If the Falklands had not gained the reputation of Penguin Central, it is unlikely that Stanley’s charms alone would attract tourists in large numbers. It’s a strange city, as low as the treeless semi-tundra that surrounds it. A few stands in colonial cottages and a museum in a heritage enclosure adorn the harbor front. One of our party returns from a walk around town with a photo of a flooded front garden of around 60 brightly colored gnomes. At the end of each summer, I’m told, the little people retreat from sight for a fresh lick of paint and a winter inside sheltered from the elements; in the spring, they return to the garden, a bit like seasonal flowers.
The city’s seedy pubs are famous for their hot beer and good fish n ‘chips. I jump into the Victory, its cozy interior adorned with Union Jacks, for a pint. Two servicemen, one from Birmingham and the other from Manchester, are eager to chat on the outer deck. They both try to convince me that they lose their accent so far from home, but I can barely understand them because of their accents.
The border between the pub and the neighboring property is not fenced, and the drab dresses and little dresses of the women dry on the line, emphasizing the view of the harbor. If the Argentinian invasion of ’82 had been ignored by the Iron Lady, it seems to me that there might have been a few pros (tango, malbec, steak and a little more style on the streets and clotheslines. ) to compensate for the indignities of occupation.
I signed up for a three hour nature walk and set off with two local guides, Treghanna Smith and Kevin Ormond, neither of whom were born in Falkland. Ormond was part of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment and he fought in the First Land Battle at Goose Green and the Final Battle at Wireless Ridge. It was during the war that he met the woman who would become his wife.
Ormond gives a potted story of the war, explaining how British forces foiled the Argentine occupiers by “entering through the back door” into San Carlos Bay, in the northwest corner of East Falkland: an area that the invaders had left him defenseless because they viewed it as an unlikely landing site.
âDuring the day, we hid in the gorse and at night, we walked towards our combat positions,â he recalls. Along with the 655 Argentinian and 255 British soldiers killed in the conflict, three civilians were victims of friendly fire. But Ormond considers their death, although cruel and miserable, part of the price paid for freedom. âA lot of people like Margaret Thatcher,â he says. âA lot of people hate her. The people of the Falklands love her because she saved them. Our freedom has come at a cost. But then, the Falklands are a unique place. It’s hard to argue with that.
The port of Stanley is today in a way a graveyard of ships. Rusty wrecks are plentiful and full of character, nothing more than the shattered remains of the Lady Elizabeth, a three-masted iron barque built in 1875 that limped into Stanley in 1913 after a difficult passage around Cape Horn. But it was deemed too expensive to repair, and after some time as a floating warehouse it broke its moorings in a strong wind and came to rest in the evocative name of Whalebone Cove. There she stays.
I leave our group and walk down to the beach for a photo of âLady Liz,â as the locals affectionately call her. I shout “Just a minute” but no one hears me. The group retreats along the shore. As I make my way towards the wreckage, my boot and half of my leg stumble after a misstep, sucked into a gray, slimy bog. Shaken and muddy, I rush towards the group. âI forgot to tell you about the quicksand,â Ormond said nonchalantly, patting me on the back. âWe almost lost you. ”
Our route follows the Stanley Harbor Loop along a low, peaty country bordered by pebble beaches and waterways dotted with kelp. Along the way, we learn that these islands have their origins in Africa and migrated to the far reaches of South America after the breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent. It sounds like a Genesis story used to justify Buenos Aires independence, but it is supported by geological records.
The king penguin colony is a three hour walk away, and it’s not on our itinerary, but as a compensation we end up on a beautiful white sand beach, host to a Magellanic penguin colony. Although agile swimmers, they are not the most beautiful representatives of the species on earth. Their ill-defined stripes give them a somewhat mangy appearance. But they have a peculiarity: they bawl like donkeys. This hesitant appeal makes an inherently comedic species all the more endearing.
Our next stop, and the last in the Falklands, is West Point Island. Much like Carcass, it is relatively treeless and looks like a moor – good land for sheep to graze – and is owned by one family. The land slopes in one direction, falls steeply into the grilling sea in another. It is a dramatic island.
Our time here is limited, as we leave in the late afternoon for the Chilean port of Punta Arenas, but we have plenty of time for a trip ashore escorted by a group of Commerson’s dolphins or black and white pandas. It’s a steep hike to the other side of the island, where a mixed colony of jumping penguins and albatross awaits us.
On the way I meet a striated caracara, a bird of prey resembling a hawk. He hops around me with a bold and curious air, and with a few shutters lifts up on a fence post to face me in the eye. I have the feeling that he would like to strike up a conversation and is just waiting for me to take the initiative.
A little further, in a sheltered fold of the spectacular cliff facing the east of the island, we meet the colony. It is a touching spectacle. There isn’t a lot of rock skipping rockhoppers; they seem to be content to perch. Albatross chicks, bundles of soot hidden in the tall grass, are just as docile. But their parents, who mate for life, cut large, looping arcs across the sky, rising and falling on ocean drafts. They are impressive birds, twice the size of penguins, with a wingspan of up to three meters. From here we have a beautiful view of the sea, where a pod of southern right whales have been spotted.
Leaving the farm a few hours later after another homemade treat extravaganza, I notice several ridged caracaras perched like gargoyles on the steep sloping roof. They’re a lot like the Falklands themselves: wild, weird and defiant, and really their own thing.
The writer was the guest of Hurtigruten. The Norwegian-flagged company was the first cruise line to resume operations with a bubble cruise to Norway in June of last year.
The boat The MS Roald Amundsen carries 500 passengers on Antarctic voyages in 265 outward-facing cabins and suites, 50% of which have a private balcony (Arctic Superior class).
Green specifications Hurtigruten’s hybrid ships (which run partly by electric propulsion) reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20%.
Sails The 16-day expedition trip to Antarctica and the Falklands during the summer, visit the penguin colonies and the capital of the Falklands, Stanley. Five departures between November 2022 and March 2023 aboard Roald Amundsen. Prices start at $ 11,535 for a Polar Class cabin.