Diego Garcia: Downtown

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Being surrounded by the lagoon on one side and the ocean on two sides, there’s plenty of pretty scenery around town too.

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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.

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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…

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25 Responses to Diego Garcia: Downtown

  1. Joy says:

    Welcome to DG! Don’t worry, after a couple of weeks the island is very easy to navigate. one road in, one road out. Glad you are enjoying the clubs. I’m the assistant food, beverage and entertainment operations manager. the office is at turner complex accross from Hometown connection ( you get free internet there). stop in and say hi.
    j

    • Jared says:

      Hi Joy, thanks for the comment. I’d definitely stop by, except I left the island for good last Tuesday night (the 23rd). My assignment on DG for the DYNAMO project (www.eol.ucar.edu/projects/dynamo/) was only four weeks. I had a great time on Diego, and I’m really glad I was given the opportunity to go there. And yeah, it didn’t take long to get my bearings around town. 🙂 Take care!

  2. Stephen says:

    Great reports realy enjoyed i’m working to get job at the power plant on the island

  3. Robin Lasitter says:

    I am needing to find a challenge coin from Diego Garcia. My daughters dad brought her back one & it was lost on Saturday night. She is devistated. Can anyone help me with replacing it. It won’t replace the sentimental value but at least she would have one. If anyone can help us with this we would appreciate it.

  4. Sassan says:

    I am visiting this Blog for the first time and this is probably the most informative of anything i can find on the web about Diego. I have been here for 3 weeks now and have about 4 months or more to go, I am on a Merchant Ship with MSC. I read the comment about the challenge coin and i think i might be able to find one here.

  5. Lee Tolentino says:

    I would like to see the inside of the mess hall.Diego Garcia was being built when I was in active duty.Since I was an old stew burner I would like to see how it look like. Thanks

  6. Wena says:

    such a wonderful living in paradise and amazing and beautiful of it and its very clean sorrounding.Wish to go there.

  7. Bob says:

    Will be going to island at the end of April for a year in construction. Would love to get all info available. Thank you in advance.

    • Jared says:

      Bob: What do you mean by “all info available”? If there’s something specific you’d like to know, I can try to answer your question, but “all info available” is a bit too expansive.

  8. RC says:

    I would like to know if civilians have employment opportunities on Diego Garcia?

    Additionally, how does one get a flight there?

    Thanks so much!

  9. Hal says:

    Anyone have a suggestion for a retired USAF pilot finding a job or investment on Diego? Skills are communications, writing, management, teaching business, investments. Have run an options trading workshop for 10 years; perhaps some there would like to learn investing…? Any ideas are welcomed. Hal

  10. Natalie says:

    Hi Jared

    I know this is ages after you’ve actually posted but I’ve found a job through the company I work for, at Diego Garcia – just wondering what life is like there – mainly socially? Nightlife, friends, etc. It would be long term like 18 months most likely. And accommodation as well – do the longer term residents also have to share accommodation (I’m not with the military)?
    Also what is internet and phone usage like there?

    Regards

    Natalie

    • Jared says:

      Hi Natalie,

      In terms of nightlife, there isn’t a ton to do. There are a couple bars, and occasionally the military will bring in entertainment acts. It’s a fairly low-key tropical island. The people are generally friendly, at least the ones I met. I went to a church and Bible study there a couple times, too. Nice people. And when I was there for a month I stayed in the Navy-run hotel downtown.

      Internet, at least back in late 2011, was S-L-O-W. A bit faster than dial-up, but not much. Don’t count on doing tons of web surfing while you’re there. And I didn’t even bother turning on my cell phone while I was on DG. Bring some books instead, and enjoy the natural beauty of the island. Participate in the MWR sporting events/tournaments. Take up paddle-boarding for $2/day. Go snorkeling for free. Enjoy one of the darkest night skies you’ll ever see. There is stuff to do on the island, and being there for a month I loved it. Being there for 12-18 months would get challenging at times, though. But it’s a beautiful and unique place that very few people in the world ever get the privilege of visiting, so enjoy your time there!

    • James says:

      Hi Nat,

      I’m looking at the same situation. Did you go !?

  11. Bera says:

    I also am wondering if there are opportunities for civilian employment on DG, even contract.

    • Jared says:

      Most of the civilians I saw on the island were contractors hired from The Philippines for various service jobs (hotel, restaurants, maintenance, etc.). There may be other American/British contractors on the island, but I would have no idea how you go about getting a contract on DG. It has to go through the US Air Force and/or US Navy, no doubt, since you can’t even get on or get to the island without their explicit approval.

  12. Paul Ivan Osterhout says:

    Well done Jared as your blog is a wealth of knowledge and as a new guy heading for the Island I’ve a question.. did you see or hear of a Western Union Office there ?. Many thanks in advance.

    Semper Fidelis

    Paul

    • Jared says:

      You’re welcome, Paul! I do not recall seeing a Western Union there, but there might be one. I think there’s a Navy Federal Credit Union and a USAA Bank on the island, however. Good luck and enjoy your time on DG! And thank you for your service!

      • Ryan says:

        Hey Jared,

        I am a Navy Chaplain heading that way at the end of the year. I am very curious about picking up used road bikes or fitness gear from people leaving the island. Did you have any contact with that exchange?? Also, any contemporary worship going on in the Chapel? Does the chapel have instruments other than an organ or piano? Anyway, maybe we can FB message too? Thanks,

        Ryan

        • Jared says:

          Hi Ryan,

          Unfortunately I don’t know anything about purchasing used gear from people leaving the island. I rented my bike for $15/month, which I thought was a pretty good deal (especially when I was only going to be there for one month).

          At least when I was there (now approaching 5 years ago), there was not a contemporary band, but they sang a mixture of contemporary songs and hymns, if I recall correctly.

          Jared

        • Chuck Watts says:

          Hey Ryan:

          I am on the atoll now. If you send a note to my “junk” email address, I will attempt to answer some of your questions. I leave on the 18th.

          Chuck
          thew4xp@hotmail.com

  13. Andi says:

    Hi All,

    This is a fairly old post but if anyone has been to DG recently, is there a theatre (even a makeshift projector type set up) or a place to buy fresh produce on the island since the NX/BX/PX typically does not stock these items?

    • Chuck Watts says:

      Yes to both questions. The theater is “outdoor” sit down. The Ships Store has “fresh” produce delivered to the island a couple of times per month. Cocanuts are everywhere!

  14. Sewell says:

    How about liquor? Do they sell liquor on the island? I’m not talking about beer. Scotch, bourbon, vodka?

    • Jared says:

      Hi Sewell, the bars on the island sell liquor. I never bothered to look to see if you could purchase bottles of liquor from a store, though.

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