Life on Mars – And on to a Comfortless Cove

If I felt even more energetic, I would not divert along to the end of the beach, but follow the track up into the lava fields at the back.  You head up a small hill and enter a valley containing a few Mexican thorn trees, then rising further you are on Mars itself.  More than anywhere else on Ascension, all you see is rock.  It is the familiar objects which looks alien here, a green shrub, footsteps or tyre tracks.  The base natural environment here is of another planet.

Bouncing along this uneven surface, the track forks several times and it takes a bit of orientation to reach a recognisable landmark.  But I got to know the route to Comfortless Cove. If you walked this route it would be about 2 miles, if you took the tarred road it was over five.  This curiously named bay is in fact one of the most comfortable beaches on Ascension being one of the few places where you can swim safely and not be ripped out into the ocean.  From a small sun trapping sandy beach, there is about fifteen metres of sea you can swim out to; a rope marks the boundary of safety and provides a life line as a last resort.

Up the back of the beach a well defined footpath curves up through the rocks.  Hidden in a cleft in the lava flows is the Bonetta Cemetery.  A collection of well preserved graves mark where fever patients were buried.  Fever in the 18th century caused panic, especially in small communities and on ships.  Any ship arriving to Ascension with fever onboard was not allowed to come into the main roads at Clarence Bay, but were diverted up to Comfortless Cove to keep them at arm’s length from the populace.  Victims of whatever fever it was would be discharged and buried up in this inhospitable final resting ground.  The Bonetta itself was a ship with Yellow Fever but it was more common for other diseases to cause the mass fatalities – things we think of as relatively benign diseases like dysentery or measles.

Out here in the black lava fields you are set back from the mountains so you see their complete shape in one magnificent panorama.  Equally impressive is the size of the lava fields themselves covered with guano in the foreground.  This is not guano of recent bird activity but from “ghost colonies”  showing just how much this was an island dominated by sea birds in the past.  You see white topped rocks stretching as far as the eye can see .  How many birds were here; a million, two, ten?


The Ghost Colonies

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