Wednesday, March 21, 2012


We steamed toward Stanley, a town of about 1500 people. It is the only city or town in the whole country. The Falklands are comprised of 200 islands covering an area a little smaller than Connecticut with less than 3000 people. They are located about 375 miles east of the South American coast. The fiercely patriotic but friendly inhabitants used to be called "Kelpers" after the seaweed commonly found here. Now they are called "islanders". Most of the people are sheep farmers. The Falklands motto is "desire the right" which they feel sounds better than e pluribus unum. Desire was the ship on which John Davis discovered the islands in 1592.

The islands were named after Anthony Cary, Viscount Falkland, who was England's First Lord of the Admiralty when the islands were first settled in the 1690's. The name "Falkland" comes from Falkland Palace in County Fife, Scotland, where the Scottish monarchs lived. For what it's worth, the famed diarist Samuel Pepys who was Chief Secretary to the Admiralty had a low opinion of Viscount Falkland's abilities. But he was in the right place at the right time.

The French, the Spaniards and even the Argentines (after the Spanish were kicked out in 1821) also had short lived settlements in the islands. All failed, and the islands were uninhabited when the British settled in for good in 1833.

We approached the harbor and were impressed by the brightly painted houses with color roofs. From the dock we could see several pubs and gift shops. There are no trees. However, there are minefields left over from the 1982 war with Argentina. For that reason, you probably don't want to roam the countryside without a guide. In Argentina, people are still very sensitive about the Falkland Islands which they call the Malvinas. The Malvinas were actually named by the French settlers who had originally come from the city of Malo. If you buy a Falklands t-shirt or hat, it's not a good idea to wear it in Buenos Aires. They may shoot at you there.

In any event, the Falklands have a colorful coat of arms with a Union Jack and a sheep. Stanley has an airport, but you can't fly directly to Argentina from there. You have to fly to Chile first. At first glance, one wouldn't think these island are worth fighting over, but the possibility of commercial quantities of oil, as well as the rich fishing grounds could make them valuable in the future.

Stanley was founded in 1845 and named after the British Colonial Secretary Geoffrey Stanley, the 14th Earl of Derby. Downtown Stanley covers a few blocks around the harbor. Despite what you hear in Argentina, it is definitely a British town. Argentina may claim the islands, but they have no presence here, and the people to a man consider themselves British. In fact, Prince William was here the same time we were. He serves in the British Navy, but the base is on the other side of the island, and we didn't see him. Unless he walks around with a crown on his head, I probably wouldn't recognize him anyway. Politically, the islanders would be conservative Republicans if they had such a party here.

The islands are pretty much self sufficient, but obviously are underpopulated. There is no unemployment, and many people work 2 or 3 jobs. Certain trades and occupations are needed here, and the government advertises for them within the British Commonwealth. The government pays for college for Falklands kids who achieve good grades, but they have to study something that would be useful in the Falklands. Philosophy and social work are probably out. As far as I could tell, and I looked it up, there are no lawyers in town other than the Attorney General who was sent from England. There is a small hospital, however.

For lunch, we had a choice of pubs like Miller's Bar and Deano's Bar, but we stopped in the Globe Tavern for fish and chips with ale. The tavern was richly adorned with Union Jacks on the ceiling, flags from the various British ships which visited the islands. The tavern even had a few slot machines. Obviously they are relying on tourism because if they had to rely on the locals, they would soon be out of business.

The climate in the Falklands is maritime. The summer weather is cool and damp, and the winter is about the same. It snows here, but in recent years, it has been light. It either rains or snows about 250 days per year, on the average. It's very windy, and the sun doesn't come out much. It's never been warmer than 75F or colder than 12F.

The treeless land is covered by granite outcroppings which makes traditional farming other than sheep herding, iffy. Large boulders are strewn all over the countryside, partly covered by tall grass. They were probably deposited by glaciers. We saw many peat bogs. They used to burn the peat for fuel in smoky fires. They even have a golf course, but we didn't visit it. The native diddle dee berries grow wild on bushes. The locals make these bittersweet red berries into diddle dee jam, popular with tourists.

Our friendly and garrulous driver, Michael G. is a sixth generation farmer and sheep herder. We met his mother and father also. The farms here are very large. The G. family's farm covers 13,000 acres. Michael's ancestor came to the Falklands from England in 1850. He had booked passage on a ship to Australia, but the ship broke a rib just before sailing (Ships were wooden in those days.) He went to other ships in the harbor, but none were going to Australia. However, one was headed for the Falklands, and he had to settle for that.

His ancestor on his mother's side, a Kelper, was engaged to a woman in England. He told her that after they married, they would be moving to the Falklands. Her reply was "no freaking way"! However, her sister piped up, "I'll go!". And Michael is here today.

We did visit a large colony of penguins at Bluff Cove. Several species of penguins live in close proximity to each other. The penguin rookery is far from Stanley, and the highway is paved for the most part, but to get there, you have to drive, off road, through peat bogs, giant holes that would swallow a car, and ford a stream. A normal car would break down, but the guides drove us in 4-wheel drive Range Rovers. This was like taking a roller coaster ride. I sat in the front seat, so I could see every bump that was coming.

About 100 yards inland from the beach at Bluff Cove, Michael's family operates a cafe (pronounced "caff") called the Sea Cabbage Cafe. The whole family works in the business. Gourmet food it's not, but they serve coffee, tea and freshly baked pastries.

The penguins we saw were Gentoo and King penguins. The King penguins are black and white but have an orange spot around their necks. The Gentoos are just black and white. They all appear to get along together. As we previously saw in Isla Magdalena in Chile, the penguins are social animals with interesting rituals. They have no fear of humans, and although their area is marked off with little flags, the penguins pay no attention to them. There are rangers to answer questions, protect the penguins and prevent humans from scaring them. The penguins pose for pictures, and they'll approach you if you are still. The bottom line here is that there are many times more penguins and sheep than there are people in this stark but beautiful country.

NEXT: Buenos Aires and Montevideo--European influenced capitals.



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