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St. Helena
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How discouraging must have been Napoleon’s first glimpse of St. Helena in 1815 when he arrived to begin his life in exile. All he would have seen is harsh forbidding rugged barren cliffs as the only harbor is on the eastern dry side of the island. Fortunately for Napoleon he lived out his exile at Longwood, on the western wet side, where the foliage is lush and beautiful. Napoleon designed the lovely gardens that surround Longwood and these are meticulously maintained by the French consulate today. Otherwise St. Helena is an English island and pound sterling is the currency. To tour this island, which lies 1000 miles from either Africa or Brazil, we engaged a local “saint” and his pick-up truck, where we sat on seats in the open box, which afforded 360 degree views of her spectacular scenery. We walked down to visit the tomb where Napoleon was buried for the first 20 years following his death in 1821 at age 51. (Later, his remains were removed to Les Invalides on the Seine River in Paris, where the former Emperor is honored today.) We visited the Governor’s Plantation home where we were charmed by Jonathan, a huge tortoise, who is reputed to be old enough to have been well acquainted with Napoleon. Jamestown, its capital, is wedged down within a crevice, from which 700 steps, called Jacob’s Ladder, lead up to the lighthouse and old fort. The town itself is reminiscent of a pleasant little village out of the past. The bronze-skinned “Saints” are very articulate and gracious folks who seem to have a strong sense of pride in their isolated island community. While we were waiting for the last tender back to the QE2, a group of “saints” assembled to wave us off. We began informally asking them if they had ever been off the island to which the majority replied, “No”. Several questioned why they would want to leave since they have no problems related to crime or drugs; they have cable TV, a video store, e-mail and plenty of friends to visit. It’s probably just as well because it is 5 days to Cape Town via the mail boat and the very closest air strip is on Ascension Island, a mere 700 miles away. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it?


Jacob's Ladder Jamestown Jonathan the Tortise
Longwood Napoleon's Tomb St. Helena Harbor

St. Helena