Return to Tristan

The only thing better than achieving your dream destination is the joy of returning to a place you love.

I never thought I’d ever make it to Tristan Da Cunha the first time, let alone return to this isolated speck in the middle of the ocean, but the good fortune of travel carried me back within the year, and once again I planted my feet upon on this very special dot on the map.

Getting to this lone volcano is no easy feat–it took me 12 days of travel including a week of rough seas before the familiar peak showed up on the blue horizon. Even then, the high cliffs and large ocean swells mean attempts to land on Tristan often fail. (The week before I landed, a British naval ship tried offloading supplies on the island but gave up after three days of storms.)

Utter remoteness and the non-guarantee of landing make Tristan a kind of crowning quest for serious globetrotters. This active cone volcano sits more than 1,500 miles (in every direction) from the next closest bit of land. How a village of 300 people survive in the midst of 3,000 miles of open ocean is part of the curiosity and beauty of tiny Tristan Da Cunha. It is so different from the world that most of us live in, secluded by so much saltwater that total self-sufficiency is a way of life.

A year ago I landed in Tristan Da Cunha and was amazed by its remoteness. I made this video to show the outside world and published this gallery of iPhone pics but then departed with the sad belief that I would never see this wondrous island again. And yet, my voyage from Cape to Cape just so happens to pass right by Tristan, and so I made a stop. Miraculously, I was blessed with incredibly fine weather — in fact, the air cleared as we anchored offshore so that our landing was rather breezy.

Even with the constant wind, the sun was hot in the sky and the islanders wore short-sleeve shirts. I remembered so many of them from a year ago and some of them even remembered me, including four-year-old Tristan who was named after this special island where he was born. He had all kinds of important things to tell me, including a story about a gigantic fish that he caught.

The unique lyrical language on Tristan melds together 19th-century British with a touch of Scotch, the influence of South African schoolteachers, and some words that date back to the whalers who came from New Bedford, Connecticut. For example, Tiddy means “little sister”, and muddish means godmother. I loved the chance to converse with islanders once more and felt as if I’d gained another dose of learning about a part of the world that so few know.

Even though I was there for just one day, my time on Tristan Da Cunha is twice as long as I ever expected it to be. I know how fortunate I am to have returned a second time — so fortunate that I dare not hope for it again — but I will still dream of it.


  1. Francesca (@WorkMomTravels)
    March 23, 2012, 7:12 am

    This story and the video especially made me all emotional. Not sure why. Maybe because I’ll probably never get to such a place in my lifetime? Maybe because of the remoteness of the island? Possibly because of Andrew and “his dogs” 🙂

    Absolutely fascinating.

  2. Monica
    March 23, 2012, 9:19 am

    What a lovely place! I’m so glad you were able to return here. I would imagine that you are remembered wherever you go, Andrew. You are the perfect traveler, considerate, cheery, and you seem to make yourself comfortable wherever you are. Happy travels! Thanks for taking us along. … Beautiful dogs, btw 🙂

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  4. kate (@TripLogic)
    March 26, 2012, 8:47 am

    Such a beautiful post. I spent some time in remote Alaska when I was young and vowed to myself that I would go back. Haven’t been yet, but would love to experience that.

  5. Christian Parley
    Fresno, California
    March 26, 2012, 11:12 am

    I read about Tristan da Cunha’s newspaper, The Tristan Times, in a photojournalism magazine about many years ago. I thought, “Would working as a photographer for this paper be a dream job or a nightmare?” As a younger photographer I decided it would be painfully redundant. As an older photographer, I think it might have been nirvana.
    Thank you NG and Mr. Evans for the interesting report.
    ~ Christian Parley

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