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Hello all, and welcome to our Falkland Islands blog. Follow our progress through the wind, snow and penguins, and find out what it is like to live down here.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Winter/Summer holidays down South..

Summer break over, with lazy days on the canal, soporific afternoons at Henley and visits to Eton Dorney to watch the rowing all behind us, the three of us set off for the Falklands for the Summer/Winter holidays. Last year, we spent weeks with snow up to the windows, taken hostage by the wind and roads closed. I was apprehensive that we would be met with the same fate; a group of us had planned a huge raft of children’s activities to ensure everyone was busy and happy, whatever the weather. Cooking with the chefs, felting, sport with the PTIs, craft sessions, films and bouncy castles.

Landing at ascension, we met Mark, new Station Commander. He was due to visit FI the following week, and in the end he brought Beccie and Amy with him –Amy is the same age as Phoebe, and reeling from transferring from leafy England and grammar school, to a remote, barren Atlantic rock.    We had a good week; Beccie and Amy pitched in to help with the children’s activities, and we were able to take them to see the penguins on Bertha’s Beach, and at Volunteer Point. Landing in FI on a wonderfully sunny afternoon, we put 20 hours travel behind us and marched along Bertha’s Beach  as the bright Winter sun lowered in the sky, to watch long- shadowed penguins marching out of the sea in their nightly exodus as they filled up their camp sites for the night.
Trips to Stanley, mad rushing between children’s activity sessions, and then we escaped for the weekend to Elephant Beach farm. Up past San Carlos, and NW of Stanley,  Ben Bernsten lives with his African wife Maria just a mile or so off what is known locally as the M25 (think clay farm track, but it’s a circular road and usually passable). They have built a cosy cabin on their farm, and offer the option of a roast dinner cooking in the oven. We ordered beef; half a cow awaited us, smelling just like it should – no one was around when we arrived, so the smell was the only way to know we were in the right place! In Summer, off road trips to Ben’s beach for Falkland pebbles and wildlife will be good, but for now, we wandered the inlets and visited Mandy next door with her chicken fields. This was where we had bought our latest two (one has turned out to be a cockerel) and by the end of the weekend, we had ordered two more. Mandy’s daughter Louise with husband Tony and tiny baby daughter all live there at the moment. Mandy and Louise make soaps and lip balms to sell locally, and Tony has a graphic design business from the kitchen table. They brought their wares to our Craft fair the following week, and the chickens arrived at the same time. They have been named Delilah and Hepzibah and are laying already. Hoorah!
The next excitement was the arrival of the new warship patrolling South Atlantic seas.  Dauntless looks an impressive ship sitting in Port William; as we drove towards Stanley, she was standing proud of the headland, modern lines and stocky. A week of visits, parties, outings and dinners, both for the base and the crew. The culmination was Sunday church followed by a brief service at the liberation  memorial to lay a wreath, and then preparation to leave the islands. We drove out to Gypsy Cove and walked across the cliffs overlooking the bay, where the century old gun installations still stand, to watch as she readied to go to sea. It was a hot still day, and hard to believe that 12 months earlier we were snow bound.
Jenny Luxton kindly invited us back to Sea Lion Island before the start of the season – but her plans were scuppered when she was called early (or probably late) back to the UK for a knee replacement.  Maurice flew out to Sea Lion alone to check, mend and start up as required, and we joined him, with sleeping bags and food for the weekend. Three days of perfect weather followed (apart from an hour of hail and squalls when we had just managed to reach the Rover in time) and we were hugely privileged to be the only people wandering the island, witnessing the return of the first elephant seals, the first sea lion, and the rafts and rafts of Gentoo penguins as usual. Southern Giant Petrels swooped overhead, Caracara’s followed us, and the Snipe hopped around our feet.
The supply ship, which calls every 6 weeks or so was due, and we went to the Gulch with Maurice to unload. The seas were reasonable, but the Concordia bay tried for an hour to find sound anchor – and failed. The sea truck was lowered and brought in some basics, but with no anchorage, the fuel line could not be secured, and she left without offloading the much needed diesel for the generator. She will be back in mid-September. Standing in the chill, next to swirling kelp ,and willing the anchor to hold this time, as the sun dropped in the sky, the warm of the day disappeared and the wind blew up, reminded us (and particularly our fingers ! that it was still Winter.

Heading back on the air-bridge now, we have just been intercepted by two typhoons practising; the huge roar as they arrive is awesome – and close enough to see the pilots – weird!
A weekend of unpacking and repacking, and then Phoebe is back to school on Wednesday. Roll on half term.

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