Chapter 1: Gateway to nowhere
As a Cadet Warrant Officer at 163 Coventry Phoenix Squadron in Warwickshire and Birmingham Wing in the Air Cadet Organisation; I was excited and shocked that the Wing was planning a camp to the Ascension Islands for 12 cadets for a week from March 26th- April 2nd, I put my name down for it straight away and made sure I got the time off work. When I found out I had been picked to be one of the twelve, I was so excited and I couldn't wait to leave for the camp, especially as I knew quite a few of the people who were also going.
So on the evening of 26th March 2014, we headed to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, ready to embark on an awesome adventure to the Ascension Islands.
We arrived at Brize Norton at around 8.30pm and we were due to leave 11.30pm, so we collected our boarding passes and started to check in. I had just checked my suitcase in when a Sergeant behind the desk made an announcement; “Ladies and Gentleman, due to technical difficulties with the aircraft, flight RR2232 has been delayed for 24 hours. Sorry for any inconvenience that this may have caused. Thank you.” All of our faces dropped, we were so disheartened that we had to wait another day to on Ascension soil.
So after spending an extremely dragging day at Gateway House within Brize Norton; we once more checked our suitcases in and headed for the Voyager we were travelling in to the Ascension Islands in over 8,000 miles South West of the UK, with the nearest mainland being the Faulklands, which is 4,000 miles away from Ascension. The Ascension Islands is mainly used as a pit-stop for troops travelling to the Faulklands, which is another 8 ½ hour flight.
Chapter 2: Mmmmm Potato. Oh wait, that's egg
In addition to the wildlife and the inactive volcano Ascension is made up of; hundreds of military personnel are based there, including 5 current permanent serving members of the U.S. Air Force. But appernetly, according to some of the RAF personnel currently serving on Ascension, the Americans are only still serving on the island because they were the ones who built the single runway on Ascension, and so have the right to stay there and control it. Also if it kicks off again with Argentina , like it has done in the past, the U.S. have an excuse to fight alongside the Britsh to defend the island.
Other than American and British military personnel seving on Ascension Island, there are also natives and civilians who have travelled from St. Helena . Ascension Island has a law for the natives, where if you don't have a job by the time you are 18, then you will be deported out of the country. I think this is great. Lets think about it; the population of the UK would be a hell of a lot smaller and a lot more efficient in general, if we deported the unemployed and the lazy.
Anyway, the plane journey itself wasn't too bad for an 8 hour flight, mainly because we were all ssleeping, well trying to but my bum kept going numb, so I had to switch sleeping positions every half hour so in the end I didn't really get that much sleep. The aircraft was so much bigger than I thought it would be, with space to actually stretch your legs. They even played a couple of films, and an episode of “Who do you think you are?”. But as expected, the food was awful; we were given a chicken and cheese fajita thing whuch had some red pepper sort of stuff inside and we were also given some breakfast, which I thought wasn't too bad, until I found out that the mashed potato I was eating was actually scrambled egg.
Turning my attention away from the potatoey egg, I looked out the window. The view was amazing, just bright blue sjies with a few white clouds here and there. Unfortunately, everyone else was asleep, so I don't think they saw it, but I did and it was pretty awesome.
Chapter 3: Ow. Ow ow. Ow ow ow ow ow AAAAGGHHHHH! THEY BITE, THEY BITE!
Once we landed we all piled out of the voyager, when a massive gush of hot air hit us in the face. We, being in jumpers and jogging bottoms were being cooked in our clothes. The view was b-e-a-uuu-tiful; you could see the ocean straight in front of you. In fact anywhere you looked you could see the ocean, a part from some mountains behind us we were going to climb later in the week whilst we were staying there.
The first thing we did when we got there was shower and get changed into our Greens/MTP and headed to the mess for lunch, which was only a 3 minute walk, so that was conveniently cool. What wasn't cool was how hot and sweaty we got in the uniform, luckily we were only going to be wearing it for an hour or so. We needed another shower after lunch because we were all just sweating profusely. I suppose it didn't help that we had the hot steam in our faces from the food. But the food was pretty tasty; I think I had a curry at least once a day, despite how hot it was outside.
The weather was lovely, between 34°C- 36°C on most days. We needed to shower at least three times a day because of how sweaty we would get, but that was also due to some of the activities we took part in, such as machetying and walking up mountains. Soon we got into a routine; we would get up, have a shower, put sun cream on and then spray ourselves head to toe with mozzy spray. We did this around 3-4 times a day.
When we went to a presentation with two of the RAF officers who were based at Ascension, we asked how they could stand the heat in their MTP's every day. They said after about ten days we would get used to the heat, but seens as we were only there for 6 days, we weren't going to get used to it and we were just going to have to sweat it out. It did rain whilst we were there, but only about three times, but it was warm rain and only lasted for a few minutes each time, so it was refreshing when it did rain.
After, we headed to Comfortless Cove to go for an afternoon swim; and also to look at an old graveyard, where people that were put on comfortless cove because they had yellow fever were left to die were buried. The water was bright blue and clear; the sand was pretty much white and it was stunning. There were even some little fish swimming, which turned out to be related to the Piranha fish, but we weren't told about that until we were all in the water and Warrant Officer Hart started throwing fruit in the water. The fish started jumping out the water on top of each other trying to get the fruit… that's when the biting started.
A couple of us got bit when a piece of fruit was next to us. Later in the week at English Beach , we were all in the water again, when WO Hart started throwing digestive biscuits in the water. One landed directly behind me, and all I felt were little pinches up my back and the back of my arms, but then the ‘pinches' turned into full on bites. I got out the water and I had bite marks on my arms. I was bleeding… it hurt.
Chapter 4: Turtles, turtles, everywhere.
In the evening we headed down to another beach on the island to have a look at some land crabs. On the walk down to the beach, we saw quite a few on rocks and hiding in holes; I even saw some on the beach that were circling each other, it was pretty funny. But then we got to the rocks at the end of the beach, they were absolutely covered in land crabs, and we had to be careful where we tried because we might’ve stepped on one.
We were then shown by the conservationists some female pregnant crabs, which basically looked like they stored a clump of mud on their bellies. We were also shown how they “give birth”. They wait for the tide to come up and then they do this dance, using their claws to get rid of their eggs. The eggs then hatch and white baby crabs are washed into the ocean. It was good to see, as it was probably a once in a lifetime thing.
On the way back up the beach, we were told to turn our torches off immediately. When we asked why, one of the conservationists shone a red light on the sand; little baby turtles were emerging from the sand and waddling towards the ocean. We weren’t allowed to shine our bright white lights, as baby turtles are attracted to them and so wouldn’t go into the ocean but stay around where the torch is shining. She showed us this by shining her white torch on her boots and all the baby turtles rushed to the light, clambering all over her boots; it was amazing to see.
On the Sunday evening, we visited the conservation centre, where we were going to witness adult turtles laying their eggs, it was quite fascinating to see. The turtles would come up the beach and dig a hole using their front flippers, they would then go into a trance while they lay their eggs, which sort of looked like golf balls. While the turtles are in this trance, we were allowed to take a couple of pictures. After they finished laying their eggs, they come out of their trance and use their front flippers to cover the hole.
Once we had seen the turtles lay their eggs, we walked to the pier to see if we could spot any turtles in the water. There were a couple, not as big as the turtles on the beach, but they had really nice shells, a sort of green colour with yellowy gold glints to them; like the turtle in Finding Nemo.
When we asked the conservationists if what Finding Nemo said was true, about turtles living past 100 and still being young, they said no; the oldest turtle that they have ever heard of, was a turtle of 80 years. They also said that female turtles could only start laying their eggs once they were 35, laying around 30 eggs at one time. Also, the current that the turtles ‘ride’ in Finding Nemo does exist, but the conservationists said it’s not quite that extreme and the film exaggerated it a little bit, which kind of ruined Finding Nemo for me, but hey, that Disney.
Chapter 5: I like that boulder, that is a nice boulder
The first hike we took part in was up Lady Hill, which wasn’t much of a hill, but more of a mini mountain made from orange volcanic rock and ash. It wasn’t that bad and we made it to the top where the Air Cadet Organisation flag stood, flapping in the wind, in around 15 or 20 minutes. It was a pretty good laugh actually, we were all just reciting scenes from Shrek; especially when we saw a big rock – “I like that boulder, that is a nice boulder”. So that made it easier, even though my back was dripping with sweat.
When we got to the top of Lady Hill, we all had our photo taken in front of the Air Cadet Organisation and had a look at the view surrounding us, it was magnificent. We could see around the whole of the island from shore to shore, all of the mountains, the bases and our accommodation. Ascension Island itself is smaller than Coventry, so no matter where you looked you could see the ocean and if you do a 360⁰ turn you could see the whole island, including Green Mountain. Then we saw another officer running up the other side of Lady Hill and back down again, well each to their own, but that dude was crazy, I wouldn’t do it.
The way down was easier in some ways and harder in others. Because the mountain was made of volcanic rock, it was quite crumbly, so every now and then you would slip and slide down the mountain a little bit, but it was a good laugh. We thought it would be a good idea to go tobogganing down the side of the mountain, but unfortunately we didn’t bring any of the trays from the mess with us up Lady Hill, so walking had to do.
The other mountain we walked up the day after was Green Mountain. Green Mountain is basically a sort of rainforest on a mountain in the clouds. The road up was windey and one of the hire cars even burnt out its clutch travelling up the mountain. The way down was even better, shifting from one side of the car to the next, putting our hands in the air as if we were all on a rollercoaster at Alton Towers. The officers had to make 2 trips as well, because the cars weren’t strong enough to take all of us, four to a car up Green Mountain.
Once the cars reached as far as they could go, we got our backpacks and walked up the rest to an old building, which was another conservation centre. While we waited for everybody else, I along with a couple of other cadets found a climbing frame to play on. Even though we were all between the ages of 17 and 19 and all senior cadets, we all still got excited and laughed like children when we saw the climbing frame. Once everybody had arrived, we started up the rest of the mountain.
Chapter 6: The Adventures up Green Mountain
The walk up Green Mountain was steep and windey, just like the road we had just driven up. It took us about half 25 minutes to get to the top, well when I say ‘top’ I mean just the start of Elliot’s path. Anyway, once we got to the top, we split up into two groups with one starting at the end of the path, and one at the start, so that we would all meet up in the middle, which just happened to be in a tunnel. The other group thought it would be hilarious for them to wait in the tunnel for us to come through and scare the b-Jesus out of us.
The views from Green Mountain were again amazing. There was a bench on a clearing up the mountain, god knows how it got there and who put it there, but it was a bloody good idea; I needed a rest even if it was for a few seconds before walking again. There was a post box on a narrow path where we wrote a sentence or two in a diary and put it in the plastic bag. The post box was clearly very old and had been exposed to the elements, but it didn’t look that shabby.
The paths we walked on were a little overgrown, so we had to step on some needles and thorns to make sure we didn’t get stung or scratched by them. But we would soon get our revenge if we did get stung when we went machetying the next day.
The morning we went machetying up Green Mountain, we got up early, as we had been given the chance to have a tour around the voyager we saw land the night before. No other wing had been given this opportunity before and we had only been given it because out officers had met the co-pilot at the bar the night before (not while they were drunk of course).
Anyway, we arrived at the runway at around 7am and we sat in on the briefing the pilots were in; getting information on the weather across the oceans, the temperature, wind speeds and also which route was best to take.
After the briefing we walked across the runway to the voyager which was getting restocked and refuelled. We split off into two groups with one pilot in each group. One got shown around the outside of the aircraft, whilst the other got shown around the cockpit, then we swapped over. It was very interesting to get a tour of the voyager, especially in the cockpit.
There were so many buttons, switches and lights; it was hard to fight the urge to press any. It was like the glass lift in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with all the buttons around you. The pilot showed us the main one that he and the co-pilot uses upon taking off, landing and while they are in the air, such as the seatbelt sign and making announcements.
After we had finished getting a tour around the voyager, we got into the cars and headed back up to Green Mountain Conservation Centre to collect our machetes, meet the ranger and head up the path we had the day before to the overgrown paths. We were shown how to use the machetes properly and safely, and we were also told which plants we were allowed to cut down and which were endangered, as well as where the plants came from, mainly planted by man, some carried across the island by animals and the wind.
Once you got the hang of how to hold the machete and how to hack down unwanted branches, it was pretty fun, hard work but fun. I felt like I looked awesome, but I probably didn’t. I managed to clear quite a bit of the path in good time as well, but after a while your arms became tired and the heat did eventually begin to get to you; it wasn’t particularly sunny, but it was quite humid so there were quite a few mozzys around. Luckily I sprayed myself three times over with mozzy spray, but I still got bit a few times on my legs and a couple of time son my face. If I had the chance to go machetying again, I would, I most definitely would. It was fun and great exercise for your arms; by the time I was finished, I felt as muscly as Terry Crews from White Chicks and Brooklyn Nine Nine.
Chapter 7: IT’S GONNA BLOW!
When the camp was coming close to its end, we visited a geyser which is basically a natural sort of water burst; when the tide comes up over the rocks, the pressure from the water builds up and explodes upwards between rocks, and it looks like a blowhole from a whale or a dolphin when they come up for air.
It was good to look at because I’d never seen one before, and some of us, well two people tried to stand as close to the geyser as possible without getting soaked. They got quite close to be fair, but they did get soaked through; they dried off quickly because of the heat. That was one of the benefits of the heat, when we went swimming, had a shower or washed our clothes, we could hang them on the line outside our rooms and they would dry off within an hour or so.
We didn’t just go to visit the geyser though, there was a science sort of lab based on the cliff, where they had satellites and stuff. The guy who was showing us around was German, he said that he’d been working on Ascension for quite a while. He was the one who showed us around the lab, but it was quite noisy and I’m not really that into science, so what he was saying made absolutely no sense to me and just went whoosh, straight over my head. But the smarter people seemed to know what he was talking about and were impressed, so must have been pretty cool, whatever he was showing us.
Chapter 8: Ghost town
On pretty much the last full day on Ascension we visited the one museum on the island, which was based in Georgetown like the Turtle Conservation Centre. The museum was tiny but packed full with historical objects, newspaper clippings and information inside a tiny building. There was a small shed type building outside the main building. This had old war vehicles inside it; one army truck, one fire engine and one carriage, it also had a couple of cannons on the outside. When a couple of us tried to get on the old carriage it creaked, tipped and looked like it was going to snap in half, so I thought it best to stick to the army truck with the deactivated (broken) machine gun in.
We then walked up one steep hill to the fort, it was pretty cool though, I think some of it may have been restored. There were many small rooms within the fort, most of them were empty, a part from a couple. One of them was full of empty wine bottles. I’m not entirely sure why, and the other had an old dentist or doctors chair in with lots of other medical chairs and things stacked in the corner.
I walked along the ridge of the fort; I could see the pier we had been on a couple of nights before where we looked at the turtles. I could see Green Mountain, the museum, the ocean and Georgetown itself, which was pretty much a ghost town, with hardly anybody about a part from ourselves.
After we left the fort, we walked up the hill and down the road to the local shop and post office to but some souvenirs for our families. Though when we actually got to the shop all we ended up buying was ice-cream, cans of pop or cream soda, and one of us bought a box of Ferrero Roche, and stuffed as many of them in his cheeks at one time, I think he got 6 in. not too bad.
Anyway, the post office didn’t have much in it either, just a couple of postcards, so we headed to the one single hotel on the island. Inside the hotel was a souvenir shop, which was the single souvenir shop on the island as well. I bought a fridge magnet, a pen, a lighter and a couple of key rings; mainly because it was the last day of the camp and I only had £15.00 left and that was gone by the time I left the shop.
After we had all finished buying our gifts, we went back to our accommodation, showered and got ready for dinner.
On the final day, well morning, we returned to Comfortless Cove to go for a refreshing dip in the water with the Pirahna related fish to practice our water bending skills, which sort of got out of hand because massive waves started to come up the beach, drown us and drag us back out again, it was a lot of fun.
After we got back from Comfortless Cove, we showered and started to pack, ready for our departure in the evening.
The Final Chapter
Once we had finished packing and had the last supper, we got into the hire cars and made way for the airport… regretfully. We went through security and waited in departures for our flight to arrive at 10pm. It was pretty boring so I tried to get a quick power nap in, but that was made pretty much impossible; as soon as I closed my eyes someone would nudge me or poke me awake, so I left my sleeping for the plane.
We boarded the Voyager once more and departed Ascension; it was quite a sad time really, I didn’t want to leave and come back to miserable England. I don’t think any of us did… well not by the looks on all of our faces anyhow.
On the plane I listened to some music for a while and had a bit of a sing song and dance, before falling asleep. They gave us pillows and blankets to make us more comfortable and gave us some chicken and cheese fajita thing again part way through the flight. They played the same basketball film they played on the way to Ascension, an episode of The Middle, an episode of Top Gear and the same episode of “Who Do You Think You Are?” with professor Xavier from X-Men.
Once again I couldn’t get much sleep because my bum kept going numb, so I watched the films and got changed out of my shorts into jogging bottoms as I knew it wasn’t going to be 36⁰C in England like it was in Ascension. We were given our breakfasts again, but this time they were more like the horror bags that you usually get on cadet camps, with cheese and onion Tato crisps and the return of the potatoey egg.
After breakfast, I managed to fall asleep finally; it felt like I had been asleep only half an hour before my pillow was taken out from under my head. When I woke up outraged to see who had committed such a crime, I saw the male air hostess smiling that smile that they do, where it doesn’t quite reach their eyes. He said “Sorry miss, we need these back now” and he took the blanket I was holding too. I have to say I was not very happy, but everyone else seem to find it funny. All I can say is that, that male hostess made an enemy that day ;).
When we landed, it was raining (no surprise there) and it was cold. We all walked from the aircraft to the airport glumly, after spending two minutes in England already wanted to go back to Ascension and as soon as I took a step off the plane I started to sneeze and by the time I got inside the Brize Norton airport it felt like I had a full blown cold.
We got on the minibus and arrived back at Wing HQ and my squadron 163, at around 10am. We said our goodbyes to each other, received a key ring from sir and the cadets from Birmingham got back on the minibus. I got in my car and drove home, showered and slept.
The Ascension Island overseas camp was the best cadet camp that I have ever been on and would go again if I was given the chance. And as seens as I will be leaving the corps soon, it was my last camp that I will be going on as a Cadet Warrant Officer in the Air Cadet Organisation, and I am glad that my cadet career has ended on this high.
If any cadet in the future gets offered a place on this camp, i deeply recommend you take it without hesitation. It will be the best camp you will ever go on in your entire cadet career.