The Falkland Islands

By a sort of happy accident several years ago, I ended up in the Falkland Islands.

I’ve recently been revisiting the place in my mind, because it features in a book I’m writing, and although I unfortunately don’t have all the photos I took back then, I do still have a few and I thought I’d stick them on here in a post.

The Jhelum at Stanley

The wreck of the Jhelum in Stanley Harbour, the Falkland Islands, with geese in the foreground

In 2006 I was feeling a bit bored and needing some excitement, so I left my job, gave up my flat in Edinburgh and popped off to South America with the vague intention of learning Spanish.

En route, due to missing a connection in New York, I was put up in a New Jersey hotel for the night. This was the view from my bedroom window:

Hotel room view

The next day (or possibly the day after, it was a long journey and I got very confused about time zones) I landed at my destination: Buenos Aires in Argentina.

This next picture is a bit out of focus and not representative of the city as a whole, but it was the view from my hotel window and its depressing appearance pretty much summed up my mood at the time (I should say that the hotel itself was quite nice, but looking out at this didn’t exactly inspire me). It was quite a contrast from New Jersey:

Buenos Aires hotel room view

What with one thing and another (not just the view), I was rather miserable in Buenos Aires and didn’t seem to be able to shake it off. I got so down in the dumps that after a few days I walked into a travel agency and booked a flight to the Falkland Islands.

Due to the political shenanigans between Argentina and the Falklands, you can’t travel directly from one to the other. Although the Falklands are just off the Argentinian coast, I had to hop across the border into Chile and get to the Falklands from there instead.

I flew first to Chile’s capital, Santiago, and then on to Punta Arenas in the south, from where I could catch a flight to the Falklands. I enjoyed flying over the Andes:

Flying over the Andes Mountains

My mum is always saying I land on my feet, but what she doesn’t add is that I get there by way of inelegantly slithering over icy patches and slipping on endless banana skins.

I like to think of myself as quite well organised, but the truth is that I am never as well organised as I should be. On this occasion I was completely unprepared for what lay ahead.

I arrived in Punta Arenas in the dark, early evening I think it was, and only then discovered that there was no airport hotel. My flight to the Falklands was not until the following morning, and Punta Arenas airport was being locked up for the night. The small adventure I had as a result of that has provided me with a bit of the story I’m now writing.

I was also unprepared for my arrival in the Falklands. I had mistakenly assumed that since it was a British protectorate I could just turn up, waltz in and be welcomed with open arms.

Thanks purely to some kind Falkland Islanders who were on their way home after a holiday and took pity on me, I was smuggled into the country and deposited at a Bed & Breakfast in Stanley. (This is what my mum means by me landing on my feet, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I’ve lost a couple of years off my life as a result of the stress at the time.)

The B&B was run by a kindly lady who wasn’t expecting winter visitors, and certainly not those who turned up unannounced (you’re supposed to have proof of accommodation booked in advance before you can even be let into the islands). She looked after me wonderfully well and gave me a lovely big room in her house. My windows were at the top left, looking out in both directions:

Stanley B&B

Once I had settled in and got over the strain of the journey, being in Stanley was balm to the soul.

The weather was wintery, with bitingly cold winds and occasional snow flurries, but the sun shone and I had a jolly time ambling along Stanley’s quiet streets:

Windswept street in Stanley

One of Stanley’s long windswept streets sloping down to the sea

The landscape outside the town reminded me very much of Scotland’s western isles, low-lying moorland with occasional houses dotted about. It made me feel at home.

Falklands moorland

Despite being located off the southern tip of Argentina, the Falkland Islands felt very British. There were Union flags all over the place in Stanley, and traditional English pubs (sadly, without real ale on tap).

Like many people the world over, Falkland Islanders take a pride in their gardens, but I think Stanley is the only place where I’ve seen penguins standing like sentries round a well-clipped plant (up near the back of this garden):

Stanley garden

It’s also the only place I’ve ever seen Falkland steamer ducks, which is not too surprising since I believe the Falklands is the only place you find them. Like the other steamer ducks found in South America, these chaps can’t fly.

Falkland steamer ducks

The birds I encountered around Stanley all seemed quite tame, including these beautiful Dolphin Gulls and the many geese that were in attendance.

Dolphin Gulls in Stanley

The Falkland Islands are famed for their penguin colonies, but unfortunately I didn’t see any of these delightful inhabitants. I did, however, see the world’s most southerly cathedral with its whalebone arch nextdoor:

Stanley Cathedral and whalebone arch

I only spent a week in Stanley, and I had a bad cold for much of my visit, but those 7 days stick in my mind as a vivid and exceptionally positive experience.

On my way out of the Falklands I used the facilities in the airport and was amused by this wartime poster next to the sink. Wartime is within living memory of most Falkland Islanders, after the invasion of Argentinian forces in 1982.

 Wartime poster in Stanley airport

After leaving the Falklands, I made my way back to Santiago in Chile, where the smog was sitting heavily over the city, as I believe is quite common in the winter:

Santiago in the smog

I lodged in a hostel for a while, walking around Santiago during the day and trying to work up enthusaism for settling down and immersing myself into Chilean life, but my heart wasn’t in it. I did like Santiago though, and it would be nice to see it in the summer time.

I was a little sorry to leave after a short stay, but I had blown most of my funds on the Falklands trip and work was hard to come by with my poor Spanish, particularly in the winter time.

On my way home, the misty mountains around Santiago looked enchanting from the air:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In the story I’m writing, my main character visits the Falkland Islands in winter too, but unlike me she makes her return journey to the UK by sea, during the course of which she has some adventures.

If I were to go to the Falklands again, I would like to jump aboard a cargo ship to get there, and I would especially like to go on one like this (below). It’s a new Japanese design using giant sails to harness wind power when the conditions allow:

cargo-ship-with-sails

image courtesy of the University of Tokyo

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Categories: Birds, Chile, Holidays, Inspiration, Photography, South America, The Falkland Islands, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

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43 thoughts on “The Falkland Islands

  1. All I can say Lorna is, “wow, you do lead an adventurous life.” What a brave person you are…it must make your Mum feel good to know that you “land on your feet”…no matter that you sometimes slip and slide to get there. I loved your writing and feel like I now have experienced a little trip to the Falklands. Thanks for sharing your great adventure.

    • Thank you Linda, you’re too kind! Your comment makes me wonder if the reason my mum says that is in order to convince herself that I’ll survive these harebrained schemes. I hadn’t thought about it that way before. I don’t think I’m at all brave, just in possession of a short attention span and desirous of new diversions. I think I’m growing out of it now though…..I hope so.

  2. Great photos. How adventurous of you too. I regard taking the train to Glasgow as quite enough excitement for one week. The Falklands do look a lot like Scotland don’t they? Remember thinking that during the war.

    • Taking the train to Glasgow is exciting! The similarity of the Falklands to bits of Scotland was a very pleasant surprise, even the weather felt familiar!

  3. That is one helluva story Lorna. Glad you had the adventure and are alive to tell it.

  4. You’ve had some wonderful adventures, Lorna! You are much more intrepid than I. Wonderful photos!

  5. I love this post! It’s so inspiring. I wish I was brave like you and could just get up and go, believe me there are so many times when I wish I could do just that!
    Great pictures!

    • Thank you, but it’s not bravery. I’m a complete woose, I assure you. When you push yourself to do things that are way out of your comfort zone sometimes there’s nothing you can do except find some way of surviving the experience. It’s not altogether pleasant at the time – much better with hindsight.

  6. That certainly sounds like an adventure – more than one, in fact! What a wealth of memories and emotions to draw on. The landscape looks very similar to Scottish moorland. I’d love penguins in my garden! I know a little about the Falklands because of working for a birding company which arranges trips there. I expect they’d have got quite excited about the steamer ducks. I like your photos taken from planes, too. I hope your heroine has a safe trip back home!

    • It would be great to go on a bird spotting trip to the Falklands, and indeed the Antarctic. Are you tempted to go on such a trip yourself Jo? I think you’d like the Falklands, with its wildlife and wild scenery. My heroine is nearly home in one piece now, thank you, in time for a short rest before the next adventure. Poor girl, I’m going to be pushing her to her limits when I get the chance.

      • I’d love to visit those places – I’m sure I’d love the Falklands, especially the penguin colonies! – but I’m not sure a birding trip would suit me. On the other hand, organised tours are a great way to watch wildlife in some of the world’s lesser-known places, because you’re in a friendly group and have the knowledge of a professional guide. Am I sounding like a tourist brochure??! If your heroine wishes to indulge in a birding trip before heading home, I can supply lots of reference material! :)

        • Thank you very much Jo, that’s most kind. I’ve already written the Falklands section but I’ll bear your offer in mind when I’ve finished and read through the first draft, in case I want to add more to it. I’ve never been on an organised tour like that either, but I can see the plus sides. I think if you want to visit Antarctica organised tours are the only way, unless you have your own yacht.

  7. I love your description of how you land on your feet! You certainly have been to some interesting places. Was there any evidence of the Falklands War apart from the poster in the airport toilet?

    • Thanks Heather, I imagine it might have been stepped up a bit now because of recent threats from Argentina, but there was a visible military presence when I visited. There were armed soldiers in the airport and there was a military checkpoint on the road just after leaving the airport. There were also a lot of mines dotted about the countryside and fenced off areas telling people to keep out. I met a chap in the B&B I was staying in who had been a policeman in Stanley during the Falklands War and he told me about the day the Argentinians arrived, it sounded utterly terrifying and really brought it to life for me. Stanley museum has exhibitions about it and a number of locals have written books about their personal experience of it. I had the impression that it was still pretty fresh in people’s minds.

  8. What a terrific story, Lorna! You little adventurer, you. ;-) My daughter just returned home from 5 months in Santiago (she went with the specific intention of learning Spanish), so this post was especially intriguing to me. You’ve chosen a bang-up setting for a book, I think. Plus, you made New Jersey look good.

    • That’s wonderful Robin, how did your daughter like Santiago? If she stayed there for 5 months I’m guessing she enjoyed it. I bet her Spanish is pretty good now, too. That was the sort of thing I was planning to do myself but, as with so many of my schemes, it didn’t go quite according to plan.

      It’s funny, but it wasn’t until I read your comment about New Jersey that I remembered the journey to the hotel. I was driven in a little shuttle bus from the airport in the middle of the night and I remember looking out of the window at the areas we were going through and thinking ‘where on earth are they taking me?’ Some of it looked really rough, but in fact the hotel I was in was lovely.

  9. What a great basis for a story. Travel does inspire writing as I can attest. Sounds like a wonderful, if somewhat scary, adventure. I can’t wait to read the book!

    • Thank you Darlene! I don’t know why I so often miss the obvious, but when I started writing I chose a completely different location, somewhere I’d never been but would like to visit. It wasn’t until I realised how much work I was creating for myself that I changed the setting to somewhere I had some personal experience of. It does make sense to write about what you know, although I can think of several authors who’ve written convincingly about places they’ve never been to. I think that’s quite a skill and I need to stick to something fairly safe for my first attempt at writing a novel. Have you always written about places you’ve been to yourself?

      • I only write about places I have been too. Having said that, I include activities I haven’t done. For instance, I have yet to ride the London Eye, although I have been to London many times. My main character, Amanda, rides the London Eye in my latest book. I spoke to a couple of young people who had been on it and took it from there. ( I have also never been lost in a sand storm on the desert or chased by horse thieves in Barcelona) I just like to be familiar with the setting.

  10. Great adventure Lorna! You are a brave and strong person. Enjoyed reading all the details of this trip, lovely pictures too.

    • Thank you Aparna, but I fear I may be creating a wrong impression here, I’m not brave! I’m the sort who hides behind the sofa when something mildly menacing appears on TV (things my 4 year old nephew could watch without getting frightened).

  11. Lorna, I was very interested to read about The Falkland Islands.
    I enjoyed your photos too.

  12. Fascinating story. Wish I was brave enough to just up-sticks for a time and see what happens.

  13. What an awesome journey! I’m also so happy you spent the night in New Jersey (my home state:) Contrary to popular believe.. it really is a very Green state!:)

    • Thanks Cheryl, I didn’t realise that was where you were from. I must say, I was very glad of that hotel room after a 3 hour wait in line at the airport and when I got up the next morning and saw my view I was pretty impressed.

  14. I have completed 4 months in the Falklands – a real life experience which I cherish. I would love to go back and have an open invitation for about the next 6 months – I wonder – I wonder

    • Wow Scott, really? Doing what? If I were you I don’t think I could resist that offer, but it is quite an undertaking being so far away from home. It sounds as if you enjoyed it.

  15. I love your impulsiveness! I think this bodes well for your protagonist? And thank-you for the vicarious holiday at the end of a very long day!

    • Thanks Trish! I think my protagonist is a bit better at thinking through the consequences of her actions than I am, but she has an adventurous spirit.I’m trying not to teach her too many of my bad habits.

  16. I can tell that you’re a person who welcomes great experience into their life. Whether good or bad, whichever heads your way first it’s all an experience. I’m a bad traveller in that I’m a control freak! So for you to land and say ok, here’s where I’m going and (luckily) found those helpful souls to find you a great B & B tells me you’re very lucky indeed!

    • Thanks Alice, although I must admit that I wasn’t as calm at the time as it might seem from this post, I don’t regret these sorts of experiences, they all add to the rich tapestry of life. Do you mean you like to be very well organised when travelling? I generally like to be that way too and I like to be able to call the shots, which is why I don’t mind travelling on my own, but I’m often not as well prepared as I think I am. I was very lucky on that occasion, and have been on other occasions when kind souls have taken pity on me. It’s amazing how people come to your rescue when you’re travelling alone and looking a bit helpless.

  17. Your adventures sound like a wonderful novel! All the details of how you got from one place to another are so interesting – I want to know more already… :)

    • Thank you Meg, that’s very encouraging! As a keen traveller yourself, you might appreciate the pickles I’ve got into sometimes. It’s amazing that things work out well in the end, but that’s often thanks to other people lending a hand, without which I don’t know where I’d be.

  18. Jason Lewis

    Loved reading about your experience about my home.

    Just so you know the garden with the penguins get’s invaded by gnomes in the summer :-)

    And did youknow that there is a flighted steamer duck in the island as well, they tend to be around fresh water.

    Good luck in your book.

    • I’m so glad you dropped by Jason, thank you! I obviously need to revisit in the summer and seek out the gnomes. I didn’t know that there was a flighted steamer duck, I thought none of them could fly, that’s another reason to go back. Not that I need one mind you, I’d go back like a shot, I think your homeland is absolutely beautiful. :-)

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