The Falkland Islands

Trip Start Feb 14, 2012
Trip End Mar 04, 2012

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Flag of Falkland Islands  , East Falkland,
Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wow, what a beautiful day!  We arrived at Port Stanley, Falkland Islands early in the morning.  We were so fortunate to arrive on one of their warmer days.   It was 46* and sunny.  The islanders were raving about the gorgeous weather and thanked us for bringing it.  Yes, 46* and sunny is considered a beautiful day in the Falklands.  About 40% of the cruise ships arrive with seas so rough they cannot enter the small harbor or if they get in, the water is unsafe for the tenders to ferry the passengers to shore.  Our tender rides were freezing, as the sides were open, but the waters were very smooth.

We were invitted to join a private tour and so our little group gathered before 8 am to await the tenders.  Luckily we are in the first 100 passengers of the ship, so our wait was short.  The 11 of us met Adrian, our guide, and headed immediately for the Magellanic penguins.   Along the way, he gave us a detailed picture of life in the islands.  We toured the "city," passing the lovely governors' mansion, the Whale Bone Arch, the one and only hotel, the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth, the two churches, a home with a magnificent display of flowers and various bars and eateries.  The growing season is very short, so greenhouses are in abundance.  People produce much of what they eat.

Along the way, we passed many fenced off areas identified as mine fields.  Some areas have been cleared but due to the plastic nature of the mines locating them all is difficult, so lots of beaches still have warnings posted concerning mines that may wash ashore.  Sadly 30 years after the Argentine Invasion, the island is still suffering from unusable land and dangerous areas.  Clearing the areas is costly, dangerous and time consuming.  The sand has shifted and many of the mines are quite deep.  Fortunately, today there are very few incidents of humans being injured by one of the mines.

Our penguin sightings occurred at Gypsy Cove and Bluff Cove.  We parked the bus by the executives' port-a-potties and the Coffee House Bus, gourmet dining at its finest (not)!  The islanders are very protective of the penguins and the tourists.  The locals, acting as rangers, were spread along the trails to offer assistance to the people and standing as a warning to those who would venture too close to the penguins.  These adorable waddling creatures are fascinating to observe as they move from beach to cliffside.  The Megallanic penguins are are the only species that burrow.  We saw the nesting burrows as we hiked up the bluff to the next viewing point.  One group accommodated us by gathering near the walkway, which was high up on the bluff and a distance from the beach.  There are 4 species of penguins that are indigenous to the Falklands. However, the other three colonies are located quite far from Port Stanley.  The ride to them is very difficult and after listening to the other passengers, we were glad we did not take the ship's tour. We hiked down the cliff and arrived frozen on this "warm sunny day" with enough time to visit the Coffee House Bus.  The hot chocolate and coffee did wonders for our frozen hands and took away the inner chill.

Adrian continued our tour on to a sheep farm.  With pride, he explained that the main livelihood of his family is sheep farming, for wool, not meat.  He and his wife own and run a small 10,000 acre farm with 3000 head of sheep.  It is an organic farm and is run the old-fashioned way.  His wife is a 5th generation islander, but he arrived as a child.  On the way, the rain began, so we were treated to a brief taste of real Falkland summer weather.  Our first farm adventure was a healthy walk across sheep grazing land to the peat bog.  A small herd of 7 dairy cows, also, grazed the land we had to traverse.  All but two of us were big city folks from the USA and Canada, so trying to keep their shoes clean was the primary concern; a hopeless task!  We were greeted by Minnie, a friendly sheep who was looking of a handout.  Bruce made his acquaintance and petted a sheep for the first time in his life!

Peat is compacted organic matter that is used to heat the homes and for cooking.  Adrian demonstrated the digging and drying process.  His farm can run on peat indefinitely.  The dried peat is stored in metal sheds close to the house for easy access during cooking and the cold winter months.  The family of 7 makes its own butter from the milk of the dairy cows.  His wife does the milking, the churning to butter and the cooking in the two small peat burning stoves. Adrian invited us into his home for a look at the peat burning stoves.  We were delighted for the warmth.  The small den was filled with toys and family photos.  Tomatoes were growing in the sunny front window.  We tasted his wife's delicious shortbread.  On warm sunny days laundry is hung outside to dry and then moved to racks over the stoves where the heat finishes the drying that the all too short days do not allow.  Adrian's love of his family, his island and his way of life was evident in everything he told us

Our next visit was to the shearing shack where we learned how the sheep are shorn and the wool rated, separated and compressed for shipping to the UK for processing.  While a few women process, spin and dye small amounts of the wool, the island does not have the facilities to process the large quantities of will it produces.  Falkland wool is considered the third finest in all the world because of the type of sheep raised.  Champion sheep shearers can properly complete the job in less than a minute, removing the wool in one piece.  The wool is valued by the location on the body with belly sheep being the least valuable.  Once removed, the pelt is cut into sections and packaged by body part.  During sheep shearing time family, friends and neighbors all pitch in to help complete the process quickly, so the professional shearers can move to the next farm and high schoolers earn spending money by helping, too.
On our return to the port, we heard in depth about the war with Argentina.  Thirty years ago, there were rumblings and rumors that the powers to be in Argentina were going to cause trouble.  One day the islands were invaded, but life remained the same for the locals.  They continued as if nothing had happened and tried to avoid trouble with the invaders.  During this period of rule in Argentina many people opposed to the government disappeared.  The Falkland residents worried that the same could happen to them.  It took 6 weeks for the British troops to arrive and the entire incident lasted 79 days.  The  young Argentine soldiers sent to conquer the Falklands did not know they were being sent to war.  They were 18-19 year olds conscripted into the army and sent to battle without training.  Though Argentina claims the islands, Adrian says they are located closer to the southern tip of Chile.  To date, the islanders have little relationship with Argentina. The mine fields and monuments to the fallen soldiers are current day reminders of the invasion.  When asked what he liked best about living in the islands, Adrian replied, "our freedom."

The tour ended at the dock and we stopped at a local cafe for fish and chips.  We wandered the streets, pausing at the sights and small shops before returning to the tenders.  The temperature was dropping so the ride back was very cold, but again we were blessed with calm seas.  We were both very surprised by the Falklands ad really enjoyed the day.

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