Sunday, March 17, 2019

Tristan da Cunha, the dream comes true

What effects you and how things happen can be odd and by luck A earthquake in San Francisco led me to be in the south Atlantic 30 years later.  How you may ask?  A bad pitching performance would also cause the same thing.  That seem odder but yet, also true

On October 17, 1989, I do not remember where I was, but I sort of remember what happened.  The third game of the World Series was about to start and an earthquake hit the Bay area.  I was studying Pathology and I wasn't watching the series that night.  The series got postponed for 10 days and even though I wasn't the biggest Oakland A's fan (the Twins won the western division in 1987 and 1991 with Oakland winning the three years in between), I decided to go home and watch the third game with my grandfather Allwin.  This idea changed my life, the earthquake changed my life, the fact that Oakland won game three and took an 8-0 lead in the 6th inning of the fourth game, changed my life.

So let us start there, ....With Oakland going ahead 8-0 in the top of the 6th inning on October 28, 1989, ahead 3 games to none, my grandfather gave up and walked upstairs and went to bed (they won 9-6 and clinched the series about an hour later).  It was just 10 PM.  I got bored at the game and trolled channels (we only had 5) and my life changed.  A show as just starting on PBS was a special about some great Journey.  It was to a place I'd never heard of and I knew maps.

Here is the link.

The words that started the show, have been etched in my mind for now thirty years as said by John Heminway, documentary writer.
"Tristan da Cunha.  It is hardly a place.  It is a destination of the mind.  Tristan da Cunha, it has become a sing song folk music theme of this show.  I am beginning to have my doubts and am not sure I want to get there any more, just in case I'm let down.  Tristan da Cunha.....Tristan da Cunha.....Tristan da Cunha."

I'll let you watch it, just saying the words is causing me to cry, to have goose bumps, and I'm beginning to be overwhelmed.  Tristan da Cunha....

I watched that TV show and I was moved.  Maybe it was the way the host continually repeated the destination Tristan da Cunha, many many times.  I don't know.  I do not know if I ever saw John Hemminway do another documentary but I saw this one.  I was 23 and I decided that life is about adventure, no matter what, somehow, some way, I'd get to Tristan da Cunha, because it was Tristan da Cunha, the greatest place to go on earth.

A lot happened since then.  I got married in 1990, I graduated medical school in 1992, we moved, moved again, moved again, had twins, moved, moved, had a daughter., started a business...
along the way my first email contact was the newsletter of the HMS St. Helena, the only way to get out there and I bought a rare 200 dollar book about the place, as it was out of print and well, Penguins, Potatoes, and Postage Stamps was a great title and only one copy was available on Amazon.

I never added this to my bucket list as I didn't really add things to the list in my 20s, AND it was so improbable, so impossible, so impracticable....,10 days at sea after getting to Cape Town, South Africa and a wife who gets seasick?  It would take a six week block just to try it AND not always does the ship even go or land, in fact, bailing on Tristan is more normal.  6 weeks to go for your dream and then have it dashed?

Tristan da Cunha, maybe just getting there is a let down, and I shouldn't have tried?  Maybe it is the dream that is important NOT the journey itself.
A tiny speck of land, a 7600 foot high mountain, 1510 miles east of Cape Town, the most remote settlement on Earth, why?  why?  Why is this important?

The volcano erupted in 1961 causing everyone to be evacuated and then 2 years later, they returned, but why?  It just added to the mystique.  I had to go, somehow, some way, and then I saw a trip, I talked others into going, it was the convincing of my life, I could sell a religion easier but maybe Tristan da Cunha, is a religion.

Silja and I have been on a month trip with the ultimate goal Tristan da Cunha.  We left a month ago and when the boat headed north in South Georgia I looked at the weather, and it didn't look good.  One woman leading excursions had came 5 times and landed twice.  We had a native Tristaner on the boat and he even seemed doubtful.  Two days ago in Gough, it looked impossible and then
it happened.  The clouds parted, the waves ebbed, the sun shone, and wow!  WOW!  WOW!

Tristan da Cunha!

I came, I saw, I was there.  Let me say it.  Every wave, every rock, every scheme, every step, every roll, every thought, every doubt, everything, was worth it.  It was the best day, the best day I've spent anywhere.  It was glorious, it was wonderful.  It was fulfilling.  It was great. It was marvelous, it was an adjective I haven't learned yet.

We walked the village of 265 people.  We climbed a couple of hills.  We could not climb the 7600 volcano, just what erupted 50 years ago.  We found a rare bird.  We drank beer.  We stretched on the grass.  We ate lobster, and we bought was Tristan da Cunha!

My wife had a southern painted lady butterfly light on her and as such, we had wonderful luck.  This is a place many try to visit but few even making the 1500 mile journey can't land, the weather Gods frowning and keeping them at sea.

We came and we enjoyed, we smiled, we left, and now ...we remember.

Some views of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas and Tristan da Cunha.

Original house surviving volcano behind

view of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

government residence

potato patches

sign about mileage

Tristan Thrush, the rare lifer endemic bird I climbed the mountain for
lifer beer at the pub, best lifer beer ever
We got a private tour of the new hospital with the doctor just arrived from Pitcairn, he likes isolated places

The local working dogs get rides, the dogs look all related

Don trudging along

Our ship in the harbor

Nancy at overlook

Ah Tristan da Cunha, the photos do not give it justice, we spent 7 hours of perfection on the island and we were the last to leave.  It was like I was leaving my dream, but it was a good dream, a great dream.  It was time to wake up.

We met a man who remembered John Hemminway and that trip to Tristan in 1989.  He rode out on the HMS St Helena to Cape Town in 1989.  He thought the special was a good one.  He remembered waving a towel on the ship as it went back from Nightingale to Tristan.

The people here are warm and friendly, I enjoyed every conversation I had, every hello, in reality, they have little here besides their island only making on average 200 pounds a month  but yet they are rich here.  Rich in where they are and who they are, not in what they have.  Any where else and they are poor but here...they have this.

As my show from 1989 ended, so my day ended for me, when setting out to realize a dream, I also found something unexpected, Tristan da Cunha, and that is why we travel and why this whole 30 year odyssey has moved me

It has taken me 30 years to live this dream, while I was here, a family friend died and with that and this, I am lost in emotion of Tristan da Cunha
Thank you John Hemminway!  Thank you Tristan da Cunha!
the smile will never fade



  1. Excellent that you got to your dream island. Looks scrumptious, and, obviously, some good birds as well. Clearly, the weather Gods were smiling. Although I have read about this place, didn't realize landings were so iffy. Wonder what the supply ship does when it arrives? Waits for a good landing day?? Anyway, congrats on a successful voyage.

  2. Ah this is fantastic, what a moment for you, tinged with many emotions it seems. So worth the journey!


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