We have navigated across the norther edge of the Falklands last night to arrive in Port Stanley this morning. The seas were quite smooth and I slept very soundly.
This has given us all day in which to wander the town and see something of the local way of life. First thing this morning, there was some doubt as to whether we would be docking at the pier, or anchoring in the harbour and then zodiacing ashore (or maybe a combination of both). Fortunately we were given a permanent berth at the wharf for the day which not only let the ship refuel, but also gave us more flexibility in being able to come back to the ship during the day if anyone wished. After we docked, we were met by local customs officials and given a pass for the day to enter the port.
I started the day by going on a nature excursion to Gypsy Cove, a bay just out of town. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife – just a few Magellanic Penguins living in burrows in the Tusac Grass. The bird observers though, went crazy when they came across their first sighting of a Ruffous Breasted Dotterill, but it didn’t impress me a great deal.
However, of historical interest, the bay was fenced off with signs warning of possible land mines left in place after the Falklands War of 1982. I don’t now whether they would have been British mines, or Argentinian ones, but the effects are still the same. While we were not allowed any access to the beach, the threat of mines didn’t seem to worry the local penguins. Along the ridge of the hill was an old gun emplacement from WW2 that protected the ‘Narrows’ – the entrance into Stanley Harbour.
By 11.30 am, the shuttle bus had arrived to take is back into the tourist information centre in the centre of town. Here are my observations of Stanley:
1. There are more Landrovers here per square foot, than any other place on earth. All the farmers have at least one and most of the townsfolk drive around in them. They all sound like a London taxi.
2. Would you believe that the Falklands have their own stamps and their own currency! The notes and coins are based on British currency and are of generally the same appearance / size, but with local insignia. I had some British Pounds left over from our last trip in December, and of course, these were readily accepted all over town.
3. There are a large number (relatively) of pubs around town. You can easily see their similarity with English pubs and they all serve the standard range of beers etc that you would find in the UK. The one in which we had lunch had a live soccer game on the TV in the bar and quite a number of locals had gathered for a beer and to watch the game.
4. The shoreline of the bay is dotted with old ship wrecks. Many of these are old sailing boats that limped into here after being damaged while rounding Cape Horn. There is even a mast from the ship ‘Great Britain’ that was designed and built by Brunel. The ship itself has since been returned to England for an historical display.
5. War memorials to British Forces are dotted around town and can be seen in prominent positions. The invasion by Argentina in 1982 has certainly seemed to have affected local perspectives and increased the Falkland Islander’s sense of identity. They are holding a plebiscite this year to determine whether the Falklands should stay as British Territory or not, but I would think that there is no possibility whatsoever that they would vote for any form of change. They are by far more British than the Kiwis.
5. There is a large cemetery along the bay that includes a number of war graves. These are administered by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in their usual excellent manner.
6. The main street is spread out along the harbour. We walked to one museum which was about 2 kms out of the town centre and the pier at which we docked would be a similar distance on the other side. The town is based around a street network of four or five streets that run behind, and,parallel to the shore. There was a map in the museum that showed dangerous areas around the bays. There are still many areas where mines ave not yet been cleared.
7. Overall, the flavour of this city and the style of its houses struck me as being very similar to that of an English seaside village. The police look the same, as do the customs officers. It looks just like a little piece of England has been transplanted in the other side of the world.
I write this as we are leaving Stanley to travel to South Georgia. The people on the bridge are reporting dozens of whales Around the ship, so I had better go and investigate.