Its not looking good!
Today is the day that many of the local businesses have been planning and anticipating for weeks. Menus have been planned, food has been stockpiled and cooked, events and trips have been organised with preparation starting for some on Friday evening. The Arcadia, one of P&O’s largest cruise liners is going divest herself of her 2000 or so passengers for all of four or five hours of sightseeing and we want to make it a show worth stopping here for!
Getting ready for work this morning I sense things are different today, I hear traffic on the road above me from around 6.00am…this is highly unusual to say the least. Peering down the valley I can see the sea from my patio but no sign of any ship. Once in my car heading for Jamestown I catch my first glimpse of Arcadia reflecting the early morning sunlight back up the valley where in fact it’s raining. Reaching town many of the locals are already up and about and there is a sense of urgency in the air. Our team at the tourist office are all in place wearing their “ready to help” tee shirts. Heading to the wharf I spy a long line of tour buses. Nearly every vehicle carrying more than 4 passengers on the island has been commandeered as a tour bus to take the 2000 or so cruisers around. St Helena having a population at the moment of around 3000 one can imagine the logistics involved in getting this show on the road.
At the wharf and landing area I see two men in white uniform and the orange tender from the Arcadia moored alongside. They have serious faces and are clicking and chatting on walkie talkies. It doesn’t take long to assess the situation. Although the sea is calm in St Helena terms, (MILK POND is how one local describes it to me) can 2000 people disembark the ship, do their tours and then embark five hours later? Much observing of the tender’s motion against the dock takes place and every time something resembling a wave occurs there is a great shaking of heads and more debate about what to do. The age of the passengers and the health and safety are significant factors in this analysis.
At 10.00am the sentence is passed. “No we will not be bringing our passengers to your island as the swell is too strong”. The disappointment can be sensed across town when I walk back up to the tourist office. One or two proprietors put on a brave face, Hazel at the Consulate hotel says it was a good dummy run for when the airport gets built. A very sporting thing to say considering she and her staff have been working all weekend to get her hotel ready with a local market set up in her ballroom and barbecue in the garden and cakes in the snack bar.
The slow procession of tour buses through the main street seem a sombre reminder to all on the island how hard it is to make a living here and what a difference the airport is going to make.
I wonder whether any of those 2000 passengers will ever return to St Helena.
Week one back on island has been terrific for so many reasons.
My welcoming committee on dry land made me feel like I was returning home which was truly humbling. The short walk from the wharf into town took more than 15 minutes owing to the number of people who came over to say hello and to ask how long I am staying! One of my welcoming committee could also go by the title of social secretary! Gay Marr had a list of the local events mapped out for me over the forthcoming month, one being a meal at Ann’s Place which is one of the local eateries.
Fish is obviously one of the most popular items on the menu and at this time of year there are two varieties of lobster (or crayfish as the Saints call them) in season. One is the stumpy which is a small rock lobster and the other one is more akin the UK lobster except it doesn’t have the massive pincers. On the menu at £12.00 for a whole one, which is enough for two they are a real bargain. The photo shows the half grilled lobster I had and as you can see it was falling off the plate. The sweet white tail meat must have weighed in at 300g and that was just half the beast, I’ll certainly be back for more.
Whilst on one of my food shopping sorties I spied Tesco long grain rice in 2Kg bags for 70p! Bargain I thought, must be the sell by date. When I got back to my apartment I discovered the reason for the good deal. The rice was full of Weevils, turning my white rice into a speckled moving mass! Now having lived in Dubai I am familiar with these little critters, the size of thunder bugs and loving anything starchy. I thought I could kill them off by putting the rice in the freezer which is what I did…the next morning there was still movement so back in the freezer went my rice. One of my colleagues at work when I told her gave me a far better remedy which I will certainly use next time……..weevils hate the light so spread the rice on a tray and the weevils will disappear! Wish I had received that information before as I now have dead weevils in my rice, I am hoping they float away when I boil it, if not I guess its extra protein and not as bad as the cockroach I found in rice on my previous visit here!
Good Friday on St Helena and in fact Sunday and Monday are some of the quietest days of the year in Jamestown. The locals head for the hills with their families and go camping for the weekend. Friday is the day everyone on island eats fish with most of the local men spending Thursday evening perched on a rock somewhere catching it. These traditions remind us of a way of life long gone in the UK where the bank holidays are some of the busiest in the year for the stores, whether in towns or online. I know which I prefer!
Work has taken off at full pelt with much to do and little time to do it in. Easter obviously has an impact on getting things done as will the arrival in a week or so of the biggest cruise ship of the year, the MS Arcadia 2400 people are potentially vising the island for one day, this is only 500 folk short of the whole population of the island so it will be an interesting day to observe how things develop.