Tuesday, 30 October 2012

October highlights....

[An occasional look at life in the South Atlantic.  My wife and I are on the Falklands for at least two years, enjoying the islands, the community, the wildlife and the scenery.....]

OCTOBER, despite its name, is the tenth month, and is our tenth month in the Falkland Islands.  I'm also on my tenth cheque book from the local bank, which is ten more than I'd used in 20 years in the UK!
We've had some wonderful sunsets in October, and possibly sunrises, but they are now well before I wake, so I haven't seen one for a while.  Sunset is about 7.30, and getting later every day.
Apologies if I've posted some of these photos before, but I like them!  Please  feel free to let me know which you like or dislike or if you have any requests!  Although I don't do sparrows.
Lady Liz, Sampson, and kite-surfers
There's also been some very high and low tides, which have exposed some of the many wrecks in Stanley harbour.
Stanley Cottage, home British Antarctica Survey
The sun has been out, but there's also been a lot of hazy cloud, which has hidden the stars at night.  But the long dryish spell has continued, with only a couple of short snow showers to remind us we are only 600 miles from the Antarctic peninsula.
Victory Green.  Cottages were formerly the Upland Goose Hotel
The street furniture is being repainted for the imminent arrival of cruise ships - a sure sign of Spring.  And lambs and foals are starting to appear.
I'm hoping Snow Ghost (above) and Mum will appear soon to keep our grass down....
Stanley Growers show of nationality. Harbour and Mt Low in distance.
With all plant growth, I've been down the local garden centre - Stanley Growers - looking for tools to restrict it in our garden, and also to buy seeds for salad vegetables, hoping they know they are in the southern hemisphere, and don't wait till next June before making an appearance!
Community School on hill, and side entrance to Government House.
Bulbs, like the daffodils above, must have been brought from the northern hemisphere, and somehow changed their flowering period in line with the austral seasons.  I know there are herds of reindeer on South Georgia (although not for much longer, as they are to be culled next year), which were brought south by whalers in the early twentieth century and which give birth, as usual, in March only to find their young dying in the freezing winter.  Within a few years, though, their breeding seasons adjusted to produce young in the south's Spring (September), and the animals have flourished to such an extent they now must be removed as they threaten the survival of native species.  More on this topic later, but isn't Nature's adaptability amazing?
Rudolf, the lone reindeer.  Stanley.
Funnily enough, I spotted this reindeer being used as a lawn mower last week.  I hadn't seen it before or since....
Heading down the Stanley Road.
Last week was interesting as I met up with a friend of a Nordic Walking friend from our old stomping ground of Teddington, south-west London.  Richard was a keen and fit walker and cyclist, and had climbed several of the hills surrounding Stanley, so I offered to take him to the lighthouse - about 7 miles from Stanley.
Cape Pembroke lighthouse, and memorial to those killed on the Atlantic Conveyor.
We had a very pleasant walk through the dunes, during a gap in the snow squalls.  Worried about the changeable weather, I had had the foresight to borrow (from the Museum) the key to the disused lighthouse in case we needed to take shelter.   What I hadn't realised was that it weighed about 5 kilos.
From the lighthouse.  Chile the next landfall, 12,715 miles to the east.
Cape Pembroke is the most easterly point of the Falklands, and looking east, the next bit of land is over 12,000 miles away in Chile!  The views were great in all directions, and the snow stayed away until we got back to the car!  That night we had a delicious meal in the Malvina House Hotel while the snow flurries blew past the windows...Thanks, Richard!  Good to meet you.
Rescued penguins, enjoying the view above Stanley.
Other visitors last week were a group of 9 Rockhopper penguins, being treated to remove oil.  They are currently staying in a pen across the road from me while they regain their waterproofness.
New car park at the Tax Office (yellow).  Same old parking.
Meanwhile, some of you might be interested to know that the new car park for the Tax Office has been completed, and is now open and ready for visitors....
Spring garden display, Stanley.  Not my garden!
Some people obviously put a lot of effort into gardening here, and since the Falklands has a bit of a reputation (OK, its justified) for being bleak, I thought it would be good to show what can be done with poor soils and fairly tough weather.   "There's sleet, rain, snow, and ice....and then winter arrives!"
New, rather out of keeping, frontage.
I had a bit of work done on the car last week, but felt the garage at the historic town centre had maybe forgotten its roots with its new snazzy showroom (above).  There's something about the traditional architecture (below)  that reassures one that the staff will take car of the cars....(or have I been watching too much Downton Abbey?).
Traditional garage.
Open-top taxi.   Popemobile?
Spotted the open-top taxi recently.  It's difficult to get rid of old vehicles here - where can they go?
Nordic Walking on the dunes. Great all-over workout.
We're heading off to an island for a few days, so there may be a delay till the next instalment.  But I promise to provide another update on our life on the Falklands soon.  EG Stanley Triathlon on Sunday...Eeek!



Saturday, 27 October 2012

A trio of Penguin; and Sunsets

Welcome to some observations on living in the Falkland Islands, and watching the penguins.....

Click arrow to play short video of Jackass penguin

Sorry about the fence, but it's there for a reason.  If it hadn't been there, there was a good chance the penguin would have dived down its burrow, so it seems to give it some security.  Certainly it was braying away happily....

The penguins are coming ashore in greater numbers, and setting up nests.
Magellans outside their burrow

The Magellanic penguins near Stanley are nesting in quite a public and accessible area, with a car park and path nearby. (Presumably, these sites have been used for centuries, long before Man appeared in the south Atlantic).   Whereas most of the other penguin species in the Falklands choose remote beaches and cliffs, often on uninhabited islands.
Gentoo wading ashore on the wrong beach
However, occasionally, the homing radar goes awry and some penguins pop up on "busy" beaches near Stanley.  But they usually quickly realise they are in the wrong place, and head back into the waves.  This gentoo penguin appeared as my small group of Nordic Walkers were passing.   ("Busy" is relative.  Except for the Midwinter dip,  (see  its-fixmas ) there are rarely more than 5 people on the beach at the same time.)
"Where's the others"?
And to complete the hat-trick of penguins, here are some photos taken about 200 yards from my house, where oiled Rockhopper penguins are being treated before being released back into the wild.  These guys were found on Saunders Island, and then flown on the government air service - FIGAS - where penguins, like cats, are charged at 90p per kilo....
Rescued Rockhoppers
Wishing he was on the beach...
Penguins aren't the only birds in Stanley, though....   Many people keep chickens for the eggs, and some are seen wandering the streets.
Anyone know why chickens cross roads?
And this thrush was taken in our front garden, after I had recently cut it with a lawn-mower with an old engine - me!
Falklands Thrush, and worm
We're hoping a friend will lend us their horse to deal with the bigger back garden......
Dandelion conservation area, chez nous.

As you can tell, Spring is bringing on plant and animal activity, although we had a small blizzard last night, and awoke to a dusting of snow.   The weather has been variable and the photo below was taken from the end of our road on 21st October - Trafalgar Day: the day when Nelson signalled:  "England expects every man to do his duty".   One admiral  replied:  'please stop signalling - we know what to do!'

Photo courtesy of Annie and meteorological conditions

And as well as the daffodils, the flags have been out to greet a new season of visitors.....

Last week, we joined the Ramblers group on their monthly walk.  Now that the days are longer and the weather better, we are venturing further afield.  The route was a large circle, just north of Mount Pleasant,  where the British garrison and international airport are located.
Colorado Pond and Wickham Heights
It's about 35 miles south-west of Stanley, and then, once through the security checks, another 10 miles inside the complex, with the road skirting the runway and climbing over Mt Pleasant towards the shooting ranges.

The views as we gained height just got better and better.  The highest peak in the Falklands, Mt Usborne, was about 5 miles away with snow nestling on its slopes.  To the north we could see the sea where it encroaches on the huge farms around Teal Inlet.  To the west, we could make out houses in Fitzroy, about 12 miles away.  This is where, during the 1982 war, the Welsh Guards were attacked while they were onboard troop carriers, Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad.  It is thought enemy spotters were concealed in these hills and could relay British troop movements to bring in air strikes.  But it's not till you see the view on a clear day that you understand how exposed the British forces were.
The Wineglass
The walk was UP Mounts Wickham and Mustard, but some of us found it quite slow-going and were quite happy to leave Mt Mustard to another day.  After a picnic lunch, we watched the keen yompers head off along the ridge to bag another peak, while we descended and crossed more rough ground to an eye-catching geological feature - The Wineglass.
Bringing some scale to the rock
From there, it was about another hour across ankle-twisting stone runs to the cars.  We'd walked about 14kms in 6 hours, over rough ground, so were happy to head home for a long soak in the bath.  The other half of the group were about an hour behind us, and all got back OK, if slightly envious of our shorter and more interesting route!

And yet another lovely sunset.....

Yesterday, I had a great walk to the easternmost point of the Falklands, with Richard,  the friend of a friend, who was visiting the islands.  Photos and details in the next blog.  As snow fell in the gardens last night, we had a delicious meal of local dishes, including chilli squid and roast toothfish.  Today (Saturday), he is heading to the UK, and will get there late on Monday.   Hope he enjoyed the trip!


Monday, 15 October 2012

Marmite Scones for tea; oiled penguins from the sea!

[Continuing an occasional diary of living and working in the Falkland Islands.....]

I don't get many invitations to free food and drink, but then this week 2 arrived for the same evening!  :-(

His Excellency the Governor," requests the pleasure of the company" of my wife and I at an evening reception at Government House!!

What an honour!  We duly donned the glad rags on Wednesday, and strolled up the driveway to the large detached house which doubles as an official residence and an outpost for Foreign Office diplomats.  Inside was a throng of lucky people who had secured the honour of  being selected to this exclusive gathering.  (Only later did we discover that these receptions were held every week, and it's a mystery (to me) as to how people get invited...)
Government House, with internet connection behind.  Sky subscribers?
We mingled with passing dignitaries and yachties, teachers, dentists, military bods, and Falklanders.  We tried the delicious nibbles offered by friendly waitresses - Marmite scones are the house speciality!  But all too soon the bar was closed, and the beautiful people were moving on.  Looking for something a bit more substantial than bite-sized Marmite scones, we recalled an oil company had invited everyone (and I mean, everyone) to a presentation at the Narrows Bar, and offered free food and drink to attendees!
Meadowlark admiring our collection of dandelions.....

Wishing to learn more about the socio-economic impact of the oil industry on a tiny, remote community, (and being quite peckish), we headed to the far end of town...  The Narrows Bar is actually quite wide and long, but it faces the Narrows, the entrance to the harbour.  Sadly, though, we weren't alone in wanting to know more about the socio-economic impact of the oil industry on a tiny, remote community, and we found only a few curled sandwiches and cold pizza segments were left from the massive buffet.  :-(
Visiting yacht - Icebird.
There have a been a lot of newcomers this week.  The yacht, Icebird, moored in Stanley prior to sailing through Antarctic waters.  It has some unusual features, including heated towel rails and airconditioning!  So, if you want to visit Antarctica in a small boat, but like your creature comforts, this could be for you!
Icebird information
View from the Waterfront cafe
Also new in Stanley is the Kitchen Cafe of the Waterfront Hotel.   Not only does it have the best views in town, but some of the best savoury and sweet dishes.  Old favourites are given a new twist, so "braised duck pie" for example.  Lots of sweet and sticky things too, as you might expect.  But also many healthy salads, juices, and soups.
A small selection of cakes at the Waterfront
As I'm in training for the Stanley Triathlon (don't laugh - I'm roping in others to do the swimming and running), I avoided the sweet creations.  However, I heard on the (British Forces) radio about another tough challenge - the Ironman....   Given my experience of ironing, maybe I should give it a go?

The Mechanical Engineering Section at Camp Bastion undertook an Iron Man Challenge at the weekend. This 24hr charity challenge was raising money for 2 charities, SSAFA and Combat Stress. It was though, an Iron Man Challenge with a difference, as a team of 6 topped up the water levels, plugged in their irons, and once up to temperature, set about ironing countless items of kit. Neil Skinner spoke with one of the ‘Ironeers’, Cpl Al Marriott and event co-organiser, Sgt Lee Hind.


Some very worthy charities there, if you wish to support them.....

Another new visitor to Stanley was a rescued, oily Rockhopper penguin, Captain Bleakey.  He was found on Bleaker Island and brought in to Falklands Conservation's de-oiling facility.

After about 10 days of been washed and hand-fed a diet of succulent squid, he is ready to fly south to re-join his friends.  (Penguins cost £1 on local flights).

For more information of the work that Falklands Conservation does have a look at their website or their Facebook page. ( I'm having a problem linking to them, but it should be easy to find.)

Capn Bleakey enjoying his daily squid...
An article in the the Guardian (for which, many thanks to my kind friends who presented me with a Kindle so that I can download a daily paper!) caught my eye last week.  Six penguins in London Zoo died of malaria!  Maybe they should be left in their natural habitat?


Yet another batch of  newly-arrived creatures were the Magellanic or Jackass penguins.  Back from their winter feeding, and now cleaning out their burrows in preparation for raising a new family.
Magellanic penguin in his burrow

This was the view from that burrow!  Not bad, eh?

Lady Liz, Hercules and kite-surfers
We've managed to climb a few more hills.  Mount Harriet is about 5 miles west of Stanley, and is a steep climb of about 1,000 feet.  We were grateful for the added help from our Nordic Walking poles.  On the 11th June, 1982, Marines from 45 Commando (after walking 7 miles in darkness, through minefields) struggled to gain 600 metres in 6 hours, against dug-in Argentine defenders.  2 British, and 18 Argentine, troops were killed that night.  300 were captured.

Ascending Mt Harriet from south
We could clearly see Stanley from the summit, but the British forces had to fight for 4 more days, over several more hills, before they could reach the town and its population.
Looking east from Mt Harriet.  Stanley in distance
The memorial cairn had an ammunition box with mementoes and commendations from comrades.  The views  stretched for over 30 miles.

Convoy of Rapier Missile launchers surround our car...
On returning to our car, we found the car park occupied by a convoy of heavy military vehicles, on exercise. The Argentine government has been complaining loudly about these exercises, but the locals here still have vivid memories of the last military intervention from Argentina, and are very happy to see British troops and equipment around the islands.


Sunday, 7 October 2012

"Don't eat the mushrooms!"

Living in the Falkland Islands for a couple of years.  This is just some random jottings of life here. Some fresh food can be scarce and hard to find.  Two large steaks are around £3, but a small tray of mushrooms costs over £5, so I have been gathering wild mushrooms in season, as I'd been assured by locals that there were no poisonous mushrooms on the islands......
Mushrooms - wild and free, and now with a health warning!
Well, that may have been true, but I have just heard on Falklands Radio that the Health Directorate announced that wild mushrooms should not be eaten as it's been found some are causing severe vomiting and kidney and liver failure.

Maybe some alien type of fungi had slipped though the bio-security cordon, and established itself here?  Oh well, another free food off the menu.  Back to trying to catch an Upland Goose....
Cycling to the end of the safe bit of road...Sapper Hill.
There's a Triathlon coming up in November, and it's been suggested I might do the cycling part of it (in the team event).  So, I've been getting my old touring bike out on the few miles of tarmac around Stanley, to see if I'm fit enough to enter.  The jury is out, as it will be a demanding, hilly, and probably windy, course.  I haven't cycled for a couple of years, so need to get the miles in.  From the airport to Sapper Hill is about 6 miles - and 4 miles are almost always into a strong headwind, and uphill !
But the weather is slowly improving.  So much that Air-Sea Rescue helicopters and the Falkland Islands Defence Force do a lot of training in the harbour.
Mt Tumbledown, with damaged cross.
We've also participated in a walk up Mt Tumbledown, from the west - the same direction  as the British troops attacked the Argentine positions on the slope, in the 1982 war.   It was a very tiring and tricky walk, and that was in daylight at a leisurely pace.  I can't imagine running up it in the dark with heavy equipment, and people shooting at me!   Many brave young men lost their lives there.  We stopped at the memorial to reflect on their sacrifices.  However, the wooden cross at the summit had been snapped in the wind.
A regular sight over Stanley
As mentioned previously, many marine animals and birds are now coming ashore to breed.  On a sandy beach near Stanley, we've seen pods of dolphins, seals and penguins (usually looking a bit bemused at the people walking their dogs).
Seals are more photogenic than dolphins....
There's also several bays and beaches where different species of penguins congregate, and we've been visiting them as often as possible to watch them come ashore and waddle up the slopes looking for a nesting site.
Falklands Thrush
Below is a photo of Gypsy Cove, about 3 miles from Stanley, which overlooks the broad outer harbour and where larger ships anchor and transfer fishing catches.
Spot the penguins....(centre)
Magellanic penguins have burrows in the slopes here, and are now cleaning them out and getting ready to mate.
.......newly-arrived.  Home to breed.

These penguins have a burrow with a fence round it!

Hercules low over Stanley.  Sapper Hill in distance.

Your guess is as good as mine.  Stanley garden harpoons and skull.
Meanwhile the keen gardeners are seeing their bulbs come up or their sculptures  divested of their protective winter tarpaulins....
Spring is here

Time for gnomes to earn their keep....

A group of Caribbean journalists have been in town this week.  We met them in a pub quiz in the Stanley Arms.   A bit cooler than they had expected, but the hospitality has been good.  They've published some articles on the South American news agency, MercoPress (see link above), which describes the relaxed attitude to home security, here.  

Hasta la vista, as I say in the Spanish classes