This is going to be a different type of post, and it may bore the daylights out of many of you. This won`t be about politics, or current events, nor will it be about science or philosophy. I`m going to talk about lost places; islands in the Atlantic Ocean which have been largely forgotten.
I had a bad week. I was ready to jump on a plane by Wednesday, and ready to jump on a rusty cargo ship by Friday. By the end of the business day on Friday I was in full fantasy-mode. I visualized myself buying a one-way ticket to Port Stanley, or to Eddington-On-The-Seven-Seas, or even to Grtvyken, where I would pass the rest of my days in blissful isolation. Peace! No problems, no headaches, no worries! I could eat penguins and seals, lamb or fish, live in a little cottage and let the world go to Helena (but please stay away from St. Helena!)
Most people dream of tropical volcanic islands in the Pacific, or perhaps even something in the Caribbean; I`ve always feared that these would quickly grow too crowded. I can just see myself settling peacefully on some atoll, only to have the Walmart Corporation descend upon me with a South-Sea distribution center, or Disney opening a South Sea theme park (to show what the ``real`` island life is like-complete with robot islanders and artificial beaches), or have the Environmental Protection Agency kick me off so they can establish a wildlife sanctuary. I want to go someplace where I can be left ALONE! I don`t really like nice weather, either, and would enjoy a cold, stormy wilderness. Fortunately for me, there are many tiny places in the Atlantic which will serve my purposes quite well!
Most people aren`t even aware that there are islands in the Atlantic outside of the European and Caribbean archipelagoes. Most of the islands which would suit our purposes lie in the South, and many have isolated communities which have very little contact with the outside world (or didn`t used to until the internet and other modern tools came along). I`m not interested in the settled places like the Azores, or Canaries, or Cape Verde islands; I`m interested in those places forgotten by time and Man, those Lilliputian rocks in the middle of nowhere. Most of them are relics of the once mighty British Empire, now forgotten. Let`s look at a few:ST. HELENA
St. Helena doesn`t really serve my purposes, since it is grossly overpopulated (any place with over a thousand people is elbow to elbow, as far as I`m concerned) and tropical to boot. St. Helena`s claim to fame is that it served as the ``Empire`` of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was exiled to this ignominious spec of land after his defeat at the hands of Wellington at Waterloo. The British, fearing to execute a king-even a pretender king-and realizing that his first exile on Elba was a mistake, since he was too close to the center of power, shipped his sorry carcass way out into the middle of the Atlantic. His dominion was unhappy, as the British Governor hated him and made his life miserable. Napoleon died in 1821 (about 6 years after coming to this place), and it has often been speculated that he was poisoned.
At any rate, St. Helena was your classic tropical plantation type island, with former slaves imported from Africa to work the fields. You may as well stay in the West Indies (unless you are a Napoleon buff.) ASCENSION ISLAND
This is, essentially, a rock in the Atlantic. Discovered in 1501, it served no Earthly purpose until the British exiled Napoleon. They occupied it to prevent the rescue of the Little General, actually impressing the poor place into the British Navy as HMS Ascension Island! (The British sometimes classed islands as ships.)
Ascension Island is practically uninhabitable, but does have a small, temporary settlement and air strip. It boasts the longest staircase in the world called ``Jacob`s Ladder``. Not my first choice.TRISTAN DA CUNHA
This is one of my favorite lost places! This tiny archipelago has one island worth settling (named Tristan Da Cunha) along with several fairly useless sisters (Nightingale, Inaccessible, Gough) It has no harbors, and one scraggly variety of tree which does not even make good firewood. Tristan is the most remote inhabited place on Earth, lying close to 1300 miles from Capetown, South Africa.
When the British exiled Napoleon, they established a base on Tristan to prevent the French from using the island for a rescue mission. After the death of Napoleon they decomissioned the base, and shipped everybody home-well, almost everybody. A young Lieutenant named John Glass had fallen in love, and married a most socially unacceptable girl. His bride was a ``colored``, one of the mixed race people who lived around Capetown. He couldn`t bring his new wife home, so he asked for permission to stay on the island as a representative of Great Britain. Over time, a number of sailors were shipwrecked and rescued by the Glasses. (Mrs. Glass bore 20 children, by the way!) These men, Italian, American, British, decided to stay in this little lost paradise, but desperately wanted women of their own. A passing sea captain promised to do what he could for them, and he returned with ``colored`` prostitutes who had agreed to come and be their wives. They formed the basis of a tiny outpost of the British Empire, and rarely had contact with the Mother Country.
Lord Eddington once visited their island, and so they named their tiny settlement Eddington-On-The-Seven-Seas. There are about 300 of them living on this island today! Their chief source of income is the sale of the Tristan Da Cunha postage stamp.The Falkland Islands
These dreary little islands have an area about the size of the state of Connecticut, but have a population of 2500 (this includes the British garrison left to prevent the Argentinians from invading.) There is one town-Port Stanley-which is said to be more British than modern Britain. Stanley is a place lost in time; whitewashed houses, a bank, a couple of old-fashioned pubs, a grand old English hotel, and the Governor`s Mansion pretty much round the place out. Most of the population of the Falklands live in Port Stanley.
There are a few settlements on the rest of East Falkland; Goose Green, Port San Carlos, Darwin, Douglas Settlement, etc. Most of these settlements contain one or two families, and are basically just a house and a barn or two. East Falkland is attached by a neck (where Goose Green is located) to the swampy, wind swept wilderness called Lafonia. West Falkland (divided from the East island by the Falkland Sound) is virtually uninhabited. There are numerous smaller islands surrounding the main ones.
The Falkland Islands lie in the ``Roaring Forties``, a fierce South Atlantic wind pattern which blows east from the tip of South America. The wind is so severe that there are no flying insects, and trees are unable to grow. The island is a great prairie/swampland with few trees or shrubs, great patches of tussock grass, and sheepherding is the principle industry (Falkland Island wool sweaters are famous). The people who live outside of Stanley (in what they call ``the Camp``) are extremely isolated.
The last war of the 19th Century was fought here, not in the 1800`s but in 1981; Argentina seized the islands and, in a final gasp of glory, the British sent a decrepit armada across the Atlantic to fight. This was old-fashioned warfare, fought ``for Queen and Country`` by Ship and Marine soldier. It was a throwback to a by-gone era.
The Argentinians have always claimed these islands, based on their originally being part of the Spanish dominion which became Argentina. Spain was the first to plant a settlement here, establishing a colony at Port Soledad. The British, coveting these islands as a resupply station for ships rounding the Horn, attacked and destroyed Port Soledad, driving the Spaniards out and establishing their own colony. They pushed a group of pensioned soldiers to come and settle.
The problem is that Britain has never had many willing settlers. The Falklands never get very warm, with hot summer days being in the high 60`s/low 70`s. Granted, it never gets far below freezing in the winter, still it is not a farmer`s paradise. The Falklands are one of the rainiest places on Earth, with 260 some odd days of rain a year. Couple that with the incessant wind, and you have something out of a Gothic or sword-and-sorcery novel, but not a place many people want to settle. The only source of fuel for the settlers was peat (which they have to dig out of bogs) and building material is scarce. The Falkland Island development Corporation controls most of the land on the Islands, and there are few independent farm holdings. This quasi-socialist setup has kept these islands from being developed, although the FIDC has been selling out to small farmers lately. There is a solid fishing industry.
The Falklands have often been described as a Scottish bog, with Scotsmen. It`s a dark, dour place
Perfect! Just be careful not to trip over any land mines from the war.South Georgia
This rugged, alpine jewell of the sub-Antarctic was once home to Norwegian whalers who came to hunt the great beasts for their oil. The Norwegians established a couple of stations on the island-the principles being Grtvyken and Stromness. At the heighth of whaling season Grtvyken`s population would soar to 800. The demise of the whaling industry put an end to the South Georgia colony, and the island is inhabited only by British soldiers who occupy it against Argentinian invasion.
There had been attempts to colonize the Island for other purposes, but these all failed. Sheep died too easily, farming wasn`t very productive, etc. Herds of reindeer roam the island today-the results of a failed experiment in reindeer farming. Feral dogs and Cats are also there. Otherwise, the island is the dominion of penguins, seals, and the other creatures who have wandered it`s jagged shores for millennia.
You see, South Georgia is far too difficult to reach to make it worth settling, and is south of the Antarctic Convergence so it is enclosed by pack ice during the winter. Although it is completely habitable, it is just too difficult to settle profitably. There are no trees (although there is plenty of tussock grass) and it never warms much beyond 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
South Georgia has one claim to fame; it is the final resting place of Lord Shackleton.
Shackleton`s expedition was one of the most fabled, epic failures in history. Shackleton (who was not a professional explorer, but a wealthy thrill-seeker) led an expedition to Antarctica in 1915, but his ship (the Endurance) became trapped in pack ice on the Weddell Sea. The pack ice was grinding the ship to splinters, and Shackleton realized he had to get his men to dry land, or they would drown when the ice broke. He and his men dragged their lifeboats across 250 miles of pack ice to Elephant Island, a tiny mound off the Antarctic coast.
Elephant Island is, essentially, a rock, and the crew of the Endurance had only the supplies which they could bring with them. They built a shelter out of most of the lifeboats and old barrels, and hunkered down to await rescue.
When the ice broke, it became obvious to Shackleton that he was going to have to go for help. This was a daunting challenge; Port Stanley was the nearest inhabited place, and it was 540 miles away, against the winds, across the roughest seas on Earth. It wasn`t possible. Shackleton decided to try for South Georgia; the winds would be with him, and Stromness was a permanent settlement which lay on the eastern side of the Island. Of course, this added 260 miles to his journey...
These are truly the roughest waters on the Planet; swells can reach to 90 feet or higher! Shackelton set out with some of his men in the James Caird, a fishing dingy/lifeboat, to cross 800 miles during the stormy season!
The James Caird was buffeted continually by storms, and was on the point of sinking the entire trip. Shackleton`s men spent their time bailing water, and praying they wouldn`t founder. The tiny boat was alternately blasted by wind and spray on the wave crests, or was down in the ``canyons`` of the trough, imperiled by the next crest. It was a scene from a nightmare.
Finally, out of water for several days, the tiny craft reached the reef of South Georgia. They made landfall and found a cave for shelter from the raging storm which had been buffeting them, and a clean brook to drink from. The men were totally exhausted. The next morning Shackleton set out with just two of his crew for Stromness. There was a problem; They had made landfall on the on the wrong side of the Island, and would have to cross the unexplored hinterland of South Georgia to reach the whaling station. South Georgia has 3000 foot peaks of jagged rock and ice which Shackleton would have to cross! They climbed these peaks, often having to find their way across massive crevasses to make any headway. But Shackleton was fearless and strong, and he drove them ruthlessly to Stromness. All of his men were saved!
Shackleton requested that he be buried on South Georgia, and there is a monument to his expedition (and his remains) there today.
South Georgia would be a great place to spend my days; no crowds, no voices, no aggravations. Ahhhhh!Bouvet Island
The most isolated spot on Earth, Bouvet Island lies almost 3000 miles from the nearest inhabited place. Completely uninhabited, Bouvet Island was referred to as ``the child of the mist`` because people kept finding it, then losing it. Administered by Norway, nobody ever visits, and nobody would dream of staying.
Now THAT`S my kind of place!
I had toyed with including the island of Madeira, since it is a place I wouldn`t mind visiting; Madeira was discovered by Vasco Da Gama, who ordered the entire island burned, for some strange reason. Settlers found that the ash, mixed with the volcanic soil, produced a tremendous, unique wine. Fortification (adding Cane Spirits, first cousin to Rum), heat and a sea voyage performed magic on Madeira wine. Madeira is the longest-lived wine on Earth, and was a favorite of the Founding Fathers. New sources of wine and changes in the mode of transportation led Madeira into a permanent decline, and it`s more of a novelty now.
There are far too many people on Madeira for it to be considered a serious permanent escape, but I would like to sample the wines on the island itself someday!
Anyway, I hope my little tour of the forgotten isles of the Atlantic was enjoyable to you, or at least not too painful. Whenever life becomes too complicated I can take comfort in the fact that these places are real and still exist, that there really are places a man can flee to for solitude and peace. Unfortunately, civilization is encroaching on these forgotten nooks and crannies (the Falklands are becoming a tourist destination for environmental wackos) and the days of isolation may soon be over. This makes me sad.
Just knowing there are still such places helps.