Saturday, 1 March 2014

Back "home", and on Weddell Island

[The story so far..... we are halfway through a 4-year stint in Stanley, Falkland Islands, South Atlantic.  My semi-indolent house-husband lifestyle took a turn for the worse in November when I had problems in both retinas and was evacuated to the UK for 2 months.  Many thanks to the RAF, the staff at the local hospital and the people at the Oxford Eye Clinic for saving my sight.  The consultant there happened to be visiting the Falklands in January and said my eyes looked good, with just some "gunk" (his term) in the right eye, which he would happily clean out next time I'm in the UK.....Mmmm, another eye operation?  Let me think about it.

January was a blur.  I was trying to get discharged, and then trying to get on a flight to Stanley.  Not an easy task at short notice. Now I'm back in sunny Stanley, and working 'hard' showing tourists from cruise ships around the town and the penguin colonies. February has seen about 20 large cruise ships visit Stanley.]  

Biscuits in the Horticultural Society show!
First of all, a VERY  BIG "THANK YOU" for all the messages and good wishes that have been coming my way since I had my eye problems.  I have been cheered up tremendously while recovering from the operations.

And a BIG "Sorry!"  for not posting on the blog for a couple of months.  Since returning to the Falklands at the end of January, I've had a few loose ends to finish off.  I also had problems with my neck (brought on, I believe by lying on my face a couple of weeks, and generally not exercising recently).  This has prevented me spending much time at my PC
All made from marzipan - a cake entry at the Horticultural Show.
But with some lovely physiotherapy, again from the local hospital, I am now feeling almost good as new and desperate to assuage the guilt of not keeping in touch with readers.
Local gingerbread house
 Last week, I helped set out entries to the very competitive Horticultural Show, where local gardeners compete to present the best produce.  Many of the flowers and vegetables are grown under glass or in polytunnels, so not very obvious when walking about town.
More flowers than you normally see in months.....
So, it was quite a surprise to see scores of boxes arrive with pristine potatoes and succulent tomatoes.  There was also a home produce section full of chutneys, pickles, home-made gorse wine, cakes, breads and muffins galore.  Home baking is popular here!
Fierce competition in the carrot category
 The other major excitement here has been the ending of the Governor's tour of duty.  Governor Nigel Haywood has been here for over 3 years, and is returning to the UK.
Governor Nigel Haywood handing back his sword at the end of his tour.
There was a parade by the Armed Forces, and, as he is the Queen's representative, a Royal Salute.  This should have been the firing of cannon 17 times, but there seemed to be a problem obtaining the required amount of ammunition.
Smoke from across the harbour. The Governor's "royal salute"
Undeterred, the military minds decided that 17 detonations would be an adequate send-off.  However, for public safety reasons, these were to take place across the harbour.   Eventually, after a long delay (long enough for an announcement to be made informing the crowd that it had been cancelled), the detonations suddenly broke the silence, and their smoke rose like signals.

The crowd cheered and ex-Governor Haywood departed to the airport.
Weekend on Weddell......................
Weddell Island settlement
The lodge on Weddell Island.
 Recently, we spent a weekend on Weddell Island, in the far south-west of the Falklands archipelago, about an 80-minute flight from Stanley.  Weddell is the third biggest island in the Falklands, after East and West Falklands.
Commerson Dolphins near the shore 
 The couple running the lodge and the 2 self-catering cottages are the only residents.  The island is about the size of Malta (population 400,000)!
Inquisitive Gentoo penguins
 Very conveniently, there is a large penguin colony a few minutes' walk from the settlement.  And dolphins are often seen in the small harbour.
Valentine's Day breakfast!
 But Land Rover tours are also on offer, which means we could explore more of the island and see some of the unique wildlife.  As well as the usual sea lions, dolphins and penguins, there are about 600 sheep, a few wild horses and a reindeer.
Horse and penguins keeping their distance.
 There is also a large population of Patagonian foxes, which were introduced by previous owners.  These take over penguin burrows and apparently live off insects and berries, as well as the occasional penguin chick in the breeding season.
A large population of Patagonian Foxes now live on Weddell
 We were driven around for about 9 hours, and were shocked to discover, when we checked a map later, that we had only seen one small peninsula on this huge island.
Many foxes survive by eating Diddle-Dee berries.
The host couple had previously worked for the RAF in the base at Mount Pleasant on East Falklands, and had obviously fallen in love with the islands.  Their hospitality and food was amongst the best I've experienced here, despite the fresh vegetables not arriving on our plane!
Mrs Sealion
 Our comfortable cottage had a sea view, whilst Mountain View cottage was occupied by a young family.  They had expected to fly back to Stanley on the Sunday, but low cloud prevented the plane landing and despite us hearing the plane flying in circles above our heads, it eventually gave up, and so they were marooned for another night.
Fox on the beach.  Penguin chicks beware.
The next day, the fog persisted, and it looked like we would be stuck on the island with them.   There are worse places to be stuck.

But the skilful pilot found a gap in the clouds and came down to almost sea level for his approach.  Within minutes were flying through the thick fog, until we burst into the sunlight at about 5,000 feet.
Stanley, with jiggers in the harbour, and the new static caravan park in the foreground.  Our house is  near the red roof!

So, once again, thank you for your kind thoughts;  and thanks to the medical skills in Stanley and Oxford.  And not forgetting my brother and his wife, who put up with me for two months.  It couldn't have been easy. And, of course, my wife, who had to cope without me.  :-)  I'm a lucky man.


PS - The Harvest Festival and Shrove Tuesday are this week!