: A Cape Town - Bahia (Brazil) race and the Heineken World Arc race were both on at the same time, and all of sudden the sleepy little harbour (which normally might get 1 or 2 yachts a week) was suddenly overrun with yachts. It was great!




Yachts in James Bay, and the RMS ST. Helena leaving after taking a sweep past the yachts.

But the very best thing about the whole event, however, was that on the final day, most of the yachts headed out on a bay race and allowed locals etc to sign up and join the crews and go for a sail. I've spent a fair amount of time on boats – ferries of all sizes, cargo vessels, warships, fishing vessels, motor-yachts, dinghies, Chinese Junks and even submarines, but I have never actually been on a proper sailing yacht before. So, of course, i signed up.

And absolutely loved it. We had been out for maybe 20minutes by the time I had realised that this truly was the life and that I had to get myself either a crewing job or buy a yacht pronto. After 30minutes, I was pondering resorting to piracy: knock the 2 crew of Little Red Wing overboard, and then just continue sailing off into the distance (or, rather, as I had only the vaguest idea how things worked, attempt to continue sailing). Perhaps wisely, if regretfully, i decided against this course of action.


Little Red Wing, who took us out for a sail



Out on the water



This ferro-concrete replica of a Chinese Junk just happened to turn up at the same time, and made an interesting diversion to sail past


The prize giving ceremony

Posted by Gelli 05:14 Archived in St Helena Tagged boating Comments (1)

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