Sunday, 27 May 2012

"There's a green one and a pink one...". Little boxes.

Stanley Calling ......... continuing a look round the capital of the Falkland Islands.  We're about as far from the Equator as London, so this week we've have been enjoying fog, sleet and snow flurries, between the bright sunshine.  (Unlike London, we are only 600 miles from Antarctica, so the frozen continent has big effect on weather.  World maps never, or rarely, show the true extent of Antarctica as no-one lives there).

The Pod Gift Shop

Does anyone remember the Pete Seeger song, "Little Boxes"?  I'm sure it'll be on YouTube or whatever, but videos aren't good for my broadband allowance (20Mb per day!), so I'll leave you to find it.  Here are some low-bandwidth lyrics, though.....

"Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky tacky
Little boxes 
Little boxes
Little boxes all the same
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same........"
Streamlined for gales....note modern addition of satellite dish.
Well, that song rang round my head the first time I saw the primary-coloured houses in Stanley.  Except, they don't all look the same.  Quite the opposite - it's unusual to see two similar houses.
Jubilee Villas - Queen Victoria's Jubilee!
Some cottages are built of stone, but most are made of tin, and recently well-insulated kit houses have been springing up to meet the increasing demand.
Neat garden
Next year, another 35 houses will be built by the government to house the growing population of locals and incomers.

Patriotic (or maybe wants jets to know which side he's on)
Traditionally, the plots in Stanley were long and narrow, running up and down the  hillside overlooking the harbour.  Sufficient space was needed to accommodate crops of potatoes and domestic livestock - horses, sheep, chickens - all of which can still be seen in some gardens today.
Long, narrow gardens were a feature.
Some of the gardens have evergreen hedges, to provide protection from the wind.
Summer grazing, and no need for lawn mowers, or manure.
But, with the long-standing pressure for building plots in town, some of the large, narrow plots have been subdivided once or twice. It is rare now that you see the house on the hill with a great sweep of lawn or vegetable garden in front of it.
Matching mustard
Pioneer Row
Some of the earliest houses are to be found in Pioneer Row.  Built for Chelsea Pensioners in the 1840s, they are still popular homes despite their lack of draught-proofing.  They are central, and have buildings on only one side of the road, so offering a panoramic view of the harbour.
New kit house
Conservatories are also quite common, and are home to tomato plants in the summer.
The east and west ends of Stanley have been transformed from "green field" sites since 1982, and has probably doubled in size.
New kit houses, at the east end of town.  Could be Reykjavik?
In the original central part of town, the streets are named after pioneers or explorers or sometimes shipwrecks:  Ross, Brisbane, Fitzroy, Villiers, Crozier, Shackleton, Dean, Discovery, Hebe etc.
A rare stone wall at Sulivan House, official home of Government Chief Exec.  North-facing  conservatory!
Whereas, almost all the new streets commemorate the men who helped liberate the Falklands in 1982 - Jeremy Moore Avenue, Ian McKay Close, etc, or are prominent families in the islands - Rowlands Rise, Goss Road, Pitaluga Way, Sulivan Street, and so on. [Moore was Commander of the Land Forces.  McKay was awarded a posthumous VC after attacking a machine gun on Mt Longdon].
Gilbert House, home of Legislative Assembly
Some of the buildings are now recognised as historic and may have a similar designation as in the UK, eg looked after by the National Trust, or Listed status.
old row of cottages  
Thatcher Drive with Education Dept., and tree, behind.
Liberation Memorial sunset. June 14th is Liberation Day.
Bin men cometh before a squall, as the saying goes.....
In our less-colourful suburban street, the wheelie-bins are emptied on Saturdays.  Unfortunately, last Saturday brought a gale and the street's empty bins went walkabout.  Like drunk Guardsmen, they had to be escorted back to their position on the driveway.
A&E, KEMH (King Edward Memorial Hospital)
The big blue roof of the Hospital can be seen for miles, which is quite useful if you are an Air/Sea Rescue helicopter pilot!  Although named after King Edward VII, it was rebuilt in 1987 after a serious fire which destroyed most of its wooden structure, and killed 8 people.  The hospital now has 28 beds, and a wide range of facilities.

However, if any treatment is required which is beyond the scope of the medical services on the Islands, patients are flown to Chile or the UK for further care.  There is a 1% Medical Services Tax, which all employees pay.

I'm not sure how I drifted into the subject of the hospital, but I seem to have been there a couple of times recently.  I even had a home-made curry from the 2 Pharmacists on Saturday, in one of the historic Pioneer Row cottages.  Thanks, guys.

As ever, if anyone has any questions, feel free to post them, or email me.

Hope my UK readers are not wilting under the heat, or the Jubilee celebrations...


Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Eating and Drinking in the South Atlantic

So, here we are in the Falkland Islands - 4 months into a 2-year stint.  Enjoying the simple life in Stanley, the capital, with about 3,000 other souls (census results out soon!).  A few friends from the UK have asked what is there in the way of eating and drinking spots?  I don't claim this report to be comprehensive, but in the interests of research, I have crossed the threshold of many of the local establishments....

One thing to know is that all beer on the island is imported in cans or bottles, so most places sell the same brands of drink as the others.  The two supermarkets sell a range of drink which they buy from either Waitrose or Sainsbury's.   However, a local chap has just been granted a licence to sell his own brew (which I tasted at Fitzroy Sheep Show), so that's something many of us are looking forward to.

Otherwise, the beers are usually cans of Guiness, Boddingtons, Tetleys, Spitfire (bottled), Strongbow or Tennents Lager.  The wine tends to be Chilean.  Occasional shortages make for some novel combinations.  In March, all pubs had run out of tonic, so a strange variety of gin-based drinks were invented, until the next shipment arrived from the UK!

Victory Bar.  "Husband Creche"
The Victory.
Central, popular bar, with good kitchen.  I like the Geochron display on the wall, so I can see what time of day it is anywhere in the world.  ("Damn, I was supposed to phone my sister in Perth, but it's just gone midnight there!") .  Has a busy hot food stall in the car park at weekend evenings, when the pub kitchen is closed.

Rose Bar.  Looks can be deceptive.

The Rose Bar
Quieter  (when I've been there), traditional pub, a few streets away from the "main drag", so perhaps not found as easily by visitors..

Deanos, formerly Kelper Stores. Much bigger than it looks.

Deanos Bar.
Popular, central pub with a couple of pool tables.  Entertainment of some kind most evenings.  Several TVs, often showing UK football matches (but with excitable South American Spanish commentaries from ESPN - eg, "Rooo-neeeeeey!!!!  Gooooooooaaaaalll !!!!",   "Tevezzzzzzzzzzzzzz!!!!  GOOOOAAALLLLL!!!!!!!").

Globe Tavern, as seen in Argentine Olympic adverts.

Globe Tavern.
Iconic watering hole beside the Jetty.  Often the first place cruise passengers head for, and some go no further up the hill.  The place to be photographed outside, whether you are a cruise ship passenger or Argentine athlete getting some early-morning propaganda in.  Lots of memorabilia, and pleasant garden. Entertainment.  (Don't ask me "what entertainment?" - I'm in bed by 9pm).

Narrows Bar.  Quite wide, actually!

Narrows Bar.
Large modern, spacious bar.  Good views to the Narrows, the entrance to the harbour, at the east end of town.  Decent food with Chilean influences.  Plenty of room and equipment outside for children....fresh air is good for them....

Stanley Arms.  Reminds me of my time in Bootle.

Stanley Arms.
At the other end of town from the Narrows, in a residential setting, is the Stanley Arms.  Friendly local with pool table.  Regular bingo, music and quiz nights.  Friday is Curry Night!  (A sizeable minority of the population is from St Helena as wages are better in the Falklands.  They bring a different culture and cuisine to the islands, as do the Chilean workforce).

Like the town, The Stanley is named after the 14th Earl of Derby, who was Prime Minister of the UK three times in the 19th century, and who ordered the setting up of the town and harbour in its current location.,_14th_Earl_of_Derby

By a strange coincidence, I used to work in a grim government department, housed in a grim, concrete office block, just off Stanley Road in Bootle, Liverpool.  The Stanley/Derby Earls were big landowners in Liverpool, and are commemorated around the city.  But I can honestly say I am glad I'm not in Bootle now!
I have a few Canadian readers, so they may be interested to know that a relative of the Earl headed to Canada - hence the Stanley Cup!

Malvina House Hotel
Malvina House Hotel.
Prime accommodation in Stanley, with comfortable bar, and, unique in Stanley, has NO pool tables or dart boards!  Good views and good restaurant using local produce imaginatively (the lamb, squid and toothfish are delicious), whenever possible.  Whatever you do, do NOT call it the "Malvinas", as did the BBC people!  You have been warned!  It is named after a former owner.
 Behind the hotel is the Tax Office, where my wife works.

Waterfront Hotel
The Waterfront has a residents' lounge which is open to non-residents eating in the cosy restaurant.  The kitchen is run by the owner, who specialises in Falklands dishes, but with Chilean additions.  As the name suggests, lovely views across the harbour.  There are about 6 comfortable rooms in this boutique hotel.

Some other eateries, less photogenic than the above -

Millers Bar.
On one of the few times I have been here, I had arranged to meet friends.  I noticed two guys playing pool and two barmaids chatting.  I asked for a can of lager, only to be told they weren't open!  Not the sort of welcome I am desperate to receive again!  I believe it is closed and up for sale.

Seamans Mission.
Friendly, economical venue near FIPASS (the Port facility), about 1 mile east of the centre of town.  Home-made food, and library for temporary residents.  There's a pleasant footpath along the coast to it

Michelle's Cafe.
Cafe, run by Michelle; home-cooking, open late.  Probably in the 'greasy spoon' category, and popular as pubs close.

Tasty Treat.
Large selection of meals and baking, with several Chilean specialities

Friendly, popular lunch-time cafe, with large range of home-baking and freshly-made sandwiches. Decent coffee. Closes at 4pm.
Woodbine Cafe.  A Leeds United fan, apparently.
Woodbine Cafe
Traditional and popular chippy. South Atlantic fish like kingclip, hoki, etc.

Shorty's Diner.
Popular, modern American-style diner, with motel attached.  On top of the hill, so great views across town and harbour.  My main issue with Shorty's is the jugs of weak Kona coffee.

The Bread Shop.
Bakery - bread, cakes, rolls, pizzas and 101 things wrapped in pastry.  The bread is good, but I now make my own, which although not quite as good, is very satisfying and always surprising!

I hope this is useful to any potential visitors.  Sorry about the lack of penguins this week, but they must all be out at sea looking for a takeaway.  Here's one that I saw last month......


Monday, 14 May 2012

Misty Isle, and cats on planes....

It's been very misty over the last couple of days, meaning very few photo opportunities.  So, I was thinking how glorious my last trip to the "Misty Isle", that is Skye, north-west Scotland, had been 3 years ago.
Eilean Donan Castle, near Skye.  The Falklands lacks natural building materials!
Now Skye probably gets more rain than the Falkland Islands, but the clever marketing name of "Misty Isle" still attracts the tourist, hoping for the odd sunny and calm day.  Although some parts of the Falklands resemble parts of Scotland, you don't see old castles, due to the dearth of local building materials (and labour to construct them.).  So I thought I'd publish this one, and maybe people who can't get to the Falklands will be tempted to visit Skye!
Tussac bird trying to get out of the wind.
However, the wildlife in the Falklands is good, even near the capital, Stanley.  Although not always easy to photograph, it is all around.   I often take exercise on a local beach, and twice in the last week, I've had a close encounter with a resting seal.
Seal, suspicious of paparazzi
I noticed what looked like a track of someone sliding down a dune, on a tray, but it was actually made by the belly of a seal struggling UP the dune, about 100 yards from the water's edge!

Sleepy seal, Surf Bay
We both got a surprise, but I don't think the seal was too disturbed as it was still there the next day.  Maybe it was tired by all the swimming around.   Next month, this beach sees the annual mid-Winter Dip, which should see a lot more frenetic activity from people, some with a lot less blubber than the seal!
Cape Pembroke dunes from Lighthouse
At the weekend, the mist returned, but we joined the Ramblers on a bracing 5-mile walk around Cape Pembroke - the most easterly point of the Falkland Islands.  On the way, we saw dolphins twice, and many penguins, but these were on fenced off beaches which may have mines on them.  (Penguins are too light to trigger them). 
Cape Pembroke Lighthouse - disused
Luckily, someone had the foresight to obtain the key to the disused lighthouse, so we could have a hot drink out of the weather and explore the fascinating building.
Looking east.  Next land is Chile, 12,000 miles away
It had all been shipped in numbered, steel sections from the UK and assembled on-site, in 1907.  The location at the entrance to Stanley Harbour meant it played a vital role in keeping shipping off the many reefs and low islands around the coast.  It was last used in 1982, when the Governor ordered its light extinguished on the eve of the Argentine invasion.  Nearby, a rather ugly beacon now flashes away, but doesn't require lighthouse keepers, and certainly wouldn't entice people to walk through bad weather for 2 hours!

For more information on historical buildings and artefacts, please have a look at the local Museum site - 

For those interested in island life, here are a few random snippets from this week's Penguin News - available at all good outlets in Stanley or online (well worth the subscription).

#  A local man has been given a licence to sell his home-brewed beer.  I tasted a pint of it a couple of weeks ago at Fitzroy Sheep Show, and I'm looking forward to it coming into production!

#  TV Chef, Phil Vickery, has been touring the islands, making use of local produce, such as the lamb.

#  A cat escaped from its transit box on a local flight and got trapped under the pilot's controls.  The flight was delayed for about an hour whilst Whiskas and milk were used to entice it back into the box.

#  A tame hen is missing from Callaghan Road,

#  And very worryingly, a beehive was found attached to a recently-arrived container.  Nick, my bee-keeper friend in Sussex, tells me the bees wouldn't survive due to lack of food and the wind, but gardeners are still suffering from the influx of earwigs 3 years ago in a wood shipment.  The bio-security precautions are usually fairly tight here, but, occasionally something will slip through.

Only in the Falklands.....It makes a change from being the subject of diplomatic rows.


Friday, 11 May 2012

Race Point Farm, and Yomping

[The story so far....a couple from Teddington, UK, move in 2012 to the Falkland Islands. While one goes off to work each day, the other keeps a lookout for penguins and explores / keeps fit by Nordic Walking. Now read on.........]
Long-tailed Meadowlark... or Falklands Robin
Autumn was marching on, and Winter was fast approaching.  (I understand our recent weather has been  similar to Spring in the UK, only a lot drier! Another difference from the northern hemisphere, is that what few leaves we have don't change colour).  Before our travelling around was restricted by poor weather or roads, we wanted to see a different bit of the Falklands.  So we booked a weekend in a cottage on Race Point Farm, at the western coast of East Falklands, about 50 miles west of Stanley.

On the 21,000 acre farm is one of the beaches which was used for the landings during the Falklands War.  So, my interest in the conflict was piqued - what had it been like to have 500 paratroopers dug in round your house, and your tiny airstrip to be the main land base for a squadron of Sea Harriers?  Also, on the beaches, were reported to be several species of penguin.  Would they still be there?

We set off across Camp, passing the western side of Two Sisters - the hill we had recently climbed  (see the recent post, "Two Sisters - Twin Peaks").

Two Sisters from the west.  Difficult walking, even in daylight.

It looked a lot more challenging from this side.  I don't think we'll be climbing it in the dark with people shooting at us, but we'll try to walk to the western summit soon.   The officer who led the attack on Two Sisters, Mike Cole, is soon to be recreating the 75km "Yomp" across the Falklands and is giving a talk in Stanley about it this month.  He is hoping to raise money for charities which help ex-servicemen.  One of my neighbours, Trev Law, is joining him in the march.  For more details on the walk and the charity, please visit the Justgiving site -  JustGiving site for Yomp 2012

North Camp road crossing an inlet.

Unlike the Commandos and paratroopers, we crossed the 75km of wide open countryside in comfort, passing about 4 farms, and about the same number of cars, in the two and a bit hours it took to drive to Port San Carlos.
North over Malo Hill.

The farm was located at the mouth of the San Carlos River, as it enters San Carlos Water, a fiord off Falklands Sound - the strait that separates East and West Falklands.  It was this sheltered inlet that was chosen as the best place to land British forces in 1982.

Race Point Farm gate.  Only 10 miles to the farmhouse!
I had asked for directions from the owners, John and Michelle.  "Follow the track until you get to the Big House with the red roof!"  So, after coming to the Race Point Farm gate, we drove around a mountain for 10 miles and then came over a crest, and.....there it was: the Big House, and San Carlos Water!
Race Point Farm (red roof, centre). Dark green are trees, light green is gorse.

The Big House

No egg shortage here
Turf wall protects gardens and trees

After settling in to our cosy, refurbished cottage, we strolled out to catch the last sunshine of the day, as dusk was about 5.30pm.  (The Falklands Islands' Government had recently abandoned the practice of  "putting the clock back" in Autumn, much to the displeasure of many people, especially those in Camp and West Falklands, who, in any case, have "Camp Time", which is about an hour different from Stanley.  In reality, though, most camp residents are farmers, and they work all daylight hours in the year, so  changing the clock has little impact on them..  However, we had to clarify if "Breakfast is at 8", really meant at 7am!)

Sunset over San Carlos Water, and West Falklands' hills

In our short stroll to the riverside, we went through a gap in the long  gorse hedge (planted as a sheep shelter) and across a close-cropped grass field, which we learned later was also the farm's airstrip.  The next morning, the owners showed us old photos on the Big House's walls which showed the airstrip with several dozen helicopters and a squadron of Sea Harriers around it (called HMS Sheathbill by the Fleet Air Arm.  Photos of it can be found at the Imperial War Museum collection.....  here > .  These planes were using the airstrip instead of an aircraft carrier far out in the South Atlantic.  It must have shocked the chickens from their peaceful peckings!)

Must be good pasture....

As the sun came up, we observed some of the animal life around the farm - about 20 free-range hens; a dozen or so horses and ponies, 5 sheepdogs,  and 3 hares which colonised the gorse hedge.

Horses and ponies everywhere

The farm has one of the highest concentrations of livestock on the islands - about 1 sheep to about 4 acres, compared to 1 per 8 acres in land with poorer grazing.  (In the UK, I think it is around 6 sheep per acre, but don't quote me!).

Another sign of good grazing and better pasture was dairy cattle.  I recognised fellow-natives of the south-west of Scotland - the brown and white Ayrshires (my home county)....
 After some freshly-laid and freshly-cooked eggs, we felt the need for a long walk on a gloriously sunny and windless day.  We headed west past the airfield, and noticed a tranquil corner where the previous owners had a private cemetery under some rare evergreen  trees.
Rare trees at family cemetery.  Gorse hedge
 A little further on were the still-visible trenches dug by 3 Para, who landed there on the 21st May 1982, and after securing the beachhead without opposition, started to "yomp" (or "tab" in the parlance) across the Falklands towards Stanley.  They had virtually no vehicles that were suitable for the boggy terrain, and most of the troop-carrying helicopters had sunk to the bottom of the ocean when the Atlantic Conveyor was hit by an Exocet missile.  So, walking was the only option....
Recently-harvested field of oats
Carrying a flask and a packed lunch, rather than 100lbs of equipment like the Paras, we progressed along the shore, passing the only field of cereals - oats - that I'd seen since arriving in the Falklands.  Good soil, indeed!  I'd heard that oats had been grown in Scotland, not only because Scots love porridge, but because that was all that would grow in the climate!  So, I surmised that the usual climate here was generally similar to parts of Scotland - damp, windy, and rarely too warm or too cold.  No wonder the Ayrshire cattle looked content.
Fishing basket flotsam
Eventually, the close-cropped grass gave way to the more usual native species of low ground plants and grasses.  One of the nearby islands we passed could be reached at low tide and had obviously been used for grazing, as the high native tussac grass could be seen as only remaining on the inaccessible cliffs, and the rest of the island nibbled down to the turf.
Island  showing impact of sheep grazing.  Native tussac grass only remains  on the cliff.
Further along, two rather lonely Gentoo penguins were the only occupants of a beach that might have held several hundred a few weeks ago.  Unlike other species on the farm, like Rockhopper, Gentoo penguins remain in the Falklands all year and don't head off to follow the food across the southern ocean.  But most of them were probably out fishing in San Carlos Water today.
Gentoo penguins
Maybe at another time of year, we would have continued along the coast to find the Rockhoppers, but we decided to gain the high ground to enjoy what promised to be some good views. (The following day, the weather was low cloud and fog, so we're glad we made that decision!)

Grass wren
Climbing the grassy slopes to about 800 feet, past some beef cattle and wrens, we soon reached the watershed between Race Point and the neighbouring farm to the north.

Reaching the ridge
 To the west, lay San Carlos Water and the West Falklands.  To the south, were views to the highest mountain, Usborne (about 2,300 feet), across undulating sheep farms as far as the eye could see.
Race Point Farm, Port San Carlos
Nestling below us in its sheltered spot, was the Big House and farm buildings.  Race Point farm is named after a tidal race that occurs around one of the many bends in the San Carlos River. Before a bridge was built about 12 miles upstream, people and livestock were rowed across the river near here, to head for the "neighbouring" settlement of San Carlos.
West to San Carlos Water
I was also reading a book, set in the 1960s, about a travelling teacher, who visited the remote farms by horseback.  Travelling teachers still perform these visits - staying for a couple of weeks with farming families before moving on to the next set of pupils.  But nowadays, they are transported by Land Rover or quad bike across the countryside.
D-Day Green beach below
When children reach secondary school age, they move to Stanley and board in town.  It must be a wrench to leave behind the endless vistas, as well as pet ponies and lambs.  Not to mention the penguins.
San Carlos River;  Mt Usborne (in cloud) in distance; Land Rover tracks
One thing we have realised about the weather in the Falklands, was that it is changeable.  And true to form, the next day dawned, although we couldn't see out the cottage windows!

Freezing fog on the hills.  Empty dirt roads
 After another large breakfast, we set off in the gloom.  We had originally planned to arrive today, but what a different impression we would have taken home if we had not enjoyed the sunset and views!
Always useful to have someone to open gates in foul weather...
We headed south for about 40 miles, over the Sussex Mountains, and then turned west when we met the Darwin road.  This passed the Mount Pleasant airport and military base.  Around here was a sign indicating we were now on  land belonging to Fitzroy River Farm, and I glanced at the odometer.  We crossed the Fitzroy River, which marks the eastern boundary of the farm, 17 miles later!

So, farms on the Falklands are more like sheep stations in the Australian Outback and we had only scratched the surface at Race Point.  But, hopefully, we will return to explore some more.