Friday, 12 July 2013

"East is east, but West is best......."

[Welcome to my diary of a life in the Falklands.  My wife and I are working here for at least a couple of years.  While here, we are exploring the remote islands and neighbouring South America in our spare time.]

"East is east, but West is best.......", is a phrase we'd heard often here in Stanley (East Falklands), and  we had wanted to visit West Falklands for some time.
A rare road sign
So, last Friday, we set off down the bumpy road out of Stanley, heading for the ferry "port" at the western side of East Falklands.
Rainbow and beef cattle on the savannah.....
As it happened, the road had dried out, but was still badly potholed.  But we allowed 2 hours to cover the 70 miles to Newhaven, and had time to enjoy the rainbows and penguins (who have a residence beside the "port").  I say "port", as it is just a slipway at the end of the road.
Gentoo penguin indifferent to a Snowy Sheathbill.
Cars lashed to the deck.
 The ferry was waiting for us and once we'd reversed onto the deck, we cast off and headed into the sunset!
Go West, young man!
 Shaped like a large landing craft, the Concordia Bay headed the 20 miles across Falklands Sound to West Falklands.  Having a square bow can mean some uncomfortable journeys, but we were lucky on both legs with only a slight swell and moderate breeze.  There's a passenger lounge onboard with an urn and some tea and coffee, but we'd been told that whales and dolphins are often sighted during the crossing.  Unfortunately, we  had to make do with penguins and cormorants, until it got too dark to see anything but the stars.
"Slow! Free range children!"
 We arrived in the dark, and were guided along a dark track with a 6 foot drop into the sea on one side to our self-catering accommodation for the weekend.  Quickly, we settled in and soon a delicious meal of Spaghetti Bolognaise (and bottle of Malbec) was on the table.  Outside, the Milky Way was the main illumination and the twinkling stars promised frost in the morning.....
Store.  Open 4-5pm, Mon., Wed., Friday. (Our place on right).
 Sure enough, there were icy puddles the next day, but it was sunny and still, so we set off to explore our surroundings......
 The settlement of Port Howard reminded me of a remote Scottish village: it had a pier and one road out, and about 12 houses scattered around the head of a sheltered sea loch.  I'm told there is a golf course here, somewhere, but no school or church.
The shearing shed.
 Rolling hills surrounded the loch, and there was hardly a ripple on the water.  Quite a change from the more exposed Stanley.  We could also see the buildings and paraphernalia of the wool industry.  The shearing shed was being cleared of accumulated sheep droppings, which were then being deposited onto the local gardens!
Port Howard.  Looking north from the jetty
We also took a drive out of town, on the only road.  It's hard to convey the feeling of space and emptiness.  In about 30 miles, we saw a few native birds (eg Red-backed hawks and Crested Caracaras), and the familiar sheep and beef cattle, but no people, and only one building!
A rare Crested Caracara, in a rare tree...
The border of two huge farms.
The road was good, although dirt.  I don't think it gets the heavy traffic that roads on the East receive.  It is also drier on the West and so the roads don't often turn into potholed quagmires after some rain.
A good road across the interior of the West.
West Falklands saw very little action in the Falklands War in 1982, although there were Argentine troops stationed there.  However, a number of fighter planes were shot down over it.  This large piece of wreckage (below) from an Argentine jet juts out from the endless rolling grassland, and we were to find other parts of it in the small museum in Port Howard.  I understand the pilot ejected safely, although I have heard differing accounts as to whether he was shot down by a RAF Harrier or by a Surface-to-Air (SAM) missile fired by Argentine troops on the ground!.
(Argentine) Casualty of War 
 More details of C404 can be found if you click on this link >>>

Port Howard, looking west.
Back in the settlement, we found the airport - a grass strip on a relatively flat piece of ground.  Flights take about 40 minutes to Stanley, compared to the 4 hours by ferry and road.  But the place was still quiet this weekend  Many of the residents were visiting Stanley for a week ("Farmers' Week") of meetings and updates from the Government and Development Corporation.
Port Howard Airport terminal
 A lot of money is spent on roads, ports, airports and schools despite the relatively low population (less than 500 people) on the West. (About 2,500 people live on the East Falkland).  Freight charges and passenger fares can make a big differences to businesses in remote areas which rely on ferries and flights to bring in tourists and take away produce.
Busy front garden
Farmer's Week also entails a round of social events, including dinners, dances and get-togethers.  It's not often so many people can get to meet up with friends, family and colleagues, in such a short time.
Well-manured and tidy back garden.
And it meant that we could explore nooks and crannies of Port Howard without disturbing too many residents.....
Disused kennels for the many sheepdogs
The local War Museum had a good collection of war memorabilia, including some lethal-looking weapons and mines.  But it also had a few large parts of crashed planes - some too big to fit inside the building!
British-made ejector seats, proving their durability
 Dotted around the walls were notes explaining the amazing circumstances of how these bits and pieces arrived there.  One very poignant article was about Capt Hamilton, MC, who was killed while leading an SAS observation patrol.  A few weeks earlier, Capt Hamilton had been part of the successful SAS raid to destroy Argentine aircraft on Pebble Island  (see here for more details >> ), but, later, had been observing Argentine troops from the hills overlooking Port Howard.
Reminders of the war.
However, the 4-man patrol was detected and attacked.  Capt Hamilton was wounded in the back and told the rest of the patrol to escape while he held off the enemy.   This he did until he succumbed to his wounds.  The Argentine officers later said that he deserved the Victoria Cross for his extreme efforts.

But, as no British officers had witnessed his bravery, he could "only" receive a posthumous Military Cross!
Concordia Bay arriving at Port Howard.
All too soon, we watched the ferry appear through the gap in the hills and enter the loch.  This time, many cars came ashore, taking their owners back to their homes in the West, after a week in Stanley.
Leaving the West
However, we were the only passengers heading East.  About mid-channel, the ship's radio began to pick up BBC radio 5, and we could listen to that historic Andy Murray tennis match at Wimbledon over the tannoy!   (We couldn't get Internet access or a radio signal at Port Howard).  

It seemed a shame to not be able to watch the historic match live on TV, but we realised that, as the Falklands' BBC TV transmission is delayed by 4 hours, we could still see that match "as live" at our B&B in Darwin.
Major junction
So, pausing only for a brief look at the penguin colony beside the ferry port, we headed back up the main road to Darwin, where the comfortable and hospitable Darwin House was serving afternoon tea.  No strawberries were available, but home-made cakes went down a treat while watched the end of a remarkable tennis tournament.
Sunrise over the Wickham Heights, from Darwin
Next morning, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast while the sunrise entertained us with aurora-like changes of colour.  As we were in no rush that day, we decided to walk around the settlement of Darwin.
Darwin settlement
  This was where the first major land  battle had raged during the Falklands War.  A few hundred yards from our B&B, men of the Parachute Regiment had engaged with over 1,000 dug-in Argentine troops for over 18 hours.

The spot where "H" Jones, VC,  was killed.
However, amongst the many casualties was the Para's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel. "H" Jones, VC.  Frustrated at being pinned down for hours, he had decided to lead from the front and take on the entrenched enemy positions.   The battle continued, until the eventual Argentine surrender at neighbouring Goose Green.
2 Para memorial, overlooking Goose Green
As well as the memorial marking where he was killed, there is also another hill-top memorial to the other British casualties of that battle.   About a mile away,  is the Argentine cemetery for their fallen.
Upland Goose
Another reason why the islands seemed quiet recently is that many Islanders are competing in the Island Games in Bermuda!   Participating in events such as swimming, badminton, shooting, football and athletics, representatives of island communities around the world are competing there for the next couple of weeks.

Have a look at the site below if you want more details, or would like to know the result between the Falklands and Greenland at football!

Also taking part are Sark, the Isle of Wight, Menorca, Orkney, Faroe, Aland, and many other places which don't normally feature at the Olympics!

Sounds like fun.   I may have to practise my bowling and try and compete in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, next year!