Ascension Island greeted us with a mild tropical breeze and a pleasant 25° C just after sunrise and breakfast. Only 4 months had gone by since Kostas Tsiamis and I had left this remote island, literally a piece of dust in the South Atlantic, after our 3-week diving expedition there – and now I was back already! We spent about 2 h in “The Cage” as the transit area of Ascension Island Base has been nicknamed by the many British forces transiting here to and from the Falklands. And then back into the air! As our aircraft (an A330-200) soared skywards, I saw the very rugged south coast of Ascension from my window, and memories came back from Kostas’ and my explorations in that area last summer – in particular, of a tough hike through the mountainous desert terrain to Pillar Bay for hunting seaweeds.
From the left Aldo Asensi, Pieter van West, Alexandra Mystikou and Frithjof Kuepper, at Ascension Island.Now we’re in mid-air above the central South Atlantic, at about the latitude of Buenos Aires – but there’s no trace of land anywhere, nor of the slightest human activity. No ships, no contrails of other aircraft – the sea is beneath us, space above us, and a few clouds in between. Only shades from dark blue to white.
Ever since we left the wintery English shores last night, our flight path has crossed only the Sea. Long-haul flights like this – especially if you have a window seat – dramatically remind you that more than 2/3 of our planet’s surface is covered by water, Earth really is more of an Ocean Planet. Only a very small proportion of its surface is benign to and inhabitable by humans – around 10%. You can read this fact widely, but you don’t really grasp that reality when travelling around Europe, North America or East Asia, where most human activity is concentrated.
(Arrived in Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands)
Things became interesting about half an hour before landing in the Falklands – two Typhoons (Eurofighters) appeared at the wing tip, clearly to protect this military flight (even though with a chartered civilian aircraft, of the Portuguese airline HiFly) against nasty surprises from the Argentines. This is probably one of very few opportunities for normal people to see one of the World’s most advanced fighter jets close-up in flight… They were so close that we could see the pilots looking over to us!
One of the two Typhoons (Eurofighters) escorting our aircraft before landing.
Falkland Islands Airport "Mount Pleasant"
We landed, recovered our luggage, and were taken by minivan to Stanley. Aldo is now again staying in one of Kay McCallum’s lovely guest rooms, Pieter and I moved back into her cozy garden shed, and Alexandra got a room in a very nice, new shared house with a few other British postdocs and 2 Chileans. We had dinner with Paul Brickle, Rachel, Paul Brewin and other SAERI (South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute) people in the Malvina House Hotel.
With people from South Atlantic Research Institute (SAERI).