So its been a bit of a while once again since my last update, seems that my life continues to be rather hectic, and whilst we have settled into our new home and many of the Island ways, taking it easy and living life at a more relaxed pace does not seem to be one of them. It’s a shame in some ways, but St Helena is just so full of fantastic things to see and do, and is such a social place that there is always something you wish to be doing, or getting involved with.
I go back now to Easter, which makes me realise just how long it has been since I last wrote. Easter on St Helena is exactly what it should be. One shop in town that I know of was selling Easter Eggs, a refreshing change from the marketing bombardment that occurs in the UK in the lead up to any public holiday. Like many things in the Western world, Easter has become about the most chocolate, the largest egg, and generally how much money can be put into the pockets of Nestle and Cadbury, the meaning of Easter has largely been lost.
Of course the true meaning of Easter is religious, and most of you will know I am not a religious person, quite the opposite. St Helena however is a very religious place and as such Easter is in general held in high regard, carrying a special meaning to many of the people here. But what was most pleasing about Easter on St Helena is the sense of family, the sense of holiday. It is the one weekend a year where literally everything stops, no work, no shops, no diving, the Island shuts down so that families can spend time together, it is wonderful. Many Saints on the Island take the opportunity to go camping, but this is not camping UK style, people camp in large extended family groups, taking with them all manner of home comforts, and providing opportunities for siblings and cousins to run and play, for families to catch up and spend quality time with each other. Of course, some traditions from the UK can be recognised, that of camping in the rain, and it seems to be well known that, largely due to all the camping, Easter weekend will bring with it buckets of rain!!
And so it was with buckets of rain that our own Easter began, and organised walk cancelled five minutes in as the heavens opened and soaked everyone down to their underwear within moments. A hasty retreat to a friend’s house and a change of clothes actually led to a lovely few hours drinking tea and chatting away whilst the boys played, rather surprisingly with a tea set! Spending quality time with friends became the main focus of the weekend. A dinner hosted by ourselves and some fairly damn impressive Chinese food served up by yours truly on the Sunday night and lunch with friends on Easter Monday.
On the work front I have completed one, and nearly completed a further two large projects I have been working on. The tourism website now boats up to date photos and information on all of the Islands accommodation and restaurants, the first of my big projects on Island, you can check out my work in the “Where to Eat” and “Where to Stay” sections of the website. It has been fantastic to visit these establishments, meet new people and find out about some of the positive tourism work being done here, as well as enjoying the odd freebie meal for my efforts, and of course being paid for my first major photography project.
On behalf of the National Trust I have been producing interpretation to improve the visitor experience at High Knoll Fort, one of the Islands historic landscapes. As well as improvements to structural parts of the fort, visitors can now find out more about the fascinating history of this site and it feels wonderful that when I leave St Helena something of my work will remain.
The weekend after Easter saw another trip to Lemon Valley, far from becoming bored of visiting Lemon Valley, we had a fantastic time. Partly due to spending time with new friends and expanding our social circles but, in the main, due to the presence of two, brand new jet ski’s. I and the boys had a fantastic time shooting around the bay. Kyle, owner of one of the jet skis and myself managed to turn so tightly in the 1500cc jet ski that we flipped it right upside down. I also had my first ever go on a knee board, pulled behind the jet ski at ridiculous speeds I quickly got the hang of it and before long was riding the wake and performing full 360 degree spins. I was officially described as awesome by eleven year old Luis, who’s Dad owns the second of the jet ski’s.
My Monday night dive was one of my best yet as I spent moments with a Devil Ray. Commonly thought of by divers on the Island as one of the most wonderful encounters, Bev and I have been longing to see one and although we had a brief encounter whilst snorkelling (at Lemon Valley) this was my first real encounter with one. Whilst it was only a short encounter it will leave a lasting impression. Filing with the go pro and some shoals of fish, I spotted our dive leader Anthony frantically pointing at something, as I turned round this large dark diamond loomed into view. Gracefully, and with slow motion movements this 6ft goliath swam casually past us, its Ramora companions in two. Often Devil rays will spend time with groups of divers, seemingly as curious about them as the divers are in return, but for sadly our devil ray had no such intentions and despite giving chase I could not keep up and he disappeared into the blue as quickly as he had appeared. As we surfaced some time later we emerged to the most fantastic sunset, and spectacular end to a fantastic dive.
Late in the season we have also experienced some of the clearest night skies and amazing views of the stars I have ever witnessed, or am ever likely to witness. A night time drive further inland and away from the lights of Jamestown was nothing short of breath-taking. The milky way could be seen in all its glory, and small swirls of bright cloud marked distant galaxies. The stars have been bright before but this was simply amazing. It has also increased my excitement at my latest purchase, a new Full Frame, semi-professional Canon EOS6d. Like everything brought to St Helena there is a wait, and it is another three or so weeks until my shiny new camera arrives. Seeing these night skies has made the wait seem even longer!
This past few weeks has been some of the best we have had on St Helena, full of fun and laughter, but I also experienced one of my hardest times. I have debated whether to include this in my blog, after all some experiences I believe should be kept private, but as a reflection of our time here, and a memoire of our experience and memories then I believe I should reflect on all of our times here, both good and bad. My Nan unfortunately passed away last week. She had been ill and in hospital for some time and we knew the inevitable would happen soon. It has been incredibly difficult being away from home, unable to help support my Mum, unable to provide some happiness in the final weeks of my Nan’s life. The news of her passing was upsetting, but nothing had actually changed for me and the news did not immediately affect me greatly. But Thursday was the day of her funeral, as I sat at the table working on yet more photos I looked at the time and realised the service was going ahead as I sat there. Alone, To try and make myself feel connected to the service some 4000 miles away, I listen to the music that was to be played at church, this was a mistake and was quickly followed by a release of emotion and grief.
I am ok now, I needed to feel something, to feel her passing, and sat at that table I cannot think of a time I have felt more alone. But before long the boys were home from school to annoy me, and the normal evening chores ensued. When I said good bye to my Nan eight months ago, I never expected that would be a good bye for good. Being on St Helena is wonderful, we are extremely privileged to be here and experience this, but it comes at a cost, and being so far from family and close friends is one of those costs.
Back to all things awesome, and my fridge is now stocked with a small bag of chocolate, not just any old chocolate mind, but handmade Belgium chocolate made by a master chocolatier. Sarah Jane Sharman, a biologist and local fungus expert amongst other things, ran her own business in the UK making fine chocolates after years of professional training. She has thankfully now started to make chocolates on Island and they are divine. Good chocolate is a rare thing on St Helena, it doesn’t last the journey well as the milks and solids separate due to the fluctuating temperatures in the containers. As I bit into a perfectly made dark chocolate truffle I even made a little noise of delight. I sincerely hope that Sarah keeps this up; I have become her biggest fan.
Politics tends to dominate the news in St Helena, a delicate and complex situation dictates that it is always up for discussion. But a recent big story has shown the best and worst of St Helena in one go. In the past few months, an entrepreneurial partnership has opened up a mobile bar and grill, named Amphibians, serving the hospital staff during the day, and providing a wonderful waterfront open bar in the evenings. There are however a small minority of Saints, who are resentful of people, ex-pat or otherwise, making something of themselves. I don’t believe I am out of place saying that, as it is through Saints that I have discovered this. It is against this backdrop that the mobile bar was apparently set on fire whilst in storage, destroying most of the bar and equipment in what is believed to be a deliberate act of arson. Fortunately this is where the bad news ends. Having lost almost everything on the Tuesday, thanks to the goodwill and help of the community they were ready and open for business by Thursday evening. People rallied round to donate fridges and repair the trailer and woodwork. The nurses and hospital staff, who appreciate their doorstep lunch service made a collection and raised £200 to help purchase new equipment. From terrible news came great community spirit as messages of good will and offers of help came flying in. Far from damaging the business, the perpetrators have only served to enhance the standing and reputation of Amphibians, and presented an opportunity to show the community spirit and all that is good and great about this small Island.
We have reached eight months in into our adventure, in three we will be returning to the UK for our mid-term break. It feels strange even saying that, time has truly flown. But for now we will continue to concentrate on all that St Helena has to offer, diving, snorkelling, nature and above all people, really wonderful people, Saint, Ex-pat, South African, black and white all wonderful in this awesome little melting pot of people in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Just before I leave, I was thrilled to read this week’s Sentinal, and a letter from Jan Schou and Vibeke Amelung in Denmark who have been following my blog. Thank you so much, it really is wonderful to know people are still enjoying my ramblings.