Sea Day - Jamestown Continued



First, the idea of doing volunteer work in Namibia. This morning at breakfast, we spoke personally with someone who visited the village in question. Although Cheryl would go if I asked her, I could never put her through a situation such as what has been described to us – no running water, no electricity, and no facilities of any kind. The gentlemen we spoke with described his meal as fried caterpillars in a metal bowl with rice boiled over an open fire. There were no utensils – you eat with the fingers on your right hand – eating with your left hand is considered bad manners. The physicians I mentioned earlier both agree that volunteering in those conditions, while moral & virtuous, would most likely end in a one-way trip – that the average person simply wouldn’t have a strong enough immune system to battle the many microorganisms you would be exposed to. Both of us are certainly average – helping is one thing, but signing up for a likely terminal trip makes no sense to either of us. End of discussion.


Our ship was anchored off Jamestown by 9:15 – 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Sea conditions here are as unpredictable as Easter Island. Sometimes you can make it to shore – sometimes you can’t. They welcome only four cruise ships here each year and feel fortunate if two of them are able to deploy their ‘tenders’ to shuttle passengers shoreside. Today, we were one of those fortunate ships.


We boarded a ‘tender’ (or lifeboat) at 10:15 and by 10:45, we were safely ashore. One of the passengers (and also a friend) wasn’t as fortunate. He broke his ankle on the rutted tarmac on the pier. We’ve since learned he requires surgery but because of swelling, he must wait two weeks – almost perfect timing as Ft. Lauderdale is on the schedule at the end of the month. Obviously, he’s confined to a wheelchair the balance of the trip but it could have been much worse.

The coastline of the island is comprised of high vertical cliffs cut by steep-sided v-shaped valleys. The coastal areas are rugged and barren whereas the higher elevations in the center of the island have lush vegetation. A decent network of (albeit narrow, winding, and steep) roads make much of the island reasonably accessible. They have a church, bank, & post office here – four shops, one grocery store, one coffee shop, one hotel, & two cafes. There’s no airport. All goods are imported from Cape Town via ship, a four day/night voyage. As I mentioned yesterday, there are very few residents on the island and therefore, minimal transportation. We weren’t booked on any ship-sponsored tours as only two were offered and believed they would be quite frenzied. Good decision – people were jam-packed in small, balmy vans. We originally intended to only walk around the small village & beach area but stumbled on a local resident with a truck equipped with bench seats in the back, willing to show us and a few others the island. I asked if he’d be willing to follow the tour vans. The cruise line offered an island tour for $160 (per couple) to include all the main attractions and as I mentioned, transported in stuffy mini-vans. Cheryl and I had an open-air truck with a tarp on top for $25 – SOLD! Follow those mini-vans!!


The island is fortunate to entertain two ships each year – it’s a major event for them. Their one radio station was advising all residents to stay off the roads so the vans could get through – 28 of them! The roads were barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass, and they were all very steep with abrupt corners. Our first stop was Napoleon’s tomb. We thought this would be an easy view – not so. We had to walk a half-mile DOWN a sheer grassy embankment only to observe a cement slab with iron gates around it. After a few photos, it was back UP the embankment – more slowly I might add! That was a hike! We felt sorry for our shipmates who then had to crawl into their tiny, sweltering vehicles, while we had a cool mountain breeze blowing in our faces. Next stop was Napoleons home where he was exiled and spent his final years. You know from history that Napoleon was quite a troublemaker, yet before he died, he lived on a beautiful mountaintop with lush gardens and views of the ocean from two sides. We walked through his entire home and passed the bed where he died – there on a nearby chair laid his hat and old undercoat.


One final stop was the Plantation House – a Georgian-style home built in 1792 as the country residence of the Governor of the East India Company. Today, Plantation House is the home of the Governor of St. Helena. There’s also a tortoise on the property – his name is Jonathon, said to be 178 years old. Now…if I’m Governor of this tiny, struggling island, and I have a cruise ship with a population almost as large as my own city, and these people are spending time here & pumping money into my economy…then I at least open my blinds and wave to these wonderful people….right?? I mean, the Governor has 28 mini-vans in his driveway, plus our pickup truck – probably 250 people – wouldn’t you expect some type of acknowledgement??


Didn’t see the Governor – didn’t even see the blinds move. BUT…we saw Jonathon…the 178 year old tortoise – he even ambled over by the fence to greet us. Yes…the Governor was home, we were told. Frankly, I was more impressed with Jonathon’s demeanor and personality…at least he came to say hello in his own way. People continue to amaze me.


Four hours had passed and we were now stopped at an overlook with the sea, our ship, and the tiny city several hundred feet straight down a mountainside. From that point, there are only two ways down. You either backtrack the narrow, treacherous road of several miles, OR, you can CLIMB down the mountain on what is known as “Jacob’s Ladder”. This structure is constructed of large cement steps, irregular in size & spacing, bordered by iron railings, and nearly vertical…straight down. They say there are 699 steps in total – the ladder is used by many residents to travel from the valley floor to the homes & few businesses on the mountaintop. The ladder draws quite a crowd – primarily folks taking pictures of other people trying to scale or descend the structure. Well…why not?! Down we go…we near the halfway point and our thighs begin to burn – a little farther down and with each step, I wasn’t sure if my legs were going to support me or not. We reached the bottom 30 minutes later…both of us had rubbery legs…to the extent that just walking on a flat surface was a real challenge. I honestly wasn’t sure if I could make it back to the ship without assistance. It took several minutes, but we were finally on the pier and carefully boarded the ‘tender’ for our return to the ship.


Our original plan was to change, shower, and enjoy the sail away party with other passengers by the pool.


We showered, put our robes on, opened a bottle of wine, and watched the sail away from our verandah – we were in bed for the night by 6:30. As I write this 24 hours later, and as embarrassing as it is to admit, both of us are still very, VERY sore. We’ve been hobbling around the ship like so many of the much older passengers do every day! I think we’re now accepted in their social circles!