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The Where and The Why

On May 21st, 1502, a Portuguese admiral named Joao da Nova was returning home after winning a battle off the West coast of India, when he got slightly lost and stumbled across a hither unto unknown rock. Said rock is less than 50square miles in size, the top of an extinct volcano, and thus certainly not flat. There were no sandy beaches, and it had a a foreboding look to it. But it was new, and land, and thus exciting. Kind of. After exploring the Island, he discovered it uninhabited, but full of wildlife and vegetation, and he swiftly realised that he had found a strategically important new location, as a source of fresh water, meat, fruit and vegetables. Improbably and also impressively, the Portuguese made extensive use of it for the next 80years, whilst keeping it's existence completely secret from the rest of the world. The Island, in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, had been discovered on the anniversary of the Mother of Emperor Constantine, St. Helena, and was thus named in her honour.

Most people who have heard of St. Helena know if it as the place where Napoleon was finally imprisoned and died. After his escape from Elba and his recapture, he was brought to St. Helena in 1815, the idea being that it was so remote and so hard to get to, that there would be no way he could ever escape again, and he died on the island in 1821. Even today, and with modern transport, St. Helena is remote.

The nearest land of any description is another tiny Island in the same group, Ascension Island which is over 1200km North and home to a military air strip. Angola, to the East is 2000km away and Brazil in the West almost 3000km. The nearest city of any relevance and help to the people of St. Helena is Cape Town, is 3200km away. As there is no airport or airstrip, you must travel by ship. For over 5days.

And, excepting occasional cruise ships which call, but which cannot be used to get to/from the island, there is just a single ship. The RMS St. Helena, the last British Mail Ship in existence, which supplies the island with everything: Post, Food, Booze, Cement, Vehicles and Pogo Sticks. You name it, it comes on a solitary ship. The boat calls an average of twice a month, running to and from Cape Town, shuttles to Ascension, occasional trips to Namibia, and twice a year to England. The longest gap between calls is 6weeks. That's six weeks with no supplies from the outside world, and this can be longer if the boat has mechanical trouble...

So now you have worked out where I am going, and how, the question which most people have is “Are you mad?”. To which the answer is, obviously, yes. The other question is “why?”. In a way, the answer is because it seemed a good idea at the time, though there is a little more to it than that. After the Portuguese secret was discovered, the island changed hands, with the English, Dutch and East India Company all getting involved before it became a British possession in 1833 which it remains to this day. At one point, and before the Suez canal opened, over 1000ships a year used to call to resupply, or to leave sick crew, and so it became a fairly cosmopolitan place. Somewhere along the line, two ancestors of mine arrived, and stayed on the island long enough for roots to be put down, and my paternal grandmother was born there.

Nowadays, the island is a tiny British possession, relying mostly on British government support, increasingly forgotten since the opening of the Suez canal, and general drop in maritime transport, and with no airstrip, now struggles along with a population of under 4000 and contact with the outside world every 2weeks. But it is one where I am related to a large proportion of the population (yeah, yeah, I'm an inbred), and thus I have long had the urge to visit to find out more about my ancestry, and what it is like to live somewhere so remote. For 4 months. And yes, that suddenly seems like a frickin long time to be stuck somewhere, unable to leave, especially when it is so small. In the last 10years or so, I've not spent more than 3months in any one country, let alone what is essentially a fairly spread out volcanic village. This could get interesting.

Thus in 18hours, I will be sailing from Portland (the UK one, not the one in Oregon) and 16ish days later, hurricanes and storms not withstanding, will arrive on St. Helena, from where this tale will recommence. I hope.

Posted by Gelli 10:18 Archived in St Helena Tagged preparation Comments (7)

It's time to escape. Again

It's been a long, hard few months.

Or, looked at another way, 2008 has yet to really ingratiate itself with me.

The year started more or less as it mean't to go on. The wonders of British Rail (or whatever the heck they were called that month) and over running engineering mean't a nice 5 train 26hour trip home from Holyhead – after New Year in Ireland – took me over 40hours, 16trains, a boat and a bus, plus a missed meeting and 150euro extra cost. And that was a good day.

By the time i had got to May, I reckon that i had paid something like 1500euro extra for travel, due to assorted problems from other people, and been delayed for about 100hours. For which, despite filling out numerous forms and spending feck knows how long trying to talk to useful (or even any) humans, i received not a single penny, cent or ore in compensation. My “i wish i could send them letter bomb's instead of Christmas cards” list currently includes Network Rail, Virgin Trains, Eurostar, SNCF, DB, SNCB, Skanetrafiken, the AA, Kiki, Gemeente Delft, SouthWestTrains, First bus in Somerset, Försäkringskassan, Migrationsverket, Swedish Police, Länstyrelssen, T-K and several others. At one point it was so bad, I almost voluntarily flew...

Whilst ther ehave certainly been some good moments, there have not been enough. And when you add in the hassle of trying to fix a parking ticket that never was (useless Dutch b*stards – Despite having spent a chunk of time there over the last 15years, and loving it, I am now advising everybody to under no circumstances ever visit the city of Delft again), a dent i put in a hire car when i was half asleep, and another which was vandalised by youthful thugs, and I've unexpectedly lost close to 3000euros this year, for which only one dent and 500euro is in any way my fault, and despite fighting long and hard in all cases to get some kind of apology, compensation or something. And it's really not a great sign when the economy is collapsing around you and you suddenly need to start being much more careful with money. Then there was the incident in Italy and assorted issues, w*rk being, well, w*rk, the wonderful return of Kiki and several other things. At that point the Swedish government came up with a cunning attempt to somehow screw me over with ever virtually every single department. Thus at the moment, I have no right of residency right, am not in the national social insurance scheme, have no driving licence, and in a moment of culminatory glory, had my birth certificate “accidentally” destroyed by the Swedish police. When i complained, they told me to report it to the Swedish police...

With 30 also suddenly rapidly approaching, it all adds up to only one thing. I need a break. Perhaps another trip would be in order. After all, it's been over 2years since i got back from the last proper trip. Luckily, stunningly, you could almost say brilliantly, I had had the foresight last autumn, no less, about the same thing, and before all the rubbish i am complaining about above (all offers of help on any of the above, greatfully received) had even occurred, had started to make arrangements for my next trip.

“Arrangements a year in advance?!”, I hear you cry, or perhaps would if my ears weren't so blocked. What on earth made me, someone who rarely knows which country he will be in that same evening, make even vague plans so far ahead, let alone a booking. The answer is one that confuses even me, but as you will have no doubt guessed, is somewhere a little different...

I even managed to spend my second to last night in the UK, not sitting having a curry and beer with old friends as had been planned, but by the side of a main road waiting 4hours for the breakdown crew, after the clutch in the van i was driving utterly collapsed. Oh yay.

Thus after the hassle of this year, leaving comes not a moment too soon.

Posted by Gelli 06:54 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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