Falkland Islands – Wildlife

Can you have wildness without trees, land mammals or national parks? In the Falklands, it’s all wild. Most visitors who come independently, i.e. not on a cruise, come for the wildlife. Penguins rule!

Balsam in the Falklands

However, look at this green ball, to the left. It’s a balsam – what?? In Western North Carolina, we know that balsams are fir and spruce trees.

When I looked up “balsam”, the dictionary said”

Aromatic substance exuded by plants

which can describe many plants around the world.

 

Cape Bougainville, one of the  most northern points in East Falkland, also had sea lions, just sunning themselves. Like elk, they can be mean and charge. Better not get too close.

Sea lions
FIGAS plane

I went to Pebble Island, one of the outer islands, for two nights. “Camp”, they call it. There’s a lodge, an air strip and the rest of the island is a sheep ranch. My last day in the Falklands, I learned that the island is for sale. Not that expensive.

I flew to Pebble Island on a six-passenger plane with FIGAS, Falkland Islands Government Air Service.

Don’t bother looking for a flight schedule because there isn’t any. FIGAS comes up with a schedule the day before, based on passenger input.  You also give them your destination and weight when you book the flight, but they weight you when you check in anyway.

Dan Fowler, pilot

Dan Fowler was the pilot on the way out to Pebble Island.

I was so, so lucky that I got to sit up front next to the pilot and we talked while we hopscotched from island to island.

Pebble Island

On Pebble Island, I joined a day tour with a group of Americans who were island hopping.

I promised no more talking of the Falkland conflict. However on the day trip, we stopped at several sites which still had downed Argentinian plane pieces.

On Pebble Island

On the main island – East Falklands – local residents asked the government to remove all remnants of the conflict.

But Pebble Island is private and no one is bothered. It adds to the value of the tour.

We spent most of the tour on the coast, studying the different types of penguins, scrambling over rocks, and ogling the scenery.

Pebble Island

The Falkland Islands are so underpopulated that they don’t need national parks to keep their island pristine and protected. No recycling either – what would they do with the recycled stuff?

The Details

If you’re coming to Falklands from the Americas, you need to fly out of Santiago, Chile. There’s a flight once a week, so you plan to spend at least a week here.

More details?? If  there’s a clamor for knowing more details, comment and I may add another post on how to visit the Falklands independently.

Another dream fulfilled.

The Falklands – A Day in Port Stanley

Whalebone Arch

Monday was my day to explore Port Stanley. If I only wanted to see the monuments, that might have taken a couple of hours – max. But I wanted to see how residents lived. There would be time for penguins. Upland geese hugged the waterfront; see the photo above.

First, the post office where I sent lots of postcards.

I had a deadline because if I didn’t get my cards in the outgoing  box by 11 am, they would sit until Thursday. Mail only goes out of the country twice a week. The community is so small that every household has a post box at the post office; there’s no home delivery of mail. As I wrote my postcards at a table in the post office, I noticed how the PO boxes provided an excuse to meet and at least say “hi”..

Thatcher in Port Stanley

Today was a cruise day; most visitors come on a cruise and stay from two hours to a full day on their way down to Antarctica. Cruisers don’t venture far but they do see the symbol of Port Stanley, the whalebone arch.

I walked the main street and found Thatcher Drive. PM Margaret Thatcher is a hero here, with her own street – small – and a statue. The inscription says:

“They are few in numbers but they have the right to live in peace, to choose their own way of life and to determine their own allegiance.” Margaret Thatcher April 3rd 1982.

The Falkland Conflict with Argentina was not the first time that the islands were invaded. There was a battle here December 8, 1914 during World War I (yes, WW one – not a typo).

WW I memorial inStanley

Several ships have met their demise here including several American ships. Before the Panama canal was open in 1914, ships had to go around Cape Horn, the southern most tip of Chile, and stopped here to be repaired.

Even today, for a modern economy, life isn’t easy here. Their food stuff mostly comes from Great Britain. They get their fruit and vegetables from Chile once a week – just like independent visitors. If the cargo section is full of suitcases, the bananas don’t make it.

Coleen, the librarian, says “Sometimes I look at the people coming off the plane and wonder how many apples and heads of lettuce this would mean.”

Today, Port Stanley attracts immigrants from over 60 countries. Most are from South America; I met several from Uruguay. Some are from other Commonwealth countries like Australia and New Zealand looking to start a business. But there are people from places I had only heard of from history books like St. Helena (you know, where Napoleon was exiled).

Victor, a deminer

Victor, from Botswana, supervises mine removal. The 1982 conflict left a lot of mines which must be removed by EU rules, even though here only penguins tread this land. It seems that demining is a specialty that takes Botswana firms all over the world. Several families from Botswana have settled here.

Next post – the wildlife – I promise.

 

 

 

 

 

Falkland Islands – Fulfilling a dream, finally

For over thirty-five years, I’ve had a dream, a desire, to go to a destination so far away that most people – well-read, educated folks – couldn’t find on the map. In 1982 –  that’s when I, and most of the world, learned about the Falkland Islands. The few who knew where the islands were located probably lived there.

Tony Smith

1982 – that’s when Argentina invaded the islands and held the people prisoners. There was no local defense force at the time. Three weeks later, the British military arrived and the real fighting started.

After seventy-four days, the Argentinians surrendered and were shipped back to their country. That’s about all you’re going to hear here about the actual conflict.

The Falklands are a group of islands in the South Atlantic, southeast of Argentina, one of fourteen British Overseas Territories, which are self-governing but depend on Great Britain for their defense. In 2013, the Falklands voted – loud and clear – to stay part of Great Britain.

Stone runs

Enough history. I went out of curiosity and because I wanted to meet people and, oh yes, see the amazing wildlife. What did I actually do and see?

I flew into Port Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, and stayed at Lafone Lodge for a week with a trip to another island for a couple of nights in the middle.

I’ll talk about the practicalities of my visit in a future post.

The first thing that hit me as I got my bearings in Port Stanley was the light. The pure unfiltered light with expressive clouds in a clean, blue sky. The wind was strong and cold. It’s not that far from the South Pole. No trees here but a lot of white grass and stone runs, created by glaciers.

The first day, I took a history tour with Tony Smith, a terrific tour guide with a passion (dare I say, obsession) for the Falkland Conflict.

We toured the major locations, including Goose Green, site of a large battle. The war debris have long been removed and there were memorials at various points. We visited them all.

Darwin Bay

We stopped for a smoko (tea and cakes) at the Darwin Lodge, one of a few places in east Falklands to stay outside of Port Stanley. I scrambled down to Darwin Bay where Charles Darwin was supposed to have landed in 1833. He spent a night here.

Then to Bodie Creek Bridge, a wooden suspension bridge built in 1926 and long abandoned, except as a visitor attraction. There are few roads on the island, and most are unpaved. So people drive cross country through fields, as the sheep scatter out of the way.

Bodie Creek Bridge

Our last visit was the Argentine cemetery, where most of the markers say

Soldado Argentino solo conocido por dios

(Argentine Soldier known only to God) – see the photo at the top.

Next post – Port Stanley.