If you are heading north there was always a lively spirit. People from St Helena were heading away to work or on holiday. Tourists and visitors like me were on their way home and thoughts started to turn attention to the plane ride back from Ascension Island and the drive around the M25 (daft to think of that in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean but you did). When you were heading south there was a different mood.
Firstly, if you were on the three day cruise, the last few hours seemed to drag and drag. You had run out of things to do. I would read pages and pages of books. I could not concentrate on any work on the laptop. I felt so lethargic at the quantity of food and drink consumed and the lack of exercise. And everyone else’s mood changed too and compounded the sense of listlessness.
Down near the lobby there was a jigsaw laid out on a tray on one of the tables. On my first trip it was a picture of a tiger walking through long grass. I’d avoided it for two days but had seen a few people, mainly couples, having a little go. On my third afternoon I gave in and sat down at the table. For the next three hours I plugged away. I made little progress. The corners and sides had been done but only a few little areas in the centre had been completed. There were a couple of floating clusters of pieces that stuck together. The trouble was the sandy soil and long grass was exactly the same colour as the tiger so the whole picture was a mass of orange, black and white stripes with buff patches. But I stuck at it because, frankly, there was nothing else to do before dinner time. A few passengers would pop over and assist for a few minutes, and being close to the purser’s office and one of the doors to the crew areas, several staff gave a smile and an encouraging word as they went past.
In the end, all these activities are just filling in the time before the arrival in St Helena. My first time I arrived overnight. I wanted to wake up early to see the approach but by the time I awoke after the heavy night before, I opened my curtains to see a few white streetlights dotted around a dark looming hillside. The second time we approached in the daytime. I joined a host of Saints up on the bridge deck to see the outline of this mountainous island come into focus, start to see details and eventually see the gash in the mountains where the capital, Jamestown, comes down to meet the sea.
On my first visit I had a lot of thoughts about what it might be like to live on this little rock in the middle of the ocean, what the people might be like and how the work was going to go. For the saints there were usually strong emotions. Some may not have been able to get back to the island for a couple of years; others were just overwhelmed with happiness to be back where they belonged.
We pulled in as close to James Bay as we could, slowing all the time, then the chain of the anchors were dropped and we had arrived. The next part of the adventure was ready to start.