Jamestown, St. Helena

The Harbor from the top of Jacob’s Ladder


For those who are not familiar with St. Helena, it is located in the South Atlantic ocean, about one-third of the way between the southern border of Angola and Salvador (Bahia), Brazil.  It is famous for being the place of Napoleon Bonaparte’s final exile.  Given its remote location and the difficulty of getting on and off the island, this was an excellent place for exile.  

Our day did not start out well.  We had problems with the tenders and then it was difficult to get people in and out of them once they were at the dock.  Our tour started probably 45 minutes late.  St. Helena is not a frequent tourist destination, given its remote location.  So our tour was a driver and people who met all the vans at each location and talked to us about what we were seeing.  Our first stop was at the so-called ‘Ladder Fort’, which is located right at the top of a steep flight of 699 steps going up the mountain, called Jacob’s Ladder.  This staircase goes up at nearly a 45º angle with stair heights of 11” to a point where an old fortification's ruins sit.  Apparently the stairs combined with some sort of cable arrangement were used to remove trash and other things from the town in the past.  Now it is pretty much just a tourist challenge.  (The cable is long gone.  Just the steps remain.)  Some people, including Susan’s sister, opted to climb those steps.  Apparently it is worse than climbing on the Great Wall of China, for tall and steps of uneven height.  

We next went to the Plantation, the governor’s mansion, which includes a full operating farm.  The house is beautiful, but the big attraction here was 5 of the giant tortoises we’ve been seeing, including Jonathan, who is about 160 years old.  

We stopped at a beautiful lookout point before heading to Longwood House, the home in which the Emperor Napoleon lived out his final days.  After he had returned to France from Elba, he was once again exiled, this time to St. Helena.  As long as he was there, there were warships constantly circling the island, and every possible precaution was taken to make sure he did not escape.  These efforts were successful.   After Longwood House, we went to the location of his original (now empty) tomb.  This involved a significant walk, downhill to the grave site, and uphill back to the vans.  The house is large and comfortable and it has beautiful gardens.

Our last stop was at a heart-shaped waterfall - actually it’s the rocks surrounding the falls that give it it’s description.  When we finally made it back into Jamestown we were at least half an hour later than expected.  Lunch service was very slow, too, at the Consulate Hotel, but we did all have a good time there.  Getting back on the tender was not a good experience for Susan.  The boat moved and she ended up falling into the boat as she tried to board.  One of the sailors and a security guard who caught her and kept her from getting an injury worse than a single bruise on one leg.

St. Helena is a volcanic island which is very mountainous, and which has an amazing variety of biomes.  We saw one ridge that is essentially just rock.  A lot of the interior is forested and very lush.  At one time the island exported a lot of flax for commercial purposes for which there are now synthetic substitutes.  So now you can see whole hillsides of the flax plants all over the interior  part of the island.  The area around Jamestown is very scrubby and home to a large population of a very familiar plant:  the prickly pear.  One of the locals has a distillery and he makes a liqueur from the prickly pear fruits called Tungi, which is similar in taste to the Shoju we bought in Japan.  We bought a bottle of the Tungi (doesn’t it make sense to buy prickly pear liqueur on an island in the middle of the south Atlantic to bring home to a place where the prickly pear abounds?) and also tasted and bought a bottle of their coffee liqueur.  They actually do grow a variety of coffee on the island and that is what the liqueur is made from.  Jamestown itself is rather quaint looking, and not very big.  We were impressed by how nice and how friendly all the people were that we encountered.  

We are not sure how much more there is to see on this island, but if we visit again, it would be interesting to at least try to climb up Jacob’s Ladder.  If you decide to try that, be forewarned that the people who did it had jelly knees by the time they got back to the bottom.  

There are additional photos in the album.


© Susan L. Stone 2015                   rovingstones@me.com