Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Far, Fresh, Friendly, Familiar in parts....

Hi from Stanley -
Christ's Church Cathedral and whalebone arch
First impressions had been very positive. I am now in the throes of finding out where everything is and who does what. I was reminded of the Iceland telephone directory, which lists people by first name, as it's easier to find people that way, rather than plough through all the “Magnussons”!

You want your lawn mowed? – call Bert the grass man. Or Michelle for cakes, or Jim for unlocking Sim cards, etc.

Lonely King Penguin
 The shops stock an eclectic mix of products. Some familiar - eg, Black Sheep Ale from Yorkshire and “Arran Mustard”.

I'd had many a happy time on Arran, just off the Scottish coast in the Firth of Clyde. So, even though we were far from the UK, we could still obtain little tastes of a previous life. I did buy some mustard, and also some delicious local home-made (by Harry Ford) pickled beetroot. In the UK, you don't see international brands side-by-side on the shelf with home-made produce.
Penguin emporium

Some products are in short supply – wireless modems, apparently – resulting in me visiting several wifi hotspots in an effort to connect to the outside world. Eggs are scarce, unless you keep chickens, and one has to keep an ear to the ground to find out whose chickens are good layers. Still, it makes one an imaginative cook, if we are to avoid the “Not beetroot sandwiches again?!” cry from “the Boss”.

Sunset view from kitchen
 Other reminders of the UK come from the radio and TV, which is mostly BFBS (British Forces Broadcasting Services), an eclectic mix of the “best” bits of BBC Radios 2, 4, 5 etc. So, we might wake up to the familiar voices of John Humphreys or Nicky Campbell belittling some politician and warning us of traffic delays between junctions 8 and 10 of the M25!

But the weather forecasts cover places like Cyprus, Oman, Afghanistan and the Falklands – wherever British Forces are stationed. Makes a change from finding out that the West of Scotland is in for a hurricane, again.

Kay's B&B
 Thought some of my UK friends might like the photo of this B&B - maybe a little business for someone?
Kay's B&B's garden
 This is the garden of the B&B with dozens of 'residents'.

Flightless Steamer Duck - unique to Falklands
So, those aspects of media provide a tenuous link with the UK, although I think I'll be weaning myself off it, as I become more immersed in local activities, and less interested in congestion on the M25. There are also Falkland Islands TV and Radio, which provide for the local community. I've not yet had time to explore these avenues. And, of course, the excellent Penguin News.
Female Flightless Steamer Ducks?
 What I have done, that I never thought I would have the chance to do, is join a Hash House Harriers session.  Falkland Island Stanley Hash House Harriers (FISH) advertised for new runners and walkers, so, as it was a beautiful sunny day, I went along to see what this entailed. I had a rough idea from speaking to expats I'd met, but was still pleasantly surprised by the friendly and informal “run/walk” around Stanley.

Star Princess and Amsterdam outside the Narrows
 It was a small, but dedicated, group of all ages who ran, jogged, walked and stumbled up and down the hills.  The Nordic Walking poles were particularly useful on the uphill sections.

Afterwards, we had time to socialise in the garden of the Globe Tavern, and I discovered one of the organisers was a taxidermist who'd worked for the local museum, including that on South Georgia.
"Penguin Travel"...beats swimming!
Spookily enough, I had visited that very museum about 10 months earlier, and had been struck by the stuffed albatross! How do you find a dead albatross to stuff? And doesn't it look a lot bigger when it's in a room rather than gliding over the waves of the Southern Ocean?

Anyway, here sitting next to me was the man who created that stunning sculpture. Small world, as they say..

Anyway, enough hogging of the bandwidth. I must get some exercise on those hills.  More later,


Friday, 27 January 2012

Heading south for the winter...and summer!

Packing up....and leaving on a Titan plane.....
Definitely a Blue Planet!
WE DID IT! It was stressful, anxious, fraught, and looking decidely unlikely to happen, but in the end, with a lot of help from friends.... we managed to get our bags packed 10 minutes before the taxi arrived!
With an allowance of 54kg per person, it shouldn't have been a struggle, but it is quite difficult to condense your worldly goods into a few suitcases. However, some friends popped in to say a final farewell, and found themselves taking possession of a couple of cases which were no longer deemed essential.
As we got in the taxi – actually an 8-seater people-mover - some neighbours and friends had unexpectedly gathered at the end of the street to wave us off. We felt like Royalty, but realised we would miss them a lot.

Flying south for the winter.....and summer!

RAF Brize Norton was a revelation. The antithesis of Heathrow, with its crowds, shopping malls and fancy restaurants and bars. Brize Norton had no crowds, no bars and one shop. It sold newspapers and sweets and the usual travel gadgets, but also seemed to offer a wide selection of boot polish and gaffer tape!
The only other flight that night was to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan – important to go to the correct gate!
However, the lack of crowds and stressed travellers, makes the airport feel very relaxed. Checking-in took about 3 minutes, with nary a raised eyebrow at our 10 bags with 100kgs of essentials. As almost everyone was going to the Falklands, it was fairly easy to make conversation, and we met people who were about to be our neighbours and colleagues. The friendliness was something we've noticed often in the short time we've been here.

“Passengers for Flight RR1801 to Mount Pleasant, please board.....” That's ours! After donning several fleeces and thick jackets that couldn't fit in the bags, we strolled across the tarmac to our waiting Titan Airways Boeing 767 (No, I'd never heard of them either! But they were fine.). Leaving the Oxfordshire countryside behind, we flew down the Bristol Channel, and then turned left....for 9,000 miles.

Woken about 5am with the delicious aroma of Wiltshire's finest breakfast produce, we were soon landing on the remote volcanic rock that is Ascension Island. Positioned in mid-Atlantic near the Equator, its main use is a communications link for both civil and military purposes. There are no indigenous people – everyone is brought on for a contract, and leave once that is finished. 
Busy ground crew, Ascension Island

Wandering across the airfield to the al fresco transit compound, we enjoyed a coffee, and took off some of the layers of clothes we no longer needed in the balmy 25C warmth of early morning. The TV in the lounge was showing BBC Breakfast live, with Bill and Sian droning on about delays on the M25, and possible snow in Scotland.
Already, we felt as if we were in a parallel universe. Will we wake up soon?
Ascension Island Airport
Rejoining the re-fuelled plane, we headed south again. Another 9 hours over the seemingly-infinite Atlantic Ocean. Luckily, I was reading a very interesting book by Simon Winchester about the waters below us - “Atlantic: a vast ocean of a million stories”. Best of all, it was on my treasured new Kindle, and it weighed practically nothing! Thanks to Kay and all the wonderful walkers who generously gave me this wonderful present!
Eventually, a tiny speck of land appeared on the flight map on the seatback screen. Falkland Islands! Sandy beaches, rolling hills, coves, and what looked to me like lochs, all came into view, as we approached Mount Pleasant airfield.

The tiny airport is surrounded by the military garrison and is about 35 miles from Stanley, the capital. Met by a welcoming Falklander, we were soon bowling along in a Land Rover (almost every car is a Landy), through the rolling landscape, which was dotted with sheep and, sadly, mines. (More later on the subject – parts of the islands are now being actively cleared).

We were dropped off at our house at the edge of town. Its situated on a ridge, and has panoramic views across Stanley's natural harbour. In the UK, our house overlooked the Shepperton to Waterloo railway line. First impressions were good!

More news and photos soon, when I find a faster, cheaper internet connection!


Sunday, 8 January 2012

Leaving on a jet plane...not sure when!

Welcome at Neko Harbour
Happy New Year!   And for those of you wondering what's been happening with me recently, let's just say we've been in a bit of limbo....

The flight (to the Falklands) we were booked on was cancelled at Christmas, and others have been full.  Rather than sit on someone's lap for 18 hours, we've now been booked on another flight in about 2 weeks time.

The hiatus has allowed me to sort some more photos of a recent trip to Antarctica, so if you want to see some penguins, you've come to the right place!

Gentoo penguin with shy chick
These photos were taken around the Antarctic peninsula in March 2011.  The only human inhabitants are working on various research or military bases.  We visited a friendly Chilean base and Port Lockroy,  an ex-British base which is now preserved as a museum, and was run by 4 young female volunteers.  As well as doing some scientific research, the women ran a Post Office and gift shop, for the visitors on cruise ships.


"Look, I don't have any more food!"
It was certainly a remote spot to work, but the women seemed to enjoy being away from "civilisation", for a while.   However, it's not the place to be if you enjoy your home comforts or like your own space.  No running water, and, if you want to be alone,  you can walk around the island in 5-10 minutes depending on the tide!

Bi-lingual penguins!
The Chilean naval base comprised a couple of buildings, but the cheerful personnel were only too happy to allow us to wander around and see the penguins, and buy some souvenirs!

Keeping a lookout at Port Lockroy

A small British outpost in Antarctica
So, now we have a definite date for the flight, we can engage a removal firm and restart the ongoing debate about what to do with our possessions - chuck out, put in storage, or ship them out?

Never a dull moment!