Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bambi burgers! Plus the most southerly Marathon.......

[This is an occasional insight into the life of an expat in the Falkland Islands, 400 miles off the coast of Argentina.....]

After all the excitement of the Referendum into the Falklands political Status, and the new Pope, it was back to basics - eating, driving, quizzing, running (not me, but some fit people with good knees).......More below.

Although meat is readily-available and reasonably-priced, beef and lamb tends to dominate, so it was with some relief that we heard that venison was to appear in, low-cholesterol....
Penguins and reindeer!  Where in the world?
I took the above photo a couple of years ago on South Georgia, one of the few (if not the only) places in the world where you could see penguins and reindeer together.   I say, "could", as most of the reindeer have just been culled in an effort to restore the original habitat of the island and allow native birds to thrive.  The reindeer eat the grass that birds use as nests.

Sami herdsmen from Scandinavia and marksmen from Norway, have been part of a team to eradicate the  descendants of the dozen which were introduced by Norwegian whalers about 100 years ago, in order to provide fresh meat.
Safely in Stanley.  A pet reindeer.
Despite having their seasons reversed, (think how difficult it is for an animal to be born in Autumn!), the reindeer thrived and around 3,000 were living on the sub-Antarctic island, 700 miles east of the Falklands.  To help offset the cost of the operation, many of the carcasses were expertly butchered, frozen and shipped back to Stanley for sale.  I joined a queue last Saturday morning outside the house of a representative of the South Georgia Government.  As I moved inside, some delicious venison stew was offered by the ladies taking the orders..... "A leg, some shoulder, and some steak, please!".    Can't wait for it to defrost!

For more information on what's happening on South Georgia, try the following site.

 Although deer might elicit some sympathetic reaction, the next target species is rats.  They eat the eggs of ground-nesting birds, so are a high priority.  There's no word about whether we'll be able to supplement our diet with any more novelty meats.....
Running up Rowlands Rise, heading out of town.
Sunday saw the annual running of the Stanley Marathon, sponsored by a local bank (no names, no ATMs).  It is the most southerly marathon in the world, and, for a change, the weather was kind to the runners: light winds, and about 16C.
Head to head, with 10 miles to go.  The man on the right sold the venison!
I don't think there's 26 miles of tarmac in the Falklands, so some of the Stanley roads had to be covered more than once.  Also, several teams of runners participated in relays along the course.  This had the effect of a small convoy of cars leapfrogging the runners to wait at the next relay change-over point.
Heading out to the airport for the first time.
So, despite the sparse crowd, every so often, the runners would pass large groups of enthusiastic supporters cheering their man (or woman) on.
Some lovely new tarmac at the edge of town.  The eventual winner pulling away.
 As the race progressed, runners became isolated from their nearest rivals as different fitness levels became apparent.  The hilly course tested everyone, even the military guys from the garrison at Mount Pleasant.
Governor Nigel Haywood, passing Studio 52 gift shop at 24 miles.
 After 3 hours, the leading runners returned to the seafront in Stanley.  I think the RAF pilot who flies the VC-10 tanker (remember them?) won in a fast time.  But, I think most people would agree, it's the taking part that is important!
The Governor, on his birthday, nearing the finish...
For full details of the results please see the online or paper version of Penguin News.  However, if anyone is interested in a particular result, please let me know.

This competitor, left, took 9 hours.....
One of the competitors felt the hilly 26-mile course wasn't enough of a challenge, so decided to walk the course wearing a suit of body armour, weighing 45kgs, used by bomb disposal experts.   Running wasn't a sensible option, so this meant setting off at 4am, so that he could finish along with the rest of the field.
Air Force runner, with Royal Navy spectators.
Still smiling after 26 miles! (And the Governor walking home  in background!).
I tried smoked toothfish (a local delicacy)  the other day.  Similar to kippers - delicious!  It may be marketed as Chilean Sea Bass, but if you find it, do try it!  It's caught in well-managed fisheries in the South Atlantic.
A small team of friends and I won the (very competitive)  Archery Club Quiz at the weekend.  This was held to raise funds to send archers to the Island Games, to be held in Jersey in 2014.  Small island communities around the world compete against each other away from the "big" events like the Olympics.  The Isle of Wight and Anglesey also compete, as well as some more far-flung locations, such as the Faroes and Bermuda (where a team of Falkland golfers will be going this year!).

Before Christmas, I noticed my car tyres were badly worn.  They had been new when the car arrived last March, but, in less than 5,000 miles of driving here, have had to be replaced.

However, I could find no new tyres (of the right size) in the islands, so had to order them from the UK.  They arrived last week.  I never thought I would miss Kwikfit tyre fitters, but I was dreading getting a puncture on the rough roads here.  Next week, with new tyres,  I'm venturing out of Stanley for the first time for a while.  Elephant Beach beckons!


Friday, 15 March 2013

Referendum Postscript

Dear Reader,

I'm sorry I left you in suspense over the outcome of the Referendum to decide the Political Status of the Falkland Islands (see last week's "Referendum Special").  In case you didn't hear.........
Hard-working counters being Observed by Observer

Fear not!  As many of you may now be aware, it was as I accurately predicted!  A huge turn-out of the electorate: 92%, and a massive majority of 99.8% voting "Yes" to remain a British Overseas Territory.  Three brave people voted against the proposal, one person spoiled their paper, and about 100 people didn't exercise their right to vote.
The secret ballot meant there was no way of knowing how people voted!
The result was declared by the head of the Falklands Islands Government,  a sensible Yorkshireman, who decided, after hearing that a voting paper was missing at the end of the counting process, not to ask for a recount!  His historic announcement was met with cries of joy in the Town Hall and scenes of jubilation on the Whalebone Arch green, beside the Cathedral.
Dick Sawle, MLA, being interviewed by the world's media.
 The many news crews sprang into action, interviewing the politicians and voters in the Town Hall.  Several cameramen moved on to record the scenes of celebration on the Whalebone Arch Green in the Town Centre about 500 yards away.
The pile grows.....
 Shortly after the announcement, the team of Observers reported from the stage that they were satisfied everything had been done fairly and lawfully.  In fact, apart from that one missing vote, everything went like clockwork.  Great credit is due to the team of civil servants (one of whom I'm married to) who organised this in the glare of the world's media.  As one of the MLAs (Member of the Legislative Assembly) said, we usually only see the Penguin News reporter on election nights!
"One of our votes is missing....!"
 There was some surprise expressed about the 3 "No" voters, and some people wanted a 100% "Yes" vote. But as another MLA, Jan Cheek, shrewdly observed, only dictatorships get 100% votes
Whalebone Arch sees some revelry
 Personally, I'm puzzled by the 100 missing voters.  I know some people had to be evacuated to Chile for unforeseen medical emergencies, and couldn't vote.    But, given the constant awareness of the sacrifices that servicemen made 30 years ago to rescue people here from a military dictatorship, I would have thought exercising a hard-won democratic right was a good way of repaying those men...
The Observer  team (or the crew of  the starship Enterprise about to be beamed back onboard.  The Earthlings are friendly...)

And I was right about another "prediction" ("Is the Pope a Catholic?") last week. He is, indeed, and an Argentine to boot!

By the middle of the week, the journalists and cameramen were about to pack their cameras and notebooks and do some sightseeing while they waited for their flights at the end of the week.

But suddenly, they were told by their offices to find out what Islanders felt about the new Pontiff.  Never has the local Catholic priest been in so much demand.  The media scrum outside St Mary's Church spilled out onto the road.

Hopefully, normality will resume next week.  But will the Falklands be the same again?

Rambling along the Fitzroy River and Bridge

[This is a snapshot of life on the Falklands Islands, as experienced by someone who arrived in January 2012......While the world's media descend on the place, some of us like to get out into the countryside...]

Referendum Day had arrived, but The Ramblers had a monthly walk to undertake.  With luck, we should get back to Stanley in time to vote (if one was on the Electoral Roll), or to see the planned  rally of several hundred cars through the capital, Stanley.
Welsh Guards' memorial, Fitzroy

 Our walk was a 10-mile circular route around the Fitzroy River, to the Fitzroy Bridge, and past the Fitzroy Settlement. All named after Capt. Robert Fitzroy, who chose Charles Darwin to accompany him on a 5-year surveying voyage, on his ship, The Beagle, which, before reaching the Galapagos Islands, spent some time in the Falkland Islands..   What a good choice of companion that turned out to be!  How different might the world have been if Fitzroy had chosen someone else?  .  Fitzroy was a remarkable man, who went on to develop a system for weather forecasting!
Stanley Growers, Airport road, Stanley.
Our start point was about 25 miles down the main (pot-holed) road from Stanley to Mount Pleasant Airport (MPA).        It was a grey day, but, at least the recent heavy rain had desisted for a while.  However, the streams running down from the hills were swollen, and had no bridges, so local knowledge, in the shape of a couple of people who knew the area like the back of their hands, was invaluable.
Low tide on Fitzroy River
After jumping a few streams without mishap, we came to the wide tidal estuary of the Fitzroy River, where we could walk on the exposed shore.  It was sometimes stony underfoot, sometimes sandy, as the sandstone cliffs crumbled over millennia, under the battering of water and wind.
Exposed sandstone cliff
The sea appeared to reach to the base of the cliffs, so I'm not sure how pleasant a walk it would have been at high tide! However, after about 4 miles walking we came to the narrowest part of the estuary, which was crossed by the Fitzroy Bridge.
Fitzroy Bridge looking north-east.

The bridge was built in the 1930's to avoid a long detour around the estuary between the settlements of Bluff Cove and Fitzroy. It could take sheep and vehicles, and had concrete supports with a wooden platform.  I found out here >   
<  that some of the wood came form the SS Great Britain, which lay rotting in Stanley Harbour for many years, before being saved and restored to its new home in Bristol.

Doesn't quite reach the far side.
However, it seems the bridge itself is now in need of repair, as storms have destroyed one end of it.  It is now home to resting cormorants, and hasn't really been in use since the new road to Mount Pleasant was built about 25 years ago.
Parts of the SS Great Britain were used to build the bridge
However, during the Falklands War in 1982, this bridge played a pivotal role in the single biggest loss of British life.   On the night of the 7th June, the Welsh Guards were moved by ship from the beachead area of San Carlos to their new position at Bluff Cove, but, as that was overlooked by Argentine positions, the ships stopped at Fitzroy as dawn broke on the 8th.

(For details of the event, try here > )

The concrete supports provide a sheltered lunch spot
Several factors then combined to create a tragic loss of life.  Those in charge of the landings ordered the men ashore to walk the 5 miles to Bluff Cove, via the bridge, as the ships were so vulnerable to daylight attack.  The Guards' officers refused as there were rumours that the Fitzroy bridge had been blown up (or at least mined by the Argentine forces), so an extended walk might be too much for their men, and, in any case, they had been told they would be taken to Bluff Cove.

Meanwhile, the Rapier anti-aircraft missile system had been shipped ashore, but not completely set-up.   As predicted, Argentine aircraft soon appeared and bombed the ships, crammed with fully-kitted soldiers.  56 were killed, and 150 wounded, many of them, like Simon Weston, badly disfigured by the ensuing fire.
3 Argentine aircraft were shot down, with 3 killed.
Pink granite fence posts, from Aberdeen?
Using the bridge as shelter from the breeze, we enjoyed hot drinks and sandwiches.  Once replenished, we turned south, up and over the Fitzroy ridge, passing very unusual granite posts, almost like neolithic standing stones found in Europe, except these were of imported stone, and had been trimmed by tools.
Beach, with Fitzroy Ridge ahead.

The uphill stretch opened up views along the hills which ran towards Stanley, 25 miles away to the east.  Soon, we were on the crest of the ridge, and could see beyond the hangars of Mount Pleasant Airport, 10 miles to the west.
North to Wickam Heights, across Fitzroy River. Bridge at narrowest point
We could also see the sheep-farming settlement of Fitzroy to the south-east, nestling between sea inlets.  The sheep which grazed the land we were walking over ran off at our approach.  But some of them were not so mobile.  We passed several dead sheep, presumably killed by the cold.  Along with the weather forecast, the local radio station broadcasts daily warnings for farmers about the sunburn or windchill risk to sheep.
Shear the sheep too early, and they risk being burned in the fierce sun.  Shear too late in the summer, and there's a risk to newly-shorn sheep that the temperature drops below what they can cope with.

Striding over grass and diddle dee.  Fitzroy settlement in distance
As there is little or no shelter, many sheep succumb to the weather.  The vultures clean up the carcasses and prevent diseases.  One of our group was a taxidermist, who is always on the lookout for fine specimens of Falklands' fauna.   One skull we saw had a full set of teeth, and was just what was needed for a display in the Museum!
Someone is  happy to find smiling sheep.....
Eventually, we returned to the cars, just as hail was starting to sting our faces - a reminder that summer is well and truly over.

On arriving back in Stanley, we were in time to witness the huge parade of Islanders demonstrating their desire to remain British.  See recent posts for details and pictures.

An eventful and enjoyable day, allowing us to see parts of the Falklands not many people have seen.  Thanks to Mike and Greta for organising.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Referendum Special!

[This is another occasional observation on life in the Falkland Islands, which are currently enjoying "Referendum Fever".  Today, Islanders must decide whether they want to remain British.  It's a question in the same category as,  "Is the Pope a Catholic?".....]

For those readers who are unaware, the Falkland Islands are conducting a Referendum on whether to remain a British Overseas Territory, or not.  Currently, the Islands are self-governing, with Defence and Foreign policy being run by the UK.  There can only be a "Yes" or "No" response.   There is no option for independence or other possible outcomes.
"X" marks the spot for the ballot
 At the time of writing, the polling stations are still open and the count hasn't started, but it will be a major shock if the result isn't a huge majority (around 90% +) for the status quo.
Horses are very important to Falkland's culture
Apart from the result, what will be interesting will be the turnout.  From a population of about 2,800, only about 1,600 people are entitled to vote.  I haven't seen this commented on, despite the scores of media personnel wandering the streets looking for a story.

The last couple of days have seen a splurge of patriotic fervour, culminating in a massive rally of about 500 flag-bedecked cars parading through the capital, Stanley, yesterday.
Horses lead the rally, snaking away to the distance.
Not just cars - quad bikes, cycles, prams, babies and horses, were all proudly displaying red, white and blue colours!  The assembled camera crews had a field day.
 The colourful procession slowly wound its way along the harbourside road, stretching back about 2 miles.  It reminded me briefly of the many hours spent sitting on the M25,  London's orbital motorway, waiting for some blockage to be cleared.   However,  I don't recall experiencing the collective good humour and community spirit that was obviously in evidence yesterday!
Penguins just want to live peacefully...
The purpose of the Referendum is to demonstrate clearly how Falklanders feel about their current political status.  For years, Argentina has claimed the country, and still refuse to acknowledge the population, saying it has been implanted by the colonial UK.
Add caption
Interestingly, most of the Argentine politicians who shout loudest about the Falklands have names like Timmerman and Kirchner, etc, and are obviously descended from European settlers in a former-Spanish colony.
Cornered by the camera crews......
Unlike every other European colonial settlement, whether in the Americas, Australia or wherever, the Falkland Islands are unique in having had no indigenous population for incomers to displace.
Impractical buggy.
Last week, I attended an interesting talk given by Emeritus Professor Peter Willets, a Global Politics expert.  He put forward the view that the Falklands needs to change its political status in the medium- to long-term.  The status quo will not be viable in the long-term, he believes.
Local resident without a vote.

Interestingly, he mentioned Guyana - a former French colony in South America - which is now an integrated department of France, with the French President as its Head of State. It even sends two deputies to the National Assembly in Paris, like other departments. Apart from defence and foreign affars, it is self-governing.  Could this be a model for the future Falklands?   Who knows?  Other possible scenarios include "Free Association", such as two small island countries in the Pacific, which have formed relationships with large neighbour, New Zealand, who runs their defence.
Seal in town centre
Professor Willets was emphasising how sovereignity and political independence can be complex issues, and that nowhere is really in sole control of its affairs.  Look how the EU affects UK laws.

And if large numbers of British troops are required to be based in Falklands for the forseeable future, then it could follow the precedent of Cyprus and have a Sovereign Base, which is under UK control.
Big flags need a big pole....
By the way, if the majority of votes cast are for the "No" option, (currently you can get odds at 50/1 at bookies for that option; the same as Nick Clegg being the next British Prime Minister), then the government will have to instigate a series of consultations to find out what the populace would like, if not to stay an Overseas Territory.

The favoured options would then be put to the voters in another Referendum.  I can't see it happening myself.

The result should be announced tonight (the 11th of March) at 9pm, Stanley time. (Midnight in the UK).  There is a open-air party planned in the town centre.

Whatever the fickle Falklands weather does, I can't see anyone raining on their parade!


(PS.  I don't have a vote.  It takes at least 7 years to attain the required status, and there are many hoops to jump through).

Monday, 4 March 2013

Harvest Festival!

[As the summer comes to a close, the weather in Stanley improves dramatically.  Just in time for the many visitors to take away good memories of the Falkland Islands.  I'm living and working here, and this blog is just some of my observations on the place.]

Last week, Stanley had several thousand cruise ship passengers visit the small town (population about 2,500; roughly the same as one of the larger ships.)
A pair of Turkey Vultures, waiting for the wind....

This week, we have about 60 representatives of the world's media in town to report on the imminent Referendum, being held next week.  It's getting difficult to go shopping without being filmed or interviewed!
Star Princess (and facilities on right)
The above photo shows the approach to Gypsy Cove, about 4 miles from Stanley, where many visitors take a minibus to see the penguins.   The "facilities" there are a toilet block and a bus that's been converted to a cafe.  On busy days about 700 visitors stroll round the cliff-top path and enjoy the scenery, and views of penguins.  The recent weather has been the best for months: showing off the location at its best.  It's a shame some tourists earlier in the year only saw it while trying to escape the driving rain.
Veendam and Seabourn Sojourn at anchor.
With others, I work as a Warden when ships are visiting to help ensure the wildlife is not overly disturbed and that visitors get information on the area.  People are keen to know more about the birds and dolphins, as well as the people and history of the islands.
A number of visitors are puzzled as to why the Islanders would have laid out so many minefields, which prevent access to beautiful beaches....
Falklands Thrush
There's a lot more to the place than penguins, but seeing them in the wild for the first time seems to be the main attraction for most people.
Gypsy Cove
Unfortunately, the breeding season is coming to an end, and only about 50 chicks are on the beaches at Gypsy Cove, waiting for their plumage to fully emerge before they can swim off to South America for the austral winter.
Port William, outer harbour
We also had a couple of Danish runners run by, early on Saturday morning.  They were doing one of those "777" challenges - 7 marathons, on 7 continents, in 7 days.    (If you say the Falklands is in Antarctica!).   After Stanley, they head for the airport and the weekly flight to Santiago, Chile.  After a marathon in the wee small hours there, it's on to San Francisco, Sydney, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, and finishing in Copenhagen!  Phew!
Danish runner, heading for Copenhagen, the long way.
There's also been a few luxury charter yachts in the harbour.  This one below, Hanse Explorer, has 7 cabins, and I think was chartered for a family trip to Antartica.

For more details of the boat, try here >>

Hanse Explorer

A slightly bigger yacht, Sherakhan, had, I understand, a party of about 50 on board.


There was certainly a party going on, on Saturday night, as the loud music drifted across the still harbour as Stanley enjoyed another calm day.  "Calm" as in lack of wind.  Nearby, the Globe Tavern was competing in the loud music stakes.  Stanley seems to be the "in" place to be!

Still, it didn't seem to disturb the wildlife.  A few yards away from the thumping disco music, a young seal was dozing.
Meanwhile, the locals were preparing for the prestigious Horticultural Society Annual Show.  Although the summer weather had been poor, many gardeners had nurtured their best specimens for the show.
And even if you didn't have green fingers, you could always bake something or create  some jam or pickle.  Or even a flower display (assuming you could grow flowers.)
Cakes galore
My tomatoes are still green, and my potatoes are missing, believed trampled by horses.  So I didn't enter any produce.  Although I did have second thoughts, when I saw the standard of entries in the pizza section.  "I could do better than some of those", I thought, until I noticed it was for the Infant School children!
Creative cake-makers
Prizewinning Swedes, or, as I call them, Turnips.
Some of the produce was being auctioned off, and should fetch high prices.  The remainder was transferred next door for a display at the Harvest Festival!  Doesn't time fly ??

Not sure how this got here....wrong turning in the Dartford Tunnel?

Next Week -  will the Referendum outcome be as predicted?
Will some stunt be pulled in front of the world's Press?
Will people vote?

We'll see,
A couple of weeks ago, I listed some job vacancies here.  Added to those, there are now vacancies for a Director of Health, a Head Teacher for the sceondary school, and a Rodent Control Operative!   What's going on?  Rats?  Sinking ship?   :-)