Day 5 – Disputed Land

Malvinas (Falkland Islands)

Malvinas (Falkland Islands)

Day 5 was a shock.  The ship arrived in the Malvinas (the Falkland Islands), a group of windswept, barren islands over a thousand miles from Buenos Aires.  Nearly every passenger on board rushed to disembark to shake off two days at sea. That’s when the shock came.  Ashore in the little hamlet of Stanley, it was 38 degrees, the wind was blowing about 15knots, and there was a driving rain.  No sooner did the tenders (that’s what they call the little boats that ferry you from ship to shore and there is nothing “tender” about them!) reach land than the passengers decided that the ship was a much more hospitable place to spend the day!  They re-boarded as fast as they had gone ashore leaving the little town almost empty of visitors.

Sandy and I had decided to go into town a little later and so we watched this drama unfold.  Then we dressed in layers, remembering what the Alaskan’s taught us: There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.  Shirts, sweaters, coats, and rain gear, and of course, hats.  When we got into town we were reminded by the locals that this was their “summer.”  We could not envision winter here!

In front of Christ Church

In front of Christ Church

Once on land, we found the people to be typical of the English–polite, personable, and rather matter-of-fact about most everything.  The settlement of Stanley has a population of about 1,800 people (and our ship had over 3,000 people aboard!).  We walked and waded the streets of town until we found our way into Christ Church on Ross Road.  Out front a monument of whale bones stands as a reminder of the historic past of the town.  Christ Church is an anglican congregation, the largest in the islands.  The congregation provides a greeter at the church when ships are in port so that people feel welcomed.  Our greeter was an elderly member of the church council and also chairman of the board of the museum.  The church building inside looks to be fairly modern. Decorations on the side walls included memorials to people lost at sea over the last one hundred years or so.  The plaques were a sober reminder to the dangers of the sea and the extreme conditions in that part of the world. Each memorial was a story or hope and heartbreak, of life and loss.  It was very moving for us to consider this.

Once inside the church, we really did not want to leave since we knew what it was like outside.  But, the greeter strongly encouraged us to visit the museum down the street.  It was a six-block walk away from the ship, but well worth the trip. The old town museum had been replaced just a few months before our arrival with a new state-of-the-art facility.  The history of the islands was well represented.  It was broken into periods of settlement with a major exhibit on the Falklands War.  Both British Empire and Argentina claim these islands as their own.  We learned just how sensitive both claimants are about this dispute.  Argentina calls these islands the Malvinas, the British call them the Falklands. Argentina’s claim dates back to the transfer of land from Spain to them when they became an independent country in 1816. They believe that the British have illegally occupied them since 1833.  The British will tell you that they settled these islands when the people of Argentina didn’t really care about them, and that possession is nine-tenths of the law!  (Likely, you would visit and wonder why anyone would want to live here, but the fishing rights alone are worth a fortune.)  Beware: the name you use for the islands squarely places you with one side or the other!

warDuring 1982, Argentina briefly held the Falklands. As I understand it, the invasion of the Islands took place during a stressful time in Argentina.  There was a transition of power between two military dictators and the country groaned in economic stagnation.  What better way to unite the country behind a new dictator than to seize these long-disputed islands!?  The government did not expect the British to contest the action. It seemed to be certain victory for the military, a way to show leadership and strength to the people of Argentina and the world. Clearly, none of the military leaders had met Margaret Thatcher!  Yes, the United Kingdom surprised the world by dispatching their fleet to the South Sea over this small distant outpost. Once that decision was made, the outcome was all but certain.  The conflict ended in 1982. Well, not really. The conflict continues to this day.  Geography and history seems to be with the people of Argentina.  Possession remains with the UK.  Visiting this remote place reminded us of the intractable conflicts that we can have and the consequences that result.  When the Argentine Army occupied the islands, they planted thousands of land mines.  Many remain to this day as a reminder of the war that took place over 30 years ago.  During our visit, the island was hosting men from Africa who were hired to clear the fields of mines.  We were told the work would continue for years!

Range Rover - transport to penguin colony

Range Rover – transport to penguin colony

After our visit to the museum we walked back toward the center of town and found an English pub to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.  As it turns out, these storms can last for days or weeks.  The good news is that they had some nice British beers to sample and replayed rugby games to watch on the tele.  Not much later, we embarked on the real adventure of our time on the island.  We were collected by a small passenger van and taken about ten miles from town.  There we were greeted by range rovers sent to take us across the countryside of the island to a coastal penguin colony.  The ride itself qualified as an adventure that was a cross between Mr. Toad’s wild ride, and an African safari.  The terrain was extremely rugged, and with the rain very muddy and wet. More than once I was convinced that our vehicle would lose a tie rod or that we would become bogged down in the mud.  We held our breath against the bumps for about 30 minutes until we crested a hill and saw the coast. Though still rainy and windy and cold, we were enthralled by our experience.

penguinsBelow us lay a penguin colony made up mostly of gentoo penguins with a few king penguins in the mix.  We were asked to keep at least 15 feet from them, but they were curious and they came up to us for closer inspection.  Many of the gentoos were juvenile and had been born in November. But, they had grown so quickly that we could hardly tell them apart from their parents. The sound of the colony was soothing and constant–cooing and clicking noises they made as they constantly signaled to each other. The colony lay along a cove that gave them protection from predators but also easy access to the sea where they could forage for food.  They eat mostly squid and small fish and are amazing swimmers. And, yes, they waddle as depicted in the movies.  The gentoo and king penguins are some of the largest in the penguin world, only the emperors are larger.  While these islands have few human inhabitants, the biodiversity was amazing: seals, whales, sea lions, penguins and many birds were had never seen before, such as the albatross. We loved the experience of God’s creation with its beauty and purpose.  It certainly reflects God’s glory.

Gentoo posing

Gentoo posing

Along the way, some penguins seemed determined to pose for us.  This was such fun.  After maxing out our phone memory on pictures, there was one more surprise.  Around the hill alongside the water was a trailer with sliding glass doors set as a cafe with English tea, and coffee, scones and cookies.  How they got the trailer down to that spot, we could not figure, but it was a special treat to take refuge from the rain and cold for home-cooked sweets. Our hosts own the farm where the colony is located, and they were so gracious and inviting. I think this warmed our hearts every bit as much as the hot tea did.  The people were so proud of the place they call home and the opportunity to welcome and serve us.  It reminded us of the grace and beauty of hospitality and good will.

On the way back into town, our driver explained a little about his life. He farms year round working with cattle but mostly sheep.  The sheep are certainly much more fitted to life on the island.  As evening was coming, he remarked that it was his job to supply food to the men who were clearing mines on the island, and that they were eating a lot of meat.  He had to go home and slaughter six sheep before ending his work day.  I asked him how long that would take.  He told me he could finish the work in an hour.  It struck me how much closer people live to their food in places as remote as this.

This man explained that British families came to the island with the promise of land and a future.  He is the fifth generation of his family there.  Here, in a place where we saw not a single tree living, the people have taken deep root and they now have a unique story of their own…one we had the chance to be part of for the day!

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Sandy on February 4, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Thank you for journalling. It’s easy to forget :-/!

    Reply

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