Reception for the h’Admin / The Bluff / Rain oh rain

On Saturday night the Island Administrator Sean Burns, known as the h’Admin in Tristanian English, and his wife Marina threw a going-away party at Prince Philip Hall. It was an occasion that brought the entire island population together to say goodbye and to meet the new h’Admin Alex Mitham and his wife Hasene. I travelled with the Mithams aboard the Agulhas II and he was very charming getting to know all the passengers. H’Admin Alex was sworn in this morning and there are pictures of the ceremony as the lead news story at the official Tristan da Cunha website.

In Tristanian English aspirate H precedes most vowels or words that begin with a vowel sound. Thus the joke around the island is that the new Administrator is going to be called h’Alex by the locals. I have documented occasions by my host family where they have used this Tristanian trait: h’Internet; h’empty memory stick; h’airplane; h’other; and my favourite, h’hour.

Speeches were given by both Sean and Alex, followed by a thank-you and gift presentation by Ian Lavarello, current Chief Islander. A dance followed the reception and I had a good time dancing with many Tristanian ladies. Although attendance had pretty much thinned out to under twenty people by midnight, both Administrators and their wives stayed until the very end. I was invited to the home of Monday’s buffday buddy Danny Swain to continue the party, and I remained sober this time. I didn’t leave his place till 02:30.

Yesterday was a rare clear rain-free day on Tristan. I took advantage of the forecast and decided to hike as far south as I could without having to climb over the mountain. Not that my hike didn’t entail any climbing; I spent six hours trekking over hills and then clutching tufts of earth as I took shortcuts going down on my knees as I descended into deep gulches then climbing out of them. I walked down the western coast of the island which was fronted by cliffs at least twenty metres high. Gulches flare out over the island like spokes on a bicycle wheel, and sometimes by the time they reach the cliff edge, they are so wide I could not step over them. These gulches were not like gaping Antarctic crevasses and did not hide deathly twenty-metre drops at the cliff edge. The gulches did not go down anywhere near that deep. I never ever attempted to run and leap over them so when I was confronted by such a yawning gap I either had to walk a long distance inland before I could find a passable spot, or get down, literally, and crawl into and then out of them. It was funny when I found myself surrounded by dirt walls, then had to run up or down the gulch a short distance until I found a suitable spot to climb out from.

The beaches were black, covered with spherical volcanic rocks. Turquoise waves swirled and crashed onto the shore and it was quite loud to witness. It looked beautiful, but that beauty was deceiving, as the south Atlantic is a violent part of the ocean where there are far more rough days at sea than calm. When I am finally able to upload photos to all of my Tristan travel posts (likely when I return to Cape Town) I will also post a video I took of the noisy waves and a panoramic video of the west coast. Last week when I walked along Little Beach on the north of the island, I only saw rocks. I have asked my host family and confirmed that while they are sometimes found, shells are a rare find on Tristan’s beaches.

Inaccessible Island can be seen after a short five-minute walk south of the settlement. The other island in the Tristan group, however, can only be seen after a good hike of three hours. Nightingale Island, home to the Rockhopper penguins, teased me by poking out of the Bluff, a collapsed mountain of dark red granules. The Bluff is as far as you can go on Tristan’s west coast before you have to climb over it. When I realized that what I had been looking at was indeed Nightingale and not an extension of rocky beach of the Bluff, I decided to take a break and have some water and a snack. I sat near the cliff edge and rested, gazing in fascination at both Inaccessible and Nightingale, two uninhabited islands that seem even more remote than Tristan.

The Bluff was still a long way away, yet the closer I got to it, Nightingale disappeared. I climbed into and out of gulches, across fields of grazing sheep and finally through soft red volcanic granules until I could go no further without climbing up the Bluff. Black boulders were scattered all over. They were porous like gigantic sponges yet were easy to pick up, seeming more like styrofoam models than real boulders. The Bluff looked as though the mountain had suffered an avalanche of red snow. The granules offered no traction and it was like walking on a sandy beach. I understand that one can view albatross nests at the top of the Bluff. If I decide to make the climb to see these birds I will choose another route up.

Last night it rained something frightful. I have written that phrase on almost every postcard. I am usually calmed by the rain at home, especially at night, yet on Tristan every rainstorm sounds violent. When you’re on an isolated island in the rough south Atlantic, you are at the mercy of Mother Nature. Rainstorms on Tristan sound like Niagara falling on an aluminum roof (and all houses here have aluminum roofs). This morning was absolutely awful, and the rain was only half of it. When the wind blows across the Atlantic, Tristan is only in its way. I walked to the Administration building and the Internet café and could barely walk upright. I left my umbrella at home, knowing that it’d be useless on Tristan. To protect myself from the rain I brought my cycling rainwear. The coat and pants were waterproof and kept me totally dry. Relentlessly rough and blowing rain is typical Tristan weather, and when you’re prepared for it, it doesn’t seem so bad to go outside. It even seems a shame not to experience the full force of it by cowardly staying inside. When given the opportunity to go to Tristan da Cunha, don’t hide away from the weather.

This evening the Chief Islander Ian Lavarello dropped by the house to present me and my hosts Shaun and Renée Green with formal invitations to a dinner this Thursday night at Prince Philip Hall. Each year host families and their guests are feted at a dinner. It’s a semi-formal affair, so I am glad I brought a dress shirt and tie. I will report on this later in the week.

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