Passing-by

Jan 21 2011

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Thirty-six hours is hardly enough time to visit an island, to do it justice, a re-visit is in order to see properly the mountains, lush-forest, Napoleons’ Tomb, talk with friendly locals or just marvel at the topography.

To the East lies Angola, to the West Brazil, en route from South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope to the North Atlantic St Helena was for centuries a key landfall and replenishment station for ships of the East India Company. Since the Suez Canal opened in 1869 few ships stopped and the economy collapsed. Famously Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled on St Helena, his 179 year old Giant Tortoise survives him, the slave trade was fought from the island as a key base for the Royal Navy and less conspicuously over six thousand Boers were held in concentration camps just over a century ago.

Walking from the landing quay through the gates into the main and only town, Jamestown is like stepping back in time. Bobbies in Landies, Ford Escorts from the seventies, smiling friendly Saints on the main Georgian street and the best bit; no cellular network, no cash point, no free wifi, no lattes and no airport.

DSC_0165For decades now, the pressure has been on for an airfield, modern times and modern demands dictate. What Saint Helena has is unique, the roads are mere country lanes the fields and valleys are quiet with happy Cows grazing, the town is bustling with activity. At four ‘o’clock most of the shops and offices close and a presession leads out of town, home to the hills, the pace of life is relaxed, slow but sincere. Tourism is limited to those prepared to travel from Cape Town, Walvis Bay or Ascension Island aboard the regular supply ship bringing in everything and everyone that the islanders need and of course visiting yachts.

The British government who administer the island have recently bowed to pressure and finally given the go ahead for an airport – a sad day and the begining of the end to this long forgotten way of life. It seems that whilst islanders would welcome the practicality that an airfield would bring not least for medivacs’, commercial interests have their eyes focused on large scale tourism … once that road has been taken things will never go back and the Saints unique way of life will irrevocably be lost.

Clive