A few days ago we paid a guy to take us on a tour of the island. There were 7 of us in the bus, including Jan and Rich from Slipaway. We started around 9am and ended up around 5pm. It was a wonderful drive, where we got to see the beautiful countryside of this beautiful island. Although I felt the town of Jamestown was quaint, I didn’t find it overly beautiful, besides its people. It sits in the valley of two sheer mountains, formed by lava with no trees growing on the slopes. It almost has an oppressive feeling to it as if the town is formed in the bottom of a trough, focusing the energy of the elements that come down. Luckily, the elements consist of wind and rain as it is in a tropical zone.
However, once you get out of this little valley and into the countryside, things start to change dramatically. There are constant reminders that this island was formed by a volcano, but it also filled with trees and bushes and greenery once the elevation rises and the temperature cools off. I remember feeling the same way about Reunion’s countryside, although Reunion’s countryside was more dramatic in its mountain peaks and volcanos and waterfalls. See my blog, Jungle Trek, for an example of what it looked like.
St Helena is known for being the final prison and resting place or at least temporary final resting place of Napoleon Bonaparte (temporary because the French were allowed to eventually take his remains back to France where they were interred in honor). I will plead ignorance of my historical knowledge of Napoleon, but I learned a few things while taking this tour. He was sent here by the British in 1815 and he lived here until he died in 1821. It was a prison sentence, but it reminded me of the kind of prison sentences you read about of Pablo Escobar. He lived in a house and he had servants and a garden. He lived in several locations on the island, and we visited a couple of them. But make no mistake, this island was guarded from French attack for the years he lived here. We were told that there were several warships here including 2 that constantly circled the island in case someone wanted to try and sneak on the island or attempt to free him. There was also a huge increase in the number of infantry here, to thwart any kinds of aggression.
The first home/prison we visited was called Briars Pavilion. It was a small 1 room house and it was on a hillside with a beautiful view.
Next we visited Napoleon’s Tomb, or the place he was buried and later exhumed and taken to France.
The next place we visited with a house called Longwood House, which was the last place he lived on the island before dying in 1821. It was there that he had a beautiful garden and it was his desire to leave it as a legacy for the British to look at after he was gone. We were told that the garden and house had declined through the years until the French purchased the house and land and have been working towards restoring the house and gardens.
We drove other places around the island and everywhere we went, the road and hillsides were lined with a large grassy-type plant. We were told it was flax and that there was a booming flax business here on the island in days gone by. Flax is a plant that is used for its fibers for making clothing and ropes and St Helena used to import it by the tons to England for processing into these products. The flax business is no longer happening, from what we gathered, but the island has flax plants everywhere and it makes a beautiful ground bush, helping to avoid erosion from the rain in this tropical location. I asked if they produced flax seeds and was told that was from a different version of the flax plant. It makes me wonder if flax could be used, similar to hemp, which was used for clothing, sails and ropes, for other things in the future, such as paper and building materials. If anybody has information about that, please comment below. One of the many disappointments of not having internet is not being able to google things when I want to find out about them. My understanding about the cotton industry is that a cotton field is basically a chemical field as it requires so many chemicals to process it to make it usable for clothing and other cotton-based products. Dow Chemicals made a fortune providing the chemicals for processing cotton and paper as an alternative to hemp which didn’t require the chemical processing. I’m now assuming they may also be responsible for the decline of the flax business. I would love to see these natural products come back in force, getting rid of all the chemical processing we do for making clothing, rope, sails, paper, and building materials.
St Helena recently had an airport added to provide flight services from Cape Town and England. Unfortunately, after the construction of the airport (millions of dollars) the runway is almost unusable for landing for larger planes because of the wind updrafts at the end of the runway, causing dangerous landings. St Helena is working on a solution, and hopefully it will be rectified in the future.
There are over 1500 cattle on the island, along with sheep and goats. We were told that 7 cattle per week are slaughtered for the Jamestown and surrounding areas. Thus they maintain their supply of beef for the island. We asked about dairy and were told that because there isn’t a pasteurization plant on the island, all dairy operations were abandoned. I found this ironic, especially in light of the movement in the US and other countries to bring back raw milk by many groups, saying that pasteurization eliminates certain enzymes crucial for digesting the milk. I spent a year on my grandparents farm in Bellybutton, Arizona, in the 60s, and I remember drinking fresh milk from the cow I helped to milk. I enjoy fresh milk and I’m surprised it hasn’t caught on here. I’m sure there may be others more qualified than me to comment about the raw milk industry. Please feel free to comment below.
All in all, the tour was really a great way to learn more about this beautiful island and its rich history. I can’t believe I had never heard of it before coming here this year. I guess that shows my ignorance more than anything else, but I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to travel here and experience it in person.
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