Life on Mars – Out of town

Ray Benjamin, one of the Conservation Office team, lived up here with his wife, Sandra, and Edsel and I were regularly invited up for Sunday lunch.  We’d grab a few beers from Solomon’s shop if we were given enough notice, but it was no problem if we didn’t; the Benjamins were so welcoming and if there were not some of their family around, they just invited a host of other people along.  The best food I ever tasted in Ascension came out of Sandra’s kitchen.  Considering the difficulties of getting good quality food to the island, it was the most succulent chicken roast, and always a big hearty pudding.  Then we would sit around on the deck, maybe wander a few steps over to the house of  another of the Conservation crew, Stedson, to marvel at his tomatoes, or watch as one of the Benjamin clan would tinker with their car.  I know this is meant to be travel writing, but sometimes you just revel in soaking up the routine family weekend activities when you are miles from your own home.

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Ray Benjamin

Pass in front of the Two Boats Club and keep going and you cross a cattle grid, or more correctly, a donkey grid, and drop steeply.  The road hugs the foot of Green Mountain, to the left a large plain spotted with little volcanic craters is often off limits as it is used as a military firing range.  You cross a North East Ghut, a dry river valley, which I once calculated was the second longest on the island and has recently been discovered to be a major faunal feature, but more of that later.

Soon you reach North East Bay which is a handsome sweep of triangular sand wedged between two lava flows, The sand clogs up what might have been a small estuary if the North East Ghut flowed more regularly than once every three years.  It is the largest of the remote beaches and there is such a lovely sense of solitude when you are the first set of footprints to wander across its wave-washed sand.  North East Bay is famed as a crab spawning site, and as a turtle beach, but I’ve also seen it as a fish graveyard.  Every so often, islanders start reporting hundreds of reasonably sized fish ending up stranded on the beach, and North East Bay is one of the places where large concentrations have occurred.  The reason for the mass death is uncertain, some speculate some virus or fungus passes through the ocean, possibly deadly gas from the many volcanic events in the Mid Atlantic Ridge poison the oceans for miles around.

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Ariane Rocket Tracking Station

The tarmac road does not come to NE Bay, but turns to the right and heads down the east coast to the ESA Ariane rocket tracking station.  Apart from the receiver looking more modern than many on the island, there is nothing particularly striking about the site, but a scramble over the rocks takes you to one of the best blowholes on the island.

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