Still COVID Free

It feels like an age ago I wrote the last blog, so much has happened. Lockdown, our prime minister catching Corona, halting of flights all over the world.

But we rejoice. We are one of 55 inhabited territories who are still COVID-19 free, according to WIKIPEDIA, who seems to provide the most up to date list (unlike the BBC who miss St Helena off completely).

How? Our weekly flight became impossible after S Africa banned travel by Brits, Americans and Europeans on 18 March, and those arriving in St Helena on 21 March, a small group considering, had to quarantine for 14 days. There hasn’t been any flights into the Island since.

Yachties have been required to quarantine and can only come on shore if there is distress as per the international codes.

When the next flight does arrive, any arrivals will be quarantined for 14 days.

Other islands in our position include Svalbard, Tuvalu, Samoa and Palau. Other British OTs still COVID-19 free include Tristan, Ascension and Pitcairn.

But there is a huge amount of guilt I feel after seeing friends in the UK on their 3rd week of quarantining, and after having heard from friends in quarantine in China back in January.

Remoteness has it’s restraints. From time to time I wish I was in a city going to watch some live music, or go to a bar I’ve never been to, or simply hang out in a country pub by the fire. We have shortages in the shops, only once every 3 weeks our supply ship arrives with the fresh imports (like apples and oranges) which we can’t produce here. If you buy something online, unless you send it by air freight (2 weeks) it will go by ship (3 months). So in a way, we know how the rest of the world are feeling when things are hard to get. But there is no way we can fully experience the pain. There is no way I can feel what it’s like being in a 2 bed flat with 2 kids off school and no garden.

Going about our business on the Island has been too much for some people and “self-isolation” as we are calling it in St Helena (referring to staying in to avoid catching the virus) has been wide spread here, for precaution, for safety, and in solidarity with those across the world.  Even though we have no cases. “Just in cases”.

The restaurants, the bars and the night club here is dead quiet. People are staying at home. Whilst we are still able to go out and about, the Islanders are holding their breath, waiting, watching, hoping, wishing.

But there is a part of me which feels absolutely grateful for being here right now. Thankful for this remoteness, for the open ocean I see stretched before me, for the hills and the forests and the desert and the dust. For the freedom to roam, to care for others, to drink a glass of wine in a restaurant and eat fish by the seaside (no chips, we ran out of potatoes and frozen fries last month, ha).

I’m also thankful for Zoom and Whatsapp. I haven’t connected as much with my friends and family from the UK and Europe in the last 3.5 years of being here as I have now.  I may be rubbish at responding, as I only get on social media at home, but it brings a smile on my face turning my WiFi on and receiving 35 messages from my friends in the UK. All the sweeter now my holiday to the UK in June has been put off.

I worry about saying the wrong thing. This post isn’t about lording it over others, or putting out judgements. But this is my blog, and this is how I feel. Sending love to all of those quarantining right now. Stay safe. xx

Advice to Europeans in 1957

A friend sent me this gem, written by the administration over 50 years ago, which outlines Advice to Europeans. The friend said “I know a lot of people look at your blog before coming to the island for information on what to expect so I thought you might appreciate this information pamphlet from 1956 that I came across amongst my great grandfather’s paperwork”

Some things have changed in 50 years, and some things absolutely haven’t!

Enjoy!

St Helena Island in the South Atlantic – The Safest Place on Earth?

Now we already know St Helena’s crime rate is minuscule, prosecutors spend more time dealing with drink driving than theft, and you can leave your car window open and your laptop on the back seat and come back an hour later and still find it (true story – me last week).

Terrorism has never been here and most likely will never come here. St Helena is just too small and there isn’t anything strategic to target.

But what about worldwide viruses? Coronavirus has been a huge worry for people across the world. And unsurprisingly, the worst place to be right now is in a very populous area, particularly in the cold, with a significant amount of migration. Today alone the number of cases in the UK jumped from 48 to 163. A friend on facebook is asking where to escape to with his laptop to work? Well looking at the map, if you want to reduce the probability of catching a virus like this, perhaps it is Greenland, perhaps it is central Africa, perhaps it is one of the hundreds of tiny dots on the maps, islands where not too many people travel to.

coronavirus 6 Mar

Now March brings us one flight a week (compared to Dec – Feb which was two a week) we are looking at a mere 90 or so passengers arriving a week to St Helena strictly travelling from South Africa whereby the airports undertake temperature monitoring. Whilst this does not make the island immune to the virus, the pure probability is on our side. However, since a good number of the 90 on the plane will be from the UK, and the UK is seeing spikes in coronavirus cases, it doesn’t mean that St Helena is completely protected.

So what is St Helena doing to avoid COVID-19? As well as all the handwashing precautions, there are travel restrictions from key countries. At present (although this will update – see www.sainthelena.gov.sh if in doubt), St Helena will screen anyone travelling from Wuhan city and Hubei Province (China), Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea), or any Italian town under containment measures. Screening may involve a medical assessment on arrival and, if thought necessary by the medical professionals, this may result in a person being quarantined for 14 days on the Island. Visitors from Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Italy: north, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam other than the places above must self-isolate if they have the symptoms and call the health directorate. People are told not to come to the hospital.

Sadly the CTO Digital Economy Forum, an international conference hosted by St Helena is being cancelled. I suppose better safe than sorry. Perhaps it was a good thing that the spread of the virus started to kick off in Europe at the end of our key tourist season. The risk is, that if St Helena did see the virus arrive on its shores, whilst we may not see any spread through public transport like elsewhere; because residents are just so sociable, it might fly round the island within a matter of weeks. In which case, if it gets here, we need to be very careful to avoid spreading it to the elderly and the vulnerable.

But for now, we are probably one of the safest places on earth. So if you can handle our internet prices (pre-fibre optic cable) and fancy an air bnb with a sea view, then why not enjoy a Corona with us, without the virus.

 

Festival of lights 2019

Christmas in St Helena isn’t really on the 25th December. The day of joy and celebration and fun in December is a week earlier on the night of the Festival of Lights!

Readers of earlier blogs will know I think this is the best event of a year. And really this was even better than before.

There has been a population explosion this week with hoards of people arriving on St Helena and the festival was packed to the brim with a huge amount of visitors as well as the familiar faces.

Back again this year was the Kingshurst Chinese dragon, and the transformer robot, new this year included a moon themed float with astronauts and an incredible Saints with Wings performance on Jacob’s Ladder. The night was topped off with a performance by Island Politics / Beverley Thrills at the Mule Yard and a fireworks show.

IMG_20191220_220643732IMG_20191220_220532818_BURST001

IMG_20191220_201836320

 

IMG_20191220_200211786_BURST001IMG_20191220_201921188_BURST001.jpgFor more, see Darren and Sharon’s article in https://insidesthelena.com/

Holiday time!

It’s finally here, it’s December! And that means fun and sun and more fun!

It ticked over to the 1 December and the radio stations started to mix in the Christmas tunes, the tree and the light bulbs appeared on the high street and half tree hollow district started flashing. One house had so many lights we nearly crashed staring agog at it for the first time.

The annual Christmas fair at Plantation had bigger and better stalls filled with homemade craft cards and cakes. We’ve sung Christmas Carols on a boat and sung cowboy Western versions at Rosie’s Bar with a mince pie in one hand and mulled wine in another.

And the parties! The first ever Sandy Bay rock festival went on from 2pm until 11pm last weekend, there’s been men’s night then ladies night at Rosie’s and Donny’s has reinvented itself as a Caribbean style bar for tropical nights. People pour through the airport arrivals on a Saturday and Tuesday and pile into Donny’s on a Saturday night. It’s busy, the on island population is booming, Saints have returned after years of being away and tourists are relatively (for St Helena) all over the place. There’s a buzz.

My mum also arrived on Tuesday straight into festive season. Dinner parties intersperse with appointments at the beautician and even drives out to beautiful parts of the island.

The big deal is on Friday when it is festival of lights! I’ve blogged many a time about the festival and I hope it’s bigger than ever this year! The jewel in the crown of St Helena’s festivals for sure!

Next week I’ll be attempting to cook a turkey and gammon (pushing the boat out) and as well as mum we will host Helena, her mum and brother and Aine for dinner.

Talking of Aine (pronounced On-Ya, spell check corrected to Wine), we have embarked on a new media career in podcast making, with a series called ‘An Irish girl and an English girl walk into a bar’ where we talk about our favourite things. https://anchor.fm/irishgirlenglishgirl

I’ll leave you with that, and a series of photos from the last two weeks.

IMG_20191216_190724186IMG_20191213_184303776_BURST000_COVER_TOPIMG_20191215_145738139_BURST000_COVER_TOP

Essence Beauty Salon

My mum, Pat, shall be arriving for a visit in December this year and of course I shall be booking her in for some beauty treatments, which is a classic move whenever we holiday. I’ve started off booking an hour, whether she uses that for a Swedish full body massage, facial, mani-pedi or whatever else.

I’m a bit of a regular at Noleen’s Essence Beauty Salon, and often buy her vouchers as a gift for a low carbon buy local present. Noleen has the only beauty salon on the island, but it doesn’t mean the quality isn’t good, both her and Emma are extremely inviting and interesting.

Book by phone or in person.

https://m.facebook.com/pg/Essence-Beauty-Bliss-Hair-Salon-77756507431/about/

 

Internet Access

Since my time on the island, internet access has improved a huge amount. Although still costly, (hopefully sorted out in 2021 through the landing of the Equiano submarine cable and sharing the pipe with earth station customers), the actual access has got easier.

I remember in December 2016 I had poured myself a gin and tonic ready to watch my friend’s wedding streamed online from a church in Brighton. And a fault meant my connection was out, but being a Saturday, there was no way to report the fault. I called around and found out a WiFi hotspot was available at the Sandwich Shop in the market, so I bought a WiFi voucher for 1 hour from them just before they closed for the afternoon, and watched the wedding on my laptop on a concrete floor wedged between the closed butchers and some public toilets. In my hurry I’d forgotten to bring my gin and tonic.

Even at that time WiFi hotspots were available in the Market and Anne’s Place, I just didn’t know about it until a friend told me. I found out later that if you remember your login details from your router at home (which I never do) you can log onto these hotspots and use your home account, as long as you critically remember to log out afterwards if you don’t want any disruption to your home service.

The residential packages are a problem. All the prices are on the Sure website but in summary, being a high internet user thanks to being used to this luxury in the UK, I find the £90 Gold package slightly too little for two of us in the house, causing us to restrict our calls to the UK, making video streaming intertwine with anxiety, so I opt for Gold Plus which is double the Gold package and £180, way too much, it literally means I leave my internet modem on all the time, and stream all the Ukulele play along videos I want (I’ve started lessons, but that’s a story for another time).  But friends of mine have silver or gold and cope fine.

The notable thing for me though is the mobile access. I didn’t get a mobile sim card for over a year, and then it took me another year to realise there was a magic trick you could do to get 4G access. [This is to change your Access Point Name (APN) – Prepaid APN ‘SURESHL’ and Post-paid APN ‘SURESHLPM’] see FAQs. No way can you leave 4G on, or it will suck up all of your credit, although regular packages are available for cheaper. This means that I can download whatsapp messages or facebook messages on my phone when I feel like checking it (although forget downloading images quickly).

I also worked out the roaming issue. Sometimes banks in UK want to send you text messages for security reasons. By refreshing your network (by choosing network or switching to automatic) your mobile will basically wake up and then pull any text messages it is looking for. Not on all networks, but I’m on GiffGaff and it works for me.

I went, as part of the St Helena Connected Group, to Sure in the Briars this morning for some further myth busting.

I was keen to find out why hotels and restaurants don’t give out ‘free WiFi’, except for Mantis (if you reside in the hotel). And I had thought that the licence which gives Sure exclusivity for selling internet was the reason. But I have since found out the interpretation of the licence is that any restaurant/café/hotel etc can give their WiFi password out to customers as long as they don’t charge for it. It just doesn’t exist because most of the businesses haven’t worked out how they would administer this to avoid going over any internet allowances. Using a gargoyle router (which restricts use per IP code), changing WiFi code daily or restricting hours of use are some ways I thought of, but for now, the only way to get internet whilst on the move is by buying a Sure sim card or by buying a voucher at a hot spot e.g. in the Sandwich Shop or Anne’s Place.

I also found out that 4G internet dongle technology and 4G routers, which make it possible for anyone with a laptop to roam the island and access internet, are all feasible today. But this be made more obvious on the Sure Website. Furthermore, Sure said bespoke packages can be made available, so if you are a Digital Nomad and want a bespoke connection, you can speak to Sure and see what will work. OK, the customer service counter might look at you a bit funny, but if you press the issue then the CEO tells me all is possible. Furthermore, and perhaps more easily, if you buy a local sim card you can also tether from your phone, meaning connecting a laptop to 4G internet is possible. It would be slow, you would turn it on and off depending on when you want to receive your emails, but possible.

Imagine this being your office for a day.

20170604_155042

Half Price Flight Sales

Everywhere in the world has an off-peak season. Luckily travelling at this time has it’s perks, being that you can get hold of some of the cheapest deals. It’s August and the sun is shining, despite being ‘winter’; the weather is actually better than the UK and it is meant to be their summertime. Not a bad time to visit and do some walking, soak in the atmosphere and watch some whales.

Good news too is the sales on this year.

Picked up from an SHG press release:

There will be a limited number of adult return fares available at approximately £500 (9,077 ZAR) on a first-come, first-served basis for flights in July, August and September subject to ‘W class’ availability. Terms, Conditions and Fare Rules apply. Child and infant fares will be subject to standard fare reductions.

The discounted fares require a minimum of a 14-night stay, are non-refundable and non re-routable.  To qualify, the return journey must be completed by Saturday, 28 September 2019. These fares apply to the Johannesburg to St Helena route, and the St Helena to Johannesburg route.

Accommodation providers on St Helena offering discounts and other incentives include: the Blue Lantern, Consulate Hotel, Farm Lodge, Harkate Guest House, Mantis St Helena, Richards’ Travel Lodge, Somerville Flats and the Town House.  Please contact accommodation providers directly for more information.

Air fare bookings can be made online and through your local travel agent. https://www.flyairlink.com/ 

For those passengers resident on St Helena, ticket bookings can be made via Solomon & Company (St Helena) Plc’s Shipping & Travel Agency at the Malabar in Jamestown. Passengers can visit the Shipping & Travel Agency in person or contact them via email: shipping-travelmanager@solomons.co.sh or tel: 22523.

Furthermore, there has been a sale announced on flights to Ascension. Ascension is a really unique island, but tricky to get to because of their monthly flight leading to either a stay of 1 night or 1 month and 1 night. However, in December and January they will ‘double back’ the flights allowing stays of around 3 days. The visa process requires some vetting, and accommodation is tricky to get, but not impossible as I found when I travelled there back in March. The overnight stay, I personally thought, was worth it, as although I didn’t have time to climb Green Mountain, I did get a tour of the island and a golly good fun evening alongside the residents.

The Press Release states:

50% off air fares between St Helena and Ascension
 A number of fares between Ascension and St Helena are being offered for sale to the public at half the standard price. Flights included in this offer range from September 2019 to January 2020.
 This offer also includes two flights from St Helena to Ascension in December and two flights from Ascension to St Helena in January, making it more affordable than ever to spend Christmas on Ascension.
 Bookings are now being taken and the number of seats available at this price is limited.
 For further information please contact Ascension Island Travel and Booking on flight.bookings@ascension.gov.ac or call (00 247) 66244.

You won’t find this offer on SA Airlink’s website as all travel goes via the on island Travel and Booking Agent. But consider, you could travel to St Helena for two weeks, with a 1 night stopover in Ascension in the second weekend of September for a flight price of around £750 + your £450 round trip Europe – Johannesburg. It isn’t an Easyjet trip to Mallorca, but it is an unforgettable trip to some of the most remote islands in the world.

If off peak isn’t your thing, the Ascension deal is still available until January, and all the better, flights from Cape Town to St Helena begin on Tuesdays during peak season alongside the usual Saturday flights from Joburg.

In January, the following is offered:

The flight dates for January are:

HLE/ASC 11 January – no discounted seats on this flight

ASC/HLE 12 January

HLE/ASC 18 January – no discounted seats on this flight

ASC/HLE 19 January

The cost of the flights are £450.00 per person.

Accommodation can be booked with ‘Andrew & Serena Ellick’ dreams.bbc@atlantis.co.ac

What about the long term?

My German friend in London once said to me ‘you leave your country for 5 years, you come back a stranger’. After 5 years you lose a lot of cultural references, and languages move on. I just found out that a new side dish in England is a cross between mash potatoes and roast potatoes. And that people are now tattooing their eye liner on as standard. Mindblown. 

^Fried mashed potatoes and Miri, who by the way is still in England after 10 years.

I think about that 5 year pogo stick a lot, particularly as I would have been here a couple of months short of 5 years when my current contract finishes in 2021.

But, I realised the other day that I’ve never lived anywhere longer than St Helena in my adult life. Yet many people here think this is a touch down transient place for me because I am English.

1 year in Letchworth, 1 year in Greenwich, 2 years in Barnes, 2 years in Brixton, 10 months in Slough, 5 months in Crouch End, 1.5 years in Denmark Hill,  6 months in East Preston, 3 going on 5 years in St Helena. I have no base, I have no home, I have no ‘roots’. 

Not particularly surprising; as it runs in the family. My dad was born in Holland and moved to London when he was 19. His accent is such a cross over that the English think he’s Dutch and the Dutch think he’s English. To confuse matters worse he then moved to Portugal, whilst still living and working in England. So where is he from? Where are his roots?

Easter 2005 030

^Daddy Shamier in Zaanse Schans, Holland

There is a kind of obsession of labelling everyone as ‘from somewhere’ that they will eventually settle down and ‘go back to’. I grew up at the fringes of Kenton Recreation Park somewhere with the train tracks, Asian cultural centre and primary school on one side, the dump, a sports centre and an off licence on the other.

^Where I first played and schooled near Elmgrove, North West London. With my Oma (dutch grandma)

The last time I stepped foot in those streets was when I was 19 passing through on my motorbike, reminiscing as I had moved out 3 years earlier. I checked out the place on Google earth about 5 years ago. Harrow, North West London, isn’t my home any more. Ironically, a Saint here has family who live in Harrow and have lived there longer than I did. Does that make them more Harrow than me? Probably.

So when people ask when I’m going home, I struggle to get what they mean. I recently got back from a wonderful holiday, where I saw  my mum and dad, Oma and uncle, and most of the characters I grew up with or met as an adult and cherish. Still, I was also so joyous to be back here in St Helena (back home) to see people I care about, cuddle my cats, enjoy the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the community. I even enjoyed getting back to work. Of course the ideal situation would be to transport all of the people across the globe I care about to my front room a couple of times a month, but despite me missing people so dearly, St Helena is where I live and I love living.

My colleague did a presentation recently regarding population and labour. She intelligently said, and I paraphrase, ‘some people come here and intend to leave after a year or two. Some might even not fit in or be culturally mismatched. But there are some who fit in well, give to the community, volunteer, bring money with them, spend money on the island, and genuinely would be missed if they were gone. Should we not be encouraging them to stay?’.

Right now almost everyone will be expecting me to leave in 2021. To go ‘home’. I don’t know where that is. But I saw a friend, Kerrie,  leave this weekend for good, and I thought to myself, I couldn’t bring myself to do what she is doing, I think I would be heartbroken, how brave she was to say goodbye to all of her close bonds, to see this beautiful island for the last time, to have her last supper and disappear into the world.

 

 

 

Accommodation for visitors

Many people considering a move to St Helena may be wondering about friends and family visiting.  Whilst friends and family who stay may well stay with you, I’ve provided a list of some of the accommodation options for those who want a bit more freedom and space. This is not a full list of accommodation on island, for that see the Inside St Helena app, or the St Helena Tourism website, it is just a few picks of what I personally have recommended to people based on value (price/quality). Prices do change.

Harkate, £60 a night, newest and most modern property with self catered facilities. Very comfortable. Rent a car with this property.
http://sthelenatourism.com/where-to-stay/self-catering/harkate-guest-house/

Fowler’s Town House 2, £80 per night, not so modern but good location in town. Self catered facilities.
http://sthelenatourism.com/fowlers-town-house-2/

Sommerville Flat, Cheap at £25-£35 per night, located next to a small shop with decent views. Rent a car with this property
http://sthelenatourism.com/somerville-flat/

Cole’s courtyard if you want cheap shared guesthouse type accomodation in town for around £15 per night, contact National Trust
http://www.trust.org.sh/contact/

Princes Lodge, large bookings £40 per room per night. Huge gardens. Rent a car with this property.
http://sthelenatourism.com/princes-lodge/

Hotels : For excellent high end quality go for Bertrand’s Cottage (country cottage feel near Napoleon’s House, car needed). Around £90+ per night at Bertrand’s. Other hotels exist, at higher prices and or lower quality.  http://sthelenatourism.com/where-to-stay/guest-houses/

Or if you want to go really traditional b&b, travelling back in time with tremendous Saint hospitality and huge home cooked meals stay at Harris’ Guest House for £60 a night.
http://sthelenatourism.com/where-to-stay/guest-houses/

There are also a couple of very rural options, ideal for a couple of days. Tom and Tara Wortley’s wood cottage is completed and available (think wood burner and rural setting) and Brian Davies’ Sandy Bay wood cottage should be up and running by 2020. Contact would be direct (see the phone book). 

Since writing this blog I’ve checked out the amazing ‘Inside St Helena’ app, which is a must for visitors. You’ll be able to view a full range of accommodation, restaurants, shops, with opening hours and contact details (and menus in some cases). The app is also good for residents as it pushes real time news articles to your mobile.