Nearest neighbours on Saint Helena 2000 km away.
On Easter Monday the 6th of April we visited Tristan da Cunha, a small
volcanic island in the middle of Atlantic Ocean. It was our only stop
on the way from South Georgia towards Cape Town, a welcome opportunity
to have a short break from sailing and to walk on land again. After a
friendly welcome at the port and the tourist info, the Tristanians
offered a selection of guided tours to see the island in an organized
way, but many also took the chance to wander around on their own for
at least part of the day.
One of the quiet streets on Tristan.
The first thing we noticed when walking across the settlement was
quietness. We didn't hear the ocean any more, nobody was driving a
vehicle or working in the garden, even most the dogs just looked at us
and didn't bark. A few locals walked down the street and greeted us
with a soft "Good morning", shortly breaking the silence
when passing by. We looked at the houses on both sides of the street,
painted in different colours and surrounded by small gardens, and
thought about how it would be to live in one of them. The door to the
village church was open, we entered and were greeted by the reverend
who soon held a short morning prayer. Only some of us visitors were
present, the Easter service to the local population had most likely
taken place already earlier.
The settlement Edinburgh of the Seven Seas.
Tristan advertises itself as the remotest (inhabited) island in the
world, which makes it an exotic tourist attraction. With no airport
and only a handful of ships per year, it is still far from being
overrun by visitors. For most of the time, the 300 inhabitants live
there largely on their own, with only a small number of
"outsiders" such as a veterinarian and a couple of
scientists added to the mix. It is a community where land belongs to
everybody and where rules are designed to prevent large differences in
wealth between the inhabitants. Every family is entitled to have a
potato patch, two cows, two sheep and a few chicken, and they
generally work as farmers or fishermen. Except for the possibility to
buy daily commodities in the supermarket or to have a drink at the
pub, money plays little role in their daily life. Besides the income
from tourism, Tristan exports lobsters and sells fishing licenses
which bring in enough money to fit the houses with a reasonable level
of modern comforts. The income is also used to import tractors, tools
and other items which are needed, or desired, and cannot be produced
Inside the traditional house.
The whole island consists of one big volcano with some flatter areas
around it. In 1961 a side crater erupted right next to the main
settlement and the whole population of Tristan da Cunha were
evacuated. Unimpressed by the life in England, almost all returned two
years later and resumed their simple life on the island. Nowadays,
there is a trail leading to the crater, where we headed after crossing
the settlement. It was an easy half an hour hike across the lava
field, with already small patches of grass and other plants pushing
out between the volcanic rocks. At the top, we had a nice view over
the settlement, called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas, and the grass
fields surrounding it. The main volcano reaches a height of 2063
meters, but of that we only saw the first few hundred meters, the rest
being hidden in clouds.
Wow, fresh fruit and veggies! :-)
After coming down from the volcano we took a peek in the supermarket,
which was larger and better stocked than we had expected. Obviously it
wasn't comparable to supermarkets in big cities, but there were
certainly more things available than in supermarkets in small Chilean
and Argentinian towns earlier during our trip, or at the village shop
next to our house back home in Germany. Most of the supply was shipped
from Cape Town, but there were also home made cake and fresh tomatoes
grown on the island, both of which found place in our shopping
Sandra trying to catch a bus at the potato patches.
We joined a short tour presenting the village museum, a traditional
house showing how life had been on the island about 100 years ago.
After the tour we wrote a few postcards and had sandwiches for lunch,
complemented with fresh tomatoes and apples from the shop. Then we
started walking on the only road leading out from the settlement,
which ends at the potato patches a few kilometres away. We didn't get
far before being offered a ride at the back of a pick-up truck driven
by Marc, a French scientist working at the nuclear test monitoring
station located on the island. The station is part of the worldwide
network of stations, which control that the international treaty
banning nuclear tests is respected.
Seaside cliffs, quite a similarity with South-East England.
The potato patches were, unsurprisingly, small patches of land with
fences around, protecting the plants from cows and donkeys which were
freely roaming on the grasslands around. We started walking back
enjoying the green peaceful landscape and the sun which started to
appear from behind the clouds. Closer to the settlement we diverged a
bit from the road and walked to the edge of the cliffs by the sea.
Judging from the view, we could well have been at the sea coast in
Cornwall in South Eastern England. Perhaps that inspired also the
first English settlers who started inhabiting the island 200 years
Upon returning at the settlement, we had still a quick tour by Marc at
the monitoring station, then it was time to step in the zodiacs and
return to the ship. We wished we had been able to stay at
least a few days, to meet more locals and to appreciate the island in an
appropriate way without hurry. Unfortunately our ship had a schedule
to meet and in the evening the wind was blowing from a favourable
direction for our passage towards Cape Town. After a short swim in the
ocean and a dinner we lifted the anchor and sailed away.