The Falkland Islands (also known as "Islas Malvinas" to the Argentines) are around 400 miles east of the South American coast and are made up of two large islands and over 700 smaller, mostly uninhabited ones. Current population is around 3,000 people ... and 750,000 sheep! British administration remained unbroken from 1833 until the Argentine invasion of April 1982 when the Argentine government decided to stake claim to the islands. Thus started The Falkland Islands War. Good old Maggie Thatcher struck back. The illegal occupation ended when British troops trounced the Argentine invaders after 74 days, and British sovereignty was restored in June 1982. Other than land mines that still exist mostly around Stanley (approximately 25-30,000 landmines were laid by the Argentines in 1982), a quiet peaceful life has returned to the Falklands and the main focus is again on the amazing wildlife that exists here.
18 Dec 2005, Morning
Carcass Island is one of the smaller islands at the northwest point of the Falklands. Everyone's very excited, some because we're soon embarking on our first shore excursion, and others because the ship's finally stopped rocking! First zodiac experience was nothing short of comical ... wind blowing wildly, zodiac and gangplank both bobbing madly in different directions, ocean spray determining what's truly waterproof and what's not, able-bodied seamen assisting awkward passengers, zodiac loading in groups of 10 but, wait, only 3 people allowed on the gangway at one time. Finally we're loaded and on our way to shore. As if by magic, we're suddenly surrounded by dozens of dolphins, both Commersons and Peales, who seem intent on escorting the zodiacs from ship to shore. How fun to watch them jump and play in the water right beside our zodiac. Carcass Island has beautiful white sandy beaches, but the only beach-goers are the resident penguins - both Magellanic and Gentoo - and numerous seabirds, most of which I've never heard of. Spent a couple hours wandering around the island, or simply sitting and watching the penguins, before returning to the ship. Zodiac loading was downright difficult in the pounding surf. Had 3 boot scrubbings to incorporate into the return routine; guess the captain doesn't like penguin poo on the decks of his ship.
18 Dec 2005, Afternoon
Steeple Jason Island
Aaron, our Expedition Leader, practically grew up in Antarctica. From the age of 12, he traveled with his parents who managed an Antarctica expedition company. Now at 24 years of age, there isn't much about the Falklands, South Georgia or Antarctica that he doesn't know, or hasn't seen or done before. That is except for Steeple Jason Island. Aaron still hasn't stepped foot on Steeple Jason. It lies to the extreme northwest and is fully exposed to severe wind and water conditions that rarely allow for shore landings. That is until today, when the weather and water gods cooperated and Aaron and all of us were allowed to go ashore. Steeple Jason is barren and windswept, uninhabited by humans, but home to a large breeding colony of Gentoo penguins. I could've spent hours watching these adorable birds, most with chicks of various sizes closely nestled against them. But the highlight of the island is the Black-Browed Albatross. Steeple Jason has the largest breeding colony in the world. We had to hike around the island to reach the colony. There, before our eyes, appeared a long solid wall of birds perched on their funny cone-shaped mud nests. What an amazing sight. They have such striking faces, almost looks like they're wearing beautifully applied mascara and eye shadow! Even caught a quick glimpse of a few fuzzy little chicks who came into view when mom stood up. And another treat which almost went unnoticed ... hidden in the middle of the albatross colony were some Rockhopper penguins. They're much smaller than any other penguins I've seen, smaller than the albatross in fact, and have yellow eyebrows, long yellow feathers above each ear and spiked up black hair in between. They have quite the punk rocker look! A few people pointed out the similarity between my spiky hairdo and that of the Rockhoppers; I'm taking that as a compliment! Later, back on the ship, we enjoyed "Captain's Cocktails" where we sipped free champagne and talked about our fantastic first day on the Falklands. I think I even saw Aaron, normally a real straight-faced guy, smile a little.
19 Dec 2005
Port Stanley is the smallest and most remote capital city in the world. Other than the few Falklanders who live out on sheep farms, the rest of the population lives here in Stanley. There may be a cool wind howling through the streets of town, but the locals are warm and hospitable. Time ashore was a combination of sightseeing, souvenir shopping, and English pub sampling. Back on the ship for lunch, and now we're on the move again, this time back into open water headed to South Georgia Island. Big seas are back and everyone has again taken sanctuary in their cabins, including my roommate, Lynne who's medicated and moaning. The dining room staff are amazing. I had expected South American crew, but they're all from the Philippines. They always have big smiles on their faces, even when some old biddy treats them rudely, and even in these big seas manage to gracefully maneuver around the room with laden trays. In contrast, we all stumble around like a bunch of drunken sailors.
20 Dec 2005
The seas have calmed down so most people have returned above deck today. Aside from the opportunity to eat nonstop, sea days are filled with lectures and films. Today's lecture topics included glaciers/icebergs, marine mammals, and bird conservation. Have learned to skip the historian's lectures, too bad really as this is interesting stuff, but he doesn't have a public speaking bone in his body and I and many others can't stay awake during his talks. Also watched a BBC documentary on "The Blue Planet, Sea of Life" which was really good. I've fallen in love with the main chef, a big German dude. Man, can this guy cook. After living on a backpacker diet for so long, the fine dining onboard is a true delight.
21 Dec 2005
Another full day at sea. Attended a lecture on King penguins, watched a BBC documentary called "Life in the Freezer", and Part 1 of a film on Shackleton's 1914 Antarctica expedition. Ahhh, now I'm finding out who this Shackleton dude is! Also had an overview of tomorrow's activities as we finally arrive on South Georgia. As we get closer to land it's common to see seals and penguins jumping in the waters around the ship. My backpacker mates, the "Fab 4" as we've called ourselves, decided to open a nice bottle of vino with dinner to celebrate Summer Solstice. Still hard to relate to "summer" being in December, especially down here where temps aren't really summer-like either.