Arriving at Tristan / Walking to Runaway Beach

The Internet has been down since I arrived at Tristan on September 29. It has been restricted to government offices only, and only to the computer used by the head of the department. Thus I have not been able to access or send E-mails. I am lucky today, as yesterday was a holiday and the government offices are closed on the weekend. However, I couldn’t get on-line last weekend. So if I am able, I will try to post all that I have written in one go. I have been preparing E-mails about my time here anyway, and will post photos when I get back to the mainland. The connection is too slow to permit photos in my travelogues. (I left numbers in this post as they corresponded to the photos on my SD card which I added when I got to Cape Town.)

On Friday, September 29, I wanted to be on the upper deck as Tristan da Cunha surfaced over the horizon. I did not have the opportunity to see the island as we were approaching it four years ago from the Agulhas II. At that time it was so dark and stormy that I wasn’t aware of the island even though we were anchored right next to it. This afternoon the horizon was cloudy and no tiny pointy island was showing itself. It is so easy for the mind to play tricks as you gaze across the open sea into a cloudy horizon. Many times I thought I could see the outline of Tristan yet the dark-edged mirage disappeared from view. Around 3:45 p.m. a line representing the southern end of the island had remained in my sightline for a good long time. It was definitely Tristan. The northern coast cleared next, and then the central pyramid shape filled in, but the entire island was not visible. Even on a “clear” day, with blue sky all around, the peak of the island is often shrouded by a flat cloud. Land ho!

I stared from the deck for hours, taking photos as the island grew closer. My legs were killing me as there was no place to sit. On the Agulhas II, there were sheltered comfy seats on the upper deck. We anchored around 6:15 and a motorized raft left the tiny Calshot Harbour to approach us. On it were about a dozen Tristanian men who were to help offload some of the cargo and the passengers. I was all smiles as I recognized their faces. The crane operator on board loaded bulky bags first. The first swung back and forth in wide arcs before it was landed on the raft.

The raft tipped up and down and it was amazing that no one fell in the water. Two people were on the raft sitting in a blue box. This is the means of conveying people to vessels like this. The crane operator made the transferral into an amusement park ride:

as the box swung and spun around before it stabilized to be lowered onto the deck of the ship. Then it was time to offload the passengers. Those who were not Tristanians disembarked first. I was the first one in the box and I was allowed to take my backpack and two small carry-ons. Our hoist to the raft was smooth and quick. Then the second load containing Martin and Iris Green, James Glass, Jody and Shirley Squibb and their children Charlie and newborn Jessie came next. Ordinarily the protocol is to offload the Tristanians first, but because two of these islanders needed special care, they could remain in the box until the raft arrived on shore. We did not want to offload them as the first passenger load when they were better off remaining in the box.

In order to step ashore I had to wait till the raft got close to the pier and then step onto the rim of a thick tire that was on the side of the pier wall. With my sea legs I felt my knees would buckle and I would fall into the harbour. When I set foot on the concrete pier I felt it moving. I looked for Shaun and Renée Green, my host family, but did not see them right away. I walked past a tall crane and then saw them. Son Dylan had caught the flu, a frequent occurrence when the ships, like the earlier arriving Agulhas, come in. We hugged and then I looked for Norman, who was also staying at their house. We walked to their place and I was greeted to their new kitchen. Renée had already prepared a full plate of Tristan lobster tails:

and Norman and I finished them off (all but one). Our luggage was brought to us in no time at all by Julian Repetto, Wayne Swain and Dave Glass (Robin Repetto’s son) and they all stayed for a drink and we caught up.

Today was the wedding day of Shane Green and Kelly Burns, and because of the Edinburgh delays, we missed it. James Glass was even bringing some wedding supplies. I hoped he wasn’t bringing the bride’s gown or the rings. Once we got our luggage, Norman and I changed into more formal clothes and headed out to Prince Philip Hall. Although we missed the wedding, we made it to the reception. Before we walked in I saw Danny Swain, his girlfriend Lynette Green (his girlfriend four years ago was Anne-Marie Collins) and Leon Glass. Danny invited me to his “buffday” ( = Tristanian English for “birthday”) party four years ago and everyone welcomed me warmly.

Sea legs or not, I enjoyed dancing. On Tristan, everyone is invited to a wedding and it is a daylong event. School even finished early and the supermarket closed at noon. I saw all my friends from four years ago and had many a moment where I greeted and embraced someone, only to suffer through an awkward pause of five seconds until they realized who I was. The beard threw them off, especially in a dimmed room.

Lillie Swain and Brenda Swain were my dance partners, although I danced a lot with groups. On Tristan one really doesn’t dance by oneself. I greeted the new bride, Kelly Burns-Green, who was delighted to see that I had made it. I had been E-mailing her from Cape Town as the Edinburgh kept getting delayed and she wondered if I would make it to the wedding.

The lights came up half an hour after midnight and at that time I saw Doreen Swain waiting at the entrance. Doreen was my friend Glenn’s pen pal from decades ago, and I visited her during my last visit. Before I left on this trip Glenn gave me a card and a gift for Doreen and I asked her if we could get together soon. I had a lengthy visit with her that Sunday over tea.

It was a warm night, uncommon for this time of year. Four years ago I dreaded going to sleep because it was so cold. I used to sleep in a T-shirt, long-sleeve shirt, and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. This time the Greens have given me an electric blanket yet I did not plug it in. However, on all subsequent nights, I have used it.

The following day, Saturday, I planned to hike to the Patches. Whom did I see but David Wilson, my cabin mate from the Agulhas. Like me he returned to Tristan da Cunha four years later. I did not even know he was returning to Tristan so it was such a surprise to see him last night at the reception. David was going to the new hospital which had just opened in June. Since I hoped to have a tour of this new building I thought I might get the chance right there and then. We met the dental technician Bob Carse who did indeed give us a tour on-the-spot.

I resumed my hike to the island’s southwest Patches. I never hike on the road so I took wide detours and explored the scenery en route. I climbed almost to the top of Hillpiece and then had a moment where I told myself that I had done this already the last time; do something different during this trip. So after getting about three quarters of the way up I came back down and saw the vast area covered by the April landslide. Islanders have told me that this landslide was the worst natural disaster to affect them since the eruption of the volcano in 1961.

One hike I wanted to take was to Runaway Beach. In all my time here four years ago, I never found the place. I knew where it had to be; there’s not many places a beach can be, after all. While I was poking about different huts around the Patches I saw a boulder which had been painted with a directional arrow to Runaway Beach. I had found it! Or at least I was in the right area. I followed the arrow to a fence along the cliff and saw a gate in the fence. A staircase had been carved out of the volcanic stone leading to the beach and I knew that this was it. The beach is covered in black sand.

This is the only place on the island where Tristanians can swim in the ocean. The rocks at the shoreline block the waves from crashing and the pools are deep enough to swim in. I picked up a sea urchin shell and some smooth black stones. The lava walls looked as if they were poured and hardened only yesterday.

The next day, Sunday, I woke up with aching calves. From a whole week of sitting on a boat and getting minimal exercise I then took my sea legs out dancing and then hiking for close to six hours. No wonder my calves were so sore. It was most painful when I got up after sitting for a while. Everyone on the island thought I was limping on both legs, but the stinging pain only affected me when I got up after sitting. My calves didn’t return to normal until Thursday, October 5.

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