PORT STANLEY, FALKLAND ISLANDS
The thing most immediately noticeable about the human atmosphere in Port Stanley, the southernmost capital city in the world, is that it feels like England. After nearly a month in Spanish speaking countries, even the WELCOME sign as you step onto the passenger jetty serves as a preview of things to come.
And as you approach Port Stanley from the sea, the tapestry of rooftop colors (the roofs are all manufactured of thick tin sheet, like you find in Florida and other hurricane zones ) tickles your anticipation.
We had been to Port Stanley last year and were utterly charmed by its stark beauty and yet how the people here have created and maintained a life that mirrors rural England. After all, there are only 3,000 inhabitants in all of the Falklands (not including British military personnel, and the sheep) and about 2,600 of them live in Port Stanley. And yet as you walk through the town you’d think you’re in an English country village, with primly painted houses, English gardens in full bloom, victory gardens in so many back yards where people grow their own vegetables (heavy on the cabbage and broccoli, depending on the season), where you drive on the “wrong” side of the road, and so forth – a kind of last bastion of civilized living in a stormy sea……
Government House and the Governor’s official residence is here,
but the homes and gardens of ordinary folks typically look like these:.
So very English…..
Still, Falkland Islanders seem to be rugged individualists. Guess you have to be if you’re going to live here. One chap even has his pet reindeer roaming in his front yard.
One of those rugged individualists we first bumped into outside a pub up the block from the pier. He was wearing an Aussie outback hat and had a long, scraggly, grey beard and was dressed in a tweed jacket. (More about him below.) He was standing outside the pub as we were looking at it, and when I asked him about the food, he said, “The best fish and chips in the Falklands.”
It was a little early for lunch, so we didn’t go in at that time, although we did notice two things: You have to walk up to the men’s bathroom before you go into the pub
(here Nina is standing at the entrance to the pub itself, on the right)
and there’s a great sign outside the pub on the street:
Later we actually did circle back to the Victory Bar for Fish and Chips – some of the best we’ve ever had. That, and a couple bottles of Bishop’s Finger Ale,(guess which finger??) kept us in good shape until dinner.
Because Because when we passed the Victory Bar it was too early for lunch, we kept walking along the residential streets of Port Stanley. In the residential section people operate businesses out of their homes or at least there doesn’t seem to be any zoning regulations separating “Residential” from what one might call “Cottage Industry Commercial”. As we were strolling the streets we came across a house in need of a paint job with the sign “Falkland Collectibles”. We peeked into the window, and it seemed closed, when from behind us a voice called out, “We’re open, if you’d like to come in and have a look.” The proprietor was just about to open the shop when we recognized him as the gent at the Victory Bar who had recommended the place. Phil Middleton turned out to be a fascinating person indeed.
He runs a stamp and coin shop specializing in………the Falkland Islands (along with South Georgia Island). But he had just returned from guiding a morning tour bus around the island for a group of tourists. He told us that nobody in the Falklands relies on just one thing for their income. (A woman we met working in a local yarn shop told us her other job was as an RN at the local hospital.) Phil came to the Falklands from England in the mid 1970’s and is married to an American woman from Vermont (and Miami??!!) (another individualist), and today there is nowhere else he would rather be than in the Falklands. Phil used to be a teacher, now is a guide for tourists when they are on shore, but he operates a commercial stamp and coin shop and hopes to take over the Government’s Philatelic Bureau and run it like a business instead of a government office. He says the Falklands does not market itself well to the rest of the world, and one of the problems is that it’s both remote and thus hard to get to from most places.
We talked about politics, since Christina Kirschner, the Argentine Prime Minister, is starting to sabre-rattle again about Argentine claims of sovereignty over Las Malvinas (their name for the Falklands), and he said people on the Falklands are more worried about whether their broccoli and cabbage would come in, in their home victory gardens than about being attacked by the Argentinians. He said this kind of sabre-rattling has been going on since the mid 1950’s and has continued even since the Brits beat the pants off the Argentinians in the 74-day Falkland Islands War in 1982. He mentioned that this kind of talk from the Argentinians is regarded as just so much hot air and that now there is a larger British military presence on the Falklands and weaponry that the Argentinians are well aware of that could do them serious damage if “push” came to “shove”, but they persist in their noise in order to deflect attention from economic matters at home. Phil mentioned that they frequently get visitors to the Islands from Argentina, and among those there are some who claim that if the Argentinians were to capture the Falklands, they would then be able to import into Argentina the same kind of British efficiency that makes the Falklands run so well. Phil says this to us with a straight face and then bursts out laughing: “What a joke!” After nearly two hours of most stimulating conversation with Phil, we take our leave and then end up at the Victory Bar for fish and chips and a couple pints of ale.
You’ll all be pleased to know that this joint had the British equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval:
In closing on the Falklands-Argentina issue, this morning (Feb. 8th) on ship’s TV was a report on CNN World News being broadcast from the Falklands, probably because the latest “noise” is also associated with the recent arrival of Prince William (William Wales, as he is known here) for British military helicopter pilot training (and who, incidentally, had been at the Victory Bar with his mates the night before for a couple rounds of drinks).
(The Argentines are spinning this as additional attempts by the British to expand colonialism into the Southern Hemisphere, while Phil says that every British military helicopter pilot comes to the Falklands for training because the wind conditions are highly unusual here, and the pilots are trained to fly in these wind conditions.) Anyways, near the end of the report the camera showed our ship, the ms Prinsendam, with her black hull, white top and orange life boats/tenders sailing out of Port Stanley Harbor. Talk about being there while news is being made!!!
Historically, whaling has been an important part of the Falklands, with many of the early settlers having come here as the result of whaling. Today, however, Islanders are uniformly opposed to whaling and are as vocal about the subject as 3,000 people can be. Every tour takes you by one house that has a collection of whaling “memorabilia” and large signs opposing the activity.
A century and more ago, and even as recently as the end of the 20th century, sailors have run into trouble trying to navigate around Cape Horn, at the tip of South America. Waters are rough there because of the convergence of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and the winds blow from west to east. Many ships that ran into troubled waters trying to circle Cape Horn found themselves carried by the winds in the direction of the Falklands, and many of them, damaged in heavy storms, tried to get to safe harbor in the Falklands. Often they made it to the harbor at Stanley, only to find the damage to their ships so extensive that they could not be repaired. So these ships were either scrapped or abandoned, and many of their carcasses lie in Port Stanley Harbor.
The most southerly Anglican Cathedral in the world is located in Port Stanley and has in front of it a whalebone monument, almost as an homage to the link between the Falklands and whaling.
The interior ceiling of the cathedral is built to look like the interior of the hull of a ship.
The natural landscape of the Falkland Islands is windswept, treeless and barren. All trees on the islands are European varieties introduced in the 20th century by settlers. One kind of berry grows wild here, and it’s gathered by hand to make jelly preserves, a small cottage industry aimed at tourists although the locals gather and make it themselves. They’re called Diddle Dee Berries, and they grow near the shoreline. In fact, all the green in the photo above comes from the Diddle Dee Berry plants.
Here’s what they look like close up:
Although the Falklands have all the modern amenities, there are still some holdovers. While most houses use kerosene heaters for warmth, some of them still use peat moss. I have read about peat being used for heating in 18th and 19th century English novels but never had never actually seen it. What happens is that square bricks of black peat are cut out of the ground (as if you were cutting squares of grass sod) and set to dry out. In the photo below you see fresh cut sod at the top and sod that’s been set out to dry at the bottom of the photo:
The sod is dried out by the wind and becomes lighter and thus easier to transport. It is then hauled by the user to a storage shed on his property to be thrown into a wood-type heater and used as heating fuel to keep the house warm.
The main cemetery of the Falklands is located on a ridge facing the harbor. This is a civilian cemetery but still very imposing as you approach it. Look closely and you will find red poppies at the base of the monument, which is inscribed with the words, “Their Name Liveth Forevermore”:
The view from the cemetery to the harbor is a beautiful one. The old stones are discolored by algae or fungus-like growths that are the result of constant moisture in the air.
Although we found no Jews in the Falklands, we did find the following street. Who knows for whom or what it was named?
Animal life abounds in the Falklands although the land itself is barren. There are reportedly something like 3 MILLION sheep raised here, originally for their wool but increasingly for meat, most of which is sold in Europe as naturally, organically raised
And wildlife in the forms of sea birds, seals, sea lions and sea elephants and orcas abound. But it’s the penguins that capture the hearts of visitors here, and in particular, the rock hopper penguins, characterized by their feathery heads.
All in all, it’s been a great day in the Falklands, and we were lucky to be able to tender in here because of the strong winds, but now it’s time to end the day and take our leave.
BLOG NOTE – We had intended to post all the unposted blogs we accumulated while we were in the Falklands. However, it turns out that the cost for using internet services at tourist venues was ridiculously expensive. So we decided to wait until Buenos Aires to post. In 2-1/2 days we’re going to arrive in Buenos Aires.
Adios until then.