It is not surprising that the British chose remote St. Helena as the final place of exile for Emperor Napoleon, because this tiny speck in the South Atlantic is more than 750 miles (1,207 km) from the nearest dry land. Funding is in place for the construction of an airport that is set to commence operations in 2010, but for now the only regular scheduled way to get to the island is aboard the mail ship RMS St. Helena. This rugged little workhorse is the island’s lifeline, bringing in some 1,500 tons of supplies and up to 170 passengers on each voyage. Visitors board in Cape Town, spend two days and nights sailing up to Namibia’s wild Skeleton Coast, then head off toward the sunset into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean for five days out at sea, to arrive in a time warp of Englishness.
A starkly barren, red volcanic rock coastline gives way to a lushly green, subtropical interior that is dizzyingly hilly. Those who have a head for heights can climb the 750 steps of the Jacob’s Ladder staircase, that soars up the cliff from the friendly little capital town of Jamestown. Others might prefer to while away the afternoon watching fishermen tend their lobster pots. It is all remote but surprisingly civilized.
Returning to Europe entails another two clays by sea to the even less populated Ascension Island, followed by a military flight to Brize Norton, England.