Bye, Bye St. Helena Pie
26 November 2007 | St. Helena Island
Shaun and Shaheda
We left St. Helena yesterday at 11:00 am. What an experience that was. This Island along with it's charmingly innocent if somewhat naive people has got to be the envy of the world. I am all for progress but I cannot help thinking what a disaster the new international airport is going to be for these people. Many of the locals are concerned about the impact on the Island. Whilst there is no doubt that a few will benefit I am sure this is going to catapult the large majority of the Islanders into drugs, crime and poverty. Currently, barring those who have visited other countries, most Saints do not know what the concept of homelessness is nor do they know how to beg and it is the only place I've been that have no street children. I am afraid that they stand on the dawn of a nasty change, like always with these matter I love to be proven wrong lets all pray that I am wrong this time.
That's my little look into the crystal ball but let me tell you what it is like now. You have never (well I have never) met people with such plain, honest, downright nice demeanor. This is not the exception it is the rule here. Where I come from people pass each other in the street or in the shop without even being aware of the others presence. Here you do not pass another without greeting and maybe even stop for a 10 minute chat whilst going about your business. The first day I arrived here I was "greet fatigued". I had never been greeted or greeted so many people in a day! But the naivety goes much deeper than this, there is a genuine concern for each other and people go out of their way to accommodate you. Shaheda and I walked into a store and asked for fresh chillies. Now you must bear in mind this is a tall order here, fresh fruit and vegetables are in very short supply, beef is available only on Thursdays when a cow/ox is slaughtered, so I was taking a huge flyer. The shopowner/keeper told us that they do not have any in the store but if we'd follow her she will get us some. She came out from behind the counter, left the store, crossed the main road and walked us to a chilli bush that she had spotted growing on the pavement. She proceeded to select the best chillies, querying if we prefer red or green and picked us two handfuls whilst making small talk. I felt so humbled that someone who is running a business and have paying customers to attend to would do this for me, but it is just not me, it is the way things are done here.
John organised a guided tour of the Island for us on our last day. John who seems to know half the people on the Island went to the pub and enjoyed a hydraulic lunch with Mike, the owner of the Island's only independent radio station and newspaper. We were joined by two other yachties, Tor (Finnish) and his wife Mary (Thai) who were anchored next to us and with whom we struck up a friendship. The tour guide Robert (If you are not used to the accent you'd think his name is Rabbit) met us on the wharf with his pickup (bakkie to the South Africans) which had two benches running along the length of the loadbox. Robert took us on a guided tour around the Island on what I call an appetiser tour. I call it this because I have seen many things that I would like to return to sometime in the future. I guess Robert is in his late 60s or even early 70s and has lived many of the experiences he talks about. In fact one of the sites is the now derelict flax mill, the suriving house is the same one that Robert grew up in as a child. Being interested in the bird life I took a few unscheduled walks into the bushes and found a few birds. I must confess I did not do my homework before arriving on the Island assuming there would be loads of local knowledge on the subject. I was very disappointed to learn that there was only two indigenous land birds left on the Island being the moorhen and the highly threatened wire bird, there being less than 400 individuals left. More concerning is the fact that this is the only place where this bird is found. As far as birdlife goes the Island is somewhat disappointing with only a handful of species of which most are introduced. I saw them all barring the pheasants and the elusive wire bird so I am mutedly (is there such a word) pleased with the birding experience.
Other than the country side we saw the major forts on the Island which all appeared to go up around the latter part of the 1800s and the various "homes" in which Napolean was detained. The use of the word detained assumes poetic licence for Whislt he was a "prisoner" to the Island he was a free man in most other respects, living way above the means of the normal Saints of the time, taking horse rides into the country, having a host of servants and close friends by his side. The Island has another famous resident, and this one is still alive and celebrates his 175th birthday this year. He shares the Governor's residence but seems to prefer the lawns around the tennis courts to the oriental rugged floor of the Governor's saloon. His name is Jonathan. Jonathan is the biggest tortoise I had ever seen was brought to the Island 125 years ago at the ripe old age of 50 years. Jonathan seems in good health, tolerates the occasional tourist and stands up when you touch his hind legs. The whole tour took a good part of the day and I can recommend you looking Robert up if ever you are in this neck of the woods.
Our last evening was spent having supper at the Orange Tree Chinese restaurant, the food was superb and the service could not be improved. We were served by the owner who went out of her way to give us personal attention, not too difficult if you are the only customers for the whole evening. It was with mixed feelings that I left the restaurant that night as I knew that was the last time I would have my feet on that rock in the Atlantic called St. Helena.
The next morning we started to prepare the boat for our departure. We had to take fresh water on board and had to fix the spinnaker halyard. I was hauled up the mast to thread the repaired halyard through the pulley. Unfortunately the halyard climbed off the pulley and came to rest on the pulley side plates. Our plan was to fit a different type of pulley at the top to try and avoid this problem. Unfortunately the swells were getting bigger and the wind was not playing along. We decided to get water on board in the meanwhile and hopefully things would settle again. Getting the boat alongside the pier is a tricky business as the anchor does not hold well in the bay and the swells carry the boat dangerously close in. Once all the water tanks were filled we motored into the adjacent Rupert's Bay. Here the wind was blowing but at least there was no swell. John went up the mast this time and decided against fitting the other pulley and put the halyard back onto the pulley, we hope it is going to work!
As I said in the beginning many things are hard to come by on St. Helena but most elusive was THE meat pie. Terry had got us all salivating for a meat pie when we were 3 days out of St. Helena. We were all looking forward to the lovely flaky pastry and rich beef flavours from this imaginary home baked pie. John being the realist said that we would most likely not find a pie on the Island. Well, John was right nowhere on the Island was there a flaky pastry beef pie available. The closest we found was one shop that made a curry pie, but with short pastry, I can't stand that dry stuff. No worries as Terry would say. I bet you 10:1 that St. Martins has a really mean meat pie available. Watch out brown cow there are a couple of pie craving yachties on the way.
Regards from all on board with love.