We arrived in Stanley, Falklands Islands, in the early morning, excited to be on the islands, but it meant our cruise was at an end. Eighteen adventurous days aboard Polar Pioneer and it was time to say goodbye to the crew, expedition staff and our 50 fellow passengers. We enjoyed the company of all and hope to catch up with some in the future.
If first impressions are anything to go by, then the islands are pretty relaxed. We hadn't arranged a transfer from boat to our cabin (for the week), but cadged a lift from the van driver transferring other passengers. We were delivered to the door with an assurance that it didn't matter that we were early, the house isn't normally locked - they all bloody well know each other...
We stepped into an ordinary looking 2 floor 'cabin' to find it's a very comfortable house. We were there for the week and have only one other island on our list.
A brief description:
The Falklands are a fairly low lying group of islands about 300 miles from the tip of Patagonia, Argentina. The main islands are East Falkland and West Falkland with 776 smaller islands splattered around. It's about two thirds the size of Wales, has a population of around 2,500 and a notable lack of trees...
They call houses 'cabins' and if you live outside Stanley, you live out in 'the Camp'. Red or green are the most popular colours for a roof and you are never too far from a Union Jack or a Falklands flag. A bust of Maggie Thatcher sits on Thatcher Drive overlooking the 1982 Liberation Memorial and you can drink a pint of Iron Lady IPA at the local pub.
This is also Land Rover Central - they are everywhere. Flights to outlying islands are announced on the local radio the evening before departure and passengers are named on-air.
The route 38 red London bus Victoria to Clapton Pond sits down by the dock. I probably took that bus from Dalston to work in the late 70's.
Okay back to the visit. We were due to go on a Battlefield Tour with Jeannie our host, but she was sick, so we were given a car (gratis) to make our own tour of the Falklands Conflict sites. We set off and visited as many memorials, battle sites as we could manage. This included San Carlos British Cemetery and the Argentinian Cemetery. There was, of course, the grave of Colonel H Jones and the graves of the lesser known young men who died in the conflict, a lot no more than boys, including Mark Holman-Smith, age 19, a friend of a good friend who lies in a grave next to Jones. The day was interesting but also a little sad.
In Stanley, overlooking the water, are two large memorials. One commemorates a sea battle in 1914 in which the Royal Navy managed to sink a number of German battleships. Admiral Graf von Spee and his two sons (on separate ships) along with a few thousand others died that day. The second is the Liberation Memorial commemorating the 1982 Conflict.
Next on our list was Pebble Island. Having listened to the radio announcement we knew our flight was at 5pm the next day.
At flight time, Rachel was given front seat with the pilot. It was an 8-seater and its second job was fishery protection. We had a great flight, bouncing off another island to pick up more passengers and doing a few circuits looking for whales, before being dropped off at Pebble Island.
The following morning we set off to see a Rockhopper Penguin colony and on the way, visit some more Falklands Conflict sites. First up was a memorial to the first British landing by SAS troops, who destroyed 11 Argentina aircraft. Apparently they left in one direction with the enemy firing in the opposite direction. Pieces of one aircraft were still in situ. The next two sites were the wreckage of downed Argentinian fighters. Amazingly, one pilot survived, having ejected at about 150 metres. The ejector seat (made in England) was still there, as was the wreckage.
Moving on, we came to a small Gentoo Penguin Colony, mainly youngsters molting their baby feather coats.
Next and a main event for me, the Rockhopper colony. Adults returning to land, being thrust onto the rocks by waves, then casually hopping up the rock walls to the colony. Impatient juveniles in safe rock pools or standing waiting to molt. These guys are hilarious to watch. They look like little gangsters. Watching 5 or 6 of them moving in a group, rolling shoulders and strutting - all we needed was music from a Tarantino film. Later we came across Magellanic Penguins on a beach , some heading out to sea and others returning.
The next day we headed back to East Falkland. We visited the Stanley Museum and were given the key to Cape Pembroke lighthouse. On a windy evening we went into the Lighthouse, located the Atlantic Conveyor memorial and headed out amongst the dunes to spot some birds in the lagoons. All that, whilst keeping clear of the areas marked 'keep clear - Mines'. Argentine forces kindly laid around 30,000 of these little pressies and there is a team of Zimbabwean specialists still working on the problem. As a result some very nice beaches are fenced off and I have an image of super nervous penguins treading carefully...
On our final day we drove to the Memorials to those who died on HMS Sheffield, HMS Glamorgan and RFA Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram.
We totally enjoyed our week in The Falklands and would quite happily have spent a lot more time there. There are plenty of outlying islands worth a visit. It was not a morbid visit - we are both interested in the history of all the places we visit, and stopping in these islands, the Conflict sites are interesting and to us are 'Should or Must See' places.
Saturday arrived and it was time to fly. Back to Patagonia - we have friends to catch up with.