The Falklands Islands are British. That’s a statement that might require discussion in a historical context another time but the wishes of the population have been made clear by the Referendum that took place in 2013 (92% turnout with a 99.8% vote for remaining British). The patriotism here was something that took me back at first and has been the subject of many conversations but the numerous Union flags, car stickers and all-round Britishness is hard to miss. It should have come as no surprise that 8000 miles from the UK there was a small celebration here for the Queen’s 90th Birthday. The Royal Marines Band Collingwood have flown down and were part of the celebrations, with the Victory Guns on the seafront seeing a rare use and the Queen’s Colours replacing the Governor’s in a short ceremony. The Tornado fly-past and the Armed Forces parade rounded off the well-wishing to Her Majesty and later on a beacon was lit as part of the chain being lit in the UK.
The Victory Gun salute
The Royal Marines Ban Collingwood
The Tornado fly-past
We missed the beacon lighting, however, as the school holidays provided an opportunity to get away. We headed out to Camp once more before Winter hits proper. First we took off North to Race Point Farm at Port San Carlos. The West Island and the East Island are distinct in their character but Race Point is held up as a taste of the hilly, slightly greener West but over on the East. We found the place to be peaceful, remote and beautiful like much of Camp. I’d forgotten that Fanning Head on Race Point Farm was the site of a pre-landing Special Forces action in 1982 so it made sense that we found the hills around to be littered with old mortar stations and ammo crates. One hill-top sangar had the old 1982 graffiti and cammo-netting in tact. Our lovely hosts and cottage left us fairly relaxed and with sunsets like you’ll see below, you can understand why.
Port San Carlos settlement
Sunset views from our accommodation
Mortar positions litter the hills
This sangar came with a view
View from the sangar
Han on the rocks above the settlement
Falklands sunsets rival anywhere
After such a relaxing time we decided to pop across the North Coast to Elephant Beach Farm and see Ben, the landowner for some more testing days. We’ve met Ben before and he’s been extremely courteous so we wanted to go back. We’ve even heard that a film has been made about him by a local TV crew (yes, there’s a local TV crew – FITV). Ben has some gentoo penguins along his stunning coastline so we wanted to take the track from the house to the coast and along the length of it. His land was considerably wetter than last time we visited so it was a real test of both the car’s and my off-roading abilities. It is inevitable that you’ll end up getting your car bogged off-roading here at some point and it seems this was my (first) turn. Unfortunately there were several ditch crossings to be made and one presented a difficult approach so the car came off the boards it was balanced on and we didn’t have the traction in the smaller car to tow it out of the small ditch it was stuck in. One embarrassed phone call from a hill-top later and it was Ben to the rescue with his beast of a Toyota, a small length of chain and more faith than we’d have put in the strength of the tow-bars. On the plus side, we got to the coast both that day and the next.
The Gentoos still around, moulting
The dry part of the track
Our convoy, parked up
Half of Ben’s barn owl collection, living up to their name
Some Rockhoppers waiting to moult
While we were out, Han filmed some of the drive from the house at Elephant Beach Farm to the coast so you can get an idea of a typical Falklands track in Winter as well as my inability to think of things to say whilst trying to manage driving. I’m not good at this:
When I arrived in last August, there was a thick blanket of snow on the ground here. This morning it seems we’ve gone full circle as we awoke to a chilly layer adorning the garden.
The view out the front today, eek!
For some time I’ve been meaning to spend some blog space on the weather here to fill in some knowledge gaps so today seems an opportune day to do so. The full extent of most people’s knowledge of the Islands before we came down generally stretched to ‘you know it’s really cold there, right?’ so the Summer proved surprisingly pleasant on the back of that. Winter, from experience so far, is as you might expect but it has its own benefits too.
The climate here experiences, on average, less rainfall than the UK, more hours of daylight, higher average Winter temperatures and lower average Summer temperatures but not by much (about 5 degrees cooler only). The wind is, of course, the most defining feature and makes weather prediction here comparable in difficulty to my thus-far failed attempts at Lottery prediction. So far today, I’ve lost count of the changes between sun and snow and this is not uncommon. A recent storm saw the recording of 108mph winds on top of Mount Alice and caused a stir in both conversation and the foundations of some of the dwellings in Stanley. Generally though in Winter things do calm down a bit and, cold as it can be, the weather is slightly more stable.
Fortunately, society here has adapted well to the conditions; namely in the form of the Boiler Suit! On first arrival I noticed a large number of people walking the streets, dropping the children off or gracing the bars dressed in what seemed like overalls in two different colours. Ignorantly, I put this down to, perhaps, there being a large number of manual workers here. I was quickly corrected on this when, on announcing that I did not own said Boiler Suits, an entire Year 7 class erupted in shock and disappointment and the last 5 minutes of my lesson was lost to dismay and a thorough explanation of the Boiler Suit culture. Soon, Christmas arrived and, being a good Falklands fiance, I splashed out and picked Han up the only thing any true Falklands bride-to-be could desire: A Helly Hansen Kiruna Suit – waterproof to 20,000mm, taped seams and fleece-lined pockets; the whole shebang! Unbeknownst to me, Han had also thoughtfully picked up a Dickies spesh: the Boiler Suit of choice for the Falklands gentleman (Dickies is the brand name…). It hit home last night, as Han and I donned our respective boiler suits for a casual walk around the block without thinking twice about them, that we are coming to accept the social norms here and I have to say, I am a complete convert! Warm, waterproof and excellent against the wind; we’ve been recommending the handing out of a boiler suit on arrival to all new staff contracted onto the Islands. We’ve tried hard to throw ourselves into all aspects of life here and every time we don the Boiler Suits (without shame) I am glad that we have done so! Now, if only we can get our UK friends to change their minds about them.
Perfect for posing in penguin poo
Keeping the wind and rain off on Bleaker
What else would be suitable for helping with conservation projects?
Autumn on the road to Cape Pembroke
Winter is coming. It’s going to be long, it’s going to be cold and it’s going to be sincerely limiting in terms of our adventures. In the meantime, Autumn (at least, I THINK it’s Autumn but it’s kind of hard to tell as usually you’d look for the yellowing of the leaves but the lack of trees makes that less clear) brings with it some productivity as the short season of the local ‘teaberry’ sees the residents of Stanley out in force. We’d been told that finding spots was easy “just look for bums in the air, that’ll be teaberries”. They grow right on the ground in many places including Cape Pembroke just outside Stanley and are unlike anything else we’ve ever had. Very sweet, with a distinctive taste that’s hard to describe (something between a Fruit Salad sweet and a lychee, but not really like either). They’re used for teaberry buns/cakes and cheesecakes here but Han and I are currently arguing about whether our hard work is worth dropping into a bottle of gin for a few months.
Han going native; boiler suited up picking teaberries
The Falklands teaberry
Every time we park the car, it seems to end up looking like a Mitsubishi advert. Weird that.
An added bonus to nipping out to Cape Pembroke is that we get to see the Lady Liz on the way back – a sight we can see from Stanley but one I’m not sure we’ll ever tire of seeing and how could you?
One of many, many photos we possess of the Lady Liz (an 1879 steel ship damaged and never repaired here)
Next week is the last week of term so we’ll have to put some plans for the holidays together. On the plus side, it seems the week won’t go without event:
As people, we are both used to distance. Han has moved away from her Irish home and I left Kent many years ago (only moving back to complete my PGCE). We’ve spent the last few years hopping about the South of the UK a little, living apart and together, nipping over the Irish Sea to make weekend visits and generally just dealing with the fact that now we’re getting older our lives and those of our friends and families mean we are all dotted about quite a lot. It’s always a bit reassuring though to know that you can take a car (ideally a 1.6l Skoda Octavia with ample boot space) and go see them. As a teacher, the holidays are fixed and weekends usually involve work so that was nothing new to us; if an event was in term time and a bit of a distance, chances are I/we could not make it.
But this home of ours? This is something else. Last month our very good friends Simon and Sian gave birth to their first child, recently several good friends have gotten married and next year my parents celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. That doesn’t even include the innumerable babies that Han’s cousins keep producing. All of these are events that we would, of course, love to be present at. The reality is that we have chosen life here (at least for two years) and have a fixed time at which we simply won’t be able to see these people and join in these key events in their lives. This, of course, doesn’t even include the day-to-day absence from our significantly large families.
It isn’t simply the time it takes (though an 18 hour RAF flight is no simple hop), it is also the relative infrequency of the flights (2 a week, if the weather holds/the wind isn’t Northerly and the military aren’t moving people – we’ve heard the ones for the August holidays are already full so even if we wanted to, we couldn’t) and the cost all present difficulties in making a trip home a reality. We are also on the doorstep of South America and are keen to see it (though those flights are by no means easy to acquire or pay for) so there is an element of choice about this distance too.
Nevertheless, the thought that we won’t meet little baby Thomas until he’s walking/talking, or be present at friends’ weddings when we’d expect them to be at ours is not a comforting one and events like that bring home the reality that we are this distant and we can only hope that this time away will be worth the difficulties that it sometimes presents. Reading back is a good reminder of what we’re doing here and how lucky we are to experience these Islands, so I guess I have another reason to keep updating.
We plan on going teaberry picking soon (for all manner of recipes, some of them liquid) so we’ll keep you posted on what we get up to soon. Don’t forget, if you have anything you’re wondering about in terms of life down here then do let us know.
If it hasn’t already become clear, this place is full of sweet little oddities. The Hospital here is the basis of healthcare but having been blessed with the Bailey immune system, I’ve not had anything to do with it yet so can’t comment on the standard of what’s available. In an emergency, there are 3 very typical options available for residents here.
A very Falklands ambulance
One option are the Defender-come-ambulances that make me smile every time I see them with their true Falklands pedigree. The other option is to be medi-vacced to Chile, UK or Uruguay, either by civilian plane, commissioned private jet or RAF Hercules depending on wind speed/direction, flight availability and medical necessity.
The last option was the much-loved RAF Sea Kings that frequently landed on the nearest open space to the hospital: the school sports field. This week saw the long arm of privatisation of public services extend 8000 miles South to see the RAF Search and Rescue services handed over to civilian operators in a formal ceremony. This ceremony took place on the school playing field and saw three helicopters adorn the school field with the Governor, CBFSAI (Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands), a fly-past with the Tornadoes that protect the Islands and some very mixed emotions from the community.
Two RAF Search and Rescue helicopters and the new civilian SAR in the background – they could have at least painted them yellow!
On the one hand, the big yellow monsters will be missed by those of us who take part in outdoor pursuits as a distinctive angel in the sky. On the other hand the small size of the community here means that every time a helicopter lands to drop off a casualty, chances are that many will know the victim or their families. As contractors, it’s unlikely that we’ll know this feeling unless we stay and learn each and every member of the population as so many do. So for us as a school, it was a pleasure to stand on the field and witness the last take-off of the workhorses here on the Islands. I’ve heard that some are being sold off for between £10-20,000. Han might take some persuading before I get the man-cave I’d like.
Note: Photos not taken by us. My lack of DSLR and the HUGE number of photos taken so far since arriving has led me to stop taking many lately. I should try to change both of those soon.