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?



  1. Laughed at the idea of lost car keys and loved the photos and video. Thanks for a most interesting post. Is it really true that there is an annual Margaret Thatcher Day on the island?

  2. Car keys - it's not uncommon to see car engines running while driver goes into shops.
    Margaret Thatcher - yes : 10th January. Also, a Margaret Thatcher Drive...