May 2, 2016

Teaching an Island to Fly

St Helena airport

At the airport, the line through security was one of the longest I’ve seen. The lady in front of me had packed large sewing scissors and a bottle of body lotion in her hand luggage. The guy behind me made all sorts of alarms go off. Behind us the line, which snaked out of the security area and back toward the check-in desk, was filled with giddy Saints, many who’ve never flown before.

We’ve made steady progress through the normal tourism opportunities on St Helena. We went on a wreck dive with Anthony from Sub-Tropic Adventures, which was spectacular and convinced us to explore the Papanui, a snorkel-depth wreck a few hundred metres from our boat. A dolphin trip with Johnny from Enchanted Isle didn’t yield up dolphins, but did take us to Lemon Valley Bay—which we later returned to by dinghy so we could snorkel and explore the quarantine station and fortifications.

A day or so later we were invited by our friend Louise to join her for dinner with her friend Rodney aboard the RMS St Helena. Rodney turned out to be the captain of the RMS (it helps to be befriended by the former Governor’s daughter). Beyond getting us into amazing places and introducing us to wonderful people, spending time with Louise means seeing the island through the eyes of someone who loves it dearly—which is always a gift.
Captain Rodney and Louise
We even made it up (and back down) the 699 step Jacob’s Ladder.

With those things covered, it was time to check out how the locals and expats spend their time. The first opportunity came shortly after the rather devastating news that the airport opening is going to be delayed while a significant turbulence and wind shear issue is sorted out. The imposing King and Queen rock formation to seaward of the head of the runway creates an unpredictable wind pattern.

Even though there’s no plane, there’s still an airport and everyone needs to be trained to use it and I headed to the first training day. After checking in, browsing through the gift shop and going through security we were offered sandwiches and cake. Then it was time to catch our imaginary plane and leave and arrive in St Helena. Customs and immigration went quickly and the sniffer dog licked my feet (which I think means I passed). I picked up my tourist map from the tourism office and got a tip on the next big event: a memorial service for Napoleon Bonaparte.

When in France…which you are when at the Napoleon sites, you might as well as go with the program and do what the tourism director, Chris calls the weirder stuff.

Our awesome new friends

The Bug-eyed Tuners and the Brass Monkeys provided the music and sang the English and French anthems (happily they did La Marseillaise in French—it sounds friendlier that way).
Arise, children of the Fatherland
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny
The bloody banner is raised               
Do you hear, in the countryside,                                            
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They're coming right into your arms                          
To cut the throats of your sons and women!

Then wreathes were laid on the empty and unmarked grave

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