21 May, 2021.
So who’s for a summer holiday? Confusion reigns among the climate gods as we move from winter directly to autumn with a vague gesture towards spring along the way, but so far with very little prospect of anything resembling summer. So a large portion of the UK population apparently wants to join Cliff Richard in ‘goin’ where the sun shines brightly … goin’ where the sea is blue.’
May 17th was the milestone along Johnson’s much-bruited roadmap to ‘freedom’ when international travel broke free from the bonds of illegality and, in one giant bound, became legal (with streamers of red tape attached), even if in almost all cases, according to Boris and some of his cabinet ministers, not generally advisable. So confusion reigns there too. And that is in spite of the elegant simplicity of the traffic light system, so much loved by those who govern us. The minor problem with that elegant simplicity is that apparently roughly half the population (and half our cabinet) thinks that amber means ‘stop’, while the other half think it means ‘go’. Clearly not so simple after all. So as we explore the generous array of options for our summer holiday destination we will stick to the wholly uncomplicated green list, which incontestably means ‘Go’.
After an inordinate delay, which greatly frustrated the travel industry, the finally published the Green List provided those in search of brightly shining sun and blue seas with a geographically widely dispersed range of twelve tempting options: Portugal, Israel, Iceland, Brunei, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, the Faroe Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, St Helena, Tristan de Cunha and Ascension Island. The only minor problem with this Green List was that for all of those destinations apart from Portugal our green list just happens to coincide with their Red Lists, or equivalents. And the prospect of joining every other newly-released-from-lockdown Brit-in-search-of-the-sun heading for Portugal doesn’t, for some reason, hold a great deal of appeal.
The best chance of hitting on an alternative Green List destination that won’t refuse entry on arrival would seem to be to identify somewhere really remote where they might not have heard that we have had one of the worst fatality rates from Covid per head of population in the entire world. And the one thing that can be said in favour of the Green List is that for its size it is extremely well endowed with remote destinations, which have the added attraction after a year of isolation of not being overcrowded. In that regard the choice would seem to come down to a straight contest between South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands, on the one hand, and Tristan de Cunha on the other. The fact that June and July just happen to be the dead of winter in the South Atlantic doesn’t necessarily mean that the sun won’t be shining brightly from time to time.
Wanderlust.co.uk will confirm that where the South Georgia option is concerned the islands are, indeed, ‘very remote and isolated’. So that particular criterion is met, and the website also provides a tempting list of all the things there are to do when you get there. Top of the list is ‘communing with king penguins’. That could be a full-time occupation, but if it palls for any reason you can also ‘immerse yourself in the history of the polar explorers and whalers in South Georgia’s museum’ and ‘visit the grave of Ernest Shackleton, whose body was returned to South Georgia to be buried.’ The only problem with a destination so loaded with irresistible attractions – unless you happen to be fussy enough not to fancy extended communion with penguin royalty, visiting whaling museums or making pilgrimages to graves – is that you can only visit via a cruise ship which, even were they currently sailing, might feel a bit crowded in the middle of a global pandemic. Wherever they sail from won’t, in any case, be on the Green List.
Tristan da Cunha, on the other hand, is the most remote inhabited island in the world and with only 270 inhabitants shouldn’t feel too overcrowded. Apart from other islands in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, one of which appropriately enough is called Inaccessible Island, the nearest land is Saint Helena, over 1500 miles away. Wikivoyage will tell you that a visit requires careful planning because you can only get there by sea and the only boats that make the five to ten day (depending on which way the wind is blowing) 1800 mile trip from Cape Town (where you won’t be allowed in if you come from UK) are two fishing boats and the South African polar research ship the SA Agulhas. The sun does shine brightly and the sea is blue in the Antarctic regions – though generally not in the middle of winter.
You will need to be relatively flexible where timing is concerned when it comes to getting back to Cape Town (if they’ll have you by then) because, again according to Wikivoyage: ‘Visitors are the lowest priority for passage on vessels and may be forced to forfeit their passage to persons with a higher priority (medical evacuation, officials on official business, even locals leaving on holiday have higher priority).’ Wikivoyage doesn’t give a list of ‘things to do’ on Tristan de Cunha but, as there isn’t anything resembling a beach, rock-climbing appears from the photograph to be a good option (there must be a great view of sea from the top) and waiting for the next boat back to Cape Town would obviously be top of the list. Also on the plus side, you won’t need a visa, just a Police Certificate and a letter of permission from the Tristan Government. If you play your cards right you might even be able to get your fare paid by the Home Office if you let Priti Patel know that you are going to Tristan de Cunha to assess how suitable it would be as an alternative to Ascension Island or St Helena for the processing of UK asylum seekers.
Some people, presumably those who don’t have much of a spirit of adventure, aren’t appreciative enough of the amount of careful thought that has obviously gone into the compiling of our government’s Green List of possible summer holiday destinations. George Granville, the CEO of travel company Red Savannah, interviewed on the BBC’s Today programme yesterday went so far as to say ‘If you analyse the green list it is lunacy, it’s a sort of joke list.’
It takes a rare talent to come up with a joke quite like this one. If you can stop laughing for a minute or two, spare a thought for those who work in our £148 billion a year travel industry.