St. Helena Sightseeing and a Surprise!, Part II, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in March 2007


In November 2006 my significant other Barbara Stein and I spent a day on the British overseas territory of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean during the course of a 46-day cruise on Holland America's MS Prinsendam from Lisbon to Ft. Lauderdale, FL via Cape Town.  On St. Helena we took a six-hour tour of the island in a 1929 Chevrolet Charrabanc open touring car along with ten of our cruise mates. 

Nearly five hours into our island tour we passed St. Paul's Cathedral.  St. Helena is a bishopric in the province of the Church of South Africa, and most of St. Helena's remaining inhabitants are Anglican.  Since winning the right of abode in the United Kingdom the island's population has shrunk somewhat.  Colin thought that the current population is probably in the range of 3,500 whereas St. Helena's population had been as high as 6,000 in the past.

Our next stop was at Plantation House, the home of St. Helena's governors since 1792.  While it is thought that several other houses preceded the current house, the locations of these earlier houses are unknown.  The first such governor's house may have been built of wood as early as 1673.  The present site of Plantation House was provided by the East India Company.

Plantation House's Georgian facade faces onto a wide fenced lawn which is home to at least five giant tortoises ranging in weight from 55 kg. (121 pounds) to approximately 200 kg. (440 pounds).  We photographed Jonathan, the Seychelles tortoise who was brought to St. Helena as a mature adult in 1882.  Based on the assumption that a tortoise is mature when it is about 50 years of age, Jonathan's current age has been estimated at approximately 174.  Jonathan is said to be the oldest known member of his species, Testudinipae cytodira.  Jonathan lives on the grounds along with David, Emma, Fredricka and Myrtle.  These other four giant tortoises have joined Jonathan on the lawn of Plantation House only since the late 1960s.  While occasionally eggs are laid by the female tortoises, none has ever produced offspring.

From Plantation House we drove down to the Jamestown suburb long known at Half Tree Hollow.  Colin mentioned that nowadays locals most often refer to this area as Three Tanks after the three red water tanks currently in use there.  From that point we continued down to Ladder Hill in order to photograph Jamestown far below.  Jacob's Ladder, with 699 almost-vertical steps, is said to be the longest staircase in the world.  It was built by the Royal Engineers in 1829 to link Jamestown with High Knoll Fort, situated on the cliff above.

Our party's island tour concluded in front of the post office on Main Street in Jamestown; and it was there and then that I had long planned a special surprise for Barbara Stein, my significant other of nine years.  Barbara and I have considered ourselves a couple almost since we met when we sat next to each other on a bus during a travel agents' tour of Iran in 1997.  As avid and frequent travelers to exotic places, Barbara and I have often joked privately of marrying at the South Pole.  But we both knew that in reality only a winning lottery ticket ever would have made that possible.  We also knew that, because a wedding far from the U. S. would make it difficult for friends and family to attend, South Florida is the most logical place for the wedding itself. 

During the spring of 2006 it occurred to me that the only way to add an exotic geographical component to our marriage would be for me to propose to Barbara at some distant locale.  Since our Holland America Lisbon-to-Ft. Lauderdale cruise via Cape Town had been anticipated since mid-2005, I determined to propose to Barbara on November 14 on the steps of the main post office in Jamestown.  Because I wanted to surprise her, I told Barbara nothing about the engagement ring I had made for her in Cairo in the summer of 2006.  However, I did inform our friends who were to tour with us in St. Helena.  Unbeknownst to me, they proceeded to purchase and then sneak two bottles of champagne, plastic cups, and confetti along on the tour that day.  

At the end of our island tour I assembled our party of 12 for a group photo on the steps of the Jamestown post office.  Afterward I employed the ruse of asking Barbara to pose with me for a separate photo in order to separate her from the rest of the group.  It was then that I got down on my knee on the step of the post office and slipped an alexandrite engagement ring onto her finger, asking if she would marry me in November 2007.  Uncharacteristically, a flabbergasted Barbara appeared to find herself at a complete loss for words.  However, she soon gave me a positive response; and then bubbly was poured for all.  As it was late in the day and there were no customers, even the three ladies working in the main post office, all of whom had been watching from behind the counter inside, joined us in celebrating!

Before leaving the premises I posted a couple of dozen postcards at the post office.  I was told that my cards would be carried on the RMS St. Helena, which was scheduled to depart on 15 November for Cape Town.  A notice outside the post office cautioned that 14 November was the deadline for posting surface mail to the U. K. before Christmas.

For the convenience of cruise passengers, on 14 November the St. Helena Development Agency sponsored a trade fair.  Over a dozen vendors set up stands in the small park between the moat and the side of the Castle, just to the east of the Archway at the entrance to Jamestown.  Items offered for sale included the following:  locally-produced Tungi wine; locally-grown coffee; canned tuna fish from the St. Helena Cannery; embroidery and crocheted articles; tea towels; shoulder bags; shopping bags; aprons; T-shirts; caps; mugs; calendars; cookbooks; jams; pressed flower pictures; woodcraft items; post cards; a DVD about the island; and a CD by a local artist.

After our eight-hour call at St. Helena the Prinsendam continued on to Ascension Island and four Brazilian ports plus Barbados and the Bahamas before finishing the cruise in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.  Unfortunately on 16 November a heavy swell and strong winds made tendering into Georgetown too dangerous.  So instead Captain Turner elected to circumnavigate Ascension before MS Prinsendam proceeded on the 73-hour passage to Fortaleza, Brazil.

ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 307 of the 315 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  Web site:

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