Christmas and beyond

Han and I ummed and aahed about what to do with our Christmas/summer down here. With both of us having time off from work and a bit of money in the bank we contemplated Chile but there is only one flight a week and it isn’t cheap; one of the downsides to living in one of the most remote communities in the world. Eventually we settled on staying here in Stanley and trying to get out to camp and perhaps to some of the other Islands as and when we could. So far, we’re very glad we did!

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Carols under the Whalebone Arch

It’s the nature of the migrant-based society here that there are large numbers of people here without their families so we hosted our own ‘Orphans’ Christmas’, an open-invite drinks party, followed by a walk to Cape Pembroke Lighthouse with Aniket’s drone (pictures to follow) and then dinner for 7. It turns out a traditional roast does work in summer. Good times had all round.

Christmas here is followed by the Boxing Day races; two days of straight horse racing at Stanley racecourse though weather only allowed for one day this year. This was a real community event, everyone turns out, has some drinks, gambles (including the children, all legally) and watches the chaos unfold. Falls were plentiful, injuries were thankfully not and we had a great day out even if we didn’t win all that much.

The next day brought the real highlight of the year so far. What was poor weather for racing was seen as acceptable weather for a trip to Volunteer Point. This is one of the most known sites here and many, many cruise ship passengers end up being taken there as it hosts the largest colony of King Penguins here. It is, however, not so easy to access. We’d been told ‘don’t go alone, don’t go without a local’ many times and boy were we glad we didn’t! Navigating the ‘track’ across an utterly featureless yet beautiful landscape whilst concentrating on the nature of the off-roading for over 90 minutes left us, as a group, taking bets on which way North could possibly be. As you can see from the photos: this was truly off road, the pictures show a snapshot – it was truly 90 minutes of just that. I’ve NEVER driven any car like this before, yet alone for hours on end. We had a couple of sketchy moments, even getting to the point of our friend and guide gleefully beginning to uncoil his tow-rope before we managed to get ourselves out and carry on the journey. Eventually, we arrived at Volunteer Point and weren’t disappointed.

When it comes to the beauty of the King penguins, their colony on land and the stunning beach at Volunteers, I’ll let the pictures do the talking:

We’ve since had another trip to Bertha’s Beach, startling a sea lion there and finding out first fur seal sleeping on the sand, but we won’t overload you with that today. The next 3 weeks should hold more adventures so do subscribe in the box on the right and stay up-to-date. We hope all of your Chistmases were as fantastic and enjoyable and wish all our friends and family a Happy New Year.

Island Rockhopping

Since arriving we’ve been hearing talk of ‘the Kidney Island trip’ and we were finally lucky enough to bag some space on a boat trip out. About 30 minutes from Stanley is the nature reserve Kidney Island. We were hoping to see some sea lions but the boat trip wasn’t necessary for that as before we could even get abpard a sea lion had fallen asleep on the public jetty in town just 6ft from the boat so that was that one ticked off already. We took some food and landed by small rib on a beach, making our way through 3m tall Tussock Grass to the Hut to leave some bags, before cutting across the Island to see our first Rockhopper penguin colony. The Rockhoppers were my favourite before we came down the Islands but upon turning up at Kidney they cemented their place! They are smaller than the other penguins here, with deep red eyes and an uncanny, almost unbelievable, ability to emerge from crashing water onto smooth rock faces and ascend with mixed levels of dignity (I think I see a lot of my own scrambling technique in them). As if the wildlife here hadn’t shocked us enough, the Rockhoppers were in no way bothered by our presence, allowing us to get as close as we wished (even being kind enough to look at the camera for Han’s Rockhopper selfie, you’ll need to ask her for that). We were fortunate that it was the nicest day we’ve had so far in the Falklands so the pictures gave a great clear blue background to them. They’ve currently got chicks so there were a lot of turkey vultures around, as well as seals playing in the turbulent waters below their colony. From there, we partook in one of Han’s favourite past-times; marching through the Tussock Grass across the Island (see post on Cape Dolphin and the forced sea lion encounters). True to form, many pants were threatened by the growling, stomping and occasional running of a disturbed sea lion unsure of what to make of us. From there, we found the occasional Gentoo and Magellanic penguin as well as sea lions watching us from the water as we made our way around the Island and back through to our starting point. Here we ate dinner and awaited the final spectacle that Kidney Island had to offer us; 200,000 sooty shearwater birds returning home at dusk and flying into the Tussock for the evening. This was everything it promised to be, as we sat in the Tussock hearing wings beat past our heads and ducking from swooping shearwaters flying ever-lower and eventually crashing into the Tussocks around us at full speed before crawling to their burrows. It was quite something and continued until it was dark enough to drive us back to the boat and back to the sea lion welcome at the public jetty. A long but unforgettable day and highly recommended to anyone who happens to be passing this way. Click the pictures¬† below for captions.

Hatching plans

One of the constant running themes here is the wildlife. We keep banging on about it but now, as Spring/Summer gets under way, it’s breeding season! The Islands are coming alive and we’ve been able to revisit different sites to see, at first, the eggs being guarded and later the chicks appearing and growing. It’s still surreal to think that we’re here in the Falklands wandering among penguin colonies and searching the long grass for wild sea lions but you forget all of that when you are a few feet away from a Gentoo parent feeding its chick – straight out of an Attenborough spesh! Anyway, here’s a few shots of the last week.

A Night’s Tale

Apologies for the lack of update last weekend, our searches for the occasional King penguins who appear on random beaches have so far been fruitless so we didn’t have much to update on bar some close-ups of this sealion(ess?) down the road at Gypsy Cove and the night herons and cormorants nesting (still no zoom lens, remember!).DSC_0150DSC_0215

Some people have been asking about the nightlife here and last weekend we had our first experience that made it worth mentioning (though by no means our first experience of the nightlife here). Like many remote, Western communities alcohol is a big part of life here. The lack of import tax makes alcohol far cheaper here than in the UK (even bottled British ales like Fullers ESB are just £1.25 in one of the 2 supermarkets). Crates of Budweiser seem to be the standard drink here (24x330ml cans set you back £9.99so they are to be found at all events). Having said that, there is an ale brewery here (Falklands Beerworks) who produce surprisingly good ales for a producer 8000 miles from British hops and malt.

This, you would think, would lead many people to drink in their own homes (which they do) but there is a nightlife here, consisting of 7 major pubs that range from the up-market hotel-bar, to the coffee-shop turned bar, down to the working-men’s club-style drinking hole (The Malvina House Hotel,¬† Bitter Sweet, The Narrows Bar, The Victory Bar, The Globe Tavern, Deanos with it’s sticky penguin carpet and The Stanley House Arms, in that order). The settlements such as Goose Green and Fitzroy have small bars that are run by a local and open on a Friday and Saturday night and it is assumed that anyone entering simply buys a round for all present, known or not. I’m not sure that’s a policy that would translate well to the UK!

Then, then, there’s The Trough. All bars in Stanley have to close at 11:30pm (although a late-opening license can be obtained if the event is for charity, which is a rule I quite like the idea of and I like to think adds some respectability to the considerable drinking culture here). The Trough, however, is something else. It has no fixed opening days, no license and no fixed closing time. It is, in essence, a live music gig made of mobile homes and opens as and when a late-playing band can be found (usually the local band; The Flying Pigs). Its lack of license means you can only take your own drinks and runs until about 2-3am. It can sometimes open without notice and rumours, texts and Facebook posts spread with news of its opening. We attended on Saturday night on a whim and we’ll definitely be back! It’s everything that a Falklands night out should be. Term has ended now, we have 5 weeks off and plenty to do so expect more updates next month!

Battle Day (WWI this time)

The 8th December is a Bank Holiday here in the Falklands, no matter what day of the week (and an actual Bank Holiday, like the 1970s UK ones where nothing would be open). It seems odd to have a Bank Holiday on a Tuesday so I thought, as the resident History teacher of the British South Atlantic Islands, I thought I’d better briefly explain why.

Two key Naval battles took place in the Falklands arena during WWI; the battles of Coronel and the Falklands. On 1st November 1914 Admiral Graf von Spee inflicted a devastating blow to the British Navy, the first suffered by a British fleet at sea in over a century. Despite knowing that his ageing ships were inferior to his opponent’s, British Rear Admiral Craddock, on orders from Churchill, set sail from the Falklands to hunt down von Spee’s forces and engaged them at Coronel, off the coast of Chile. Craddock’s sailing from Stanley is widely reported as being a terribly sad affair as so many knew they sailed to their defeat and subsequent deaths; Craddock himself is said to have buried his medals in the gardens of Government House (the home of the Governor of the Falkland Islands then and now). HMS Monmouth and Good Hope were lost with all hands, including Craddock. Casualties were 1,654 British dead to 3 German injured.

The outrage that ensued caused the British Admiralty to order a Task Force led by Admiral Sturdee to counter the threat posed by von Spee. Unbeknownst to von Spee this group also included the formidable battlecruisers HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible. At the same time as this British force was coaling at Stanley von Spee, ignorant to the new visitors there until the last minute and thinking he’d be able to outrun any outdated British ships left, made the fateful decision to attack the British radio and coaling stations in Stanley in the hope of gaining South Atlantic naval supremacy. With the beached HMS Canopus warning the German forces off and preventing another disaster at the bottleneck of Stanley harbour, Sturdee had time to finish his lunch, raise steam in the Task Force’s engines and set off in vengeful pursuit of the German battle group. The experienced von Spee realised he was outgunned and attempted to evade the British force but was quickly run down by the more modern British cruisers. Despite his attempts to engage, von Spee was outgunned, out-ranged and out-run. Of the 2 armoured cruisers and 3 light cruisers in his group, only the Dresden managed to escape (though it was later caught and scuttled after the British attacked her in neutral Chilean waters). For von Spee, casualties numbered 2, 260 killed, including the admiral and his two sons, as well as the loss of four ships. In addition, 215 German sailors were rescued and taken prisoner. The wireless station and coal depots of Stanley were never taken, German raiding on commercial shipping was ended in South America and the British Navy clawed back a much-needed morale boost after the defeat at Coronel.

The small community of the Falkland Islands were part of the warning to the Navy, were able to hear the battle, tend the wounded and maintain the British presence here. Evidently, something worth celebrating for a remote island population.

As an aside, there will be a parade tomorrow but, as it has been over 100 years, the Navy will be present off shore but will not be taking part so only the Falkland Islands Defence Force will be marching. We still look forward to being part of the remembrance.

Good eats!

One of the things we didn’t consider when moving down was the diet. The difficult diplomatic relationship with Argentina means that the airspace, and therefore flights into Stanley from South America, can be precious. Combined with the local produce and the packaged goods that can be shipped in, this has the effect of driving some food prices to a bizarre level.¬† Going shopping for the first time does give you a bit of a shock as things that you would normally get cheaply in the UK (like a lettuce or some tomatoes) tend to be triple UK prices.

Having said that, what it costs in food is more than made up for in the lower tax rates, the diesel being 45p per litre, the lack of council tax, TV license and water rates. There is an abattoir on the Islands and there is a lot of local lamb and beef available, so you end up in the bizarre situation that a steak or cut of lamb will cost you less than the lettuce to go on the side of it. Also, fresh fruit isn’t easily available so the simple things become complicated – like the small print on the Banana Split in the cafe¬†IMG_2675 It was a treat, then, to be surprised by Bailey with my first peach since arriving.IMG_2575

I was also very happy to find a bit of home comfort when walking around the shops.

 

Speaking of food, we also took delivery of two hens to keep us going with eggs and a Merino lamb called Milo (only kidding, he’s not for food; we just don’t have a lawnmower and sheep are easier to get hold of).

This is quite common, don’t worry. When driving around town you will often see a small front garden with a sheep or horse that’s been borrowed to keep the grass down, it’s not just us! We’re becoming Falkland Islanders, slowly but surely.

We’ve had an upsetting weekend due to an incident that we won’t write about here out of respect for those involved and having to say goodbye to some close friends who will be sorely missed, so to take us away from it all and remind us about enjoying life we went to a place that you can never be sad at: the white sand dunes of Yorke Bay and its Gentoo penguin colonies. Watching them in their little tuxedoes, watching them belly flop into the water and fart around in the clear blue surf will¬† always put a smile on our face. Unfortunately, you can’t get too close here as you can see:IMG_2790IMG_2794IMG_2787IMG_2797Fear not, the penguins are too light to set off the mines so this really is the ultimate conservation project: no human interference possible!