We met Gilbert, Joan and Juliana back in 2007 when we first visited St. Helena Island. Gilbert worked for Cable & Wireless and was a communications officer, “the voice of the South Atlantic”. We met him first via radio and then when we arrived, he provided a warm welcome and a tour of the island. We've stayed in touch over the years and renewing our acquaintance, eight years later, was a pleasure. Spending time with born and bred Saints is the perfect way to learn more about the island and island life.
Like us, they've grown older. Both Joan and Gilbert have retired, but they're both working full time, just at other jobs now. Juliana, only 10 in 2007, is now 18, a beautiful young woman, now graduated from high school, learning to drive and looking for a job.
Though we had the hire car for a few days to tour the island, Gilbert easily found spots we'd missed like the Heart-Shaped Waterfall that we'd passed several times, but hadn't even realized it was there.
We headed out to Deadwood Plain where new wind turbines had been installed. We stopped at the small meteorological station and then he pointed out the Painter's Palette, a colorfully eroded valley that showed off the intrinsic geologic beauty of the island.
We'd never visited the Millennium Forest, where Saints had planted thousands of gumwood trees in a conservation effort to restore the Great Wood Forest. St. Helena ebony, once thought to be extinct, also grows in great abundance here.
We took a look at the site of the new airport. It's nearly finished and a “calibration” flight is due in the next couple of weeks. There's mixed emotions about the airport and even Gilbert hadn't visited the new facility to see the progress that had been made. We noted that the end of the runway was definitely the “end of the runway”. King and Queen Rocks had a good backdrop.
Gilbert was a great host and a good sport, stopping frequently so I could get pics of signs and goats and birds and whatever else caught my fancy. We drove past the St. Helena Golf Club, touted as the most remote golf course in the world. I was thrilled when we spotted an endemic wirebird (aka St. Helena plover) and I got chance to photograph it. He was not playing golf, but was allowed on the course anyway.
We had a wonderful feast at Gilbert and Joan's home. Though Joan explained our request for St. Helena fishcakes was not the usual Sunday Saint fare (curry or a roast was more appropriate), she gladly provided fish cakes, rice and traditional pumpkin stew. We met at the Standard (Pub) before our departure for a few parting beers and they walked us to the ferry dock to say goodbye.
We also met a new friend, Val, via the tourist info office. Val is my age, but a tiny, energetic sprite of a woman. She offered to accompany us to Longwood for the Napoleonic tours and then acted as our guide for a walk up Flagstaff Hill, a postbox walk. We hiked across the Deadwood Plain, site of the Boer Prisoner of War Camp.
Val had done this walk several times, but I found it a labor. When we got to the tippity-top, she promised, the view would make it all worthwhile. Our view from the top was similar to that of Diana's Peak. A thick, misty cloud had moved in obscuring any view at all.
We did, however, get a postbox stamp, proving our ascent. We picnicked up top. Heading down was easy.
Just to tease us, once we had descended, the mist disappeared and Flagstaff came clearly into view.
Val invited us for lunch at her house and it was quite an elegant affair. She served local grouper and wahoo, fresh from the market along with a fresh salad and an interesting mashed potato dish which included onions and cabbage and was excellent. Fresh local guavas gave themselves up into a crumble for dessert. We sipped wine, chatted and felt as if we'd know her for ages.
This is the way with Saints, I think. They're warm, hospitable, outgoing people who willingly share their island with strangers. Sometimes I think we're blessed; other times I'm sure of it.