Ascension Island

IMG_0873I could write pages about Ascension, but I’ll try keep it short and hopefully readable! After being back in the UK for the day I already want to go back, but the rest of the trip awaits!

What an amazing and dynamic place.  One minute you’re surrounded by green – banana and pineapple trees, various tropical plants (including endemic species), feral sheep, crabs and rabbits and the next minute you’re surrounded by dry and dusty fields of ‘clinker’ (volcanic rock).  A few minutes down the road you can find yourself in a built up area full of typical huge left hand drive American cars on the US base.  The Volcano Club serves some amazing burgers!

Weather
Blue sky every day, 29-31°C.  We had one ‘rainy’ day there – about 10 minutes of heavy downpour, everything was soon dry when the sun appeared shortly afterwards.

2300ft up on Green Mountain where we were staying the temperature was about 23-26° and a little more rainy and damp due to being in the clouds half the time. A nice break from the heat.

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There are currently 33 letterbox walks on the island.  At the museum, which is only open on Mondays and Saturdays for a couple of hours, we found a leaflet that detailed every letterbox walk on the island with maps and instructions on how to get there.  They were mostly hand drawn, so not 100% accurate, but that added to the fun.  At the end of each walk you would find a letterbox which will either be a steel American post box, or a wooden box set in stone crafted by locals.  Inside is a stamp to prove you’ve been on a walk and also a notebook where you can leave a message for the next people.  The older, full notebooks are found in the museum which is quite cool!

One walk we’re particularly proud of completing is Louie’s Ledge, rated a 5 (5 is hardest!).  It took us along what they call the ‘goat track’.  About the width of your shoes side-by-side, a false step or slip could send you off the sheer drop.  We had to trust our shoes and hope that the particular piece of crumbling ash/stone we were holding on to didn’t give way.  The path also had a few gaps that needed to be negotiated. The letterbox and stamp were located on a ridge with a sheer 1500ft drop into the ocean on your left and a cliff to your right.

IMG_0897Another particularly good letterbox was was Bat Cave (there have never been any bats on the island and nobody really knows who named the cave).  A shortish walk off the old NASA road lead us to a fumerole with a few frayed pieces of rope attached.  Looking down into the fumerole you can see a ladder which of course doesn’t quite reach to the top, which made things interesting.  To get to the ladder we had to go bum first trusting all our weight on the old rope.  The walk leaflet has a warning, something along the lines of: “nobody checks the safety of the rope & ladder and they are not maintained”.  At the bottom you were almost immediately covered in a layer of sweat.  It was 30°C above and even hotter in this lava tunnel.  After exploring a little (it was a small fumerole, not much space for both of us to stand in there) we made our way back up with another stamp and some pieces of volcanic rock – nice desk ornaments.  Eveything is extremely sharp down there as it’s un-weathered, so care was needed.  The rock was red & covered the walls so almost looked like the lava was still flowing – amazing!

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Wildlife
On our way down from Green Mountain in the car we would normally dodge large crabs, feral sheep and rabbits who would sit in the middle of the road.  The sheep had a habit of sitting until the last minute at which point they would casually get up and walk to the side.

In Georgetown and dotted randomly around in the island you can find groups of feral donkeys.  With some patience you can gain their trust.  Very friendly creatures, although they probably just thought I had food!

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We spent a lot of time watching turtles lay their eggs at night on Long Beach, an incredible site which in itself made the trip worth every penny.  We watched these huge creatures slowly make their way up from the sea and choose a spot on the beach to dig and lay their eggs.  After a lot of grunting, sighing and moaning while digging the hole she would then delicately dig a smaller hole with her back flippers into which the eggs would go.

The best time to watch them is sunrise.  I hate getting up so early, but it was worth it and I’d do it again many times to watch the turtles.  Up at 4am and onto Long Beach by around 5am, we stargazed while the sun rose behind us.  In the morning light you can watch these amazing creatures without disturbing them and of course get some amazing photos.  You can take pictures at night when they’re nesting, but only from behind and even then it feels like you’re disturbing them with the flash, so morning is best.

I definitely want to go back, with a tent this time.  It would be amazing to explore the island and the rest of the letterbox walks.  You can easily walk for 4-6 hours, so camping would be perfect.

Onwards to China tomorrow, via Europe & Russia!

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