Marooned on a Desert Island

It's a tough life round here. Just before Christmas, I had to go and perform an installation at a customer site. A good half hour's work which might stretch to an afternoon - and did. Trouble was, there are only 3 flights a fortnight, so I had to kick my heels waiting for the next one back. It was really hard putting up with all that sun and sea. The place itself is barren, with cinder cones all around from dead(-ish) volcanoes, and you can look out to sea and sense the total isolation - NOTHING but brine for 700 miles, and then you only come to another volcanic rock. I needed a vehicle but all they could provide was an ancient battered Renault minibus with a bottom gear like a road roller and a lock like sideways, and somebody's leftover sandwiches in the back. Tired of volcanic clinker, I headed up Green Mountain - hairpins all the way, and the road stops somewhere below 2500ft with another 500ft or so to go. With clouds swirling before a stiff breeze, I continued on foot along a path with wild ginger on either side. Near the top, it got worse. Sticky volcanic mud practically up to your ankles, and a muddy rope beside the path to hang on to. Eventually, I reached the Dew Pond near the top. A small clearing amongst the thick swathes of bamboo, which made an eerie noise as the canes knocked against each other in the wind, and a small pond in the middle, probably constructed in the 19th century by desperate sailors as an emergency water supply. It was an awesome place. My camera jammed. It was the end of the film. I paused to meditate on the meaning of life, the universe and everything, on the frailty of man and on the majesty of God. Sliding and slipping, I set off down again. Half way back to the minibus, a small path offered a circumnavigation of the summit. I took it, thankful at times for the cloud, which hid what must have been, in places, hundreds of feet of shear drop. In parts, the path was unable to negotiate the outcrops of rock, and damp tunnels hewn out of the soft pumice lead the way. A lone sheep kept running ahead of me, so I took pity on it, pressed myself against the rock face and looked the other way while it plucked up courage to run past me.

In the evening, I went down to the beach to look for green turtles. Not one. Not even a David Attenborough. It was new moon. I stumbled over the turtle tracks and nesting holes as the starlight beat down on me in an Armageddon-like display of pyrotechnics. Luckily, the minibus was white(-ish), or I might have had to spend the night there "à la belle étoile". On my way back, in the pitch dark, I missed a turning. I knew I'd gone wrong - I hadn't passed the petrol station (open 3 days a week, mornings only). Picking my way around the land-crabs on the road, I eventually came to an old NASA site. Little wonder this is where they came to test the moon-buggy. At least I now knew where I was. If I were ever to be offered a trip to the moon I'd probably decline on the grounds that I'd been somewhere just as strange.

Despite satellite dishes growing in equal profusion to the cacti, public communications were terrible. Nevertheless, I went down to the peirhead to stand in front of (reputedly) the world's most remote webcam. I went into the office to inspect the computer since I'd ascertained before leaving home that it was down. A serious memory leak. After a hard reboot (a tad softer than a sledgehammer) I emailed my server back home in the office with instructions to wait 5 minutes, grab an image, then email it to all my friends. I nipped outside into the withering heat to lean on the railings before the webcam while my instructions were executed.

Meanwhile, my inbound flight had been delayed on its onward journey on account of severe storms some 4000 miles south. After 3 days on this desert island with not even the company of a wind-up gramophone and 8 crackly records, I re-boarded the plane on its way back. Eight hours later I disembarked at Brize Norton and prepared to scrape 4 days of ice off my windscreen. Oh for the sun and the sea of the South Atlantic. I could have defrosted my windscreen with my mobile as it went into meltdown with all the SMS email alerts coming through from my envious friends. I didn't know when I was well off.

I wonder if I can persuade the customer they need me to go and install the upgrade. Could be 5 or 10 minutes of tricky IP routing to do…

You can see a panorama I took before my film ran out - islands are always beautiful, even desert islands.

©Philip Le Riche, 2005

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