Monday, 19/11/2001
Falkland Islands, Stanley

The alarm rang early on Monday morning so we could grab breakfast with the rest of our travel companions before being shuttled off to the airport for yet another flight. While those of us with the Audubon Society were birding in the Andes the previous day, the rest of the group went on the tour of Santiago booked for us all by Clipper. We would have liked to have seen the city as well, but you can't be everywhere at once. Compared to our previous travel days, the flight from Santiago to the Falklands was brief. The international airport was actually part of the British military base, which is remotely located about an hour west of the main city of Stanley. There were fewer than a hundred total passengers on the plane, and so we quickly cleared the customs check (administered efficiently by the British military), and boarded the busses that would take us to Stanley. Along the way our guide described conditions on the Falklands, and reviewed the islands history, including the relatively recent war with Argentina (the Falklands are still claimed by Argentina, which recognizes them as the Maldives). Land mines planted by the Argentinian invasion force still dotted the country side, and such areas were fenced off.

Much of the Falklands are composed of old volcanic and sedimentary rock that has been weathered into undulating hills with rocky outcrops thrusting up to form small low lying ranges. The same rocks form cliffs along much of the coast, and tumble down rocky beaches along the rest. Bogs and grasslands stretch over the soil and peat, for much of the islands have a dense layer of peat just beneath the surface. Near farms and villages are fields of exposed peat where the residents still cut blocks of peat to serve as fuel for their stoves and fire places, although this practice is falling away rapidly the use of as modern heating devices spreads across the islands.

Even though the largest of the islands is rather small, there are so few people living here that isolated homesteads abound. The stark countryside is compelling enough to lure anyone with a desire for peace and quiet away from even the smallest of villages. We saw a number of isolated farms, mostly situated on some inlet of the sea, providing the residents with an alternate transportation route to the main east west road.

Another odd feature of the landscape were large runs of boulders. These features, while common in the Falklands, are rare world wide. It is thought that the peat bogs transport the large boulders down from the high outcrops through a combination of frost heaving and mass creep (gravity pulling everything downward).

While Stanley is the largest settlement in the Falklands (with a population of about 2000), it is still a small town. The natural harbour was a safe haven for ships trekking around the nearby cape, or heading south to Antarctica. The bay is filled with the wreckage of old ships that were heavily damaged by their journeys, and brought into the bay to die a slow lingering death. The towns people paint their (usually corrugated metal) roofs bright colors to help alleviate the omni present greys of winter. We had a wonderful lunch at the Upland Goose, a pub and hotel which exuded charm and character, and then set out to explore the town for the rest of the afternoon. I liked Port Stanley so much that I found myself wondering what it would be like to live there. We walked about the town for a while, and Elayne went off to explore the museum while I found an Internet cafe in which to while away the rest of our free time. We were sad that we only had an afternoon to spend in Stanley: we envisioned returning to the Falklands at some time in the future to explore the islands in more depth.

We once again boarded the busses and made the short trip to the wharf where our ship, the Clipper Adventurer, was moored. We checked into our cabin, located the main gathering areas in the ship, and learned about how the life boats worked and how where we would be expected to gather should the alarm sound. A short while later we entered the dining room and sat down to a sumptuous dinner as the ship pulled away from the dock and made its way out of the bay. The sea was calm and everyone was in high spirits after dinner as we were finally bound for Antarctica... well, almost.

Gallery

Ship's Route:
1, 2, 3
Tuesday, 20/11/2001
Falkland Islands, Carcass and Westpoint Islands
Noon navigation report from the bridge:
Location:Carcass Island, Falklands
Latitude:51°18'S
Longitude:060°33'W
Speed:12.9 Knots
Air Temperature:18°C/66°F
Sea Temperature:11°C/52°F
Wind Speed/Direction:  Force 6/West

The ship headed north and west over night, and we awoke to find the winds had risen substantially, even though the seas were still relatively calm. Before heading south we would land on two small, privately owned islands for hiking and (of course) birding. It was on Carcass where I mis-loaded a roll of film into my camera without realizing it, and as fate would have it, this was the only excursion where Elayne did not bring her camera. As such we came away with none of our own photographs of Carcass Island, and only a few photos that Elayne snapped for Westpoint Island.

Carcass Island
Our first zodiac landing went smoothly, and those who disembarked before us were gathered along the beach, watching a line of Magellanic penguins march up from the sea. The order in which we disembarked from the Adventurer was tightly controlled and done in a particular order based on the group to which your cabin was assigned (Byrd, Shackleton and Amundsen -- sorry, no Scott: bad luck). This order was switched from excursion to excursion to ensure a fair order over the course of the trip. Each cabin had a tag on a large wall chart, and when you left you turned your tag over, and when you returned you put the tag back to its original position so the crew would always know who was on board and who was still on land. It was a understandably grand offense to forget to turn over your tag! The zodiacs themselves were sturdy rubber inflatable craft propelled by an outboard engine. For each excursion these were taken off the top deck of the ship, where they were stowed, and put into use. At the end of an excursion you simply returned when a zodiac was on hand and ready to go back to the ship. Did you remember to turn your tag back over? Good.

We hiked along the small bay in which our ship was anchored, sighting night herons, steamer ducks (flightless), both upland and kelp geese, tussock birds, oyster catchers and Patagonian crested ducks. This was our first encounter with birds who showed little to no fear of humans, and though we would only advance to 15 to 20 feet from any animal,
Westpoint Island View
Striated Caracara
they would frequently cross that distance to pass by -- not that they were attracted to us, but rather we were just in their way. The hike ended at the McGill home, the owners of Carcass Island. The family makes extra money by catering to ships on their way to Antarctica, and by spoiling tourists with an amazing spread of home made cookies, cakes and of course, tea.

Back on board we enjoyed lunch as the ship made its way to Westpoint Island, which is a ridge of heavily weathered quartz sandstone rising up gently from a protective bay on one side, and plunging to the sea in a sheer cliff on the other. We disembarked and hiked up and over the spine of the island to reach the rocky cliffs on the other side, and along the trail we encountered the striated caracara, which would swoop over our heads so very low such that we were constantly ducking as it passed just overhead. At the trail's end we watched rock hopper penguins scuttle up and down the rocks to and from the sea, and then waddle right past us. It was here we were also treated with gorgeous close-up views of the black-browed albatross as they soared on the updraft from the cliff face. While not possessing the largest wingspan of all the albatross, it still has impressive 2 meters reach from wing tip to wing tip. These birds only came in from their lives at sea to breed, and it was interesting to watch them land and take off, which was quite difficult for them.
Rock Hoppers
Black Browed Albatross
Both the penguins and the albatross displayed intense courtship rituals and mutual preening.

Back on board the ship the captain maneuvered the bow right up to the tip of the island, called the Devil's Nose, down which we had been looking earlier that day. That evening we enjoyed the Captains Welcome Aboard Cocktail and Dinner Party before drifting off to sleep as the Adventurer made her way south into Drakes Passage.

On our first excursion we had worn the waterproof high topped heavy rubber boots on the checklist of items to bring, and then changed into our hiking boots for the actual hike. Then before returning to the ship we'd swap boots. This practice suffered from two major problems: 1) it was a troublesome to cart around two sets of boots for every hike, and because each hike was relatively short (none exceeded two miles, which was a disappointment) and 2) on the way out and back into the ship we washed our boots in a disinfectant to help prevent cross contamination from location to location, and we had to remember to take out our hiking boots when coming back aboard and scrubbing them too, which caused congestion in the entry passageway. We opted from then on to simply make the short hikes in the heavy water proof boots.

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