Friday, 30 March 2012

2 months gone

Doesn't time fly?!!  That's 2 months we've been here and it's gone by in a blink of an eye!

Loads of new experiences - Wildlife -

Turkey Vulture.  No longer persecuted, much.

Whales, Penguins, Turkey Vultures, Elephant seals, Sea lions, Steamer Ducks, Dolphins, etc etc. Incredible! Saw a hare last week, and it seemed quite alien.  (It stayed out of good camera range but if anyone wants to see a photo of a brown furry object in the distance, let me know...)

New Experiences - Financial

Your lupins or your life!

Being a customer of First Direct in the UK, I had hardly been in a bank in 20 years and had written less than 10 cheques in that time.  Now, I've gone through 2 chequebooks, and am starting my third!

Online banking? Not  yet.  Telephone banking?  No demand - face to face, please.  The nearest ATM is in Chile!  I don't even have a debit card.  The upside is we try to live within our means, and avoid credit.  Strange feeling.

New experiences - Food

Many Stanley houses use livestock to keep the grass down in summer

Perhaps as a consequence of living with our means, I've started an interest in baking, which I never had before.  (When eggs are in the shops....) I now produce bread, gingerbread, scones, flapjacks, Anzac biscuits.... with varying degrees of success.  I've still to try pizzas and flans, but the carrot and walnut cake is popular.  (I'm  trying not to eat all this stuff for obvious reasons - but it's quite easy to give away).

Now with more time available, food like steam puddings can be easily created.   Meat is fresh and cheap, so our favourite slow roasts are a doddle.  Eating out is fairly limited, but we've enjoyed some good meals in local restaurants (both of them).  Am looking forward to a "Friday Special" Madras curry in the Stanley Arms.  Friends and neighbours have also broadened our culinary expectations.

At a BBQ last night, I had squid parcels on cocktail sticks.  Now, I wouldn't have tried that in the UK, or Patagonian Toothfish!  Mmmmm!
Looking north from kitchen.  
- Work -

My wife is the breadwinner -  (I'm the breadmaker), although I have been known to earn a crust working on the launches in the harbour.  This is seasonal, and the summer (November to March) is far, far busier with cruise ships and fishing boats than the winter.  I've also dabbled in Nature Walks, which I hope to continue next season.

I also intend teaching Nordic Walking here but I have had minor issues and delays getting insurance cover.  I think this is about to be overcome, after I met the insurance supremo  (who is based in Antigua) on a whale-watching trip recently!  By the way, the insurance guy was from Strathaven, a few miles on the road to Edinburgh from where I was born.....  These Scots, eh?  Get bloody everywhere.

I'm also about to help Falklands Conservation  ( ) in surveying plant regeneration in former minefields.  I was talking to some other Volunteers at the BBQ who had re-planted the returned ground a couple of years ago, and  heard how every time a spade hit something solid everyone threw themselves to the ground!  No worries, then.

No prizes for guessing the nationality of the owner!

- Culture -
Well, we have tickets for the Falklands Islands Operatic and Dramatic Association's production of  "At the Musicals" tonight!! I will report back on how it compares with previous musical nights.

I don't subscribe to the local TV service, but I notice I could buy its weekly output on DVD if I wanted to catch up on the latest local news, darts league results, and sheep auctions.  I'm surprised the BBC doesn't offer a weekly DVD of its programmes.  It would save all that faffing about connecting to the Internet and having to upgrade to the latest Virgin Media/BT/ Sky  100 squillion megabytes service to your iphone.

Not that we have such problems here.  Cable & Wireless protect us from the juicier parts of the World Wide Web like YouTube, by the simple expedient of rationing bandwidth. So, I'm sorry I haven't posted a video tour of our new home.  You'll just have to use your imagination or come out and see it!

The Sun and Planets (to scale)
Whoops - I seemed to have veered off into a rant.  We do get a good local radio station and an excellent local rag - Penguin News.   We also receive the eclectic BFBS (for British Forces abroad) TV which has familiar items like the weather - but only covering Aldershot, Paderborn, Cyprus, Afghanistan and the Falklands!

It also has the strange scheduling of most programmes, broadcasting 3 hours behind their live showing on UK screens (as we are, or were, 3 hours behind the UK).   This is fine for, say, Breakfast TV, as then we, and the troops down the road, can tune in to their favourite sofa personalities while they munch the Corn Flakes, and before heading off to defend the islands.

It also means that popular football or rugby matches are delayed till about 5pm at weekends, making sure that the Army personnel don't phone in sick while on duty.   Life then becomes like a famous episode of the  "Likely Lads" sitcom, where the protagonists try to avoid hearing the result of a local derby, before watching the recorded highlights.
Chez nous, with neighbour's unobtrusive TV dish.
 Not the most colourful house in Stanley....
So, when Wales were winning  their way to a Grand Slam, it was important to avoid bumping into beaming Welsh supporters (who seemed to grow in number as the season progressed...), otherwise you knew instantly  Scotland had lost again.  Well, we live in hope...
Horses on the common, with Internet and phone link behind 
 We are actually 4 hours behind the UK now, after the recent clock change (or non-change if you live in the Falklands).  The Executive Council decided not to change the clocks this year, but then discovered a petition objecting to this, with 250 names, that had been submitted and ignored by somebody (not them).  So in the upcoming census, a question will be included along the lines of  "Do you want to change the clocks in Spring and Autumn?".   Although you may receive news about the Falklands from time to time, I thought that this might have slipped beneath the radar.
"Flymo" the sheep.
Talking of "slipping under the radar" leads me on to the ceremony on Sunday to commemorate 30 years since the calling up of the Falkland Islands Defence Force - the local militia, which was mostly for ceremonial purposes.  This weekend, 30 years ago, rumours were circulating that Argentina forces were about to invade, and so the local Customs official, bank clerks, farmers, mechanics, teachers and so on got into uniform and waited to see what would happen....
One of many.
... The rest is history. Let's hope it's not repeated.

I will touch on the conflict in coming weeks, as the consequences from it is still dominating life here.

Anyway, off to the Opera.  Tickets £5, and within walking distance, so no need for petrol.....


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Marathon; Fishy tales; Cruise ship sails on by....

Last week, the sporting highlight in the Falklands was the Stanley Marathon!

Eric Kinyanjui, eventually 2nd, coming down Sapper Hill

The most southerly (and windiest) marathon in the world.    I understand explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes competed in the race in 2003, as part of the "7x7x7" challenge - 7 marathons in 7 days on 7 continents!

Sir Ranulph had trouble getting to a marathon on Antarctica, so hopped over to the Falklands from Chile and claimed it as "Antarctica"!

Patriotic support car
An amazing achievement - all the more so, considering he'd had a heart attack 4 months earlier!  In fact, just getting to the Falklands, and away again quickly, is a pretty good achievement.  Some intrepid Japanese runners were still  to be seen wandering around Stanley all week, waiting for their flight on the following Saturday. 
Robert Harden, eventual winner, striding along at 15 miles
Anyway, my marathon days are long gone, but I felt it would be good to cheer on the runners, as they passed my house (twice) on the route.
At 11 miles, the headwind is slowing the chasing pack as they tackle Sapper Hill

We walked to the corner of the road where it met the Stanley Bypass, and chatted to a well-wrapped spectator while we waited for the runners to appear.....
"Hello....nice day...bit nippy.....Are you local?"
"No - just arrived"
Oh, where do you work?"
"I don't - my husband does"
"Oh, what does he do?"
"He's the Governor!"
"Ah, right, yes, good.  There he is!  C'mon, the Governor!  Keep going!  Only 12 miles left, Your Excellency!"

(His Excellency, Nigel Haywood, finished in 3 hours, 42 minutes, 14 seconds, in 15th position, out of 58 finishers).
Warmly-dressed spectator awaits the Governor

The wind was quite strong from the west, but the route zig-zagged quite a bit, so the runners might have 6 miles into the headwind, then 6 miles with a tailwind.  This was quite useful for those in the relay race (6.5 miles per leg). You could easily tell those with fresh legs haring down Sapper Hill,  with the wind behind them, overtaking those who had just ran 12 miles up to the summit!

The Governor, in yellow, grabbing his water bottle from supporting wife

Some of the course was on gravel, especially the route out to Stanley airport.  I suspect there isn't 26 miles of tarmac on the islands.  In the end, the winner was the recently-arrived Physical Training Instructor, Rob Harden, (2:52:39) closely followed by  Eric Kinyanjui, from the Mount Pleasant base.  Third was the Argentine visitor, Pablo Ureta, at 2:56:16.  Quite amazing times considering the wind and hilly route.

The first lady wasn't far behind.  Claudio Camargo was 5th overall, in 3:12:13.  The next two ladies to finish were also Argentine.  It was good to see healthy sporting competition with  the neighbours.

There was also an incredible wheelchair athlete, and 1982 veteran, Swasie Turner.  Unbelievable determination to get round the course.

Full details and better photos in Penguin News.

Malvina House Hotel, near marathon finish line


A few days later, I got a call from shipping agents, asking if I wanted to help unload a trawler?  Always keen to experience new activities (and get paid), I accepted.  The ship's crew would do the actual handling of the thousands of boxes of frozen fish, but the agents needed help in weighing and recording the catch.

1000kg of frozen fish

The 20kg boxes were emptied from the hold via a large net, then sorted and stacked onto pallets by species.  The pallets were then weighed; and then transferred into dockside, temperature-controlled, containers.  These will later be loaded onto a container ship, for the Spanish market.

Some of the fish would be familiar to northern hemishpere eyes and palates - hake, sea bass, squid and so on, but the majority was hoki and kingklip.  I've tasted hoki in New Zealand, and kingklip in South Africa - both very tasty.  But we don't see much of it in local shops and restaurants here.

I've tried Patagonian Toothfish - an ugly beast, sometimes marketed  as the more palatable "Chilean Sea Bass" and Wahoo, from St Helena - great name, great fish!  And this weekend, I had locally-caught mullet in Goose Green.  We watched the fisherman land about a dozen from the jetty, and the local cafe expertly battered and fried some.  Couldn't have been fresher!

Yellow weighing machine, awaiting pallets of fish.
Like so much to do with fishing in the world, only a couple of countries "harvest" the oceans - Spain and Japan come to mind - and as local seas become empty, they have to roam further afield to satisfy the domestic demand.

Temperature-controlled containers 

And sure enough, all of these fish were destined for Vigo in northern Spain, and onward to the fish-loving Spanish kitchens.

If you are worried about the sustainability of the fishing in the world's oceans (and you should be), you may want to read the excellent work by Charles Clover - of "The End of the Line" fame.  I think he inspired Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's fish campaign

Hugh has recently been filming in the South Atlantic, and there will no doubt be a TV series about it soon.  He was on board a Falklands boat - the Hans Hansonn, which was also used for several years to film the BBC Frozen Planet series.
Hans Hansonn
Does all this fishing take food from penguins' beaks?  What is of more value - fishing or tourism? That's the subject of  a lot of scientific research and a topic for another blog.
Guns from HMS Canopus, last used in WW1
Finally, to round off the week, I was asked to assist on another Nature Walk - taking passengers from the cruise ship, Veendam (again), as it sailed south to Tierra del Fuego.  Unfortunately, the captain felt the wind was too strong to anchor, so he continued to sail south without stopping.   Very frustrating for passengers and Falklanders alike.  And very costly.  Enjoying an end of the week tin of Tennents in the Victory Bar, I was offered a vast selection of sandwiches and packed lunches which had been prepared for the 1300 expected passengers!
Sunset over the hills
The walk would have taken in the coves and bays at the east end of Stanley Harbour.  Also in the area are some low hills, topped by remnants of a World War 1 conflict, The Battle of the Falklands.  On the 8th December 1914, these guns (then on HMS Canopus) fired shells 14 kilometres (9 miles) at a German fleet commanded by the Admiral Graf Spee.  British warships gave chase, and sank the fleet.
In another war, 25 years later, another "Graf Spee" was sunk by another Royal Navy fleet out of the Falklands.  "C'est la guerre!"

So, I learned quite a lot this week; enjoyed some excellent fish; made my first steam pudding; explored more of these islands.    Next week promises a celebration as 3 million square metres of land, previously minefields, are returned for use by Islanders.  

On a mundane note - most of the northern hemisphere moved their clocks forward today, but a recent decision here (now being contested), means that the Falklands clocks did not change, so we are now 4 hours behind the UK.

So, a 'long lie' on Sunday, and listen to Rangers vs Celtic on the radio.  Bizarre.

Penguin photos return next week.


Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Whales, Wales and Wet Penguins

First of all, Congratulations to Wales for their Grand Slam at the weekend.  Well Deserved, as was Scotland's Wooden Spoon.  I'm not sure why we don't just play against Italy as a one-off, like England for the Calcutta Cup, and save a lot of raised hopes and subsequent disappoint.  (I'm Scottish, by the way, for anyone stumbling across these pages...).  Anyway, you may be interested in another Falkland Islands blog, which describes the trials we sometimes have to go through to watch important Rugby matches.  (There's a big Welsh contingent here and in Patagonia!)..... 

Practising 'fishing' stories.."It was this size"...
 Kay, who writes that blog, phoned me last week to say there were a couple of spare places on a boat going out that evening to try to see whales in the next bay.  Boat trips are frequently planned, and almost as frequently cancelled due to weather or sea conditions.  But, happily for us, this one braved the choppy ocean, and we arrived in Berkeley Sound around 7pm, with about 45 minutes light left.
"Thar she blows!
After only a few minutes drifting on the tide, we saw spumes of exhaled breath from the whales.  There seemed to be about 10 of them about 500 yards away so we slowly motored closer.  With about 20 pairs of eyes looking in all directions, we often caught the tail-end of a whale or the ripples where it had been, but seeing them swim by was proving difficult......
"Move back, please, I can't fit you in!"
Then, suddenly, lots of shouting and pointing, and we were surrounded! Some were so close you could smell the breath as it wafted across the waves.  Fishy, if you must ask.
Sei whale
 The whales were Sei Whales, we were told, and you can identify some whale species by how far back the dorsal fin is and how much of the body is revealed when it breathes.   It's also helpful to have a reference book handy, as different species of whales rarely swim side by side to help you compare them!
20 metres long - 30 tonnes.
 All too soon, the light faded, and the grey whales merged into the grey waves.  We headed for home excited about seeing the gentle giants in their own habitat, and obviously relaxed.  A big "thank you" to Kay for alerting us to the trip, and to the crew of the Speedwell (the boat I worked on in February), for a fantastic evening.
Light fading. Last look.
Meanwhile, back on dry land, the egg shortage seems to be over, and I think there may have been some holding back of eggs, whilst waiting for the Horticultural Society Show.  Now that's over, owners are happy to release them to the general populace.

Typical flock of chickens in Stanley garden
Probably due to the need for self-sufficiency, most of the gardens in Stanley are very productive in terms of vegetables.  However, I did hear that there was an infestation of earwigs a couple of years ago from a timber shipment, that caused havoc with the potato crop.  So, everyone is very vigilant for alien species with no local predators.
Potatoes, cabbages, carrots galore
Later on in the week, I was asked if I could help take a group of tourist on a Nature Trek.  The ship, Veendam, was calling and a group of passengers wanted to do a 3 hour walk and hopefully see some penguins.  Sadly, the good weather disappeared that morning and the rain was what is called "persistent".

Still, everyone was well-dressed for the outdoors and no-one seemed to mind.  As the walk-leader put it to least we won't be standing there for hours waiting for all the penguin pics to be taken!

We did manage to spot a few bedraggled Magellanic penguins, but, most of them stayed sensibly in their burrows.
Yorke Bay
 However, as we predicted, the afternoon and evening were completely different.  The sky cleared and bright sunshine dried the ground.  It was so lovely, I decided to head back out to the cove where we had taken the tourists earlier.
WW2 gun guarding entrance to harbour.  Trawler in bay.
 Sure enough, the good weather had brought out the penguins in their hordes!  The dunes echoed to their noisy braying.  They are also known as Jackass penguins in South Africa.
Lady Elizabeth, with Stanley and mountains in the distance.

So, I took a few photos of the glorious sunset, and headed for home.  I just hope the Veendam passengers don't think it rains all the time in the Falklands!

Don't forget, it's the first day of Spring/autumn wherever you are.  We all have the same amount of daylight today.   Equinox.....
And, if you read this, Leah, thanks for the message.

Next instalment - the world's most southerly Marathon;  and 300 tons of frozen fish need unloading!  Decisions, decisions!

More penguin capers soon,

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Rambling and driving on the Falklands

Well, it's been like several Birthdays and Christmasses rolled into one this week!  "When The Boat Comes In.."...  The ship with our worldly goods arrived and after unloading large amounts of ammunition, civilian goods were transferred to warehouses, or, in the case of vehicles, left in a large compound. (Photography is banned there!)

Showing an old friend around 
 Unfortunately, all the vehicles were parked tightly and ours was squashed in by two huge JCBs and some de-icing lorries!  Luckily, a friendly St Helenan kindly moved the diggers, and with a turn of the ignition key, we were driving along the roads of the Falkland Islands....(Lots of "Saints" live and work in the Falklands, but some may return home soon when a new airport opens up on St Helena.  Construction is underway.)

Only a 15 minute  drive from Stanley
 The road from the docks is 5 miles of smooth tarmac, with white lines down the middle.  This finishes at Mount Pleasant Airport (MPA) - the military base.  The next 35 miles to Stanley is a twisty, undulating, windswept,gravel ribbon across peat bogs.  There is talk of surfacing this vital road, but talk is cheap.  But we did get the chance to visit some beauty spots outside Stanley, like Surf Bay.

Surf Bay near Stanley Airport
This is where the Falklands mid-winter swim takes place.  Looks inviting, but looks can be deceptive!  This beach was only opened to the public 2 years ago, when mines were cleared from it.  The same team from Zimbabwe have been back clearing another large area near Stanley, and this week the house reverberated to huge explosions as the mines were destroyed at the end of the exercise.

 Windows shook, and, until one remembered what the cause was, it was quite nerve-wracking.  How people living in Stanley 30 years ago coped with constant, nightly bombardments from both sides in the conflict is beyond my comprehension.  I don't want to seem obsessed about the Falklands War, but it is well-nigh impossible not to be reminded of it on a daily basis.  Last night, I was chatting in a local pub to 5 BBC World Service people who are linking with Radio 5 colleagues in Buenos Aires on Thursday, for a live debate. If anyone would like more detail on the current situation in the South Atlantic, I can suggest good factual sources of information, especially on Twitter.   Let me know.
"Beach cleared of mines, June 2010"

So, next day, Sunday, we joined the local Ramblers, for their monthly hike.  This entailed driving 40 miles back down the MPA road to almost the exact spot where we'd picked up the car the day before!  It was the spot near Bertha's Beach where we'd seen Prince William...
( )

This time about 20 of us headed south into a cold wind towards Fox Point, which marked the entrance to the East Cove, where the naval ships dock.

HMS Fearless memorial, Fox Point
Near the start of the walk, there was a memorial to the men who lost their lives just offshore in landing craft from HMS Fearless on 6th June 1982.  It was a sobering thought that people had died so that we could walk at this beautiful spot.

The Navy still patrols the waters, and we were to catch glimpses of HMS Montrose across the bay during our walk.

HMS Montrose in the distance.  For Ruth
 But the walk proved to be very scenic with varied conditions underfoot.  We strode along 5 beaches (4 sandy, one rocky), moorland, tidal lagoons, and dunes.  11 miles and very tiring at the end.

Although a couple of times I wished I'd worn more layers, it didn't rain and we enjoyed the company of interesting birds (plovers, hooded gulls, Antarctic terns, giant petrels, turkey vultures, and, some penguins).

Not many deckchairs...
 The group was mainly ex-pats, like us, although some had been there for many years.  One of the locals we thought we recognised turned out to be our guide when we took a guided walk around Stanley the previous year, when we had a day there from a cruise!  Small world. ( Have I mentioned another lady was from my home town in Scotland - lived 2 streets from me!)

Soil erosion caused by penguins', not walkers',  feet
At the furthest point of the walk, we found a remote beach with a colony of a couple of hundred Gentoo penguins, who seemed a bit surprised to see us.  There's a clip later of them coming to meet us.

Locals in for a swim.
Yet another pristine beach. 4th of the day.
 Turning for home, we crossed some unique bogs with plants you don't see anywhere else.
Balsam Bog.  Like boulders covered in moss.
 Luckily, the tide was out, and we saved a couple of miles by walking across the salt flats, although I probably wouldn't have done this without local knowledge to hand!  There are no useful signposts or Ordnance Survey maps here (at least not that I've seen).
Taking a shortcut across tidal lagoon.
 Eventually, we arrived back at the cars. Much searching by me for car keys in pockets, much to everyones amusement.  No-one locks their cars here, and taking keys on such a walk is only to  risk losing them! If a car was stolen, where could it be taken?  Certainly a more relaxed approach, and one I'll try to adopt.
Land Rovers come into sight.  Berthas Beach beyond.
Just to give you an idea about Internet connectivity in the Falklands (which those BBC chaps were shocked at - Blackberries and iPhones were useless.  Twitter-withdrawal symptoms were rife!).  The following 10-second clip took 20 minutes to upload this morning.  There is free internet access between midnight and 6am, but if anyone has tips on compressing videos and speeding this up, I'd be glad to hear them...

PS Pineapples are  now in shops - £1.80 per slice.   As this news story (below) says, pineapples have now been added to the basket of goods to work out inflation in the UK.  There, they are are £1.50 each, going down to 50p when in season.  Enjoy!  And I don't want to hear any moans about egg shortages in UK supermarkets.  I caught my first chicken last night on the way home from the pub.  Did the decent thing and returned her to her garden, but it crossed my mind how tasty it might be with some lemon and parsley stuffing...

Hasta la vista, as I'l soon be learning to say (many Spanish speakers in town).

Next time - what DID all those boxes we shipped contain?