Monday, February 3, 2014
S America/Antarctica - 12/27/2013 - Stanley, Falkland Islands - Penguins
We arrived in the Falklands early on the morning of December 27, 2013. It took a while to reach Stanley so we enjoyed the unique landscapes of the Falklands. Some might call them desolate and I suppose they are but they have their own beauty and I am sure the inhabitants, all 3,000 of them, are happy to live there. There are no strangers in Stanley except the cruise ship visitors that come two or three times per week when the weather permits. The population of Stanley is around 2,000 so almost everyone living in the islands lives in Stanley and they know each other. Most of the current residents are of Scottish and Welch heritage. The islands are completely self-governing but still a property of Britain.
Historically, the islands have been batted around between France, Spain, Britain, and Argentina once it became a sovereign country. The islands were inhabited and abandoned numerous times in the past as the life and features of the island didn't lend themselves to early immigrants. In the early 1800's, the British basically kicked the few Argentinians who lived on the island off and claimed them for Britain. The feud between Argentina and Britain erupted into war in 1982. Argentina quickly lost that war but continues to claim the "Islas Malvinas" (the Falklands) as theirs. We saw evidence of this in protests in Buenos Aires when we were there a few days ago.
The usual routine for land excursions is to check-in at the ship's lounge at a designated meeting time. There you get a sticker with a number that indicates the tour that you have selected. When your number is called, you head for the gangway to go ashore and find your tour guide and bus or whatever transport is needed for the excursion.
In the case of Stanley, there is no good deep water dock facilities, so we have to take the ship's tenders to shore. It is not a bad way to go. The tenders run back and forth between the ship and the shore all day while we are in port. The tenders would be life boats in the case of an emergency.
A nice welcome ashore in Stanley.
Our tour guides are lined up and waiting for us as we get ashore. Most of the tours today are to various penguin colonies on the island. Virtually everyone on the island drives a 4x4 due to the lack of roads and the fact that the roads that exist are not too good. The Toyota Land Cruiser and the Land Rover Defender are just about the only two types of vehicles you see here.
I got a front row seat in our tour guide's Toyota Land Cruiser. His truck had larger than usual off road tires and a diesel engine with tons of torque.....we are going to need that later in the day.
The nice highway lasted about 20 minutes of our 2 1/2 hour drive to the penguin colony.
The little signs warn of the fact that we are in an active mine field that is left over from the 1982 war. They are still removing the Argentinian mines.
The paved road quickly gave way to gravel.....lots of miles on the gravel.
Cattle, horses, and sheep are the about it aside from the penguins. There is limited farming here. The soil is very rocky and the weather is shaky making it hard to have crops of any size.
This was to be our out-house pit stop before getting into the really rough driving. Unfortunately, we were behind schedule so our bladders will just have to withstand the jostling until we get to the park where the penguins are located.
No more gravel. As a matter of fact, no more road.....just open fields with peat bogs and all sorts of hazards.
Opening the fence to get into the fields on our way to the Volunteer Point coastal park. This is the only way to get there other than by boat or air which is prohibited so as not to upset the penguins. I think it was about an hours drive through the fields to get to the park. It wasn't distance as much as the inability to go more than 10 miles per hour in the peat bogs, hills and ruts that required an hour of driving. There was a warning on the excursion that if you had a bad back or neck or were pregnant or got car sick, that this was not the adventure for you and they weren't exaggerating.
We were doing fine and I had just commented on how impressed I was with the Toyota Land Cruiser's ability to handle the terrain and not even squeak when we started hearing a knocking sound under the 4x4. Eventually it got so loud that we had to stop and look underneath. The suspension was broken. A bolt had sheared off due to the rough driving. The people who drive here are very self-sufficient when it comes to keeping their vehicles going. Without even jacking the vehicle up, our guide stole a bolt from some other part of the suspension that still had other bolts holding it together and replaced the missing bolt. I though we were done for and would have to be rescued by another vehicle (they travel in packs for this very reason). Of course, all the other vehicles were packed with ship people so I don't know how they would have rescued us unless we rode on the roof. Any way, some how he got the bolt installed and we carefully continued to the park. His plan was to borrow a bolt from another driver....they carry spare parts and they all drive the same kinds of vehicles. While we visit the penguins, he will install the bolt for the trip back to town.
Pulling up another fence to get to the park.
Another Land Cruiser got stuck in the bog. Our guide had a winch in the front end of his truck that he used to pull the other guy out. Much bad language was exchanged due to the other drivers incompetence for getting stuck.
Finally, after 2 1/2 hours of torturous driving, we arrived at Volunteer Point and the penguins. There were several kinds of penguins at the colony. These are Magellanic Penguins.
These are King Penguins and are by far the most colorful.
This is a Gentoo Penguin.
These are not penguins.
Another Magellanic Penguin.
Penguins are very social birds. This guy needs a shoulder to lean on.
Gentoo Penguins and chicks. The eggs are sheltered and kept warm on top of the adult penguin's feet and under their bellies. After the chicks hatch, they still stay under the bellies of the mother and the father penguins. The parents take turns keeping the eggs and then the chicks warm and protected while the other parent hunts for food. As the chick grows, it becomes impossible for them to fit under their parent's belly but that doesn't keep them from trying.
He's not dead, just resting.
Sigrid among the penguins. She had a great day.
You can see how I got the closeup shots.
I think this penguin was trying to tell me something.
Lots of 4x4's with ship passengers on this excursion. Each vehicle could only hold four people and the driver.
No matter how fast this guy ran and flapped his wings, he couldn't get off the ground.
Time for dinner.
Our guides conversed as we visited the penguins.
The caravan heads back towards town.
This is one of the few places in the world where wind power probably makes lots of sense.
Boot Hill. Nobody seems to know the exact origin of the hill but it is a well established custom for people to leave one of their shoes here when they leave the island.
Our ship in the distance.
Stanley is a very neat little town. Everyone waves at one another when they pass on the road.
Back to the ship on the tender. The tenders were stopped for a short time when the water got too rough in the channel.
It was tough getting docked at the ship and getting off the tender due to the waves.
Good bye Stanley.
The last tender is brought aboard and then were were off.
We will be at sea for a day before reaching Antarctica. We are excited. It is surprising that it take so little time to get to a place that I always though of as unreachable by ordinary people on a vacation. The world is getting smaller for me as we travel.