Wednesday, March 10, 2010

March 9, 2010 - St. Helena

After a week in St. Helena it was past time for us to get beyond the arid volcanic valley of Jamestown and explore the interior of the island. With the crews from two other yachts we piled into a truck for a tour of the island. Unfortunately, Mother Nature, whose disposition has been pleasant and sunny for the duration of our stay here, saw fit to change her mood today.

Luckily, Sten and the two Scots in the back of the pickup truck found humor in the situation.

St. Helena's primary claim to historical fame is its role as Napoleon's jailer after his escape from Elba and defeat at Waterloo. St. Helena's main tourist attractions are his tomb and the homes he lived in during the six years he spent imprisoned on the island.

The first stop on our tour was Napoleon's tomb, which is nestled in a lush, green garden. Because the English (who referred to Napoleon as "General") and the French (who referred to him as "Emperor") could not agree on an inscription, the tomb is unmarked. Which is kind of poetic, as his bones have long since been relocated to France. Today the garden contains a grove of banana trees, a couple of majestic Australian pines and a fence surrounding a blank tablet marking an empty grave, over which the French flag hangs limply in the humid air.

As the rain began to fall, we arrived at Longwood House, the damp home in which Napoleon resided at the time of his death. During the long, boring years of his exile on the island, the diminutive emperor apparently spent much of his time laying on a chaise, reading, or soaking in a tub, reading. In his more active moments, he channeled his energies into designing and constructing classical gardens around Longwood House. Unfortunately, by the time we were finished with the house tour, the rain was coming down in earnest, and so nobody (else) was much interested in wandering around the gardens.

Napoleon's valet resorted to draping several of the rooms at Longwood with yards and yards of fabric to hide the mildew growing on the damp walls.

After we departed Longwood we drove out to check out the meteorological station and the site of the "paused" airport project, though we couldn't make out the latter in the heavy mist. Then we crossed the green, central highlands of the island to look down into Sandy Bay and have a squiz at the interesting geological formations known as Lot and Lot's Wife. The road down to the bay is so steep that we couldn't risk going down very far on a wet day, as we might not get back up again. And so we continued along to Plantation House, the home of the island's governor, and (much more interestingly) these guys:

Giant Tortoises apparently like to have their neck's scratched - this one actually came (slowly) when I called to get his rub down.

Stroking the chin of the island's oldest inhabitant, and one of the world's oldest living animals - Jonathan is believed to be between 175 and 200 years old - was such a cool experience. It made my day.

A replica of a birdcage that once stood in Napoleon's Gardens. The doors to the old cage were never closed. "One prisoner in this house is enough," said Napoleon.

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