Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ah, distance!

St Helena Island 2014            


First aircraft landing on St Helena Island

 St Helena: Growing up on one of the world's remote islands

Being an enthusiast of truly fine coffee, it's not surprising that eventually I found myself watching one of those 'Top 10' videos about my drug of choice. The one that got me started on the far afield digression that I'm about to describe, was about the world's 10 Most Expensive Coffees. I wasn't surprised to see on this list the Jamaican Blue Mountain, the Kona Coast or even Kopi Luwak, the famous beverage made from coffee beans that have been eaten and pooped out by Civet Cats in Indonesia, before being collected, cleaned, dried, roasted and brewed into what is hyped as the most exotic cup of coffee to be had. I haven't had the opportunity to try that $30 a cup ambrosia yet, by the way. Actually, the variety that caught my attention in the video, though, was the Saint Helena Organic coffee.

Saint Helena? It took a few seconds to click, but somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that I 'd heard the name previously. And then... Of course! That island somewhere in the Atlantic, the one that Napoleon was exiled to. A couple of seconds of Googling turned up a History Channel site that confirmed this and went on to explain that Napoleon was something of an island 'serial exile'. In fact, he was born on Corsica. Later, after thoroughly shaking up Europe, he was exiled,  first to the island of Elba, another island in the Ligurian Sea which off the West coast of Italy. And then, after escaping Elba and returning to Paris to make even more trouble, he was exiled as second time to the truly remote island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic, where he died. Exile, was a sort of punishment for rogue emperors back then; punishment by isolating them out in the furthest boonies -  back when everyone wanted to be in the heart of a bustling city. But what a difference a couple of centuries make. Both Elba and  Saint Helena, sparsely populated, sub-tropical, and beautiful, would now be considered paradise, a place to go to to get away from the Rat Race and live life as it's intended to be lived. And YouTube dreamers who surf its video archives for tropical island porn to fuel their fantasies of self imposed exile, will find videos of Elba and Saint Helena fit the bill perfectly.

Saint Helena, by the way, is located in the South Atlantic, pretty much smack in the middle of it. To the East is the border of Angola and Namibia over a thousand miles away in Africa. And to the West; Brazil, over 2 thousand miles away. Unless you consider empty, lonely ocean to be "Somewhere" then Saint Helena is truly located in the middle of "Nowhere." It's the kind of place that fires up my imagination and my desire to visit the remotest corners of the world. Wikipedia informs that this volcanic island is a mere 10 by 5 miles in size and populated by fewer than 4,000 permanent residents.

Chasing a chain of YouTube video links about this island was fun, my kind of fun. My mind raced as I discovered things about St. Helena . A couple of videos were devoted to the romantic way (the ONLY way) that people visit the island, taking the world's last Royal Mail Ship from Cape Town, South Africa, an ocean voyage of 5 days. Actually, one or two of the videos showed how the management of this boat had turned it into something of cruise ship of modest scale and style in order to keep it going. There was also a very thought provoking and humbling video in which a roomful of kids in the island's school, when asked by their teacher, "Which of you plan on leaving the island when you grow up?" responded by every hand going up... enthusiastically. In a world in which being connected to what's happening culturally, socially, and economically counts for so much, it's small wonder that so many kids crave being part of what they know is out there, but from which they are so isolated at home on Saint Helena. And then, I came across a series of videos about how the British Government (Saint Helena is part of a British Overseas Territory) is financing the building of an airport there. After challenges and stalls, it looks like this will, indeed, come to pass some time soon. And when it does, this speck of hyper-remote civilization will change forever.... profoundly. And I guess I'll have to change the focus of my fantasy fueled YouTube searches to Tristan de Cunha island, a  fellow member of the same political territory, although a very great distance across the empty ocean away. Tristan has fewer than 300 residents and is not likely to get an airport any time soon. Ah, distance!

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