I can’t tell you what the name of the town is that I’m living in here on Diego Garcia. After three weeks of living here I still don’t know if it has an actual name, but the two most-used names for it are simply “Downtown” or the unwieldy “Naval Support Facility” (NSF). So here’s a quick peek at Downtown/NSF, Diego Garcia, which is located at the northwestern tip of the island.
First, our accommodations. We’re staying at the Navy Gateway Inn & Suites (or Chagos Inn, it’s sometimes called). Most people refer to them as the barracks though, because all the military personnel are housed in the 30-ish buildings of NGI&S throughout Downtown. It’s a pretty standard motel room, and is permanently air-conditioned (we can’t adjust the temp). All in all, not too bad. All four of us are up on the second floor. Rachel, in the next room over, doesn’t even get most of the TV channels I get, and her microwave repeatedly blows the circuit after 20 seconds of use, so apparently there are some ghetto rooms. Also, the tap water isn’t safe to drink anywhere on the island because of high trihalomethane levels, so we have to fill up 7-liter coolers with water from “potable water” tanks outside.
We get a few channels on the TV through Armed Forces Network (AFN News, AFN Sports, AFN Prime Atlantic, AFN Prime Pacific, AFN Xtra, and AFN Movies, each of which has a hodgepodge slate taken from various networks in the US), plus stuff like Sky News, CNN International, Turner Classic Movies, Star Movies, and NatGeo. TV reception isn’t great though, and is usually pretty terrible during the day for most channels. What’s puzzling is that reception usually seems pretty good in the mess hall and other places at times that it’s bad in my room. Oh well.
Here’s what street signs look like on DG. The map of downtown that the motel gave us doesn’t have street names on it though, so it took a bit longer to figure out how to get around.
A couple blocks down the road from our barracks is the Ship’s Store, which has everything from Diego Garcia souvenirs to bicycle supplies to DVDs for rent to alcohol and groceries. Most everything’s pretty cheap, actually. For instance, bottles of Tiger Beer are 95c each, 12-packs of Bud Light cans (eww) are $3.55, cans of Mountain Dew are on sale for 10c each (!!), postcards are 25c each, and cans of Pringles are less than a dollar. I noticed that ice cream is a bit expensive though. When fresh produce arrives, a green “FFV” flag (fresh fruits and vegetables) is flown across the street from the store, at which point the store gets kinda busy.
There are a few restaurants in town, all of which are fairly cheap. The cheapest is across the street from our barracks, the “mess hall” (Seven Degrees South Cafe), which has breakfast for $2.40 and lunch and dinner for $4.25. Another favorite of mine is the Officers Club, which is situated at Eclipse Point and has some awesome views. The O-Club has a all-you-can-eat great Sunday brunch for $10, make-your-own-pizza for $7.50 on Thursday nights, 15c wings on Tuesdays… I’m there a lot, let’s just say. Both the O-Club and the mess hall require that you wear shoes (no sandals), the mess hall prohibits tanktops, and the O-Club requires you to wear a collared shirt. All the other restaurants on the island (United Seaman’s Service, CPO Club, Island Room, Peacekeeper’s Inn, Mean Gene’s, the food court, which has Smash Hit Subs, Hot Stuff Pizza, and C-Street Cafe) are fine with flip-flops. And just about every sit-down place has pineapple iced tea for 70c a glass, which I think I’m addicted to.
There’s also a chapel just half a block down the road from our barracks, the Chapel in the Palms. I’ve been there the last two Sunday mornings for their Protestant contemporary worship service. It’s pretty small, but it’s nice to be able to go to church while I’m here and see what Christian life is like here. The band is a group of Filipinos, but they’re honestly not a very good band because they’re not together musically. But the chaplain likes to sing a traditional hymn a capella during the service too. After this week’s service I overheard him tell someone he’d have a wider selection of hymns if anyone could read music and play it on the piano, so I volunteered to play this coming Sunday. Getting involved! I also was invited to a primarily Filipino Sunday evening church service, so I went to that a couple weeks ago, and a Bible study in the barracks last Wednesday night. Another small, neat thing about being invited to both of those was that I got fed home-cooked meals, and right before that I had just started to complain about always having to eat out for every meal. Thanks God! It’s been nice to meet some of the Christians who are stationed here, both military sailors/airmen and FIlipino contractors. One of the military women even commented that she was surprised to meet a scientist who was a Christian, as she thought all scientists were atheists. So maybe I’ve been an encouragement to them by being here, too.
Being surrounded by the lagoon on one side and the ocean on two sides, there’s plenty of pretty scenery around town too.
There’s also a really nice gym that’s free to use, and a swimming pool that’s probably the highest point on the island, as it’s built into a manmade hill. And by highest point, I’d estimate about 5 or 6 meters above sea level. This island is very, very flat. The pool is nice too, especially since it’s outdoors and isn’t overly chlorinated.
All in all it’s not a bad life here in downtown Diego Garcia. The beer selection could be better, but I’ve been spoiled by living in Colorado, haha. It’s nice being able to walk everywhere, and also to be no more than a 5-minute walk from the ocean or the lagoon. And it’s been fun to meet some of the “locals” too. Hard to believe I only have one week left here…