A personal account by Cdt Flight Sergeant Louise Johnson of 487 (Kingstanding & Perry Barr) Sqn
Or, how a nightmare turned into one of the best weeks of my life.
On route to RAF Brize Norton, there wasn't a single negative thought in anyone's head. We were all so excited; after all, we were going to the Ascension islands!
We arrived at Brize Norton to check in, everyone eager to hand their passports over. Then there was a pause, we were all confused, what could possibly be the hold up? Everyone got a little anxious, what was going on? Why couldn't we check in?
"We are sorry to announce that there is a technical fault with the plane and there will be a 24hour delay."
Everyone's faced dropped, this was the worst news we could've received then two words echoed through the terminal, "Gateway House". It was like a cold gust of wind had just rolled through the room, Gateway House was the building we were going to be staying in for the next 24 hours, a building full of broken dreams and misery, in other words its a building with no wifi or signal which is basically the same thing for a group of teenagers.
We grabbed our suitcases, loaded up onto the coach and were on route to Gateway House. We arrived at Gateway, checked in to our rooms and did what any cadet does best, went on the hunt for food.
The next day we woke up still with hours and hours to wait, fortunately for us CWO Lynch had brought his laptop loaded up with films, however that could only entertain for so long. We were forced to entertain ourselves, this included a game made up from bungee's and any object we could find. The game consisted of flinging an item with the bungee to see how far it could travel down the hallway, if you’re interested the item with the furthest distance was a maoam.
Hours felt like days in this asylum.
After hours and hours of entertaining ourselves, it was finally the time we had all been waiting for! We grabbed our suitcases and got to the check in. Before we knew it we were boarding the plane and off to the Ascension Island. Everyone was so excited!
After a gruelling 9 hour flight of plane food and numb legs, we were there; we looked out the windows to see this tiny desert-like island. The plane doors opened and when walking out, the heat hit us like a slap on the face, the humidity was insane. It was instant sweating for us.
Everyone was walking across the runway with massive grins on their faces; I didn't see one person who wasn't smiling. We got our luggage and went to our accommodation. We had to have a Station brief when we got there so we all got in our DPM's/MTP and went to the brief. I literally couldn't keep my eyes open in this brief, as interested as I was in hearing about the Ascension Island, the lack of sleep on the plane had hit me, and my eyes were rolling. I was doing anything to stay awake.
After the brief we all got our swimsuits and flip flops and went to visit Comfortless Cove. This was a little cove which had a small white beach with the bluest of water, it was such a beautiful place, there were even fish swimming around, they seemed pretty harmless until... THE SHARK ATTACK.
I got bit by a shark and I felt as if my arm had just been bitten off, there was blood everywhere, panic filled the cove. So that's the story of how I was bit by a shark. In other words I was bit by one of these little fish who just so happened to be related to piranhas, it hurt a little, it was mostly the shock of it that got me but don't worry, I didn't really lose an arm. That night we visited North East Bay when it was dark and we got to see hundreds of crabs which were roaming about, I’d never seen so many in one place before, they were everywhere. One of the conservation workers taught me how to hold one so I held a crab, they were massive and a lot stronger than I thought. On our way back walking along the beach, we came across a load of baby turtles that had just hatched, they were so tiny and fragile but we couldn't see them too well because we couldn't have our lights on, that was the first time I'd ever seen a baby turtle and it was a great experience.
The next day we went to Long Beach to do some conservation work, our jobs included picking the weeds and the roots and also hauling out this massive tarpaulin sheet that had been left buried under the sand. The reason for doing all this was because turtles would come onto this beach in the night and they would dig holes to lay there eggs in, sometimes the weed roots would get in the way so we tried removing as many as possible. It was a hot job but overall we enjoyed it. Later that day we went to Lady Hill, this was one of the hills which had the Air Cadet Ensign on top. We climbed Lady Hill, it wasn't a massive hill; it was just made harder due to the heat, when we got to the top we took pictures of the sights and filled in a book in the letterbox to say we'd visited.
We were taken to the European Space Agency tracking station on the other side of the island where they worked with stuff from ESA & NASA, we were shown all sorts of technology and how they measured different things, I cant remember much of what they said because it was so confusing but what I can remember was the buildings that they did their work in, were ice cold inside which felt like such a luxury. Later on in the day we went to English Beach for some free time, it was so nice. The only downside to it was there were fish in the water and at this point I was pretty scarred by what had happened. We went exploring in the sea and round the rocky areas. All we ever seem to complain about is doing drill so what happens when you give cadets a camp with no drill? We do drill, but this time in the sea. We made our own little sequence which was extremely difficult to do with the waves pulling us in and out, overall it looked terrible but was very fun to do and even funnier to watch.
That night we went to Long Beach to see the big mother turtles lay their eggs, they were a lot bigger than I thought, the conservation workers told us all about how turtles live and what their lives would consist of, it was so fascinating to watch and hear about as I'd never even seen a turtle like this in real life. We were limited to two photographs of it each because the flashes could've affected the turtle because when they give birth they go into a trance so they are oblivious to what is going on. After giving birth to the eggs, the mother turtle would they bury them to keep them warm then go back into the ocean.
On the Monday, we were given the task of path clearances up on Green Mountain. We used machetes to cut down any overgrown plants to make way for a path. It started off as great fun but after a while it gets pretty tiring. We were all impressed by the sharper machetes because they cut the sticks and plants so easily and clean whereas with the blunter ones there was a lot of hacking away at the same spot for a while which got tiresome. We were literally one step away from the edge of the mountain when doing this so you had to be extra careful about where you stepped. After we'd finished the path clearing we went to Elliot's Pass which was a little track that went around the edge of the mountain, it was all fun and games until we got to this one section of the path which was literally on the very edge and the soil was so soft so it moved easily, it was fun to cross but at the same time extremely scary as any wrong move could be deadly.
Today was the final day, our last ever day on Ascension. We went to Georgetown; this was the main town of the island where they had little shops where you could buy souvenirs and sweets. They had a museum which taught you all about the history of Ascension and what happens on the island, it was pretty interesting but I didn't really have a clue what any of it was. Near to the museum there was a place called Fort Hayes, I'm not too sure what it was used for but it had loads of underground rooms which seemed to all be filled with empty wine bottles, there were also places where cannons used to be. They looked like they would've been firing out at oncoming ships. After visiting Georgetown we made our final visit to the beach to enjoy the sand and sea of Ascension for one last time. The waves that came in were massive; they were picking us all up and just throwing us onto the beach.
It was time to go; we boarded our plane back to England. This time everyone's faces were the complete opposite, everyone was sad to be leaving Ascension. If there is one thing that I'm sure every single person on that camp can agree on is that the camp to Ascension Island was the best camp ever.
This is the story of how a complete nightmare turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life, I'm so grateful that I was so lucky to go, it was a once in a lifetime trip and I wish I could go back and do it all over again.