Ascension Island is even smaller than St. Helena Island where we were two days ago. And Barbara described that as a “dot in the Atlantic.” The island is 700 miles from St. Helena and part of the mid Atlantic range of volcanic islands. Georgetown is the only real community on the island which is mainly a military and communications area. The population is about 1,000 people and most of those are communication workers. [I took this picture in the early morning as we were getting close to the island.]
A little historical background about this small island: In the early 1800s it was a dispatch port for naval vessels intercepting slave ships, thus playing a significant role in ending the kidnapping of African natives and the trafficking of human beings to the Americas. Later, Georgetown became a supply depot for the Royal Navy, handy to Europe during WWII. In 1982, the island was used as a British staging post for the ill-conceived Battle for the Falklands. Today the USA and Royal Air Forces still use Wideawake Airfield on the island. This airfield was named after the 20,000 wideawakes (also known as sooty terns – a bird species) on the island.
Because there is no public transportation on this island, there were no tours available. However, tenders were taking passengers to the island just to walk around and get a flavor of the island. If the local people weren’t working, they would be at the pier to offer their own tours! For the first time, we were on the first tender going to the island pier. However, before arriving, we were in a holding pattern waiting for the ship’s tender to leave and make room for us. [The ship sends an initial tender with staff to set up for the arrival of passengers.] We noticed it was not unloading, etc. and then could hear the radio messages going back and forth between the Amsterdam and the tender. In a nutshell, it was impossible to get off the tenders at their pier because of the high swells. So, in a little line, all the tenders that were loaded with guests made their way back to the ship! There was discussion about whether or not you could count this as a place you had been. I decided to just put my little map magnet right on the edge of the island!
Somehow, locals from the island were able to make it to our ship to sell some of their souvenirs. You would have thought they were giving away gold the way our passengers swarmed their tables. You could truly describe it as a frenzy. I would have taken a picture, but I too was caught up in the craziness – getting a t-shirt, a few postcards, and a couple of their stamps which would be hard to find anywhere else and are considered rare. They have all kinds of interesting designs – and that is the table that was swarmed the most! For mail, this island is connected in the triangle I described in my St. Helena entry. The RMS St. Helena is the mail ship (and supplies) between St. Helena, Ascension and Cape Town.
Since we weren’t scheduled to leave until 5 p.m., the captain did a “drive around” the island right after lunch with Barbara giving a commentary on what we were seeing. One of the most interesting things was the beach right in front of us (next to the landing pier we would have been on.) This beach is a well known breeding ground for green sea turtles that go back and forth from South America to Ascension Island. While we had just missed most of the turtles laying their eggs, you could still make out (with binoculars or a good zoom lens) some of the tracks on the sandy beach made by the remaining turtles heading back to the ocean. You can’t see it in this picture, but this is the beach.
In the first two pictures, I particularly liked the contrast of dark and lighter colors of the rock formations. The third was this bright white rock island (hard to tell from this angle it is an island) called Bird Island. The fourth is called Devil’s Cauldron. I liked the last because this is the white rock from a different angle and has a small arch in the bottom left part of the rock that the water has created. It’s a little hard to see – I missed it until I was taking the picture and happened to notice it.
Since we started our “drive around” in the northwestern part of the island (near Georgetown) and went clockwise, one of the last things we saw was the top of where Wideawake Airfield was and the military base. From this picture you can see the many antennae that are protected in the white round coverings on top of the hillside. Since this island is such an important communications center, I’m including this picture of Signal Hill which is right above the beach where we were supposed to land. You can see lots of towers at the top of this hill and going up the hillside. You can’t see them in this picture, but there are two white cannons that were used to protect the island years ago. And the final picture is similar to the one I took as we arrived to the island early in the morning – only this one is seen with the full sunlight upon it.
The one thing I did not include because we didn’t get to take pictures of it was the 18 hole golf course here. It is a bit unique because it is made up of volcanic ash and rock, while the greens are actually brown due to the sand and oil mix used to make them. It would have been an interesting round for my golf friends and family!
Barb & Charlie and Doug & I had a late (8 p.m.) dinner in the Canaletto restaurant and enjoyed a fine Italian meal. It was really fun to be with just the four of us for a change. And one of the highlights for Doug is the ball of cotton candy they serve before dessert. He ate almost the whole thing himself!
After dinner, Doug and I went to the late show to hear the young British man we had met at the St. Helena sail-away. His name is Declan Zapala and he plays the classical guitar. And while he plays that very well, the thing that makes him stand out is his percussive compositions he also plays on the guitar – so one hand is actually hitting the guitar like a drum and the other is playing the strings – and then he will switch his hands so the one that was doing the percussive part is now doing the string part. It was fascinating to hear and watch.
While this day turned out to be a different than what we had expected when we woke up, it was a great day. And, we probably saw more of Ascension from going around it than we would have had we landed. We had been told that the interior is very similar to the moon surface – stark and craters. I guess we’ll just have to try again sometime to see that part of this island!