Peter Greenberg’s Travel Show

In December we moved to two flights a week and it seemed to be a call for more journalists to visit.

One such team included Peter Greenberg and his researchers, who created both a TV programme for CBS and a radio programme for his weekly travel series.

The team contacted me as a result of writing this blog and I was the third interviewee featured on the radio show, reflecting views of a expat living on St Helena. Other interviewees included local business people, tour guides and historians.

Check out the show here:

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/traveltoday-with-peter-greenberg/2019/01/09/travel-today-with-peter-greenberg-st-helena

 

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Reflecting from afar

I’m currently sitting in a chalet in the French Alps, having eaten some baked Camembert after a long day of skiing. I’m about as far from St Helena as I could possibly be right now, and it gave a good opportunity for reflection.

This is the first ‘real winter’ I’ve experienced in 3 years and hence the extreme choice of hanging around in -8° weather, putting a pear of planks on my feet and gliding on some snow whilst my friends on St Helena are basking in 28° sunshine.

It’s interesting being back in Europe. Without hanging on the differences I have experienced in Europe, I wanted to share some of the positives which I love about St Helena which contrast so very much from the life I experienced before.

Top 5 things I love about St Helena:

1. People on the whole are genuinely friendly. Whether you arrive as a tourist or a new resident, people will bend over backwards to make sure you’re ok. The concern doesn’t come from a place of politeness, and they don’t expect you to decline out of politeness, the offer is genuine. If someone says ‘i’ll drive you round the island as you have no car’ or ‘why not come to mine for dinner’ then you can say yes without feeling like you owe anything. If someone is good to you, pass on the act of kindness.

2. Nothing is very far. I’ve spend hours travelling around Europe, but in St Helena your longest drive is 40 minutes from Jamestown to Sandy Bay. And instead of paying loads of cash to train/fly/bus/drive, in St Helena, travel costs are peanuts.

3. Queues rarely happen. Except for at the Bank (although the airport bank and bank at the wharf, open selected hours is a way to bypass the queues at the Market St Branch). I gawffed at having to queue for a drink at Rosie’s once. Seriously, in Europe I spend so much of my life in a queue feeling like another digit to be dealt with.

4. Natural beauty is everywhere. Seriously, even the dump is pretty. Even the industrial area, Rupert’s, is pretty clean and even has a decent bar and volcanic beach for BBQing and swimming. Industrial areas aside, wow, from the rolling hills to the dry desert areas, to the tropical banana tree plantation to the forests, St Helena is amazing. It is also a place for mindfulness and deep reflection.

5. Wildlife is all around. Swimming with whale sharks Dec-Apr, spotting whales in the bay Jun-Oct and swimming with devil rays. Constantly hearing the crow of birds, even the deaths head hawk moth is a beauty.

This list is short and doesnt even mention things like heritage, food, and weather which area are also big plus points. I have  travelled a lot in my relatively short life, seeing over 90 countries, with different cultures, languages and environments. And still I have never been to a place as extraordinary as the remote island of St Helena.

If you are reading this and are wondering what it would be like to visit or move to St Helena, do have a browse of some of the blogs I’ve written, and believe me, this will be one of the most unique places you will ever come to.

 

 

St Helena’s Festival of Running

Today was the kick off of another Festival of Running in St Helena – showcasing one of the hardest marathons on earth. (Have you seen the hills!?)

For a girl who thinks ‘fun’ and ‘run’ has nothing in common, apart from the rhyme, as I have been working on my fitness ever since I returned from my holidays, even I have decided this year to join in to support the event.

This morning, the Marathon and Half Marathon runners started off from Prince Andrew School / Francis Plain at 7am. Because of the aforementioned difficulty of the marathon on St Helena, we usually only have a handful of runners, although this year there was a few more vying for the place, including a Saint Helenian from Tourism, two expats from the Health Directorate, a British runner, Australian runner, and another runner crazy enough to be doing a marathon a month.

I did the 10k with colleagues; I stuck with Annie at her pace; she did impressively after having an operation on her knee a mere year or so ago. We power walked up hills and jogged down them; and apart from the two relatively tough parts up to white wall from the Francis Plain, and from Red Gate past High Knoll fort area, it was a really lovely journey, through the eucalyptus trees of Scotland and past the stunning views of Cleugh’s Plain.

 

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A few days later and I also competed in the Triathlon. Joachim and Jack volunteered to help; the former for the cycle and the latter for the run. The brief swimming training I did paid off, and the partners who put themselves forward were just so amazing.

The open water swim started and to my surprise, the whole group started to veer to the right of the direct line to the Papanui.  Thanks to my good orienteering I came in second, 6 minutes behind Colby Thomas who swims at the Commonwealth / island games. Not bad! Jo raced up to the hospital and back twice on the bike and managed to make up 4 minutes on the team in the lead. Jack, started only two minutes behind the other team. Jack is strong, and powered up the hill, passing the other team before Constitution Hill. Jack made up 4 minutes to get to the finish line, and my gosh, we had won it!
Not only had we won the team event, our team won the overall course record with 54 minutes and 36 seconds! The team record was held previously at 57 minutes and 47 seconds by Colby Thomas, Anthony Thomas and Martin Collins.
We were all buzzing, not least Jack, who had been trying to beat the Ladder Challenge record for a few years, and was pipped to the 3k record by a few seconds. A couple of weeks before leaving the island for good, he finally managed to become a record holder!
See you at next year’s event.

Carnival!!

This week I am celebrating 2 years working and living in St Helena!

When I first arrived I was sad to have just missed the two yearly Carnival in aid of St Helena’s Cancer Support & Awareness Charity, the theme that time was ‘wings’. This year’s theme was ‘spirit of the sea’ and linking to the promotion of new fisheries products, as well as the amount of research in the marine sector in St Helena over the last couple of years, the theme was nothing short of genius.

The usual parade occurred from the Hospital to the sea front, with people dressed in home made costumes; there were whale sharks, jelly fish, Nemos, Moanas, mermaids, and a whole lot of colour and [marine friendly] glitter.

Our £1 donation was taken at the sea front and we were entertained by St Helena’s young people doing practiced dances. Even the tiny tiny ones danced on a stage to ‘baby shark’, a rapturous catchy tune which has taken the island by storm, much to the annoyance to anyone who has had the song stuck in their mind for longer than a few hours.

The gem was the St Helena Fisheries Corporation stall, which with the Fisherman’s Association, had banded together to catch, process, make and serve free samples of sashimi and sushi, with wasabi and soy trimmings. It was absolutely marvellous and allowed everyone to taste St Helena’s premium tuna raw – raw tuna has not historically been in fashion on the island, despite being hugely popular overseas. I do wonder how I can ever eat fish in the UK again, when I’ve been so spoilt with the quality and freshness here.  I think I already mentioned in another blog how I didn’t eat tuna (and other species) before arriving onto the island.

With the bouncy castle, the dances and the entertainment, the kids had a fantastic time, and after the sun set over the ocean, the big kids danced and partied the night away.

How to plan for the epic journey

Back when the Royal Mail Ship (RMS) was still running, it was usual practice to reserve 2 or 3 days in Cape Town on arrival from St Helena before flying out to Europe, to cater for delays in the RMS schedule, as a result of high swells, issues with engines or what have you.

Perhaps it was somewhat naive to think that it would be all ‘plain sailing’ flying to and from the remotest island in the world, some 4 hours by air away from African land mass, and 2 hours away from the nearest diversion land mass (Ascension) in winter when cloud and wind and rain could be a problem. Whilst the journey has gone from 5 days to 6 hours, it may be advantageous to plan in the same ‘just in case’ buffer.

Someone who visited St Helena recently by air said she felt it was like embarking on a real journey. The 11 hours from London to Johannesburg was all quite normal, but the night in Johannesburg (optional as SAA does have a good early morning arrival option) and the Saturday morning flight to St Helena on a relatively small but comfortable jet, stopping in Windhoek, flying over African desert landscapes and then watching hours of sea. That felt much more like an adventure.

The added risk that the plane may not land on time is something that us people in the modern world struggle to understand. With 24hr conveniences, 8 flight options a day on busy routes, fast lives to live, some of us are not used to disruptions. When the RMS was running, we weren’t attracting those who lived in the fast lane (the amount of people I’ve spoken to who said they didn’t come previously as they didn’t have the time) but now, St Helena is  under real pressure to deliver.

It isn’t so bad. Since the air service started in October 2017 there have been 4 delayed flights; the last 3 have been in the last 3 months resulting from fog (not wind shear by the way). The first delay ironically was on the flight Rhys and I took back in November.

However, there have been big affects on those who are delayed. Stories of families having had to transfer four tickets between Africa and Europe sounded painfully expensive and my heart goes out to every single person who has been in that situation.

But how do you manage the risk? I am expecting to fly out for a holiday in 2 weeks time, and I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

What if you fly from St Helena? 

Rhys intends to go to New Zealand after touch down in Johannesburg, hopefully on 15th September, but he hadn’t yet booked his ticket. In July, we checked prices in 2 months time compared to the next day and found out the price was the same. This wasn’t too much of a surprise as people delayed in June told us that the flights they rebooked for the next day were the same price as the ones they had booked 6 months before. As a result, Rhys will wait until the morning of leaving (15th September), confirming that the flight has left Windhoek on the way to St Helena, and then will book his ticket from Johannesburg for the next day (16th September).

Unfortunately in this case, I’m a bit of a planner. I already booked in March to fly from Johannesburg to Bangkok, and paid £405. I have a price tracker on Skyscanner.net which tells me the price for the same ticket is now £445. Ok, so I saved £40. But what if I’m delayed? Emirates say I have to pay a charge to change my ticket AND “if the fare of the itinerary you wish to change to is higher than the fare you’ve already paid, you would need to pay the difference in fare in addition to any charges”.

Not only that, the problem with changing flights is that I’m now stuck with the same airline. And if the seats are full on that airline, I may have to wait days before I can go on my journey.

So my recommendation is, if you are leaving St Helena, book your flight the morning you fly out from St Helena, once the flight is confirmed that it has left Windhoek (and therefore is likely to land). Or even book your onward journey when you get to Johannesburg.

What if you fly to St Helena? 

It is far better to book a 2 week trip to St Helena to avoid disappointment, in case you are delayed for some days. If you are delayed on the way to St Helena, you will be put up in the Southern Sun at Johannesburg airport. The food is really nice, and try and make the most of your days seeing the sites. You can go shopping in Sandton, see a 1 day safari (book at the hotel), visit Soweto, or even go have a drink in a bar in Melville. Whatever takes your fancy. So far the feedback on the best way to travel is using the UBER app.

On the way back, if you don’t want to book two single flights (as above) then perhaps tack on 4 nights or so in Johannesburg on your return journey. I’d recommend this if you are travelling between June and October. If you don’t like the idea of spending lots of time Johannesburg you could even book a short trip to Botswana or Cape Town by air or to the Kruger National Park by road, which if all goes well you can book last minute and embark on if you aren’t subject to delay.

If you are delayed in St Helena, and are a tourist, you will be put up in the Mantis Hotel, Jamestown. The weather, naturally, will most likely be bleak, so probably a good time to visit St Helena’s restaurants (like Bertrands on a Saturday or Sunday lunch or Anne’s place for a more casual meal), if a walk to the heart shaped waterfall isn’t to your liking. (When it rains, the waterfall is at its best).

Of course you don’t have to do anything of the sort and chance it.  There has been 4 delays out of 42 flights, and the summer months, particularly between December and April, usually see blue skies and sunshine. Other places experience far more delays than we do (like the Falklands), and some easy googling shows that around 100,000 of flights are cancelled a year worldwide. You just need to judge the level of risk you are happy with, and plan accordingly.

We must all remember, St Helena is the most remote place in the world. Not many people get to travel here. There are still big wonderful discoveries here to make.  And it pays to plan resilience into the journey to this remarkable island.

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Update: The flights out and back in September were no trouble at all for me. Here’s some of the pictures from the departure.

Being unbalanced and saying goodbyes

Believe it or not, melancholy and that ‘groundhog day’ feeling can come about, even on a beautiful sub tropical island. It’s the usual symptoms; long working days, so much on the to do list that there’s no longer time to even administer the to do list; fatigue which needs a weekend to sleep off; letting people down; letting yourself down; not exercising; drinking alcohol too often and generally burning out. Well that’s where I’ve been for the last few months.

Not just me. Helena said to me yesterday that she needs to remove the repetitiveness in life – out soon shall come the list of things to do evenings and weekends to get away from the monotonous cycle.

On top of this was the finale of the build up to Lydia and Emma leaving. Very emotional.

I met Lydia on my first RMS St Helena voyage. After 2 or so days on the ship, a mutual friend said to me ‘I’ve seen a girl I think you should be friends with’. It took another day or so before I met Lydia, her dad and her godmother.

It turned out that they came from Edgware, a mere 4 miles from where I grew up in Kenton. My mum worked in Edgware. Lydia had studied at the school my sister had studied at, and her mum knew one of my best friend’s mum. And there is a thing about growing up in that part of London – this is not something I can explain easily, but people from the same parts have certain similar friendship values. When my mum was a kid, everyone used to have their little gangs and look out for each other, and serve justice in a kind of collective way. Well, people have your backs. I don’t know if it’s just a North West London thing. But us kids are loyal. And as soon as I became friends with Lydia, I knew she had my back and I had hers.

When we arrived on Island, Richard Boulter drew me a map to get to Lydia’s house from mine, and one evening I walked up there and hung out. We hung out most days. We chewed the fat.

And that carried on until I came back married, and the dynamics changed. Not that we saw each other any less! Lydia got a job in my office and sat next to me and we were in each others presence for practically 35+ hours a week.

SAM_1774^Lot’s Wife’s Ponds 2 January 2017

Emma is also one of the people I’ve been closest to on St Helena; uniting often over a cup of tea hungover on a Sunday morning after a big night out made Emma abandon her country retreat to my spare bed in town. The first time she stayed over she brought me tea in bed. The second she made pancakes. I mean what kind of a legend does that! And we’d sit slouched in our pjs in the courtyard spinning a yarn for hours and hours, usually until a phone call from her boyfriend came to remind us that she had some place to be.

I didn’t meet Emma until a few months in when she had returned to St Helena after a few months break back in the UK, and after a few awkward conversations covering ‘maybe we can be friends, who are you, what do you think about things’ we became friendly.

I love eccentric people, and Emma is an eccentric goddess. Red hair, incredible fashion whether it be a night out or a long walk, and smart as hell. Philosophical. Such a wise cookie. And I say all this nice stuff to her; I recall what she said to me last night; she said ‘Nicole the day I knew we would be friends is when we went to Prosperous Bay, and remember when you were trying to get out of the sea and you fell over, like really bad you just styled it out and I thought – she needs to be my friend’. I’m glad I have finesse..

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^Emma (in the headdress) having acted as a tea reading psychic at the ‘John and Mike Fest’ on 5 May 2018.

St Helena for me isn’t just a beautiful island. It’s people. There’s been some characters who have left over time, especially those who I met from the first year, and when they leave, it changes the thread of the place, it’s like tipexing out a bit of the picture and smudging over the paint to retouch the environment.  Genuinely it is hurtful, and I understand many Saints who say they don’t want to befriend expats because it breaks their hearts when they leave. A LOT of hearts were broken today.

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Today Lydia and Emma left, with an entourage of Lydia’s parents (who will return), Emma’s boyfriend (who will return) and Tersius and Margo on a holiday. Having two people leave who were such big parts of my life means I have to adjust too. And I think now is the time to have a new routine, live differently. It will start with a bit of quiet rest and recuperation. Some exercise. Seeing the island with fresh eyes again. Getting out and about. And spending some quality time with my other close friends here, because you never know how long you have with people.

In September I will take a 2 week holiday and reboot. I will say goodbye to Rhys who returns to the UK and readjust again. And hopefully in a few months will be a less tired, more balanced version of myself.

Yachting

Recently, I have spent some time working with the registrar and the Attorney General’s chambers on things ship registry related. Why? Well, St Helena can register ships with the Red Ensign, one of the most prestigious flags in the world and this can help contribute to economic prosperity.

The St Helena Government are in the process of changing their policies to make St Helena a more attractive place, particularly for pleasure vessels, to register and to visit. And that’s why St Helena was represented at the Red Ensign Conference in Guernsey last month.

There has been some progress in making St Helena a more attractive stop over in the mean time. The Herne’s have come back from their round the world trip on the Carpe Diem and now regularly open the Yacht Club at Jamestown’s waterfront, and provide services from fixing to laundry.

The World Arc Rally will be back here again in the Summer months, and it has just been announced that there shall be the Governor’s Cup Race starting on Boxing Day from Cape Town and finishing in St Helena.

There is more to do in this area, including the provision of more budget accommodation, but this area is certainly an opportunity area for St Helena.