2001-Present > Antarctica
The Falkland Islands
We joined the ship in the Falkland Islands, where whalers and explorers took on their last supplies before the jump across Drake Passage to Antarctica. After the islands lost their usefulness as a provisioning stop, the tough inhabitants grew sheep for wool. When the wool market went down, Britain heavily subsidized the tiny population to keep a British presence in the south Atlantic. Recently, Britain had actually been negotiating to turn over the islands to Argentina until the residents objected and the war broke out. The islanders we spoke to consider the war between Britain and Argentina in the early 1980’s the beginning of modern history.
Our plane landed at the British military base built after the war. It is an hour’s drive from tiny Stanley, the only town, and intentionally built far from where most of the people live to spare them should another war erupt. The landscape is treeless and barren, with occasional stone runs to break the monotony. These are rivers of granite flowing across the heath, a geological curiosity that has drawn scientists for years. Our local narrator fell in love with the area when she came on a cruise ship twenty years previous. Her family is one of the few still heating with peat, the only locally available source of fuel. It has to be cut out of the bogs and stacked to dry before burning. She did not invite us to her home, and we were spared the odor of burning peat, which I understand smells like burning hair. The rest of the people use oil for heating, pricier but less work and without the odor.
|Teatime with Roddy|
We passed named communities consisting of one farmer’s house and outbuildings, surrounded by head-high gorse or tussac grass and sometimes an imported tree. Previous to the building of the military base, all access to these remote farms was by sea or four-wheeled drive vehicles that just bounced over the heath. Now, the network of roads is changing that, and some of the townspeople even have weekend houses near the remote base. An important source of income for a few remote settlers is providing tea for passing cruise ships.
On the day our planed landed in the Falklands, a strong wind tempered the balminess of the spring air. The Upland Goose Hotel in Stanley put on a luncheon spread for us that rivaled any high-class presentation, with creative dishes and abundant food. We had plenty of time to see quaint and British Stanley, to identify some new birds like the kelp gulls and flightless steamer ducks, named for their frantic churning when they move out of harm’s way. I visited the land mine museum, a recent addition to the town since the war, where the exhibit of different kinds of land mines helped when people came in to report the discovery of another mine on the island.