Landing Site

Contrary to the Argentine predictions, when the British Task Force arrived to liberate the Falkland Islands they chose not to land close to the capital Stanley. Instead, the landing site was chosen as a bay at the settlement (read: threindexe farm buildings) of San Carlos. It was from here that, due to the loss by Exocet missile of the supply ship Atlantic Conveyor and its crucial helicopter cargo, the British forces landing were left with no choice but to make their famous yomp to Stanley via Teal Inlet.

The British cemetery at San Carlos, home to the graves of several British servicemen including Colonel H Jones, winner of the Victoria Cross at Goose Green

The British cemetery at San Carlos, home to the graves of several British servicemen including Colonel H Jones, winner of the Victoria Cross at Goose Green

Today, San Carlos hosts the wonderfully typical Falklands sheep farm of Kinsford Valley, along with what must be one of the most remote museums in the world, a British graveyard, some self-catering and, somewhat bizarrely, a paint-your-own pottery café.

San Carlos Bay

San Carlos Bay

We were lucky enough to spend the night there, helping out with the super-cute Merino lambs, seeing the sights and checking out the Museum (somewhat more hands-on than the typical UK museum).

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B and Han get to grips with a leftover Argentine GPMG

B and Han get to grips with a leftover Argentine GPMG

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A washed-up whale rib

A washed-up whale rib

It takes about two hours to drive to San Carlos from Stanley, approximately 3 miles of that on tarmac road and the rest on gravel and dirt track.  We followed our time spent with the lovely owners of San Carlos settlement with a detour on the way home to go via the ferry port at New Haven (read: concrete ramp and pole surrounded by car tyres) as it is home to a colony of Gentoo penguins all year round. These guys are more social and sizable than the Magellanics nearby but equally hilarious and amazing to watch.

Gentoo

Gentoo

Spot the intruder

Spot the intruder

Confession:
As an aside, the opportunity presented itself to ride a Rapier surface to air missile like a rodeo bull. I caved.

Rapier surface to air missile

Rapier surface to air missile

Fitzroy

Tourism can be big here. Not many countries can claim that, on specific days, the population can be doubled or even tripled by a tourist influx for the day. Obviously the location and comparative rarity of flights means that the package holiday market isn’t exactly top priority, but the cruise ships have a major impact here. On ‘ship days’, one or two cruise ships can turn up and dump 3-5000 people on the seafront, having a dramatic impact on life here. These people all need catering for, toy penguins to take away and to travel to various places on the Islands. We’ve not yet experienced one of these days as the season is still nearing but we did receive a little of the tourist treatment yesterday as we were asked to help a local man (who, it turns out, lost his eye as a result of a misplaced British 1000lb bomb from a Harrier in 1982) gain his Tour Guide certification. A free tour of Fitzroy with tea and cake afterwards, you say? Happy to help!

The phone at Fitzroy, used by the local settlers and the Paras to confirm the Argentine withdrawal.

The phone at Fitzroy, used by the local settlers and the Paras to confirm the Argentine withdrawal.

Fitzroy is the fourth largest settlement in the Falklands (behind Stanley, Goose Green and Darwin; the latter, it turns out, being named after Charles as he apparently spent longer here than in the Galapagos collecting fossils, formulating his theories and waiting for the Beagle). Fitzroy itself gained notoriety as the location of the RFAs Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram who, after a series of blunders and miscommunications, were left unprotected out in the open and attacked by the Argentine air force with devastating consequences. The Welsh Guards were particularly badly hit, having been left aboard instead of unloaded as perhaps should have happened. TV crews were there to witness the event and the images of the wounded and lifeboats being brought ashore at a small bay by the site are etched into many minds here.

The Welsh Guards' memorial

The Welsh Guards’ memorial

The inlet at Fitzroy

The inlet at Fitzroy

The memorials are well taken care of and even have a webcam from Sure, who run the limited satellite internet service here:
http://www.sure.co.fk/index.php/fitzroy-memorial

The site is home to abundant wildlife, as with so many places here, and we were lucky enough to get up close to a colony of Rock Shags/Magellanic Cormorants as well as to see our first dolphins here.

Commerson's dolphins in the same bay that the wounded from the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram were brought ashore

Commerson’s dolphins in the same bay that the wounded from the Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram were brought ashore

Rock shags nesting

Rock shags nesting

About time!

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Reunited

As you could tell from the last post, Han has finally arrived here in Stanley, which goes some way to explaining the lack of blog for the weekend so far. I do hope that those of you following have been able to occupy your weekends sufficiently. I had been skeptical as to whether Han would make it out before Christmas, knowing both how much a family Christmas means to her and also the realities of hoping to make it home for a short trip (there’s nothing like a 36-hour round flying time, available intermittently at the MoD’s whim and costing £1500 a pop to remind you that it’s not so easy to stay connected). Nevertheless, that has to be part of an adventure like this and we need to constantly remind ourselves of that.

Han’s arrival had the benefit of my already being here to make things a little more incorporated. I feel lucky to be able to use what little local knowledge I’ve picked up to be able to ease Han into the way of things here and I’ve been able to use the following sentences to help with the transition process:

“Wave at everyone as you drive past”

“Because everyone wears outdoor gear, you take you shoes off when entering most places”

“Yes, it was only £12 to top the car up”

“You don’t want to come off the road here, that’s the minefield but that’s why they’ve dug the ditches and they are working on clearing it”.
Just a tiny sample of insights available to those moving down or visiting!
In terms of itinerary, the combination of half term, fine (for the Falklands) weather and my ploy to get Han to love it here has left a pretty packed week. As you saw from the last post, Wednesday took us to Gypsy Cove,

Spot the penguins

Spot the penguins

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First penguin selfie

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Sealfie!

not ten minutes’ scenic drive from where we live, to see Han’s first penguins (the Magellanics, the so-called Jackass penguin for the noise they make) but we also walked a little further around the coast, past the WWII gun to the tussock grass and found some sea lions that reside there. Being barked at and startled by sea-lions in their habitat, I thought, might be a memorable welcome but I’ll let Han make her own comment on that.      SAMSUNG CSC

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Cape Pembroke lighthouse – the Eastern-most point

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NOT to be stood on for fear of collapse!

Since then, the weekend was spent taking a walk to the Cape Pembroke lighthouse and a trip out to Goose Green and Darwin settlements, 90 minutes’ drive from Stanley and site of several things besides the infamous battle (by the way, best reaction to our engagement might have to go to Frankie: “most people elope to Gretna Green, not Goose Green, typical Bailey”). This month’s Motocross race was held on a farm there, giving Han a good introduction to the lifestyle here but not seeming to help with her reluctance to see me riding a motorbike out here. As it was a dry day, I ventured my first bit of unaccompanied off-road driving to take her out to see the aforementioned Body Creek Bridge (the rather rusted, definitely not-to-be-crossed Southern-most suspension bridge in the world). 12179002_822330618787_117103843_n It was at the end of 2 miles of off-road driving, from the tiny settlement of Goose Green that we bumped into two friendly guys from MPA and joined them for tea in Darwin House (the guest house in Darwin settlement). Such is Falklands life that, as British as it is here, the great British reserve goes out the window – people actually talk to each other. For those of you living in London, I won’t try to explain it but it’s another example of welcoming hospitality here. The good news is, the car is ace, I can drive half-decently over stuff I didn’t think possible and my car now looks like a Falklands car with visibility limited by mud. Tomorrow we’re off to Fitzroy and we’re heading to the British landing site of San Carlos later in the week so we’ll see what else the week brings us. Stay tuned!

A Friday teaser

As Han’s arrived now

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First penguincounter

(all well and good) and it’s been a few days, here’s a few pictures before we update after the weekend’s adventures:

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Sealion down the road

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Sleeping beauties

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The Calm Before the Storm

I have so far kept away from mentioning too much about my work here and I will continue to do so both for professional reasons and because I am conscious of it encroaching on yet another aspect of my personal life but being that I teach in the UK system (the same one that has a 50% teacher retention rate, by the way), it is absolutely inevitable that it will have a dramatic effect on wider life here. This week has been one example as it has been particularly bad (with about 25 out of the last 48 hours spent in school, further hours spent working at home and still a lot to do over the weekend) so I’m afraid that I have struggled to do so much as eat and sleep, yet alone enjoy any adventures worth reporting on here. That being said, it has been a week of flagging up the little nuances of Falklands life that catch you at unexpected moments. I filled up the car for the first time this week, puzzled by the total cost and convinced that I had erred somehow until I remembered that diesel was 46p per litre; cashback!

You also notice that a great deal of life here relies on the inherent trust everyone has in everyone else, the irrelevance of door locks aside. I broke out the chequebook this week for the first time; the cheque stamps and ink pads next to the till in every shop show the normality of it (with no guarantee card, of course, it’s all done on faith). When you call or go to the bank, your name is pretty much your security clearance and away you go with whatever you need (there’s no cash machine here as, I’m told, the Falkland Island Pound notes are too flimsy to handle it so you need to get to the bank more often than you think). Similarly, our shipping arrived this week, some three months after first sending it – all that was needed was to locate the man in the know in a dusty shed, introduce myself and load the boxes up. No paperwork or even checking that I’d paid for it, society here relies on the fact that it is a fundamentally friendly place. It’s going to make moving anywhere after this very unusual. I’ve not touched the boxes yet, as I’m awaiting reinforcements but it’ll be exciting to see what the hell we sent down after all.

Han, of course, arrives in three days (weather-dependent, as last week’s ‘Airbridge’ (the MoD link from Mount Pleasant to RAF Brize Norton, as opposed to the LAN flight which is a 5-flight connection to the UK via Chile) was cancelled due to wind and the weather here is nowhere near predictable enough to see what happens. I suspect Han is secretly hoping to be delayed for a few days on the beautifully sunny Ascension Island but I am hoping that’s not the case. I am ridiculously excited to have her here and overly conscious of the fact that I have been living a bachelor lifestyle, washing up piles and all, for the last 10 weeks. It remains to be seen how she will find it here as experiences vary greatly from person to person; one person I know who came here from a large Chinese city suffers anxiety at the very thought of Goose Green’s isolation, whilst I am slowly but surely falling in love with these Islands. Here’s hoping she likes it, I’m nowhere near ready to leave yet.

Post Script:

It seems I can always find time for a small adventure; I managed to do a small amount of off-roading and take a walk along the Camber (one of the peninsuli that make up Stanley Harbour) for a slightly different view of Stanley as well as to see the long-abandoned industrial oil and coal terminal there. Although the weather was foul, finding your own off-road route with little experience is enough to put you out of your comfort zone and it did offer some surprising sites:

The old oil and coal terminal has seen better days. Tread carefully.

The old oil and coal terminal has seen better days. Tread carefully.

Stanley, through the rain and mist, from the Camber. The coloured tin roofs that give rise to Stanley's 'toy town' reputation.

Stanley, through the rain and mist, from the Camber. The coloured tin roofs that give rise to Stanley’s ‘toy town’ reputation.

Don’t Tumbledown!

This week saw a life-changing addition to the Falklands adventure. No, Han isn’t here yet; I got a car! In the UK, you go out or online, look for a car and purchase something that looks like what you want, isn’t too expensive to insure and perhaps has under 100,000 miles on it. Here, you wait until someone tells you about someone leaving or getting rid of a car in your price range, it’ll be a 4×4, it’ll have a cracked windscreen, it won’t matter all that much what it is and you’ll buy it. As a result, I ended up with my car!

Surf Bay, the closest mine-free beach to Stanley

Surf Bay, the closest mine-free beach to Stanley

The new wheels, in their natural environment

The new wheels, in their natural environment

It is a new experience driving here, for several reasons: every now and then the road just runs out and turns into gravel, everyone waves at everyone every time you pass them which takes an unusual amount of concentration to not forget to do and, as many of the children drive 4x4s very well out here, your driving ability is constantly scrutinised (which isn’t all that much fun for someone not used to driving 3 litre turbo engines in a giant 4×4). Still, a car makes all the difference here and you’d struggle to stay sane without one. The ability to finish work and drive ten minutes up the road to Surf Bay or Gypsy Cove or out to the Lady Liz and walk along the beach, perhaps cheering yourself up watching some penguins attempting to walk is enough to keep anyone here.

One of the first things I did when I was looking up about the Falklands was to see what opportunities there were for outdoor sports, I was hoping to see some whitewater to justify shipping my kayaking gear down and some decent mountains/peaks to get my fix of scrambling (like climbing, but less technical and not generally roped up). It looked like there would be no whitewater so my kayaking gear is still at home and it looked like the peaks were gentle, rolling hills so no scrambling/climbing to be had either. Thankfully, I was wrong on the latter! As the weather forecast for the weekend was clear, sunny and only a gentle breeze we eyed up Mount Tumbledown for Saturday morning. Tumbledown lies just outside Stanley and gained notoriety as the last peak to captured before the Argentine surrender. It was a hard won summit, as the attacking Scots Guards had recently been on ceremonial duty at Buckingham Palace so had something to prove in terms of their battle-readiness and the Argentine defenders were the crack Marines, not the mostly-conscript defenders of other peaks. Today, the perfectly circular ponds in the peat surface leave stark reminders of the mortar and shell rounds that would have terrified so many people and the striations and inlets of rock make you wonder how on earth an army considered attacking this place, and at night too. It is perhaps telling that the British knew how confusing this mass of rocks could be so decided to attack without wearing helmets, to reduce the chances of anyone shooting a friendly silhouette rather than a helmeted Argentine in the darkness and confusion. Whilst the Scots Guards probably cursed it, I am at least thankful for Tumbledown for providing me with a good bit of scrambling for the summit and many more routes to be discovered. Perhaps the Falklands’ first scrambling guidebook will be on the cards some day. It is a stunningly beautiful place on a clear day like yesterday (so clear, in fact, that I’ve been left a bit rosy-faced thanks to the lack of o-zone layer here and the increased UV that accompanies it). The notable landmark on Tumbledown are the remnants of the Argentine soup kitchen trailers, that occupy a sheltered hollow half way up the South side. There is little escaping the effects of ’82 here, even in the middle of what looks to be wilderness.

Beyond Stanley, it's a barren but beautiful place as far as the eye can see

Beyond Stanley, it’s a barren but beautiful place as far as the eye can see

The view back to Stanley from the summit of Tumbledown. A very different sentiment for me than for others who reached this point.

The view back to Stanley from the summit of Tumbledown. A very different sentiment for me than for others who reached this point.

The Argentine soup kitchen. If trailers could talk...

The Argentine soup kitchen. If trailers could talk…

Happy Monday

A short distance from Stanley, about ten minutes’ drive to the East, is a small peninsular containing several beaches, one of which is the popular Gypsy Cove.

Gypsy Cove

Gypsy Cove

Like many beaches here, there are some that you can access, some that are landmined and some that require a short climb. It has become something of a Sunday tradition that a trip there for a short walk along the path, up to the WWII gun and down into the long grass. It’s a truly stunning place, with golden beaches and deceptively blue water (so inviting, yet really so very cold) and I’m extremely happy that this on our doorstep. As the weather improves and the temperatures rise, I’d heard that each day has seen an increase in the penguin numbers returning to the Islands. Today found us out at Gypsy Cove on a Monday (as it’s a Bank Holiday), partaking in our first truly up close penguin experience (the colony at Gypsy Cove is the Magellanic, one of 5 species here).

Not a bad place to be

Not a bad place to be

A Magellanic, funny little things.

A Magellanic, funny little things.

Alongside the penguins scattered across the area tending to their burrows, the long grass also held a pair of seals and some very close-flying Turkey Vultures (we later found the dead rabbit that must have attracted them). The way that the wildlife here is just where you are walking makes you pretty nervous wandering around, as you never know what you’re going to disturb and it can be hard to spot things in the grasses here. All of this makes me feel very privileged to be able to live life here, with these experiences and to have this opportunity at this point in our lives. A busy week next week, heading on a boat trip to Kidney Island to see the nesting birds there and, of course, the Gov’s reception. Han arrives in two weeks and I can’t wait to experience this stuff with her here too. It’s going to be an unforgettable 2 years.

Sleeping seals, stumbled upon.

Sleeping seals, stumbled upon.

Turkey Vulture - very common sight around Stanley, but I still love to see them flying and they're not scared to fly feet from you.

Turkey Vulture – very common sight around Stanley, but I still love to see them flying and they’re not scared to fly feet from you.

Constantly Learning

It’s a bank holiday weekend here in the Falklands as tomorrow is Peat Cutting Monday, a day reserved to allow the population to stock up on peat ready for it to dry out over the Summer. A good article about it here: http://www.penguin-news.com/index.php/site_content/23-features/111-from-bog-to-stove-by-john-smith-written-1976

The vast majority of houses now run off kerosene tanks in front of the house but out in camp it still goes on. I’ve not had the opportunity to learn how it all happens but I’m sure I’ll be shown sometime. I did, however, go for a drive yesterday in what will be my new car; a 3 litre turbo Toyota Hilux Surf with the obligatory cracked windscreen of all Falkland cars (a result of all cars driving the infamous ‘MPA road’). I was expecting a test-drive around town but instead found myself driving off-road like I’ve never done before. Great fun! It was yet another occasion where I found myself thinking “I can’t believe this is my life now – I live in the Falkland Islands, driving a 4×4 off road”. Those moments are becoming more and more frequent and I hope they continue. It’s quite often when I learn something new, such as playing dice for the first time last night. I’d heard that rounds in the pubs here can be decided by dice (all very friendly as it is so cheap to drink here) but I didn’t realise what that involved. Poker dice, obtained from behind the bar, come in sets of 5 and have 9,10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace on. A best of three scenario goes on and you can keep dice back to keep your hand going. Another Falklands tradition acquired, albeit a dangerous one for those out on an empty stomach.

Snap it up!

As mentioned in the last week, I have seen my first Motocross race, been for a bike ride out to the ‘Lady Liz’ (one of many, many ships wrecked or written off here, but this one happens to be iron and forms a great feature in the harbour), taken another walk across to Cape Pembroke (disturbing a seal in the long grass) and seen a Sea King land on the school field to drop off a casualty (evidently a fairly regular occurrence, as it happened again the next day and the kids didn’t even stop playing football at the other end).

The lesson from all of this? Always, always take a camera with you when going out and about in the Falklands – this place never fails to surprise. Fortunately, I did have it over some of the weekend:

That way: Africa!

That way: Africa!

The Lady Elizabeth/Lady Liz

The Lady Elizabeth/Lady Liz

Spot the seal - it was feet from us but it got away before the camera was out

Spot the seal – it was feet from us but it got away before the camera was out

I need to get involved in this!

I need to get involved in this!

Don’t forget to subscribe to the blog – it means you get email updates and means I know people are actually vaguely interested (I enjoy blogging, but it is a very one-way form of communication).
Hopefully in the next few days, I’ll be picking up a 4×4 so expect the adventures to increase in their scope and regularity. Next week, I’m hoping to take a trip to Kidney Island by boat to see something pretty special as well as, of course, the Governor’s reception! No, I won’t be asking for a Governor selfie.