Saturday, December 24, 2016

Last Christmas

Christmas is always bittersweet – it’s an ending and a beginning and this year is especially difficult. By next Christmas, we’ll be land-based, I’ll be going to school, my parents will be working, and our boat will be gone. 

This is my eighth and last Christmas on the boat and December feels like it’s passed very quickly. We’ve visited three countries this month alone – we left Panama on December 1st, the day my advent calendar went up and sailed to Costa Rica. From Costa Rica we arrived in Mexico, and we’ve been here for the past week. 

I’m a person who likes traditions and adapts to new ones rather reluctantly. Every December 1st, the hand-made advent calendar that my godmother made goes up on the wall, and I leap into the frenzy of Christmas baking. But sometimes it’s a bit tricky to keep to your beloved traditions when you don’t know where you’ll be tomorrow. 

When we decorate, we have to make sure that our ornaments are placed in such a way that they don’t fall over when we’re at sea.  I experiment with icings and sweets that won’t melt when I decorate cookies, and it turns out that sticking snowflake stickers to the windows when we’re sailing isn’t such a stellar idea. In a house, that wouldn’t be a problem because you don’t need to see where you’re heading! 

Anyways, Christmas is also never perfect, which is part of the joy of it. You get strange local sweets in your stockings, your tortierre plans go out the window when you can’t find ground pork, and on Christmas Eve you end up watching the Doctor Who Christmas Special with new Australian friends who reminisce about old Doctor Who. 

You can’t find eggnog in the stores so you make your own or try a strange local version called Rompope (it’s bright yellow, and laced with rum). Firecrackers bought from local markets end up in stockings along with the more traditional candy canes, and your gingerbread house collapses in a glorious sticky pile from the humidity. 

In the future, I won’t remember the bad parts of my strange Christmases – being away from family, having no snow, missing home – I’ll remember the strange, wonderful parts that made my Christmases so special. 

I’ll remember going to sing Happy Birthday to Jesus with a bunch of cruisers in Mexico on Christmas Eve. I’ll remember the Australian family Christmas pageants (complete with tarty elves!). I’ll remember going to a stranger’s house in South Africa for Christmas dinner and being immediately absorbed by the huge extended family. 

I’ll remember all the things that made my Christmases so special and unique, and I’ll look forward to all future Christmases and the new memories that they’ll bring.

So Merry Christmas everyone. Have a very happy day.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

St Helena

 The water surged up, carrying the small yellow boat closer to the concrete pier that was brushed by rough orange ropes that hung down. My legs were a bit wobbily after nine days at sea, but I managed to avoid getting splashed. Visitors to the island for decades had been brought ashore at this pier, and swung on the ropes, Tarzan-like, ashore. Some avoided the cool blue water with ease, but some like one Governor to the island, were dunked merrily and pulled ashore by laughing St Helenians, or Saints, as they call themselves.

This island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is wonderfully bizarre. The main town is Jamestown, and its quaintly rundown shops and houses are reminiscent of seaside town in a British soap opera. The town is situated in a deep valley, with three ways out. A winding one-lane road up either side, and Jacob’s Ladder, a 689 step staircase that climbs at an almost vertical angle up one side of the valley. Kids used to forgo the necessity of climbing down by hooking their knees over one railing, and hooking their arms over the other, and sliding all the way down.

The climate and landscape of the island changes dramatically from one end to the other. Lush rolling hills (complete with sheep, donkeys, and cows) are studded with tall trees and picture perfect farms and tiny cottages. Drive for ten more minutes, and the greenery gives way to vibrantly coloured sand stone, and dusty desert where low to the ground gum trees reside.

wine at Napoleon's House Longwood
The one thing that doesn’t change is the delightfully friendly Saints, and their absolutely incomprehensible accent. It is considered unspeakably rude, if one does not wave as they pass other cars, and people always stop and say hello on the streets. One of our new local friends told us about the ‘gang’ of boys in Jamestown, that she had heard about from an older lady. “How do you know they’re up to no good?” we asked. “Well”, she said, mock seriously, “they don’t wave when they’re coming down Ladder Hill!”

The one time that it’s considered acceptable to let go of manners, is when the vegetable shipment comes in. The grocery shop becomes a free for all, and everyone quickly snatches up whatever fresh food they can get their hands on. Once upon a time, the island was filled with farms that grew pomegranates, berries, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and greens. Now, they rely on the ship that comes every three weeks that brings exorbitantly priced withered apples and the rare packet of broccoli.

This island is filled with simple, strange wonders, from the neatly lettered sign that points down a small track to ‘Fairyland’, to the ordinary boulder, that when struck, produces a clear, metallic ring and is known as the ‘Bellstone’.

On Saturday, we found our way to the St Helena donkey sanctuary, where I walked an unruly baby donkey past deep valleys and past dainty churches. It was a lovely walk, filled with donkey cuddles, and beautiful scenery. At the end, the fuzzy little thing butted against me in a donkey kiss.

We were taken by a guide to visit Jonathan the tortoise, the island’s oldest resident. Jonathan, we were told, had recently been given his first wish. But apparently there was a lot of controversy, as this was actually Jonathan’s second wish. I was curious as to what a tortoise might wish for. Lettuce? More lettuce? I didn’t know. Finally, after getting the guide to repeat it many times, we realized he was saying wash. The local newspaper had mentioned Jonathan getting a polish, in preparation for Prince Edward’s upcoming visit. The Prince is visiting to celebrate the opening of the airport, which is a tremendous occasion for the island. Until now, the only way to get to and from the island was by the RMS St Helena, the only Royal Mail Ship still running. Now, one flight a week will hopefully bring more tourists to this remote paradise.

I’m looking forward to the rest of our time spent here, and also the rest of the Atlantic crossing.

Monday, March 21, 2016


There’s a lot of sand. A lot, a lot of sand. One might even say a desert full of sand. Kolmanskop is situated in what feels like the middle of nowhere, with the sand slowly swallowing the once grand mansions that housed German diamond prospectors during the height of the diamond craze. You have to crouch and half crawl through some doorways because the sand has filled the bottom floor of the house. It’s very surreal and rather Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass as you manage to wiggle through one gap and arrive in front of a broken and rotten but still impressive staircase.

To get to the top floor of the house, you tiptoe up the sides of the stairs, one hand on the wall, like it would somehow miraculously sprout handholds should you happen to fall. Rusty nails and shards of glass and brick lie in a thick layer on the worn floorboards, and the peeling wallpaper has names and dates carved into it. 

The town once was a flourishing mining settlement. There was a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a theatre where opera singers from Europe came to preform (and which also displayed some of the first silent movies in Namibia) along with bakers, butchers and shops. A donkey pulled tram would deliver a block of ice, twenty litres of water, and a crate of soda water and a crate of lemonade to each house every morning. The same tram would take the wives of the rich prospectors to and from the shops on the main street of the town. 

Our guide pointed out the hospital to us, telling us that it had boasted one of the first x-ray machines in Southern Africa. The machine wasn’t just for broken bones, she explained, but also to track down missing diamonds. If something suspicious was found, the suspect would be dosed with castor oil and put into an observation cell for twenty four hours.  

The lengths the workers went to, to smuggle diamonds out of the town were pretty extreme. Some would slice into the skin of their calves and secret diamonds under the skin. Pigeons were used for a while, but the birds would often become exhausted from the weight of the gems and fall from the sky. Guards would revive the pigeons and let it fly to where it was going, tracking it to find the culprit.
Diamonds are absurdly expensive for a few reasons. One of these is how the diamond company De Beers has marketed them. Huge advertising campaigns along with limiting supply ramped up the prices exorbitantly. Lawsuits accusing them of ‘unlawfully monopolised the supply of diamonds and conspired to fix, raise and control diamond prices’

In the cafĂ© of the main building, that used to be the saloon, we saw an old sign from Sperrgebiet warning us of the penalties we would face should we happen to wander into the restricted area. The sign declares ‘Warning! Penalty 500 pounds or one years imprisonment. Prohibited Diamond Area. Keep to the road’

After that, we wandered back through the red dunes to peer through these broken down buildings one final time. 

All pictures by yours truly.