Most passengers boarded the RMS St. Helena in Cardiff, South Wales. Some went on board in Tenerife, Canary Islands. Felix, who is of Spanish-Cuban descent, joined the ship in Tenerife, as the resort island is his home. He had never set foot on St. Helena.
This was remarkable, as Felix, who did not want his surname used, is a world traveler. He has his own travel-related business in Tenerife that makes it possible and even necessary for him to travel. He has been to Japan four times, and declares that he has been “all over the Japanese islands.” His world count of countries visited is more than 150 and several of these places are difficult to reach. He has his own method of keeping tally of each year’s expeditions. He has pinned up a large world map to cover a wall in his apartment. On it he has stuck red tacks in the places he has been to and white tacks in places he is going to in the current year. This makes it easier for him, he says, to plot his routes.
St. Helena is a fairly inaccessible place as it doesn’t have an airport. The St. Helena is the only ship, carrying passengers and cargo, on a regular run to the island. Felix had to plan a sea voyage of eight days to get to St. Helena from Tenerife.
On the ship he made friends with St. Helena islanders, who are known as the Saints. At the approach to the island he was breath-taken by its volcanic nature and the dramatic height of rock cliffs going up sheer out of the sea. St. Helena is a natural fortress. The Saints told him that inland and high up, “in the country,” St. Helena is lush and tropical. “Then you can see that our island is an emerald set in bronze,” they said.
Felix was interested to learn that St. Helena was uninhabited until the Portuguese arrived about 500 years ago. He was more interested to learn that four Japanese teenage boys put in at St. Helena in the 16th century. The first to visit the western world, and representing Christian “daimyo” of Kyushu, they were looking for fresh supplies of food and water. Felix was told that the Japanese boys carved their names on a board that they left in St. Helena’s first chapel, built by the Portuguese. No trace remains today of the board or the original chapel.
In the museum that Felix visited, he researched the skirmishing between the Dutch and the British as the rival empire-builders laid claim to St. Helena. When the British prevailed, they took to St. Helena servants from Madagascar, craftsmen from China, and slaves from Africa. After 300 years of intermingling, the Saints set a present-day model in tolerance and racial harmony.
Felix is most interested in the famous men who have connections with St. Helena. Edmund Halley went to St. Helena to study the stars of the southern hemisphere. Captain Cook called in during the course of round-the-world exploration. Captain Bligh of The Bounty put in as well. Charles Darwin stayed. St. Helena’s most celebrated, and most unwilling, visitor was Napoleon. Felix is most interested of all in Napoleon’s story on St. Helena.
Felix walked uphill and inland to see The Briars, the pavilion where Napoleon stayed briefly with a family. He was happy there, as happy as a defeated, exiled former emperor with no hope of escape could be. Then Napoleon was moved to Longwood House, remodeled from farm buildings. Felix took a taxi to get to Longwood House, higher in the hills and further from the sea, and pictured Napoleon in his final years.
He learned how bored and miserable Napoleon was. Napoleon resented having to be accompanied by a guard, so decided against leaving the property. He disliked being observed, so had sunken walkways dug in his garden. People looking in from beyond his hedge could not see him. He had peepholes cut into the shutters over his windows, so that he could look out without being seen. He chose the site for his tomb.
Felix made his way to Napoleon’s tomb, at the end of a valley filled with trees and flowers. It bears no inscription as the French and the British could not agree upon use of his title. Napoleon’s body was eventually removed from the tomb and taken to Paris for burial. The tomb, Longwood House and The Briars are French properties, maintained and honored.
Contented, Felix sailed back on the RMS St. Helena to Tenerife. He was eager to put a white pin into the dot on the map that is St. Helena.