Falkland Islands

November 28, 2011

Ted writes:

The white sand beaches seem incongruous with the sub-polar climate, more appropriate for a tropical setting. The sign is a warning about possible landmines from the 1982 conflict.

After a very successful field season at the British Antarctic Survey’s base in Rothera (thanks again to the group there), we flew to the main re-supply post for the UK’s Antarctic work: the Falkland Islands. We landed at the Mt. Pleasant airfield, a military base built after the Falklands conflict in 1982. The base is mostly khaki and dun green, being military, but in fact the entire island is about the same color, covered in grasses and low shrubs across thousands of square miles. I regret to report that the Falklands appear to have been invaded again, this time by sheep, and the Falklanders are seriously outnumbered. There are approximately 800 sheep for every person.

Windswept. Desolate. Rocky. Stormy. These words seem too small to encompass the Falklands landscape. Shattered boulders from the cliffs seem to flow in streams off the hilltops—a type of formation I’ve never seen before (called stone runs, according to Wikipedia). And it is a very empty land. Nearly all 3,000 of the inhabitants live in Port Stanley, a hamlet overlooking a small bay.

Perhaps the most telling thing about Port Stanley is the number of shipwrecks. There are at least eight wrecked ships scattered around the bay, in various states of disintegration. The story seems to be the same for many of them. Some great and proud ship rounds Cape Horn in a fierce storm, and becomes severely damaged. The vessel limps into Port Stanley, which is very well protected, but the town and the mariners realize that repairs are nearly impossible here. There are no trees. Shipping the needed items from the north is deemed too expensive, and so the ship is anchored in the port as a warehouse. Then one day another terrific storm springs up, and the ship is ripped from its moorings, wrecked within the harbor, and left as a derelict. The mast of the largest ship in the world as of 1845 sits in a city park. That is all that is left of it.

We arrived on Thanksgiving Day, and aimed for the best restaurant in town. It was a spectacular evening, as we realized that we had seven nations represented, one person each: US, Switzerland, UK, Iceland, Poland, Germany, and Chile. It was a perfect way to end the expedition, at a great UN meeting, an international Thanksgiving feast. (Photos courtesy Ted Scambos)

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One comment

  1. A magic place…

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