|This is one way to spend a 50th birthday|
“Are you broken down?”
The question wasn’t referring to Evan’s new, more mature, age. But was directed to me—when a local asked how long we’d be staying in St Helena my answer of another couple of weeks was met with surprise. Most sailors come to St Helena, hit the highlights, and hightail it to the next port. We arrived, and thanks to an introduction from our friend Bill on Solstice, met some great people who are living here, and settled in.
Evan has lucked out with significant birthdays: His 30th was spent sailing off of Acapulco on our way to Central America; his 45th was spent sailing across the South Pacific; and his 50th birthday weekend is being spent immersed in life on St. Helena and will be capped off with VIP viewing of the first commercial flight to land on St Helena.
We started the weekend by volunteering at the donkey sanctuary. Up until 15-20 years ago most rural families had a donkey or two. When the island was producing a lot of flax they were used for transport—but even after the flax industry collapsed, families used donkeys as the family car. When cars took over from the donkeys (who can live up to 50 years) the island ended up with a surplus of unwanted donkeys.
Currently there are only about 50 donkeys in St Helena and 11 of them are in the donkey home. We headed there for the weekly donkey walk. Beyond getting to stroll through the breathtaking landscape at Bluehill (with a donkey!)—we learned all sorts of donkey lore. It turns out donkeys are social and each one has a bestie—so if one donkey needs medical treatment the bestie goes with him for comfort. Donkeys are also super affectionate; I received the donkey cuddles and kisses to prove it.
Donkeys gave way to dinner and Evan got to supper on a five-star feast of fresh fish, lobster, salads and wines with our new friends. From there we headed back to Bluehill for a traditional music night at the community centre.
Traditional music on St Helena turns out, rather inexplicably, to be country/bluegrass. And America is to blame. Many Saints end up working on Ascension Island—which has a big US military presence, and, it seems, a thriving country music scene.
We did get a moment of even older St Helenian tradition when were taught how to play Skittles, the game that predates bowling. The island has a robust Skittles league and the competition is apparently pretty fierce. I managed a foul and a duck—which means I won’t be on demand by any team.
Our days here are full and fascinating and if you asked Evan, I think he’d tell you it’s a pretty amazing place to turn 50.