Ascension : Mendotan lives, works 1,500 miles from, well, almost anywhere
Submitted by The Islander (Gavin Yon) 15.09.2005 (Article Archived on 06.10.2005)
MENDOTA — Former Mendotan Denzil Campbell is fortunate not to be chased by some unknown monster like on “Lost”
Mendotan lives, works 1,500 miles from, well, almost anywhere
By Brock Cooper
MENDOTA — Former Mendotan Denzil Campbell is fortunate not to be chased by some unknown monster like on “Lost” or be forced to make a radio out of two coconuts and couple sticks of bamboo like on “Gilligan’s Island.” Campbell has spent more than four years living on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean; and while he isn’t stranded, it takes more than a three-hour tour to get back to civilization. “Other than being away from family and friend’s, this is a dream life,” Campbell said.
Ascension Island is a British possession almost perfectly in the middle of the South Atlantic — about 5,000 nautical miles from Florida. “We are 500 miles south of the Equator and midway, about 1,500 miles between Recife, Brazil and Angola in Africa,” Campbell noted.
Campbell works for a private contractor on a U.S. Air Force Base on the island and takes care of the base’s computer systems. The base can be an emergency landing area for the space shuttle, but it’s main purposes is as a monitoring station. It tracks everything from the space shuttle and “space junk” to U.S. missiles.
“I’m sure that we also keep a handle on foreign missiles, but that isn’t something that people talk about,” Campbell said. The island is the home to 44 dormant volcanoes and has no indigenous people. Everyone on the island is either American, British or from the territory’s capital, St. Helena.
Living on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is much different than living on the mainland. The few roads on the island are made from tar and crushed volcanic rock, according to Campbell. The island government is charged with maintaining the roads, but they do not do a very good job, he said. Also, since the British own the island, they drive on the opposite side of the road.
“The roads can be treacherous, especially when one has imbibed too much. The shoulders of the roads are very narrow and mostly lined with volcanic outcroppings,” Campbell said. “Recently, it seems, we have had too numerous traffic accidents, rollovers mainly, by some who have been partying a little too hard.”
There are cars and trucks on the island, mostly handed down from one person to another as people come and leave the island. Campbell owns a 1985 Citroen convertible that has had several owners. “I’m told that it has quite a reputation on the island, but no one will tell me what the reputation is,” Campbell said. The island’s location keeps it safe from hurricanes or tornadoes. Ascension only receives about 6 inches of rainfall per year, according to Campbell.
The climate is opposite of the United States’ and islanders are going through their winter months. That doesn’t mean Campbell is out in a parka and snowshoes though. Since it is a tropical island, winter temperatures drop to the not-so-chilly mid-60s. When most people think of island wildlife, they have thoughts of brightly-coloured birds and monkeys bounding from tree to tree, but that isn’t the case on Ascension.
“We have wild donkeys and sheep running loose all over the island, including the base,” Campbell said. “Even being wild, the donkeys, at least, are semi-tame. The sheep haven’t quite figured ‘tame’ out yet. It is against the law to feed them, so they scrounge on Mexican thorn bushes and dried leaves.”
According to Campbell, the Royal Marines brought the animals in the island in the early 1800s. The sheep were to be used as food and the donkeys as pack animals.
“The marines landed here as a means to prevent sympathizers to Napoleon from rescuing him from his exile on St. Helena and returning with him to France,” Campbell said. “The Royal Navy then took over and established their encampment up on Green Mountain and had to have a way to get supplies from ships to their encampment.”
The major drawback to living on the island? Campbell cannot return to U.S. very often. The only way on or off the island is by plane.
Once a week, mail is flown in and three times a year he can leave the base and go back to the U.S. Unfortunately, he rarely gets to take many trips; his job is so vital to the base, a replacement must be sent.
Campbell said few people want to fly to the island to take over for him.
He still has family in Mendota and Ottawa but rarely has the opportunity to see them. Campbell said he still gets cravings for Rip’s chicken from Ladd and family style chicken from The Curl Inn in Triumph.
“I purchased a small freezer and, when I go back to the States, I order a lot of steaks, hamburger, veal, etc., from a butcher shop not far from Patrick (Air Force Base in Florida). They cut it, wrap it and flash freeze it and I pick it up the day I’m flying back,” Campbell said. “It stays frozen in a cooler until I get back. Then, when I don’t feel like a ‘free meal’ in the chow hall, I can fix what I want.”
Campbell’s sister, Jane Spenader of Mendota, hasn’t seen her brother since he came to Mendota for Christmas a few years ago. She said the family is close but believes Campbell is happy where he is. “It sounded like it was a good move for him,” Spenader said.
Reproduced from FINN(COMM)