“Good morning” came the wake up call at 7 a.m. , later than usual. Boris (the expedition leader) has a mid-Atlantic singsong accent. “We are about to enter Port Stanley and should ready for the gangway at 9 a.m. The weather is overcast, temperature 5 degrees Celsius and winds will pick up later. Gangway time is 9 a.m.”.
After a short overnight cruise we arrived at Port Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands whose total population is a bit over 2600. Our two lifeboats of passengers and crew would not add significantly to the tourism income on the 31st December 2013, but we are on land again. I imagine when a big cruise ship arrives the population of the island must double sometimes and all the bars and coffee shops must be open.
The Vavilov entered through a narrow isthmus into a large bay, oblong with the long end opposite the entrance. The town lay on this facing bank, having been severely damaged by landslides due to aggressive peat harvesting and then the war of 1982.
Let me say that I spent from 1978 avoiding conscription in South Africa until it was abolished in 1992. Most wars today and in the past are not about what is right or wrong, but rather a power game. That’s makes war a non-started in my books.
Stanley looks like an English town with quaint buildings and bright colours, but no hedges or village greens or avenues of oaks. The tundra is brown and desolate. The sky and sea were grey. I was tired of the big cameras so I slung the Fuji X100 around my neck and hit the town.
Passport control consisted of the Vavilov authorities giving the Falkland Immigration Officials a pile of documents to be stamped. Then we jumped off the Zodiacs onto the pier and walked through customs control shedding life jackets and outer gear on the benches lining a glass structure next to the pier.
On land Again
First stop was the local tourist information and curio shop cleverly marked with penguin prints in the tar leading from the customs. With the impending
isolation from mobile and internet coverage I felt myself withdraw more from the quaint commercial attempts in Stanley. I bought nothing.
The first stop our photographic group made was at the Christ Church Cathedral. Outside in the adjacent park is a monument made by sparring four whale ribs and joining them at the top. The stone church is beautiful and simple, and has touched the lives of many. Memorial plaques that line the inner walls attest this for the saving or loss of whalers, frontiersman, explorers and soldiers.
After the church we walked along the waterfront, slightly raised from a narrow pebble strewn beach littered with parts of or total shipwrecks. We stopped to watch Landrovers go by and take some panning shots. The inhabitants are weathered like their cars, with an air of irritation that tourists have invaded their peaceful town. At least most of us were English or of `Commonwealth origin. Argentines were definitely not welcome! For the South Africans that read this I got the feeling this was the “Oranje” of the South Atlantic, except they spoke English and not Afrikaans.
We walked past the post office and city hall, the flower lined lane to Government House (the Falkland Islands is independent but under British Protection), then the Liberation Monument and War Memorial. We ended at the Jhetum Shipwreck, and turned around, with the bay on our left and the large hospital on our right. The hospital was incongruously large for a population that small, but I suppose it serves the Antarctic bases and shipping community as well.
Malvina House Hotel
We stopped for a cup of tea at the Malvina House Hotel. Considering the antagonism to the Argentinians I was surprised to find a newish hotel with a Spanish name. I suppose if it was Hotel Porto Argentino it would have been bombed or burnt down. Shelley, mother of Garrad and Alex, two children on the ship, was sitting there writing in her journal. Joe was out exploring with the children. He had just returned from a trip climbing Mount Vincent, the tallest peak on the continent, but more about that later. Also, tucked away in the corner were a few of the expedition crew huddled over Macbooks catching up on emails and social media. The ship does have limited email access but only a few people connected on board and I cannot imagine spoiling all that peace with the main distraction of our current generation. Never before has a generation been so distracted from living as now by the power of the internet and all the mindless entertainment it has spawned.
Fish and Chips at “The Victory”
After tea we walked to find a fish and chips bar. Many bars and restaurants were closed at lunch on the last day of the year, but we found “The Victory” and huddled inside. We toasted our voyage and Lawrence’s Hasselblad with Foster’s Beer (there was no local beer), ate the fish and chips, while I looked at the picture of the great Polaris Icebreaker on the wall. Our Vavilov looked way too small and I was about to find out that reality.
After lunch we meandered back to the pier, kitted up for the Zodiac trip and asked Quinn to do a short trip of the bay so we could take pictures.
Aggressive Soup Curtails Dinner
Back on the ship we left our boots in the mudroom, took our wet skins to our cabins and hang them in the corridor to dry. I was excited, but Boris made an announcement that would change my life:
“Welcome back on board, ladies and gentleman. I am sure you had a fantastic time in Stanley. We set sail shortly and will be entering the open sea in about two hours. The weather forecast is for strong wind so please pack away all loose items in your cabin and check there is nothing to fall off shelves or roll onto your head while sleeping. A big camera can do a lot of damage. Once you have storm proofed your cabin please come down at 5:30 p.m. to the presentation room for Ira Meyer’s talk on “Photography in the Antarctic”. After packing away my gear, I went down to the 2nd level Presentation Room. I was excited and I was getting to know Ira and loved his work. He published a book last year called “ICE at the Ends of the Earth”, which is filled with beautiful and moving story-telling pictures of the polar ice, north and south.
I might have gone in to the Presentation Room but I left the “Vomitorium” as Ira ended and questions started. The boat was really rolling.
Huddled in bed for New Year’s Eve I heard that dreaded announcement:
“Ladies and gentleman. It is 7:30 and dinner is served. Please note because of the rough seas the soup will not be served.”
As I lay sick in my bunk I could only laugh at the thought that the soup was too aggressive to take out on rough sea days.