A Royal anchorage?

Fear not, this is not more overly-padded coverage of the birth of another Royal baby (congratulations William and Kate, if you’re reading). Although I can find no sure evidence of it, I’ve read in several places that the Royal family were due to be evacuated to the extremely isolated harbour of Port Edgar on West Falkland if the country had been successfully invaded during the Second World War. That raises several questions but if consideration is given to how hard it would have been to find them there then it might make some sense.

Here in the Falklands, in lieu of Easter Monday being a working day, the Queen’s Birthday brings a Bank Holiday Monday so we took the long weekend to head across to West Falkland and the stunning setting of Port Edgar (the first certified organic farm on the Falklands – although pretty much all other farms are in terms of chemicals/fertilisers, many use AI which you apparently can’t to be organic). As it transpired, there was a Wedding on that weekend and, not knowing the bethrothed, we seemed to be the only people on the West not attending the ceremony so we were due to be even more isolated than first thought.

As so often cited in life, the journey can be more than the destination. To get to West Falkland, you can either fly on the FIGAS Islanders or take the (1hr35mins) ferry with your car from Newhaven to Port Howard. We were only able to get on the 8am ferry so a 5am start (on both the outward and return leg) was a painful necessity. This did give us the benefit of sunrise on the ferry. Crossing Falkland Sound (the channel between East and West Falkland that gave the Islands their name) is always a pleasure as you’ll often see albatross, porpoising penguins and, if you’re lucky, whales on their feeding runs. Turns out, we were lucky:

West Falkland is very different to the East in terms of the landscape and also the nature of it. A smattering of very isolated, very small settlements (now) joined by a road network (of sorts) means that you can drive for hours and see very little sign of humanity aside from the road you’re on. The rolling nature of the landscape means you can often see extremely far and you get these ‘big skies’ that so many photographers talk of here (more on that story later). It also makes you realise how isolated each settlement really is from its neighbours:

Port Edgar Road

The drive down to Port Edgar AFTER turning off the ‘main’ road

We were staying in the small self-catering cottage at Port Edgar settlement, which sits in a beautiful bay next to the farm settlement:

The key appeal of coming out to this kind of place is the appeal of getting away – quite literally. With the Wedding going on, we were left alone on the Farm, so we’ll have been at the very least 20 miles from the nearest other human beings, as well as being far out of any form of phone or internet signal but still with a heated cottage to spend our time in. As always, the wildlife wasn’t far to be found and we enjoyed just relaxing, walking the extremely wild coastline and seeing what there was to be seen (and the occasional go on the zip-line set up next to the cottage). Make sure to click on the photos to see the full story (Credit to Han for the sealion fishing photo):

Perhaps having so much time with your own thoughts (an increasingly rare experience in the 21st century, I think), it’s easy to become quite contemplative. The sheer scale of the landscape was hard to get over:

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For scale, spot the car!

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As if the unrelenting ancient and wild coastline battering itself for hour upon hour for thousands of years wasn’t quite enough to get people thinking about their own insignificance in the World, the night brought further revelations:

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Stargazing next to the car

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Our solar system

Evidently, it doesn’t take that much to make a 6’5″ human feel small in the World.

Existential crises aside, we had another 5am start to get back to the ferry for the return trip. The obvious dangers of driving on dirt roads at night for many hours (and I mean REAL night: no lights of any form for dozens of miles) made it prudent to leave a little extra time. Even that (combined with our own compassion) brought its own Falklands problems for us trying to get to the ferry on time. Although we were far from a colony, the Falklands holds something like 70% of the World’s black-browed albatross population and this time of year the chicks from last year are fledging. They are SUPPOSED to leave their nests and not touch land again for approximately 5 years, but many drop down across the Falklands and need to re-launch, sometimes with the help of local charity Falklands Conservation (instigating mental images of albatross chicks dropping down out of the sky across the Falklands in some comedic sketch about the local version of raining cats and dogs).

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I had to put the brakes on as we approached Port Howard as a sizeable bird showed up in my headlights and I recognised its albatrossy features. I figured hitting a pigeon on a UK road is one thing, but letting an albatross chick be mown down wasn’t really on so we stopped to help it along. My attempts at trying to move the chick off the road by intimidation (flapping a coat, chasing it off etc) were met with what I can only imagine were an albatross’ look of dismay and the occasional sharp beak snapping. As we were close to the settlement, we had phone signal and got hold of a friend of ours who works at Falklands Conservation. With approved guidance from her (which genuinely included “you know how you pick up a chicken”), it was left to me to throw my coat over the chick and pick it up to move it off the road. Thus ended our trip with me carrying an albatross halfway across the field to a more sloping location. I’ve talked before about the surreal experiences this place has brought us, but picking up an albatross before the sun had even risen now ranks up there with the oddest of them.

All that was left were a few more whales and penguin sightings on the return ferry, but our sunny drive home was postponed with a stop for some pizza that was also bizarrely interrupted. You see, we stopped for pizza at RAF Mount Pleasant and the small cafe sits near the runway. Trying to enjoy our snack, we were deafened by the sonic boom from a take-off as a Typhoon shot up from behind the hangar into a sheer vertical climb directly up and out of sight within seconds. Amazing machines, if a little loud to those sitting in the window of cafes nearby. This place is odd sometimes.

Cape Pembroke

Yesterday, I decided I wanted to go for a short walk so I took my camera along to help teach a friend about his new DSLR. It turns out you don’t have to go far to realise the beauty of a place:

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Rock shags/cormorants

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The Atlantic Conveyor Memorial

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Cape Pembroke Lighthouse

Zip off those trousers

Most places that we’ve lived, we’ve always tried to keep a ‘to-do’ list of things we would like to do before we leave there. It’s not that we’ve led an overly transitory lifestyle, but it’s always been helpful to have a written list somewhere for a rainy day. We also update this list as we find things that we’re able to do that we didn’t know about before. If you don’t have one for where you live, it’s a good idea! Anyway, I digress. One thing we definitely added to our list was the opportunity to go camping at the well-known Volunteer Point. Although it’s quite an adventure to get there (thanks, in part, to the featureless landscape and numerous off-road tracks heading out), it’s a common stop-off for tourists here as it’s home to the largest King Penguin colony in the Falklands. It also happens to be a stunning coastline, tailor-made for photos. As you’ll know if you’ve been reading regularly, we’ve both been to Volunteers several times, but we usually have to leave with plenty of time to get back. The opportunity to camp out at Volunteers meant we’d be able to see the sunsets and sunrises with the colony without having to worry about finding our way across this lot at night:

volunteers routeWith plans made and a kind guide arranged (while we’d probably find our way there eventually, it’s hard to describe the route), we packed up the car and headed out to Johnsons Harbour settlement before switching to the low-range gearbox and venturing onto the, thankfully dry, track out. It takes about an hour and a half to get there, travelling across a peaty landscape, before you arrive at the farmhouse and the main colony just further along the coast. There’s a large gentoo colony and the Kings just near them. They have an 18-month breeding cycle, rather than the annual one that the Rockhoppers, Gentoos and Magellanics have so there’s usually chicks around. I guess it’s only to be expected that this trip has a heavy photo content:

The benefits of sunrise and sunset at Volunteers weren’t lost on us:

The beauty of Volunteers is that the beach there lends itself to stunning panoramas:

DSC_3009DSC_2998DSC_2996Volunteers is a place that gives great memories to most of the visitors that make the effort to go and everyone takes something away from the place:

DSC_2971This trip, the King penguin colony had moved slightly since our last trip. We did notice that the appearance of sealions in the waves at the beach meant that the water swiftly emptied of penguins, so we suspect that the penguins have figured out that the sealions are less likely to enter the area via the lagoon that you can see on the map at the top. On a recommendation, we walked down to the lagoon to find the kings and gentoos oddly playful in the water. It was a truly special experience to spend time watching the penguins through the clear water swimming past at great speed. I often wonder what experiences like this would cost if you had to pay for them in other countries. As it is, there’s a £15 fee to access the farm and £10 per tent to camp, so it was worth every penny:

DSC_0159DSC_0170DSC_0175DSC_0179DSC_0182DSC_0194DSC_0202It’s also yet another example of why outdoor technical clothing should always be the outfit of choice: zip-off trousers for the win!

 

Thank you, m’Lady

Some things about living here have become very normal but no matter how many times I walk/drive/ride/kayak past the Lady Elizabeth in Stanley Harbour, I still love it!
All harbours should have 19th century shipwrecks.

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The Lady Elizabeth

Merrytime Past

I know, I know, it’s not enough Pengoing South lately! It all takes time and an unexpected antivirus update ate many internet tokens last month so you just have to be patient while we/I catch up. On with the show…

You might not have noticed but most people, organisations and publications around the World refer to the capital of the Falklands as Port Stanley but this isn’t technically correct. The capital city is, in fact, just ‘Stanley’. Nevertheless, adding the ‘Port’ isn’t exactly a criminal error. The Falklands have a rich maritime history, as evidenced by the numerous shipwrecks (both military and civilian) surrounding Stanley Harbour and the Falklands themselves:

This intrinsic maritime connection is less pronounced on islands as connected as the British Isles, but here in the Falklands (where we admittedly struggle to keep our 2 weekly flights on schedule) the connection to the sea brings all sorts of surprises. Aside from the private yacht charters and numerous cruise ships that seem to creep into the harbour as the weeks roll by, there’s the fishing fleets that pop in for their licenses and the locally-owned vessels of different shapes, sizes and purposes. We’ve mostly only made use of the inter-island ferry (the Concordia Bay; not to be confused with the Costa Concordia) and Sulivan’s launches for our Kidney Island trips. Most recently, however,the maritime connection has hit us full force with a number of notable visits. Firstly, during my family’s visit (more on that story later), we stopped by the infamous (don’t ask…) public jetty to have a nose around the Research Vessel Song of the Whale:

The whale population SEEMS to be recovering from decades of whaling in these waters, but no-one really knows so hopefully the research she’ll provide will be valuable but it was great to see around the yacht and talk to the crew about life on board and their trip down here.

Shortly after the Song of the Whale left us, we became an unusual stop-off for Navika Sagar Parikrama. The Hindi speakers out there will get that, but for the rest of us this is the all-female crew of the Indian Navy Sailing Vessel Tarini on their global circumnavigation voyage. This impressive group of women were apparently told to stop off in Stanley as one of their trainers had been here and we were invited to a reception at Government House to welcome the crew in. They had several days here and we were lucky enough to befriend one of the crew, Payal (who, in turn, befriended Milo).

We had a great time chatting with the crew, seeing their basic but functional lifestyle and hearing about their lives and journey. It was also great to be able to talk about my Anglo-Indian heritage with Payal and she was generous enough to spare us some gulabjamuns as I mentioned I’d been missing Indian sweets. It was sad to see the crew leave (and we like to think they were sad to leave too) as they all made an impression around town and threw themselves into the community, even coming to talk in our schools. They’re currently in Cape Town after a 40-day crossing of the Atlantic and we’re hoping Han’s cousin Amy will be able to meet up with them too. Bonds seem to be quickly formed in a small community like this.

Just like finding ourselves aboard these two yachts, our time here has been characterised by so many odd but memorable encounters – cases in point:

Our maritime themed season seemed to continue in this vein when we received an invite to a drinks reception on board HMS Clyde (the Royal Navy’s South Atlantic patrol vessel). We took the opportunity to step aboard, enjoying the generous reception (and jugs of gin/tonics) to meet the crew and enjoy the tour they gave us before taking a few of the off-duty crew into town for a night out. I don’t recall a time in the UK when we got invited to spend the evening on a Royal Navy patrol vessel, though I don’t know if that’s related to living here:

As if 2018 hadn’t thrown enough naval treats at us, Stanley played host to the SV Tenacious. She is the largest wooden tall ship built in the UK, with a view to allowing people of all abilities to sail. While we didn’t have the time off to take advantage of the spaces aboard on their crossing to South Africa, we had a tour around and checked out the ship itself. As a historian, it was amazing to see tall ships in Stanley Harbour again, harking back to the maritime culture of the place and (with the Lady Liz in view) just reminding us how crucial the ocean has been to the development and history of these islands.

As the benches on the seafront Victory Green state: From the sea, freedom.

December Island Hopping – Part II

Well behind now that it’s sunny February, but I’m ploughing on with the blog nonetheless! We’ve not touched the blog in January really as my family were here (more on that story later) and term has begun again so free time is at a premium once more.  Still, I’m excited to talk about our other big December event. No, not Christmas! Far more exciting than that! Following our Battle Day weekend trip to the wonderful Carcass (recently featured in the Daily Mail, but don’t let that put you off), we were very excited and hopeful of a trip that was two years in the making. Since arriving in the Falklands, I’d been keen to make it to the far Western land mass known as New Island (the Trust’s website is well worth a visit). I had a number of reasons for this so it seems an opportune time for a list:

  1. New Island was meant to be one of the most beautiful of all of the Falkland islands
  2. New Island was once home to the only whaling station to have ever been established on the Falklands themselves:
  3. New Island is run by a Conservation Trust and has an interesting access arrangement, so has very few visitors. We struggled to find many people who had been (and let’s face it, people always want what they can’t have)
  4. New Island hosts the islands’ only accessible colony of Southern fur seals
  5. New Island is the largest thin-billed prion colony in the World
  6. Lastly, and most importantly for me, New Island was the island that played host to the truly fascinating story of Captain Charles H. Barnard’s isolation. If you love historical non-fiction that’s too bizarre to be true you’d do worse than reading The Wreck of the Isabella. In short, after postponing his American sealing mission to rescue the British survivors of the wrecked ship Isabella, Barnard’s ship was taken from him by his wards after revealing that Britain and America had declared war while they were at sea. He was left for roughly 18 months to survive in the then-uninhabited Falklands with his dog and a handful of others in his crew (who then also left him alone for a stint). Barnard wrote his memoirs in 1829, still unaware of the full story of why he was marooned, but it makes for an amazing tale and one whose backdrop we were very keen to see.

The journey to New Island is a  story in itself.

The usual grass airstrips that are used by FIGAS to land on the outer islands are usually not a problem, but New Island is so rugged that their airstrip is not only extremely short but only faces one direction and can only take the weight of two passengers. As a result, you can only fly out there on North-Westerly wind and a glance at the map will show you that it’s quite far to get there to not be able to land (about two hours’ flight, in fact). Heading out, the wind wasn’t with us so we were 24 hours late getting onto the island. This also meant we were combined with another couple of people trying to get onto the island (a researcher and one of the FITV crew). This meant we needed to be dropped on the nearest island (Weddell, which was nice as we hadn’t been there yet). We finally heard over the radio that we were going to be able to land and we were excited to finally get onto the island, even if we were hesitant about the plane stopping before the end of the airstrip:

On the drive to the settlement, we got a good taste of what New Island was all about as we stumbled on the eerie remains of the whaling station as well as a clear sign that New Island’s murderous past is behind it:

As New Island isn’t technically a tourist island, the accommodation available was self-catering in an A-frame which was cosy and had everything we needed, including a killer view of the Protector:

Right next to the A-frames you can see the wreck of the Protector and then, just beyond, the Museum. After some fairly questionable historical research, the Museum is said to be built on the remains of the hut built by Captain Barnard himself. I’m not sure I believe that, but the presence of a ship’s mast-turned-flagpole was a funky reminder of the island’s sailing history as a sealing/whaling base.

Shortly beyond the Museum, it’s only a 5-10 minute walk to the Settlement Rookery. This is where Barnard collected eggs to survive on: Mollymawks (the old name for black-browed albatross), Rockhopper penguins and King Cormorants. We paid quite a few visits to the Rookery, it’s not a place to get too bored of at the breeding time of year:

As well as walking to the Rookery, we spent quite a few hours each day walking generally, just enjoying the stunning scenery that the battered West coast had to offer:

After a couple of nights in the settlement, we’d  been told we had the option to spend a night at the North End of the island, in a basic but adequate hut right in the middle of the gentoo’s commuting route. The drive up was an interesting one, and the shack proved even more interesting as the old meat locker on the outside had now become home to a breeding pair of striated caracaras. The North end provided plenty of opportunity to walk the other coast, checking out the beaches and other colonies around. We’d hoped to see the infamous sealion that hunted penguins on the beach there, but we only found evidence of it. It did, however, give us a stunning sunset before we settled down to fall asleep to the thousands of gentoos calling to each other

The North end of the island threw up a rare treat in the form of a pure white skua, which I’ve never even heard of before! This would have been a big deal but the white skua wasn’t the only genetic oddity (if that isn’t too harsh a term) to make itself known to us. We LOVED the amazing  spotted Rockhopper that turned up at the Rookery too!

These completely unusual and rare creatures almost took away from the fact that we were able to stop off on the way back to the settlement and take another walk. This time we followed the odd noises echoing from the caves on the coast to find the Southern fur seals in their colony. The adults were pungent, quite loud and not stunning to look at but the pups that were emerging were super-cute:

As you can see, we were extremely lucky to see so much of New Island by day .If it wasn’t for our limited internet, we’d probably have uploaded more photos but hopefully these have got across some of the highlights. As if that wasn’t all, the daylight only gave way to more surprises. I mentioned earlier that New Island is the largest thin-billed prion colony in the World. This was a major issue trying to walk anywhere as they burrow to create minefield-esque difficulties in walking. At night, however, the scientist studying them took us out to see the skies filled with them and help with checking the rings he was tracking. These stunning little birds filled the night sky and made us feel so much worse when we saw the caracaras digging them up for food the next day as we knew from close up how pretty they were:

One final oddity thrown up by the island was seeing a lonely Rockhopper appear among the gentoos coming in. This lost little guy seemed intent on following the gentoos in as per his genetic programming, I guess. The only thing was, he couldn’t keep up so hopped his way up to their colony and spent the night looking out of place. It made us giggle anyway.DSC_0765Who knows if or when we’ll get a chance to go back, but at least we’ve been now!

Our adventure was rounded off nicely when we had to get back to town to host people at our house for Christmas dinner. We’d invited many people over, but the weather had other ideas – we were stuck on New Island for two extra nights waiting for a flight out. Luckily, we were more than OK with that and we borrowed the wardens’ phone to get our friends to do our shopping. It all worked out so sadly we got to leave New Island on Christmas Eve.

I don’t know what Barnard was complaining about: we loved being marooned on New Island.

December Island Hopping – Part 1, only!

We’ve had a busy few weeks lately and are well behind on the blog, especially given the arrival of my Mum, brother and sister for their first visit to the Islands. We’ve been hopping about quite a bit lately for a number of reasons so expect a backlog of updates on various trips we’ve been taking. Thinking about it now, it might seem that most, if not all, of our updates are based outside of Stanley but I guess the truth is that Stanley is less novel than Camp. One day, perhaps, we’ll include a ‘highlights of Stanley’, of which there are many! Particularly at the moment with 2 King Penguins hanging out at the Lady Liz as captured by Han the other day:IMG_0762

In the meantime, there’s a few recommended trips we’ve been on lately. Firstly, a few weeks back we nipped out of Stanley (well, about 2 hours’ drive) for the day to spend some time in the settlement at San Carlos with White Grass Ceramics. This unusual location for a paint-your-own pottery cafe is remote, but that’s part of the charm! As well as being a stunning place to spend time outdoors, it holds the small and somber British military cemetery. We enjoyed spending time in San Carlos and creating some interesting pieces to remember our trip there, but the cemetery obviously doesn’t make for a happy visit. Still, it helps to remind visitors of the price of being able to visit the Islands today.

 

Just a few days later (Tuesday 5th, if you’re that interested), we were told of a few spaces on a ‘Kidney Trip’. These leave the (infamously protracted building project of the) public jetty in the evenings and run out to a small, government-owned, tussac-covered, rodent-free island in Berkeley Sound. We’ve been a few times before but it’s always a pleasure when the weather’s on your side (as it was this time, though our last 2 trips have been called off). You travel out of Stanley by launch, land by small inflatable on the beach on one side of the island, before making your way through tussac grass taller than yourself to the other side of the island to visit the Rockhopper penguin colony (and, this time, a ROCKARONI; a Macaroni and Rockhopper hybrid, we think!). You then circle back to the main beach for sunset, to watch the c160,000 Sooty Shearwaters return at dusk to their burrows by crashing into the tussac. All this time, of course, you travel with the added bonus/risk of stumbling into sea lions (as happens frequently) in the tussac ahead (which, of course, you can’t see through due to its height). Good fun with those of a nervous disposition!

 

As if one island wasn’t enough, we had lined up a little treat for ourselves for the Battle Day weekend. Battle Day is a long weekend here in the Falklands (as covered in this previous post). We’ve taken part in the commemorations for the past two years and we’ve needed a break, so we booked to get out to the ominously-named Carcass Island for the weekend. We’d been trying to get to Carcass for a while as it’s one of the few tourist islands we’ve not hit yet and we’d heard a lot of good things, in particular about the hospitality and weight-gain one ends up with from a few days spent there. From Carcass, you can also add an extra onto your trip by taking the boat (£100 each) to West Point Island. We weren’t disappointed with either Carcass or West Point, where the hospitality, scenery, weather and, of course, wildlife were all stunning and we hope to return to both one day. As always, the journey was part of the adventure:

Carcass was far from disappointing after the joy of the FIGAS flight over, however as it offered all of the usual attractions of the outer islands:

The day-trip to West Point Island is an unusual one, with a boat crossing (possibly with only you on it) before a short walk across the island accesses the stunning black-browed albatross colony at the ‘Devil’s Nose’ promontory. The oddity of it all, of course, is having the albatross land next to you with little regard to your presence. One person with our party had their lunch interrupted by an albatross brushing past them to take off, showing just how little they are affected by people visiting and how happy they are to barge you out of the way when you aren’t expecting it.

We won’t forget the sound or feeling of these sizeable beings descending over us any time soon, which I guess isn’t something too many people get to experience. As always, I guess we need to remind ourselves that this is fortunate.

Stay tuned for Island Hopping Part II where we FINALLY ticked off an adventure two years in the making!

One Year Ago

I’ve been meaning to write this for a whole year, so I thought it was better to write it now before Christmas dawns upon us again. On 13th December 2016, one year ago, my parents arrived in the Falklands to be our first family visitors here (which is of little surprise given the cost of the flights). It was incredibly exciting for us to show them our home and I thought it would be a good idea to write up their trip and provide a good outline of how to spend a few weeks in the Falklands. Hopefully they had a good time, so perhaps this might be of some use to anyone who might find themselves here one day. They arrived to a sunny Falkland Islands, though as it turned out that wasn’t to be the precedent. Within their first few days, they were treated to the sights of Stanley: the excellent Museum, a lecture by local historian John Smith (whose book, 74 Days, is well worth a read), dinner at the unfortunately-named Malvina House Hotel and, of course, their first penguins at Gypsy Cove.

 

Within their first week, we were lucky enough to catch a low Summer tide. I say lucky as we’d heard it was possible to walk out to the Lady Elizabeth shipwreck, so when we spotted the tide was low enough, we surprised Bailey on his lunch from work with a picnic on the sand-bank in the shadow of the iconic shipwreck of Stanley Harbour. Not your usual luncheon spot, even we’ll admit.

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Lunch with the Lady

In order to feed my Dad’s fishing obsession, we left Bailey in work and made our way across to Newhaven (the ferry port/concrete ramp with tyres) to spend some time among the gentoo penguin colony there before hopping on the Concordia Bay ferry to the West Island. Following our departure at Port Howard (as ever, accompanied by the dozens of Commersons Dolphins who seem to love the ferry’s arrival), we made our way West for Hill Cove but only after a stop at the Port Howard Museum (which is a little more hands-on than most museums filled with the remnants of conflict). We arrived at the stunning settlement in unusually-wooded surroundings.IMG_3165 Hill Cove’s Peter Nightingale opened his home to us in the classic Falklands welcoming way and we enjoyed spending time with him and Duck – possibly the only pet Falklands Flightless Steamer Duck in the World! We spent our days fishing in the areas surrounding Hill Cove in order for John to take advantage of the Sea Trout fishing here that, we are told, is among the best in the World. Bailey flew in Friday after work and joined John for a spot of fishing on Saturday morning, catching the first fish of the weekend! But it was only a mullet, not the trout we’d been hoping for. John was fishing for bigger game. The pools at Crooked Inlet saw John bringing in some success so trout was finally on the menu (a 2.5lber and 4.5lber).

 

We headed back to Stanley to await the arrival of my brother and sister (the return ferry wasn’t uneventful: it showed my parents their first albatross spotting). Unfortunately, as is the way so often with Falklands flights, they were delayed both at RAF Brize Norton and on Ascension, leaving them to enjoy the finest mass accommodation that the British Military can offer. Reviews from Scott on arrival were 1* for their first place, then things went downhill on Ascension.

 

With the whole McKechnie family finally with us at 51 degrees South,it was time to show them why we live so far from Ireland. First port of call was the lengthy Bertha’s Beach for Jess and Scott to see some Gentoos up close and personal. On the way, Bailey showed them the start of the track to Whale Point, where Mum wasn’t sure the car would make it up the short slope to BEGIN the off-road drive. They were in for a shock over the next few weeks as we had some remote destinations in mind! We ventured, then, to one of Bailey’s favourite places on the Falkland Islands: Whale Point. The Point lies about an hour off-road from the MPA road and has more penguins (of course), an elephant seal colony and the wreck of the ship St Mary. The family were amazed by how close they could get to the wildlife. It seemed that photos don’t do it justice and you have to see it to understand, especially when you’re sitting feet from a 4-tonne elephant seal burping and farting. On the way back, Jess and Scott got a taste of TRUE off-road driving in our Pajero. Scott, in particular, was hooked and spent much of the return journey offering to take over at any point. I think that was a good introduction to what lay ahead.

 

Back in Stanley, due the awful weather that was to plague us for the next few weeks, Christmas carols under the Whalebone Arch on Christmas Eve were moved to the Parish Hall but we were treated to the Zimbabwean de-miners choir (who missed a trick in not calling themselves the D-Minors).

As has become our Falklands Christmas tradition, we hosted a drinks party at Midday, followed by a walk to the Cape Pembroke Lighthouse (after Bailey had been able to source the key by collecting one of the Museum workers from her home to open up the Museum: only in the Falklands!). Sadly, the Boxing Day races were flooded out so we kept things local with a swift walk up Mount Tumbledown to see the view, get a little bit of history (of course) and see some remnants of the ’82 conflict. We followed this with some drinks in Stanley’s cheapest pub (the Stanley Arms) to witness the shock from London-based siblings on getting a round in.

 

Having been here for quite a while now, we know the place fairly well so we’d planned a good few trips to help the family see the highlights.Next up was a day-trip to the settlement of Goose Green to take in a circular walk including the daunting Bodie Creek Bridge and some wreckage from a downed plane from the conflict. This also gave Jess another chance to drive in Camp and shake off her London shackles.

The next day, we then went out to spend the night at the settlement of San Carlos. As well as being the sight of the British landings and a small British cemetery, it is also home to White Grass Ceramics where you can paint your own souvenir pottery from the Falklands. We had a great time with Andi and Matthew there and even better to have some take-away gifts to remember the trip with.

From San Carlos, we met up with our friends Regi and Pete to provide the good-practise second car on a further off-road journey to the most Northerly point of East Falkland: Cape Dolphin. I’d wanted to take my family there as it’s beautiful, is a fun trip and also because of the sheer number of sealions breeding at the end of the point. We had a fine day, for a change, and the sealions didn’t disappoint by putting in many an appearance.

As many of you will have seen before, if there is one place that is high on every visitor’s list here in the FI, Volunteer Point is seen as a must. I think it’s the combination of the adventure it takes to get there and the photogenic flat beach leaving excellent reflections for photos. Oh, and the largest King Penguin colony in the Falklands, of course. Where gentoos, Magellanics and even Rockhoppers are relatively common elsewhere in the Falklands, the stunning Kings aren’t found in too many places en masse so Volunteers combines a great opportunity to see these guys, as well as others, with a real off-road experience across Falklands wilderness (I seriously don’t know how people navigate there) and the chance of other encounters like the occasional sealion. Once again, I’ll let the pictures do some justice to the memorable moments you get at Volunteers;

There was not time to be wasted on this trip, as you’re probably starting to get a sense of. When people have traveled so far and paid so much to be somewhere, I figured it was best to squeeze as much into the trip as possible, so a pricey-but-worth-it trip to Sealion Island had to be included in the itinerary! Of course, Sealion has the chance of seeing the orca pods made famous  by BBC’s Life, but it also has the largest elephant seal colony in the Falklands, excellent relaxing accommodation, gentoos, magellanics, rockhoppers and all kinds of other birdlife. I also wanted the family to experience one of our favourite things about the weekends away: flying on the Islanders! It’s still crazy to think that we ring up/email and a flight is put on for us to get places. A charter plane isn’t so expensive after all! We had two nights on Sealion, spending New Year having great craic with Micky and the team there. Sadly, the orca were off having their own NYE party elsewhere, but the Rockhoppers gave us enough entertainment just by trying to make their way up the cliffs and back to their nests through the turbulent seas. Why they choose/have evolved to take on such risky nesting habits we will never quite figure out, but you can spend hours watching them coming in and scaling the cliffs themselves. Another thing we’ve learned coming here: Penguins are excellent climbers! Who knew?

After the madness of the last few days, we took a couple of days back in Stanley, enjoying the nightlife with Scott fixating on the pool at Deanos Bar (with it’s infamous penguin-in-a-top-hat carpet) and taking some leisurely walks around Stanley to take in the views from Sapper Hill. It seemed this wasn’t to be enough for my family, though, as Dad had had a taste of the Islander flights and wanted more. We hadn’t planned on it, but Dad had spotted a gap in the itinerary after Jess’ departure so we decided to fill it with an impromptu trip to Saunders Island. I can’t figure out if the major draw was the chance to see albatross up close at The Neck or the chance to just hop on the Islander again, but a few phone calls later and we were booked and ready to go! For what it offers, Saunders does work out more expensive than the other Islands, but a night in the settlement wasn’t restrictively priced and, once again, the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ mentality kicked in so off we went to show the family just how big sea birds can get:

As all great holidays must come to an end, we had a couple of days to stock up on all of the penguin souvenirs we might need for the rest of our lives and prepared for departure from the Islands. This wasn’t so bad, as I was flying back with the family this time.

Hopefully this gives you an idea of how a few weeks here can be spent, the kinds of memories you can make and why a little bit of an adventurous spirit can go a long way in enriching your life.

Heading South, to the North West Arm

It’s been an interesting few weeks here in the Falkland Islands. Election fever had gripped the Islands. Full democracy was somewhat late arriving to the Islands (the very first elections took place in 1949 but only for a minority of the seats on the government, the rest being appointed by the British-appointed Governor). The first full election for an entirely democratic government here was in (astonishingly) 1977 so the novelty of election drama hasn’t worn thin yet. Interestingly, the government here is essentially one big coalition, with 8 independent Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) each taking a portfolio and being in charge of a particular area of government (e.g. one for education, one for public works etc).

Like most governments, there is no guarantee that those in charge of their portfolios have any form of experience in that particular area, but that doesn’t stop them taking the reins (after the meeting where the portfolios are amicably agreed on). Still, it makes for an interesting election as those running for government come from all kinds of backgrounds (far more diverse than the UK) and are strangely unable to definitely promise to carry out any policies. The coalition nature of the democracy here with no party politics means there is no overall leader. So, even when an MLA has an idea that the people want to see enacted, we’ve seen the proposal to DISCUSS the idea being out-voted by other MLAs. The government’s effectiveness, then, rests on its ability to work together. As a historian, I remain somewhat sceptical about the effectiveness of relying on a group of people in power working together, but I’d better not say too much more about the examples of that failing in the past. As Churchill put it: democracy is the worst form of government, apart from all the others that we’ve tried so far. Either way, we have some new and some veteran MLAs and the consequences of that will remain to be seen.

On our more personal front, last week I joined a “smelly boys’ trip” (Han’s words) to head to the South West peninsular of East Falkland (known as Lafonia after the man who began the wild cattle industry here in the Falklands in the 19th century). The main settlement of Lafonia is North Arm, even though it’s in the South. It’s a stunningly flat area, the map hinting that there is no more than a 15m rise above sea level across the many square miles of the peninsular. Very homely for a Man of Kent.DSC_0173

We weren’t heading for North Arm, however. That’s far too cosmopolitan! Instead, we turned off the road some 3 hours from Stanley and drove for an hour off-road through a featureless landscape to reach the apparent film set of North West Arm (an old shepherd’s house).

 

Facilities were, as expected, basic but adequate. The water was fed from a spring (the Wild West wind pump had been replaced by an electric one, but the tower was still in use), the heating/cooking was on a peat stove and the electricity ran on an open wire from the ‘sturdy’ diesel generator that needed coaxing into life.

On the way, we stopped at a re-seeded field where the local (and abundant) upland goose was taking full advantage of the farmer’s efforts and some colleagues wanted to go for a (perfectly legal and, frankly, encouraged) shoot. I joined them to shoot my first goose on the Islands, though I know that’ll bring mixed feelings for those outside of here. If it helps, we took the meat and I made some rather tasty upland goose pasties.

The house itself overlooked a creek filled with mullet so we also caught some fish, though I released the one I caught as I’m not as big a fan of fish as I am wild fowl.

Many, I know, would look at the house and be put off, but that kind of isolation and simple living does go to show that those who would enjoy this place will probably need a particular type of mindset. I loved it. Would you?

Racing to the Point

Last week, we took a walk in the sun to the lovely Gypsy Cove around the corner from Stanley. It’s our regular walk, just to cheer ourselves up and got see some penguins waddle around for a quick bit of the outdoors. It’s also quite a good indicator, in the tumultuous Falklands weather, for exactly what time of year we currently are in:

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Competition time for the regulars: what kind of bird is it?

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Han sunbathing…in a down jacket…

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Night herons returning to nest

The return of the beautiful night herons to their nesting site at the Cove signalled that we were indeed in the Spring. Half term also helped to remind us of that so, as is so often the case with school holidays, it was time to head out to Camp to enjoy what the Falklands has to offer. We went with some friends to Race Point farm, in the far North-East of East Falkland. It takes about 2 hours to drive there, depending on the condition of the un-surfaced road, which can depend on a whole host of things.

Race Point is seen as ‘a taste of the West’, with some beautiful, hilly scenery overlooking San Carlos Water similar to that found on the West Island. Given that and the fact that the farm also hosts the other landing site of Fanning Head from 1982, the detritus of conflict is still present as with so much of the Islands:

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The one thing that this trip did allow is something I’ve only touched on over the years. Often we judge places by what they have: infrastructure, connectivity and other aspects of modern life. I could go a lot deeper and comment on how this reflects the materialism of our society, but that’s not the purpose of this particular blog. Instead, think about the ABSENCE of some things and how they could be a good thing.

Take, for example, a place LACKING in lots of things. A place LACKING large structures. A place LACKING in urban areas, infrastructure and connectivity. That also might mean a place LACKING in pollution, of the air and light. That place is somewhere that has clear, open skies and wide, uninterrupted views. That’s the kind of place a camera can be handy. I’ve been trying to capture the night here for a while now, but I’ve not always had the right gear on me to experiment (DSLR & tripod). Night time out in Camp is truly dark! It’s easy to forget what that means in some countries. Some nights, we’ve been outside and had it so pitch black that your hand in front of your face is completely invisible. Some nights, the skies offer an unbelievable view of the solar system and a star-gazing opportunity not to be missed. I’ve tried to capture the darkness (and lights) of the night over the weekend and the results from about midnight were these:DSC_0072DSC_0070DSC_0064I’m quite pleased with them so far, but I know there’s more scope for these photos on future trips to Camp to offer a new insight on it. Still, you can see why we like to spend nights away and in the outdoors.