Seeing the steep contours of an island after eight days at sea is a unique experience, the kind of experience that is certainly one of the reasons we decided to sail. We arrived at the end of the day, the clouds had taken possession of the island, the sun appeared timidly between two showers, Sainte-Helena will keep its mysteries for one more night …
The next day, just as we set foot on the small landing, the atmosphere of this island appeared: you are welcome … Everyone on the way will say hello and a complicity between the inhabitants is obvious. Jamestown, the capital was built with the port activity, slipping between two mountains and spread over the years to take full possession of the narrow valley.
Saint-Helena was first discovered in 1502 by a Portuguese ship which will keep the secret for several decades, before becoming definitively British more than a century later. The island was strategic for maritime vessels, providing a stopover and the opportunity to get fresh water and food sailing back to Europe from the Indies ..
Robert, 82, is one of Saint-Helena’s memories … Passionate about his island and history, he shares his knowledge with the visitors, his file filled with old photographies under his arm.
“Before, the ships depended on St. Helena, today St. Helena depends on ships”. This sentence represents quite well the current situation of this remote island but eager to please tourists.
An airport was opened in October 2016 but with only one flight per week from Johannesburg and a stop in Namibia to refuel. For the europeans tourists St Helena is a long and quiet expensive journey.
With its many trekkings, its nautical activities like diving and the natural welcome of its inhabitants, the island has everything to satisfy the nature lovers on holidays. The green dominates the 122km2 of the island: dense forests, valleys, pastures….The vegetation is prolific with many endemic species.
According to the light and the weather, the different landscapes offers many faces with strength.
The tourist office is trying to make the island known abroad and encourage the small infrastructures to grow. Sophie and the team on site take the time to advise and guide the visitor.
One of the mythical places in Jamestown is the Consulate Hotel, where the gallery of old engravings and paintings allows to dive into the past of the island … Of course, Napoleon Bonaparte is widely represented …
The french emperor was exiled by the British on the island after his defeat at Waterloo. The geographical remoteness of St. Helena prevented an escape organized by his supporters. He arrived on the island in 1815 with his close generals, their families and his..cook! Napoleon has not evoked the island in a positive way due to his situation, however he has during these 6 years of exile elected home in a comfortable residence at Longwood .. He died on the island in 1821 and his ashes has been repatriated in France twenty years after…
Indonesia, China Malaysia, Africa, India, Madagascar: the 4 500 inhabitants of the island find their origine in many different countries. Once slavery abolished, many former slaves finally liberated stayed in Sainte-Helena, creating the Saints’s identity : a mix of many cultures.
Today, even if they feel a particular attachment to England (they continue to celebrate the Queen’s birthday), the inhabitants are above all ‘Saints’ as they called themselves and we can only understand this special link to their island so far from the London’s life.
Many of them, however lived in England for many years, like Sophie, who spent 14 years at Oxford before returning to the country, or Robert who worked there for 5 years. Other examples like this are common on the island.
More and more English come also to settle there. Like Paul who fell in love with the island and his wife Sally and created the first distillery. Together, they have developed a small range of products using only the island’s resources: Gin, coffee liqueur, spiced rum, limoncello …
In spite of his few ressources on site, the island is not autonomous and is still supplied by ships.
We leave the last words to James who just came back from a circumnavigation with his wife Hannah and their tree children’s: “I’ve never found a place like Sainte-Helena during these 6 years sailing”