Tristan da Cunha
12 Mar 2010
|This morning we awoke to calm seas and sunny skies. What a treat – we were told that we would go ashore starting at 8:00 AM and that the last return was to be at 1:00 PM. To top it off, it was to be a dry landing which meant no boots, parkas, or rain pants. What a deal!!
Our group was the last to leave the ship. We were about 1000 yards away when the driver received a message to return. It turned out that the ship’s Captain wanted to go ashore and that he had missed the boat. We thought that that was a laugh. He told us that he had been here many times but had never been able to land. Several other passengers had similar stories so we know how lucky we are to have such a smooth day.
As soon as we landed we were introduced to our two guides who gave us a walking tour of the town. We saw the hospital, the two churches and the community building with its pub at one end. Most of the rest of the buildings were homes. Most of them were made of cinder block with stucco and tin roofs. The older houses had distinctive end walls made of the local rock. When they were built there were masons who carved the stones so that every one exactly fit the next. That skill has now been lost along with many others.
Our tour took us through the country side to see where the coastline used to be before the ‘61 eruption. We passed by lots of cattle. They act as lawn mowers. Each family on the island gets to keep two cows for milk and meat. Each person gets to keep two sheep for wool and meat. For some strange reason, the wool that is not spun into warn is used for garden fertilizer [not exported].
The cattle and sheep are together in herds which are moved regularly to prevent over-grazing. We found out later that any individual may have as many sheep up on the volcano as they desire. Apparently the grazing on top is very lush and could accommodate many more sheep, but it requires a lot of effort for a person to climb up there to harvest them. I can't imagine the islanders ever being able to build a road to the top, so I doubt that the land will ever be over-grazed.
Our tour ended at the island’s museum. As at South Georgia, the main attraction was the gift shop. They were doing a brisk business in first-day covers and stamps. Many people bought stacks of postcards and stamps – they spent all of their time filling them out to send. I bought my tee shirt and one postcard to send home to myself.
At that time we had three choices of activities. The most robust climbed the cone from the recent eruption. I heard that it was pretty easy and gave great views out over the town. The least robust stayed in town and had free time. The rest of us took the island bus out to the end of the line. The bus was well used and the single lane road had been paved but poorly maintained. At the end of the road were the “potato patches.” Each family has been allotted a very fertile patch of ground for use in growing vegetables. The patches are delineated by rough stone walls made of lava rock. Since this is the start of their fall, most of the vegetables had been harvested and we saw mostly bare ground.
A lot of the patches had a little stone hut in the corner. Some are used for tool sheds and some are used as summer cottages. People like to come out on weekends or holidays and stay there. They say it is to find some peace and quiet away from the crowd. We noticed the lace curtains in the windows and the propane tanks at the back. We were told that there was no running water and that they had to carry enough for their needs. I didn’t see outhouses – I don’t know how they handled that problem.
After having plenty of time to hike around that end of the plain, we all got back on the bus and returned to town. We had been urged to try the local lobster sandwich, but we eat way too much as is. So Evelyn and I shared a sandwich. It was good but much blander than a New England equivalent. We also visited a lady who had a craft store in her home. She sold mostly products knit from the local wool. We looked but didn’t buy. Then we walked back to the wharf and boarded the zodiac for the ship. By then the wind was rising and it was a little lumpy. We got a bit of salt water spray on us, but not enough for a soaking.
When we came on board, the crew were unloading local fish and crayfish provided by the local fishermen. We found out later that they bartered pork and spirits for them rather than money. We had lunch on deck as we were steaming away. The crew BBQed some smaller fish that they had caught while we were ashore. There were various kinds of sausages also, along with the usual overloaded buffet. I wasn’t really hungry but it all looked so good. I just can’t say no.
Later in the afternoon we had another of the DVDs “The Blue Planet: Open Ocean.” This one talked about the vast expanses of water far removed from land. It talked about the largest animals, the whales. It talked about the smallest element of the food chain, the plankton. And it talked about a lot of the fish in between. The large schools of sardines and other small fishes were amazing. The bigger fish that feed upon them come from miles around to feast. How they find them is a wonder. It soon becomes a feeding frenzy.
That evening we had BBQed lobster tail – actually crayfish – on deck. I had three to start and accepted a forth when offered. They were done to perfection. They tasted very smooth and not much like their New England counterpart.
After dinner a lot of us got our parkas and our binoculars and went up to the top deck for star-gazing. We were told to arrive before 9:00 PM when the lights would be turned off. Our guest astronomer, Rick Fienberg, was there to help us. He had a green laser pointer that actually seemed to illuminate all the way to the star he was pointing at and talking about.
I am not much interested in astronomy, but the show was amazing. The Milky Way was huge. The two Centaurus stars that point to the Southern Cross [or Crux] were very bright. At first the Cross was obscured by clouds, but it soon came out from behind and was easy to see. The only other constellation that I know is Orion and it was upside down to what we usually see. Rick pointed out many stars and clusters and galaxies, but I could not hold the binoculars steady enough to really appreciate what he was saying about them.