We Saw Whales!!!

So last weekend we took our second trip out to look for the, as yet elusive, Humpback Whales and Dolphins.  Our morning would be spent on a new vessel to the Island, the Enchanted Isle. Still barring the web address from its previous life, she wasEnchanted Isle fresh from duties as a tour boat taking sightseers to the Islands of St Kilda in Scotland. Built in 2005, this 42ft vessel has a degree of comfort and style for the 12 passengers and, like the passengers on board, she has taken an epic journey from the UK, ultimately arriving on the Island aboard the decks of the RMS St Helena.

After struggling with life jackets and some scenes reminiscent of Mario Ballotelli’s now infamous attempt to don his training vest, we waiting for  the right wave to push the boat towards the wharf and stepped across the gap holding tightly to the swinging ropes.

Just out of shot is a large group of people all trying to figure out how to put a life jacket on!

Just out of shot is a large group of people all trying to figure out how to put a life jacket on!

Our excitement at the trip had been tempered somewhat by the previously disappointing and ultimately fruitless outing. None the less, being on the Sea in any capacity is always enchanting for me and being the first passengers on board St Helena’s latest addition to the flotilla gave an added sense of privilege.

Ten minutes or so into our trip the Enchanted Isle made a sudden and quick turn, the more experienced passengers realising that the skipper, Johnny, must of spotted something in the distance. Sure enough we soon started to spot small, black fins breaking the water some 500 meters away. First one, then two, then around ten Bottlenose Dolphins were breaking the waves. One, more curious than the others, came within a few feet of our starboard side before diving below the boat not to be seen again.

A Bottlenose dolphin who broke the surface just yards from us.

A Bottlenose dolphin who broke the surface just yards from us.

As quickly as they appeared all was quiet again and we continued our journey along the Northern coast line. With an exclamation of excitement our first Humpback whale mother and calf were soon spotted. Engine slowed to a dead calm so as not to spook, them we watched the giant family surfacing and blowing jets high into the air before promptly diving below leaving us fantastic views of a 5m tail disappearing back into the blue. One could argue, given the limited view of the whale, a mere ice berg of tail and hump with the majority of the animal remaining hidden below the waves that the experience does not justify the hype. This is most definitely not the case, there is something undeniably wonderful and enchanting about the privileged view of this enormous tail slipping silently into the waves. Despite their size these animals are not commonly seen and an indescribable sense of awe is shared amongst the onlookers on the Enchanted Isle.

The magnificent site of a Humpback Whale disappearing back into the ocean.

The magnificent site of a Humpback Whale disappearing back into the ocean.

These magnificent animals spend the Northern Hemisphere’s Summer months around St Helena in calm tropical waters to give birth to their young. These behemoths of the animal world, growing up to 16m and 30 tonnes, will fast in the nutrient poor waters of the tropics for several months, allowing time for the calves to suckle and grow fast on mother milk containing 40% fat. In St Helena they remain in the calm Leeward waters for several months from July to October, although solitary adults can be seen from June to December. Growing quickly, the calves soon become strong enough to complete an epic journey North of some several thousand miles to feeding grounds in more productive temperate seas.

Knowing they can dive for up to 35 minutes, and travel some distance in that time, we move on, soon spotting a pod of resident pan tropical dolphins. Sadly they kept their distance and our views of them were not spectacular. Further down the shore our second mother and calf came into view, this time stopping around for a little longer and seemingly hanging motionless for a time, before once again disappearing into the blue with a splash of a gigantic tail.

Mother and calf

Before putting on the burners we were instructed that it would not be safe to remain at the bow of the boat where the best observations were to be had and the party moved back to the rear. It soon became apparent why, this boat can shift up to 26knots (around 30mph) and we soon found ourselves holding on to the rails, with wind and spray in our hair. John, a fellow passenger on board the RMS and new Maths teacher to the Island, nearly took a tumble into the sea such was the acceleration of the boat. John has become a good friend on the Island, moving here on his own and with a sense of adventure he has travelled extensively, but nowhere it seems quite like St Helena. He has quickly involved himself in the numerous sporting opportunities on the island, from Cricket to football, badminton to golf you will find John taking part, and claiming to be “not great at it” whilst more than holding his own at most things he turns his hand to.

Jane (left) John, Lady Christine and Toby enjoying the exhilarating turn of speed

Jane (left) John, Lady Christine and Toby enjoying the exhilarating turn of speed

Sharing our journey with us is the effervescent Christine. Having now caught up with my blog, she rightly feels that I should hand to her a greater role and position within our story. With that in mind I shall now refer to our eminent scouser as Her Lady Christine, and her Ladyship looked every bit the dignitary as she held on for dear life, wind blowing her hair like a scene from a budget production of Titanic.

Looking every bit the Lady of the Island Christine hangs on for dear life!

Looking every bit the Lady of the Island Christine hangs on for dear life!

Like an action shot from some 1970's cop drama. The awesome Andy Day (left) and his son Toby (right) and John (centre)

Like an action shot from some 1970’s cop drama. The awesome Andy Day (left) and his son Toby (right) and John (centre)

My eldest Oliver enjoying his cruise

My eldest Oliver enjoying his cruise

Oliver enjoys the speed and waves.

Oliver enjoys the speed and waves.

My wonderful family Oliver, Bev and Charlie.

My wonderful family Oliver, Bev and Charlie.

We sped onwards to Speery Island, a colossal, jagged rock looming out of the sea and used by nesting sea birds and human fisherman alike. Here we turned back  and took a slow canter back East, passing close to several rocky islands including Egg Island, stained white with successive layers of guano. Here we watched as Black Noddies and the beautiful, pure white Fairy Turns swooped and chattered around us.Speery Point Speery Point Speery Point

Our slow cruise back to Jamestown was interrupted by a third sighting of mother and calf, this time further in the distance, but no less wonderful to see. Three mother and calf pairs on a single trip is apparently an uncommon occurrence.

Slowing down along the coast also permitted the opportunity to speak with Johnny, the Ship’s captain. A knowledgeable and affable Saint, happy to tell tales of history and geology of the rocky formations we viewed as we passed by. In typical style, Bev meanwhile had found herself befriending the crew, and before long was taking hold of the ships wheel. Luckily for Bev the pilot had not experienced her driving on the Island, and luckily for the passengers her piloting of the boat remained secret until she emerged back on deck!

Simply Stunning, Pure White Fairy Tern.

Simply Stunning, Pure White Fairy Tern.

With a final turn of speed we headed back to Jamestown. Our second journey out to look for Whales had been a success, and, with only a few weeks left before these giants leave for another year, our third trip is already booked.

After lunch that day we returned to the shore for a brief swim and snorkel in James Bay. Our first venture into the water was guided by Andy Day and his eldest son Toby, whom continue to help us, guide us and who’s company becomes all the more enjoyable as time passes. A twenty minute swim in the crystal clear water resulted in the sightings of six endemic species of fish, along with numerous starfish and giant conch shells. Oliver did not quite find the nerve to jump into the choppy waters, but our youngest Charlie, ably assisted by Andy, did take the plunge.  His first five minutes in the Atlantic Ocean was met with a combination of fear and hysterical laughter but I think a small wet suit, snorkel and mask of his own will be on the wish list following this adventure.

Black Noddies atop of years of Guano accumulation!

Black Noddies atop of years of Guano accumulation!

Our day was rounded off with home baked bread made by Bevs own hands, which I enthusiastically used to mop up gravy following our satisfying Roast Beef dinner.

For a first ever attempt at home baked bread this was phenomenal, proving there is no end to my wife's talents. Fresh out of the oven it was delicious!

For a first ever attempt at home baked bread this was phenomenal, proving there is no end to my wife’s talents. Fresh out of the oven it was delicious!

Days like today are the reason we took this move, they are to be cherished and not taken for granted. Good for the body and soul we wait anxiously to see what next weekend will bring us, if it comes close to the incredible day we have just had, we will be doing very well indeed.

A Saintly Life

Having lived on this incredible Island for a full three weeks  and  feeling as though I have been a resident for an age, I am now,  of course, an authority on the Island and its people!  With this in mind I thought it appropriate to dispel some myths, or at least misrepresentations, that I encountered before we travelled from the UK.

The Island is, without question dependant on financial grant in aid from the UK government, from UK tax payers. This is often portrayed as though the local Saints are reliant on hand-outs, in the same way that many people back home are reliant on our welfare system. You will read that the Island has no natural resources to speak of, no agriculture or productivity and that it is dependent on the UK taxpayer to “keep” people on the Island. I have even encountered comments to the effect that people should not be permitted to live here if they cant “fend for themselves” and should be deported from the Island. The extreme end of these views angered me in their narrow mindedness before I left the UK, and now leave me bewildered by the inaccuracy of portrayal and authority in which they are given with little or no regard to actual research of the truth.

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Upon our arrival in Jamestown we came across this sign in the local gardens. Feeling perplexed as to why exactly one could not sit, or wander and generally linger doing nothing, in what seems like an obvious place for such behaviour. As it happens the locals agreed entirely and after a series of complaints this inexplicable sign has been removed!

Saint Helena is a UK Dependant Territory, arguments can be made as to what this means but essentially, it is, and has for most of its long history been part of the United Kingdom. The East India Trading company and later the UK government directly, stationed people on the Island. They brought African slaves, Chinese labours and other ethnic peoples from their homes and forced them to this isolated outpost of the empire. After generations on Saint Helena the people here are proud to be part of that United Kingdom (poignant given the pending referendum across the Scottish border), and yet in 2014 we should then abandon the Island and absolve ourselves of responsibility because the Island costs us money. Should we equally absolve ourselves of the burden of the unemployed, disabled, or infirm!

The people of the Island do not rely on hand-outs, they work, and dammed hard. Most Islanders have at least two jobs, unemployment is very low on St Helena but so are wages. Unfortunately though there is little export and much to import, therefore UK government grant in aid is provided to maintain government services, education, welfare etc. In order to generate capital, an Island, community or country must have something that others wish to buy and simultaneously must reduce its need to purchase goods from elsewhere, hence bringing money into the economy in greater quantities than it leaves.

The two exports remain tourism and fisheries, both of which are historically very small in scale. Recently, huge efforts are being put into expanding both of these commercial areas as well as developing  in new areas such as extremely successful enterprises in coffee production and products from the Islands unique distillery.  Agriculture is also being advanced and has increased by 355% since 2010/11, reducing the need to import foodstuffs from abroad. The private sector economy as a whole is on the rise, and, combined with localised food production helps to recycle capital brought to the island and reduces the leakage of wealth back to the UK or South Africa. Many of the Islanders have great entrepreneurial spirit and St Helena certainly provides opportunities a plenty for those prepared to invest time and money to fill the numerous niches that are available.

The Island suffers from lack of a competition in its service sector, only one supplier of water and electricity exists, ditto for communications and media. Whilst providing an excellent service, the result is artificially high prices, but attracting a competitor to supply, for example, electricity, to a customer base of little over four thousand people (approx 2000 homes) is neigh on impossible, and would in all likelihood require a foreign Service provider and hence increase money leakage to overseas shores.

Low wages, coupled with a lack of corporate or council tax largely due (as far as I can tell), to a historical lack of central service provision, results in very low income generation for local government. A cash economy exacerbates the problem with hidden or absent paper trails for those earning more than the tax threshold. Change is required with increased rates and new taxation required, but vicissitude of this kind is always painful and is sure to be met with resistance if indeed it is proposed.

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

Our weekend walks continue. This time to the beginning of the ridge of Mount Eternity although sense prevailed and we did not attempt it with a three year old in tow!

I continue my slide toward domestication, today getting excited at finding a hessian shopping bag, and even venturing to a friend’s house for tea and “a chat” this week. Those of you who know me well will appreciate the only time I arrive for a chat is if it is preceded by a pint or two. Caroline, my host for the morning, is an adopted Scottish woman, who left her home in California twenty years ago to start a new life in Scotland. In her own words Scotland has only just caught up to where California was twenty years ago, and now she and her lovely family have stepped back in time a further twenty years to start a new life on St Helena.

My life on the Island has settled to a routine of taxiing, shopping, coffee, household chores and an undue amount of plumbing thanks to the requirements of a new dishwasher and the accident prone feet of my youngest.

It seems my awkward demands of one and a half sugars in my coffee, have led to a quick transition from new comer to regular, at the St Helena coffee shop, where one of  the world’s most expensive coffees, (excluding those defecated from various animals) is prepared for me before my arrival at the counter.My FamilyFor the first time in my life I have a pocket notebook, necessary for planning my foraging trips, recording names and numbers, and for penning memory jogging notes on subjects ranging from where to purchase sandals for Bev to Christmas presents for the boys. On Christmas I am gobsmacked to find myself thinking of the subject in early September, in stark contrast to my usual Christmas Eve panic. However with last postal orders to be made by mid-October, present procurement is something we must start to think about. Unlike us mere mortals Farther Christmas is not limited by the availability of the RMS! For any family reading this, my own Christmas list is short this year and consists simply of a Go Pro camera, or money for thereof.

The coffee house provides a regular spot to read the two local newspapers. On this small Island newspapers and the two local radio stations are vital sources of information for both saint and expat alike. And on the subject of radio I have become an avid follower of the BBC World Service, which I am certain places me on an equal echelon to those listeners of Radio Four! I shall be listening eagerly tomorrow as the results of the momentous vote in Scotland come in.

My polite waving reached a new peak this week when I found myself giving a casual, but friendly wave, to a cat!! This has made me reassess the sincerity of my automated hand twitching and I am beginning to discover that, although still very friendly and partial to a wave, it was myself as opposed to the locals who instigated said waving during each passing of a car, pedestrian or feline. Under the suspicion that some Islanders are perhaps a little fed up of the stupid British man who keeps waving at people they don’t know I have decided to hold fire in future until I see the first and instigating hints of movement from the hand of those passing by!

My wife continues to impress me, and I have become in

The My Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

The Descent down my Nemeis Jacobs Ladder as seen at night. Bev shattered my time by a full two minutes and has left me questioning my manliness! I must beat her before we leave the Island!

awe of her ability to developed her professional aptitude, instigate positive change in her department, dedicate herself to the care of her pupils and yet still maintain her position as number one Mum, the apple of her children’s eyes and the glue that holds the household and family together. Bev is now being asked to help raise standards and implement change in the Science department, and she seems to be happy with the challenge of this role, although we are both mindful of her main objectives of introducing Marine Biology to the school curriculum and hope that the opportunity to do this is forthcoming in the new year. Add to the above the fact that my wife tackled Jacobs Ladder, not just beating my time but knocking a full 2 minutes off my attempt with an unbelievable time of eight minutes eight seconds and a picture of a pretty incredible woman who fills me with pride emerges.

Exploring the Island further continues to leave me fascinated and often without words to describe the stunning scenery, diversity of landscape, fauna and climate. A sense of history pervades every turn, road, building and view point. Whether it be centuries old canons from shipwrecks washed up upon the shoreline, my gruelling walk up Jacobs ladder, World War Two gun garrisons or the long succession  of historical statesmen  to of trodden the old wooden floors of the Consulate Hotel, this settlement in the South Atlantic has maintained its long and important links with the past. The sense of connection to the mariners and explorers, admirals and emperors, captains and scientific scholars of the past is a heady charm of this unique place.

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

A stunning sight at night anchored in James Bay

Maintaining its own place in history is the RMS St Helena, arriving back in James Bay today following its latest trans-Atlantic journey to Cape Town. The Last Royal mail ship has a magical effect on the Island. A life line to the outside world it may be, but more importantly is the connections with virtually each and every person on the Island. Most of the people have travelled upon her and walked her decks. Many of us arrived on the Island aboard her and those who fall outside of those categories have seen friends, family and loved ones depart and alight on her. An unexplainable sense of completeness spans Jamestown when she is in port and I suspect I am not alone in feeling as though it is my ship back home when she anchors in James Bay.

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Jamestown at Night. Showing Jacobs Ladder rising steeply to the left ad the RMS St Helena anchored in James Bay

Landscapes Part One

So throughout my blog you have seen lots of photos. Every so often I will include a post that is not much more than photos, like this one! This Island has some incredible landscapes, animals, plants, people and buildings and I hope to capture that in my images. Ive not had great opportunity thus far to get out in good light (golden hour) and with a tripod, so these images are all handheld in the middle of generally overcast days but I hope they give an impression of the magnificent landscape that is St Helena.

Looking back towards New Ground, a leafy suburb of Half Tree Hololw

Looking back towards New Ground, a leafy suburb of Half Tree Hololw

Mount Etenity Ridge with Half Tree Hollow and The Fort in the Background

Mount Etenity Ridge with Half Tree Hollow and The Fort in the Background

These images are all captured around one small part of the Island namely Half Tree Hollow, Lemon Valley and Mount Eternity I hope they show the diversity of landscape and flora on the Island with all of these views within 2 miles of each other.

The start of the ridge of Mount Eternity. Too narrow to take the boys with us today!

The start of the ridge of Mount Eternity. Too narrow to take the boys with us today!

The Island of St Helena is the remnants of two extinct volcanoes, which formed the Island through a long succession of eruptions lasting millions of years and finally dying out around 7 million years ago. The Island as we see it today is actually the tiny peak of a huge mountain stretching over 5000 meters down to the seafloor and over 130km across at its base.

Mount Eternity Ridge. A sharp, Crib Goch type ridge hat I cant wait to explore.

Mount Eternity Ridge. A sharp, Crib Goch type ridge hat I cant wait to explore.

Since that last eruption, erosion and weathering have reduced the high of the Islands peaks and cut away at its sides creating truncated spurs, huge cliffs which get wider and taller year on year. Freshwater streams cut down through the layers of rock, ash and soil to create an incredible topography of sharp ridges and deep valleys all across this stunning landscape.

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

Trials of Life

At the end of our second full week on the Island we are adjusting to our new life. We are already facing turbulent times, but reflection (and blog writing) permits me to put things into perspective and to contemplate these challenges in a way we seldom permit time for in our real lives.

Charlie finds one of the numerous Gecko's outside and occasionally inside our house. We love them

Charlie finds one of the numerous Gecko’s outside and occasionally inside our house. We love them

Charlie is slowly settling into school, but appears to spend most of his time with the teacher and not so with the other young boys and girls in his class. His early years, have been surrounded by older children and its clear he finds it much easier to play with and, in reality copy, children some years his senior. The move however, and indeed starting school, does not seem to of given him any great cause for concern and he is apparently handling things far better than his parents and sibling.

Charlie striking a pose outside of his nursery.

Charlie striking a pose outside of his nursery.

I think the biggest and most important part of Charlie’s life has always been his older brother. Whilst fighting and arguing with Oliver, like all siblings, he simply idolises his older brother, copying his every move and hanging on his every word. In effect the important elements of Charlie’s world have not been altered, Mum and Dad are still Mum and Dad, and Oliver is still by his side.

Oliver on the other hand is finding change difficult, like many young children and in fact his Dad, he finds making friends a challenge and his school days are filled up ups and downs. Happy whilst in class learning and discovering new things, but we suspect sad and a little lonely when play time comes round.

Oliver's Classroom.

Oliver’s Classroom.

Along with making his parents very sad, this is bringing with it a serious downturn in his normal good behaviour and kindly thoughts and at times this week he has pushed Bev and I to our limits. Time, support and cuddles will no doubt see him through this difficult period. A few humpback whales to watch, scorpions to unearth and rock-pooling at the weekends we help will help too.

Bev is settling into work and getting to grips with new, and often inadequate resources and systems . Prince Andrews School is one full of friendly people and dedicated staff, but still very much in development and a period of betterment.  With results improving year on year, and investment in good teachers such as Bev and her new colleagues there is no doubt that the challenges the school faces can be overcome with time.

Bev’s  greatest  trial of our new life is that of a change in family dynamic, with my new role as “primary care giver” and Bev’s reduced contact with the boys. In reality this change is, I believe, more perceived than reality and once we settle into our new way of life I hope Bev will see her importance and central role in the boys life has, and will not change. Working an additional day a week is made up for with real quality time with the family when not glued to lesson planning and book marking. Despite my extra contact with the boys, thus far at least, it is still their wonderful Mum that they undoubtedly long for in her absence and turn to in their need.

As of for me, my days are filled with shopping, cooking, cleaning, household DIY and other such things. Finding my way round town I am becoming more experienced when it comes to shopping, and familiar with what to find where and when. I remain however some way of achieving my full qualifications in Saint Helena foraging. I am enjoying a return to a previous passion and today’s culinary delights consisted of reasonable Leek and Potato and the best Carrot and Coriander soup I ever did taste.

My own adjustment to life is, as I expected, undramatic but not without its own bumps and occasional downturns. I often find myself feeling strangely inadequate in my “retirement”, searching for a greater contribution to this small island, a sense of my place, and a feeling of greater self-perceived importance.  My adjustments to being the Dad I think I should be is still far from complete.

It would be easy to blame our move for these difficulties, and to question the choices we have made, especially when concerning our children and the adjustments we are asking them to make. But is anything I have described above unique to our life on St Helena, are they issues we have not come across before? Is finding the right family balance, of parental roles, work life balance, and growing pains of children something that is not familiar to all the parents back at home reading this blog? I suspect not, and I take comfort in the relative normality and familiarity of our tribulations on this otherwise remote Island. The problems we must overcome are not ones of change of culture, wealth, health or other misfortune, but are commensurate with those faced by all families irrelevant of where they live.

A final thought on the subject of change and our necessary adjustments is the perception of time. It seems to me incredible that this is the end of only our second week. Having prepared and travelled for such a period as to put two weeks into near irrelevance, it should be clear that two weeks alone is no time for Bev, nor I and certainly not our children to have adjusted to our new life. And yet somehow it feels as though we have already been here a lifetime, and what was once a search on google earth and images, is now just our normality.

One final aim and challenge for myself  is to improve my level of fitness. To that end I have joined the local “veterans” five a side team, commence badminton next week, and twice weekly I near kill myself upon the steps of Jacobs Ladder.

Constructed in 1829 to haul manure up the steep slopes of James Town valley , the 699 steps rise 640ft at a 1:1 incline. My aim is to complete this gruelling trial twice a week and see how close I can get to the current record time of 5 minutes 16 seconds set in 2013. With an initial time of 10 minutes 26 seconds and a near heart attack upon completion I have some way to go, but I have two years to accomplish my challenge.

The gruelling and inspiring Jacobs Ladder. 200m of pain!

The gruelling and inspiring Jacobs Ladder. 200m of pain! The photo does not begin to give this justice!

Wonderful Weekends

I didn’t and don’t expect the current pace of my updates to continue, but at the present time there is a continuation of new things to speak of and discoveries to be made such that I cannot help but feel obligated to continue writing with the same celerity.

We have just finished our second week on “Our Island” (as Charlie continues to call it), and we are already establishing that weekends and the activities thereof are the reason we have taken this move.

Our weekends start early on Fridays at Donny’s bar on the waterfront. A friendly bar frequented in early evening by families and ex pats. Our ship mates also take the opportunity to meet up and discuss their week’s, share stories’ and exchange information on discoveries of new shops, the availability of fresh fruit or vegetables and new parts of the Islands yet to be explored. Although I am yet to witness it myself the opportunity to observe a breaching Humpback Whales whilst enjoying a beer certainly adds to the attraction.

Food is served at the local takeaway where we are rapidly learning the Saints propensity for shortening time and that 15 minutes is usually more akin to 45, and subsequently that tomorrow or “soon” generally means at some point in the future.

Following that, weekends have been spent with a morning outing followed by a social nicety of one sort or another. Our first weekend introduced us to the huge diversity and fascinating world of St Helena flora. During a walk through the grounds of Plantation House, the Governors Island residence, we encountered endemic flowers, lush green carpets of moss thick enough to bounce on, Eucalyptus trees and stands of Bamboo 12 inches thick and 15m high. After a time of exploration and further research I shall no doubt dedicate several pages and numerous images to the Islands fascinating fauna and flora.

Upon leaving the grounds of Plantation house we met a local Saint, who, with the customary combination of friendliness and intrigue took the time to say hello and engage us is conversation. To our own amusement the lady enquired if we knew of the gentleman from the UK her daughter had married, given that his surname was Wright it was expected that we may know him. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that on a somewhat larger Island of 60 or so million people its unlikely that we knew him just from his surname.

Evening was spent enjoying a home cooked dinner of Tuna steak and Barrracuda, or Wahoo as it is known locally, with enough fish to feed four of us for less than £3. Some things are undoubtedly more expensive, others are considerably cheaper!

This weekend has been even more enjoyable. Saturday morning was spent at an altitude of 750m in a cloud forest at High Peak, volunteering with a community conservation scheme. The children relishing the opportunity to become caked in mud whilst pulling up the invasive Ginger Root, planting native trees and shrubs and building paths. This also gave me the opportunity to speak with a resident expert on Island flora and start to add names to the amazing array of plant species we have encountered.

Huge areas of what should be native forests have been overrun with Giner root. Clearing this is hard work with huge roots to dig out of steep hillsides.

Huge areas of what should be native forests have been overrun with Giner root. Clearing this is hard work with huge roots to dig out of steep hillsides.

Restoration work is r-establishing the native forests. This area was planted two years ago. Some of the rarest plants of earth are here, with some species down to less than ten individual plants and one endemic tree down to one remaining specimen on earth before this work started.

Restoration work is re-establishing the native forests. This area was planted two years ago. Some of the rarest plants of earth are here, with some species down to less than ten individual plants and one endemic tree down to one remaining specimen on earth before this work started.

Oliver in an area of cleared Ginger Root

Oliver in an area of cleared Ginger Root

 

Even Charlie was able to get involved and do his bot for conservation, although he was more interested in just digging in mud!

Even Charlie was able to get involved and do his bit for conservation, although he was more interested in just digging in mud!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a hard working three hours we were rewarded with our first sample of local cuisine, a Paella type dish known locally as Pillau, and bloody lovely it was too! Lunch provided the experience of conversing with bug man Dave. Dave is a true geek in the best possible sense, and a fountain of knowledge when it comes to local fauna. During his time on Island he has discovered several new species of endemic insects, declared two extinct and is now in the process of listing 200 further species of insects on the IUCN Redlist.

Wonderful to do something positive for the environment, for tourism and that we could all get involved with together.

Wonderful to do something positive for the environment, for tourism and that we could all get involved with together.

Muddy Hands

The rest of the day was spent enjoying an afternoon Tea at Patsy’s house. This was enjoyable for so many reasons; firstly we visited Harlyn, a house of 186 years and the reference point of our own address, Near Harlyn! Of greater importance was the delightful time spent with one of the Islands most loved people. On Saint Helena it seems some people are held in great Esteem and respect. As a former head teacher, landlady of one of the Islands oldest houses, mother to the Captain of the RMS St Helena, charity fundraiser, coffee morning host and much more besides Patsy falls within that category. A wonderful lunch of home-made breads and cakes was followed with a tour of her fascinating house and long conversation about her family’s history on the Island and the encyclopaedic knowledge of the Island’s people and of bygone times.

Today (Sunday as I write) we spent the morning aboard a whale/dolphin watching trip. Alas, and against all expectations and prior enunciations we saw nothing, not a whale, dolphin or even Masked Booby! But the trip was still thoroughly enjoyable and afforded further opportunity to meet various people and, in true Saint tradition, find out what they do and how they may be useful to our stay on the Island.

The Tysons on their Whale Watching trip. Distinct absence of Whales, Dolphins or anything else for that matter

The Tysons on their Whale Watching trip. Distinct absence of Whales, Dolphins or anything else for that matter

Our afternoon was spent with the aforementioned Days family, Andy, Lucy and their two children Toby and Lawrence. A constant source of help and support aboard the RMS and during our feet finding first days on the Island, this afternoon was about developing friendship. We could not of had a more enjoyable afternoon with roast Chicken, walking, and construction of essential additions to a jungle tree house. When adding in superb roast potatoes to top off enjoyable conversation in lovely company, the day left both Bev and I feeling warm and fuzzy about making new friends and the good time to be had ahead of us.

It seems that beyond the spectacular landscape, the fascinating flora and fauna, the challenges to overcome and opportunities to be had, this trip is about people. It may yet turn me into a gregarious human being instead of the socially awkward and positively miserable git that I currently am.

Finally, if the weekend could not get any better our scooter has arrived having passed its MOT, Oliver, following in his fathers footsteps with his new found love of photography saw fit to take some photos of my first, somewhat wobbly, steps on our new Island toy. I must add by the end of the weekend I was heading off at close to 40mph (downhill of course)

Valentino Rossi eat your heart out!

Valentino Rossi eat your heart out!

Oh, and we may also be buying a boat!

Jamestown and Half Tree Hollow

Ok as promised some photos to accompany the last entry, not the best photos, the weather has been grey and overcast which hasn’t leant itself to stunning photos, but it gives you a good idea of where we live. Hope you enjoy.

In direct contrast to workmen in the UK, these guys work all day, and rest half hour for lunch. Friendly banter preceded this shot and I hope to catch them in the pub one night!

In direct contrast to workmen in the UK, these guys work all day, and rest half hour for lunch. Friendly banter preceded this shot and I hope to catch them in the pub one night!

Jamestown is simultaneously a bustling centre for shopping, services and work, and a restful place for sitting and chatting and passing the time of day.

Jamestown is simultaneously a bustling centre for shopping, services and work, and a restful place for sitting and chatting and passing the time of day.

The Sunsets from our house are already good. When we get a clear evening they will be spectacular.

The Sunsets from our house are already good. When we get a clear evening they will be spectacular.

The afore mentioned Post Office, a throw back to another era, and still a vital part of the Island. The post office also serves as the local car and driving licence and registration authority. Our car was registered as 4090, the 4090th car on the Island, the register of all vehicles is a hand written A4 book, held at the post office. Myself and a fellow ex-pat ran a short competition to find car number 1, we found it within two days, a Old Style Landrover!

The afore mentioned Post Office, a throw back to another era, and still a vital part of the Island. The post office also serves as the local car and driving licence and registration authority. Our car was registered as 4090, the 4090th car on the Island, the register of all vehicles is a hand written A4 book, held at the post office. Myself and a fellow ex-pat ran a short competition to find car number 1, we found it within two days, a Old Style Landrover!

The view from our small terrace. An amazing view over the South Atlantic Ocean.

The view from our small terrace. An amazing view over the South Atlantic Ocean.

Another view of our front "garden". The weather has not been inductive to good sunsets, but I know when we get a clear night this will be incredible.

Another view of our front “garden”. The weather has not been inductive to good sunsets, but I know when we get a clear night this will be incredible.

This is not superimposed.  The image is taken through two lobes of the same cacti. One which has died revealing its intricate network of capillaries which help to store masses of water.

This is not superimposed. The image is taken through two lobes of the same cacti. One which has died revealing its intricate network of capillaries which help to store masses of water.

The Capital Jamestown as viewed from Half Tree Hollow. A fascinating town running along a narrow valley. The centre of life on the Island

The Capital Jamestown as viewed from Half Tree Hollow. A fascinating town running along a narrow valley. The centre of life on the Island

This is a view from the top of Ladder Hill Road. An incredible steep, narrow road traversing up a cliff face linking Jamestown to its main suburb Half Tree Hollow. I love driving this road.

This is a view from the top of Ladder Hill Road. An incredible steep, narrow road traversing up a cliff face linking Jamestown to its main suburb Half Tree Hollow. I love driving this road.

The house sits near an old (1828) house called Harlyn. Our address therefore is simply, Near Harlyn, Half Tree Hollow. There is no number, no name, no street, its just near Harlyn, as are at least another 15 houses near by. The postman just has to know where you live!!!

The house sits near an old (1828) house called Harlyn. Our address therefore is simply, Near Harlyn, Half Tree Hollow. There is no number, no name, no street, its just near Harlyn, as are at least another 15 houses near by. The postman just has to know where you live!!!

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

This is the view from the back of our house. A small church perched on top of a hill of Cacti

 

 

 

One Week Down, one hundred and three to go!

So we’ve reached the end of our first week on Saint Helena, and are pretty much exhausted. Its hard to comprehend the amount of changes, and things we have organised and accomplished in the last few weeks. Charlie, who is three years old, left his home a month ago, lived with my parents, lived with Bevs parents, went on a 11 hour flight (his first ever) and all that entails, spent a night in Cape Town, Spent five nights at sea, moved to a new Island, moved to a new house and started school for the first time! It’s a lot to take in for a three year old!

After arriving last Wednesday I have learnt to tackle the local roads, especially as my new found role on the Island is as Dads Taxi. Drivers are on the Island are, in the main, very friendly and it has become customary to give a quick wave when passing other drivers, or pedestrians, or those sat watching the world go by, or cats, birds and anything else really. In essence if you pass by it, its nice to give it a quick wave.

As a general rule if you are heading down a hill you give way to those coming up it. On Saint Helena you will only ever be doing one or the other of those two options, speeds are limited to 30mph or less, largely due to the frequent sharp bends, and steep roads. As a result of this, hitting fourth gear heading slightly down hill on the only strait road we have yet encountered, was greeted by cheers from all those in the car. It is often said that the Islands cars are a throw back to the 70s and 80, a time of Ford Cortina’s, but sadly, whilst there are a few dotted around, the Island has caught up in that respect and is now dominated by Ford Focus or various Four by Fours, including the popular “six pack” the local expression for a Toyota Hylux.

In my role as house husband I have been getting to know Jamestown, a bustling little town full of character. The town really is, barring the odd exception, such as the local media provider, a throwback to some older time. It would not feel at all strange to see Darwin, King George, or Napoleon himself strolling through town searching out which shop had the freshest fruit. But I think I like this age gone by. There are no ATM’s on the island, instead, you go to the bank and converse with an actual person, there is no danger of your fingers being taken off as you make a cash deposit.

The post office is wonderful, reminiscent of Post Offices in old Western films, with individual booths and Iron bars separating you from the polite and friendly postal worker.

A particularly interesting quirk of the island is the ability to phone a company, and have them answer the phone and speak to you. They do this without the need to navigate through a multitude of push button options, repeat a security password to three different people in Bangladesh, and subject ones ears to an endless repeat of copy write free musical trash. They just answer the phone, we should look into such revolutionary out of the box thinking back in the UK.

Finding food and goods is more of a challenge than the UK, but is not the Ray Meers style expedition we had been led to believe. Shops are stocked with a wide range of dried goods from Tesco and Asda, as well a South Africa, and more and more fresh local produce of vegetables and meats are generally on hand. Although choice is much reduced we have eaten well and dined on home cooked fish, chicken and pork thus far and enjoyable family meals have become the norm. Local restaurants serve well cooked food, although they are undoubtedly lacking in culinary imagination and variety. This is due in the main to the lack of dining out experience of the Saints and I expect there are many opportunities for a good restaurateur on the Island.

People on the Island are friendly and welcoming. There is a definite curiosity around the Islands latest new arrivals and one can feel eyes upon you when walking down the street. Our conversations and scrutiny with locals of who, what and why are often rapidly passed on to waiting friends and colleagues and whomever else wishes to know about us. At first, I confess, this bothered me, and I thought back to small villages in the UK and the scorn and deride that an incomer can often generate, is it the same in Saint Helena? After careful though I conclude that no, on Saint Helena finding out who someone is and what they do is an essential part of the functionality of this small community. This Island of just four thousand people has the facilities, and infrastructure that would serve a much larger community in the UK. Name me a village in the UK, of four thousand people, that has the tools and expertise to provide a hospital, doctors, banks, garages, shops, fishermen, emergency services, conservation, builders and planners, policing etc etc. Yet this is achieved despite real difficulties in communications, lack of available resources, roads that are slow at best and impassable at worse, street names and house numbers are often not present and many houses don’t actually have an address. The island works because everyone talks to each other, they find out what each other’s role is, what they can do and contribute, how they can work with and for each other. To find out where to buy something, get something fixed, recruit a service, you do not go on-line, you speak to people, you find out. And I believe this is the main reason that new comers to the Island generate such curiosity, what do they do, can they help me or I them? Well, that and a certain degree of checking out the new neighbours!

Oliver, Charlie and Bev all started school in varying capacities. Bev started at the Prince Andrew secondary school. Unfortunately her Marine roll is on hold until the new Science teacher arrives in January, but she has plunged strait into a full science teaching time table. Oliver has started at Pilling School, one of three primary schools on the Island. Starting year two he has adjusted remarkably well, and despite a little wobble today he appears to be making friends and is generally happy to be there.

Charlie is presenting more of a challenge. His first day I left him screaming and crying, this heart breaking experience leaving me feeling glad that Bev had not been there for it. Walking away I could not look back at him and shed a tear hearing his cries, fully understanding his confusion and rejection at being left with strangers against his will. Whilst Im sure this has been a common experience for parents across the world this week, few three year olds have experienced the enormity of change that our Charlie has.

While our first full week draws to a close I look forward to our already regular Friday night at Donnies, a water front bar, and with huge excitement to our first boat trip to search out the resident Dolphins and breeding Humpback Whales and their Calves.

* I must apologise for the lack of accompanying photos for today’s post, I have simply not had time to carry a camera around with me, but my aim for tomorrow is to make up for that so keep your eyes peeled for a blog full of images tomorrow night.As I have no photos the cover photo is an extra one from our journey over when leaving Capetown.

The Tysons Arrive

Well, my intention of being up at 6am to see St Helena as a dot on the horizon did, rather predictably, fall by the way side. So, crawling out of bed at 7.30am, we made our way to the deck and there she was. The Island, the focus of our attention for the last 5 months, the vision in our heads for what feels like a life time St Helana. What a wonderful exciting moment, shared with others emerging on deck to see their new home for the first time, whispers and murmurings of emotions giving way to a tide of noise and chatter as eventually all 125 passengers appear on deck wide eyed.

St Helena as approached from the South.

St Helena as approached from the South. Our first view of the Island

I peered at this rock emerging from the sea, imagining myself in the opening scenes of King Kong. As we approached the barren  rocky cliffs, the Islands  secret lush interior is revealed only by the sight of a loan tree sat on the Island’s highest point, Diana’s Peak (823m). Two things struck me; mostly, I thought that this is a small island, a very small island, a spec in an endless ocean. My mind turned to the pioneering explorers, the Christopher Columbus’s of this World, the excitement and sheer overwhelming joy that must have greeted those brave men who crossed Oceans with no maps, in the hope of forging brave new worlds.  St Helena, although a British Territory for hundreds of years, was discovered in 1502 by Portuguese navigator João da Nova, on his voyage home from India and what must he of felt when, like me, he first saw the looming sea cliffs ahead of him?

The second thing that struck both Bev and I was its apparent lack of any recognisable inhabitants. Approaching the South side of the Island a huge wall of rock and sheers cliffs is all that can be seen, this imposing structure changes and becomes more welcoming as we move East round the island, the barren rock face gives way to welcoming peaks and troughs with lush green valleys and dry peaks. Eventually the ship approaches the North of the Island, the capital Jamestown and the first clues of the Islands inhabitants and long history comes into view as we weigh anchor to disembark.

Moving round the Island from South to North

Moving round the Island from South to North

We move around to the North of the Island a steep impassable cliffs give way to stunning high ridges and velleys

We move around to the North of the Island a steep impassable cliffs give way to stunning high ridges and velleys

As we approach our anchor point the Capital, Jamestown and the suburb of Half Tree Hollow on the "flat" plateau come into view

As we approach our anchor point the Capital, Jamestown and the suburb of Half Tree Hollow on the “flat” plateau come into view

From our steady anchor point the capital, Jamestown is clearly visible, a narrow town of colourful houses rising up following the line of a steep sided valley. We get our first glimpse of Half Tree Hollow, a residential suburb of Jamestown perched high on a plateau and our soon to be new home town. We can even see our new house from here and thoughts of evenings spent looking out across the setting sun over the Atlantic Ocean fill my head.

Sat up on the plateau i Half Tree Hollow, accessible by a steep cliff side road which traverses  the right side of the volcanic valley of the capital Jamestown

Sat up on the plateau is Half Tree Hollow, accessible by a steep cliff side road which traverses the right side of the volcanic valley of the capital Jamestown

6.7 Half Tree Hollow - Our House

Before we know it our time aboard the RMS is over, and we disembark onto a small shuttle boat which takes us to the Wharf. Waiting for a favourable wave to lift our boat high enough to step onto the dry land we have a nervous excitement and butterflies in our stomachs. A short shuttle bus journey to the customs post is filled with the chattering’s of expectant and nervous new Islanders.

We left the RMS via this set of steps onto a shuttle boat.

We left the RMS via this set of steps onto a shuttle boat.

After the necessaries through customs and immigration control we are greeted by Bev’s new boss and some work colleagues. On board the ship with us were the St Helena’s Commonwealth Games team, the returning heroes welcomed by a good crowd of local Saints and songs from pupils of the local primary schools. It was difficult not to feel as though somehow the cheers were for us, the Tyson’s, who have completed their epic journey and who’s new and fascinating life lies ahead of them.

Oliver is already off looking at the first of the Islands wildlife, aptly names Lightfoot crabs and Nimble Spray Crabs scuttling across the rocky breakwaters, with curious and beautiful Fairy Terns swooping by to investigate the Islands new residents.

After more form filling and waiting, we are taken to our hire car, a surprisingly normal Ford Focus, and followed the guide to our new home. This is the first of my island adventures, the incredible, steep road traversing across the shear face of Ladder Hill. Rising from sea level to around 400m along a narrow, winding road with cliffs to our right I am glad to be on the inside of the road. I learn very quickly that the Island is brutal on a car, but walking any distance is not an option. With a touch of Colin McRae, kicking up dust behind me we turn a sharp bend and Half Tree Hollow is laid out across the hill side ahead of us.

We had been told that the habitat and climate varies enormously across the Island, and that our home was on a dry arid plain, but nothing prepared me for the site that confronted us. Like a scene strait out of a Texan Western, our small home was surrounded by Cacti on all sides. We climbed a steep, dry, dusty track that leads to our home and as I look back down the hill I find myself dumbstruck at the most incredible view, looking out across the Ocean. Somehow, the endless blue we have seen all too well for 6 days has not lost any of its ability to impact the senses.

Can this be true, that we are here; that this surreal dream is a reality; that I and my family now live, on an Island, six miles wide and ten long. 1200miles from Africa, 1800miles from South America in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean; that we live, on the Island of Saint Helena.

 

 

Final Night Aboard the RMS

Day five and our final full day aboard the RMS St Helena. Despite the long days, time has flown by and we are now turning our thoughts to what our first days upon the Island may bring. The RMS St Helena has a reputation for leaving a lasting impression on people, and it’s easy to see why. A throw back to a bye gone era with games of dominoes and shove half penny, to sitting on deck quietly reading or conversing with fellow passengers. A place where dress codes still apply and staff take pride in the correct attire for the correct time of day.

The journey has not been without its troubles and challenges, not least of which has been trying to occupy our two boys, Oliver (6) and Charlie (3). The limit space for them to run and play has led to a build-up of unspent energy and trying to find creative ways to express this has been difficult, but we have neared the end of the journey without annoying the other passengers too much. A daily attempt to relieve the boredom has been a dip in the pool. This ritual has involved Oliver and Charlie pacing around the pool for some time, demanding that Mummy or Daddy get in. When we eventually cave in and jump into the waters, Oliver follows gingerly stepping in, before jumping right back out again and is not seen to return to the water until the following days ritual begins again. The reason for this this rapid departure is the icy temperature of the water, due to the pool being filled with Sea Water taken from the Atlantic Coast of Cape Town but Oliver certainly does not seem to mind his foolish parents getting into the freezing water on his behalf!

5.2 Charlie

The passengers and crew on board are what makes this journey truly special and interesting. And endless list of nationalities, personalities and stories. Each person with their own narrative and tale to tell.

We have met many people from the UK in the same situation as ourselves off to St Helena for new work and a new way of life, sharing stories of excitement and fear is a great collective comfort for us all. Then off course we have our first experience of the local Saints, and we have experienced a warm, friendly and fascinating people, always with time to say hello and spin a yarn. Stedson, a former St Helenan head teacher, retired some 20 years ago was returning to St Helena following a scan for Cancer, sadly his prognosis is not good, but I shall treasure the half hour spent in his company learning more of life on the Island and hearing a life time of wisdom and will pray that I may enjoy still further time in his company when reaching the Island.

As for our fellow Brits, our dining table has been shared with a wonderful couple, Paul and Jen and their beautiful young baby boy Miles, nervous and excited about their three month adventure full of questions and unknowns, our conversations covering everything from the potential for shark attack to the existence of the Loch Nes Monster.  A life changing experience for them I expect and to be taking it on with a young baby is even more impressive.

Then there is the irrepressible Christine, a true Scouser, remarkably strong, and worldly wise with a wicked sense of humour. I envisage Christine becoming something of a rock for the group of newbies and I look forward to passing the nights away in one of the local bars we have been briefed upon.

Andrew Day, his wife Lucy and lovely young boys Toby and Lawrence are returning from the UK following their first 12 months on the Island. They have all, Andy particularly proved to be both a fountain of knowledge and a pillar of support for the new adventurers on the ship and I have no doubt their help and support will continue to be invaluable as we take our first steps to a new life tomorrow.

Life on board is one of routine, based around meal times, but in between, regular entertainment is provided. Innocent but fun in its nature we have played tug o war, cricket, evening quiz’s and pub games.

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Oliver takes part in the not so traditional form of Horse Racing. We had 20p on him to win but sadly he was just pipped at the post!

Our eventual family tally was quite successful and reads as follows,

Tug o War, Winning team

Quiotes – Bev runner up

Quiz – Runners up, although the winning team had significantly more players and more than allowed, a point that Christine was keen to stress.

Skittles – Semi Finals.

Our final night aboard was spent enjoying a fabulous feast on the deck, with barbecued meats, fresh fruit a plenty, and significant portions of cake.

We head off to bed, with mixed emotions, excited to arrive at the Island but sad to be leaving our extended family on board the RMS St Helena. When the airport arrives on St Helena in 2016, the RMS will be de-commissioned, this will be a sad day but at least we now have our own small place in the RMS archives. Tomorrow we intend an early start to see St Helena Island arrive into view following days of endless blue and empty horizons.  Our 2200 mile trip across the Atlantic is nearly over; our journey however, has only just begun.