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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Friday, April 24, 2015 06:46:15

ANTARCTICA & IBERIA 2015: 8 St. Helena to Ascension Island

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The following information on Ascension is from our on board historian, Victoria. The island was created volcanic eruptions long ago, and currently covers some 97 square miles. It's bleak appearance with little vegetation and almost no water discouraged most countries from claiming, however Portugal did in 1539. The first recorded sighting was by the Portuguese in 1501. Goats were introduced to the barren landscape in 1508, and they managed to survive, but were never fat enough to be considered good eating

The island was not inhabited until the British claimed and settled it in 1815 as part of the defences against the French trying to free Napoleon from St. Helena. It was fortified, and water was hauled 5 miles from a small spring by mule each day. At this time it was inhabited by 42 men, 10 women and 13 children. In 1816 plants and seed were brought from St. Helena in an effort to grow crops and contain water on the top of Green Mountain

In 1830 piped water was installed, and the community moved closer to the water supply. During the next ten years it became a base for ships trying to blockade the slave trade. Serious gardens were begun on Green Mountain in 1847, and in 1857 some 27,000 trees and shrubs were planted. By then the military and civilian population had grown to 330 men, 43 women and 49 children

In the 1860s most troops were moved to Cape Town and the island suffered a serious downhill trend. By 1880 the admiralty considered destroying the buildings and abandoning the island, which was known as HMS Ascension. It was likely turtles that kept it going, as the turtle industry peaked in 1822 with the export of 1,500 to supply demand from the British royal family and the admiralty. The last turtle exported was for the Duke of Edinburgh in 1957

The island community was saved with the arrival of the Eastern Telegraph Company in 1899, which had 40 employees working there by 1908. The telegraph station was operational by 1915, and by then WWI saw the garrison increased for defence. In 1922 the British navy turned the island over to the Eastern Telegraph Company, which became part of Cable and Wireless in 1934

The garrison was increased again during WWII, and in 1943 the US built a major airport with gas tanks for aviation fuel. They had 4,000 troops on the island that were withdrawn at the end of the war. The US returned in 1956, BBC set up a major operation in 1964 and NASA came in 1965. The US and UK jointly operate the airport

It is still a company island, where private ownership of land is not permitted. Every resident on the island is under an employment contract, and permission for residency expires with the contract. There are no permanent residents, although a number of people have lived there many years by having contracts renewed. A lot of the long time residents are from St Helena. The current population is about 800, and the various bases, including the airport, are not guarded. One can simply drive into any one of them. All very friendly!

The day before we arrived at Ascension, where 30 of the passengers will disembark to catch the RAF fight in a couple of days, a farewell cocktail party was held at which the captain said a few words and where we were told what a wonderful and successful cruise we have had. We apparently have 29 nationalities on board. For 14 days of the trip we had force 11 gales, going to force 12 once when the wind hit 90 mph

Thursday, April 23, 2015

As usual we were later than expected arriving at the island, it was after noon before we headed ashore. Usually tours start in the morning, then have a lunch at the Two Boats club as we did when here with Explorer, however here were were issued with a sandwich each which we ate in our cabin before leaving the ship. The tour wasn't ready when we arrived, it started shortly after 1 PM, so we had a couple of beer in the hotel with the passengers who were staying there - they were taken off the ship first

There was no bus available, so Land Rovers and some other vehicles were borrowed from various organizations. We first drove through the airport to get to the sooty tern nesting site. Apparently about a quarter of a million pairs nest here each year. When we walked past the nesting area there were superb photo opportunities as the sky filled with birds, many of whom dove low over our heads in an attempt to drive us off

Our convoy next snaked up the steep switch backs to climb Green Mountain, the highest peak on the island, and home to jungle like vegetation carefully planted over the years. It is possible to hike to the water catchments, paved areas of hill designed to capture rainfall, and to visit a small museum with historic photos of the island. There are picnic tables, as it is a popular place for picnics in the much cooler climate, and a house with spectacular views than can be rented. There is also a tunnel built for the water line through the mountain from the catchments and spring to the towns below, but due to some rock falls it is no longer possible to walk through. Marilynn and I went through it in 1995 and got a certificate to prove it! Water is now provided by desalinization plants

Once back down the mountain we were dropped near the hotel where a nearby pub was pointed out. It had outdoor tables where a lot of our crew were celebrating the opportunity to get ashore. I got into conversation with a local fellow named Charlie, who it turned out was a good friend of Nigel and Trevor, two of the guys we were drinking with in St. Helena. All three of them worked for Pan Am on the island years ago. Brent joined us, along with a number of others from the ship. Brent had a radio, so we were able to be sure we were on the last Zodiac back

It turned out that Jan, the cruise director, and a couple of others, were able to take a Zodiac and go to a quiet bay for swimming, however in spite of being told to take our bathing suits, no one I talked to was told when this would be possible, so to the best of my knowledge no passenger got in the water

Dinner was back on the ship, and a tour to visit the turtle nesting beach was arranged for after dinner. Marilynn and I didn't go, but those who went said it was quite good. Marilynn was at the stern of the ship where the crew were having lots of luck fishing, and where baby turtles, dolphins and a shark could be seen swimming in the ship's spotlights

We will now have our last 5 sea days before we disembark in the Cape Verde Islands. Only half the dining room is now open, and the entertainment is a lecture in the morning, a documentary in the afternoon and a movie at night. The bar is still only open from about 4 PM until 6:30 PM, and again after dinner