Friday, 27 January 2012

Heading south for the winter...and summer!

Packing up....and leaving on a Titan plane.....
Definitely a Blue Planet!
WE DID IT! It was stressful, anxious, fraught, and looking decidely unlikely to happen, but in the end, with a lot of help from friends.... we managed to get our bags packed 10 minutes before the taxi arrived!
With an allowance of 54kg per person, it shouldn't have been a struggle, but it is quite difficult to condense your worldly goods into a few suitcases. However, some friends popped in to say a final farewell, and found themselves taking possession of a couple of cases which were no longer deemed essential.
As we got in the taxi – actually an 8-seater people-mover - some neighbours and friends had unexpectedly gathered at the end of the street to wave us off. We felt like Royalty, but realised we would miss them a lot.

Flying south for the winter.....and summer!

RAF Brize Norton was a revelation. The antithesis of Heathrow, with its crowds, shopping malls and fancy restaurants and bars. Brize Norton had no crowds, no bars and one shop. It sold newspapers and sweets and the usual travel gadgets, but also seemed to offer a wide selection of boot polish and gaffer tape!
The only other flight that night was to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan – important to go to the correct gate!
However, the lack of crowds and stressed travellers, makes the airport feel very relaxed. Checking-in took about 3 minutes, with nary a raised eyebrow at our 10 bags with 100kgs of essentials. As almost everyone was going to the Falklands, it was fairly easy to make conversation, and we met people who were about to be our neighbours and colleagues. The friendliness was something we've noticed often in the short time we've been here.

“Passengers for Flight RR1801 to Mount Pleasant, please board.....” That's ours! After donning several fleeces and thick jackets that couldn't fit in the bags, we strolled across the tarmac to our waiting Titan Airways Boeing 767 (No, I'd never heard of them either! But they were fine.). Leaving the Oxfordshire countryside behind, we flew down the Bristol Channel, and then turned left....for 9,000 miles.

Woken about 5am with the delicious aroma of Wiltshire's finest breakfast produce, we were soon landing on the remote volcanic rock that is Ascension Island. Positioned in mid-Atlantic near the Equator, its main use is a communications link for both civil and military purposes. There are no indigenous people – everyone is brought on for a contract, and leave once that is finished. 
Busy ground crew, Ascension Island

Wandering across the airfield to the al fresco transit compound, we enjoyed a coffee, and took off some of the layers of clothes we no longer needed in the balmy 25C warmth of early morning. The TV in the lounge was showing BBC Breakfast live, with Bill and Sian droning on about delays on the M25, and possible snow in Scotland.
Already, we felt as if we were in a parallel universe. Will we wake up soon?
Ascension Island Airport
Rejoining the re-fuelled plane, we headed south again. Another 9 hours over the seemingly-infinite Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, I was reading a very interesting book by Simon Winchester about the waters below us - “Atlantic: a vast ocean of a million stories”. Best of all, it was on my treasured new Kindle, and it weighed practically nothing! Thanks to Kay and all the wonderful walkers who generously gave me this wonderful present!
Eventually, a tiny speck of land appeared on the flight map on the seatback screen. Falkland Islands! Sandy beaches, rolling hills, coves, and what looked to me like lochs, all came into view, as we approached Mount Pleasant airfield.

The tiny airport is surrounded by the military garrison and is about 35 miles from Stanley, the capital. Met by a welcoming Falklander, we were soon bowling along in a Land Rover (almost every car is a Landy), through the rolling landscape, which was dotted with sheep and, sadly, mines. (More later on the subject – parts of the islands are now being actively cleared).

We were dropped off at our house at the edge of town. Its situated on a ridge, and has panoramic views across Stanley's natural harbour. In the UK, our house overlooked the Shepperton to Waterloo railway line. First impressions were good!

More news and photos soon, when I find a faster, cheaper internet connection!


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