Christmas Day at Sea

We are sailing from South Georgia and I've had awful seasickness. I wake up feeling much better and head for breakfast, but the dining room is empty. The clocks have gone back an hour, as we head for the Falkland Islands, and no-one has visited my sick bed to tell me.

Later, clocks suitably adjusted, I spiral down  to the presentation room – right in the stern, curtained and dark. Matty is giving his Granny Scale number 1 lecture - Merry Krillmas. But it’s not a good place to be, in terms of nausea induction and I have to beat a hasty retreat before he's even begun. They've lined the stairs with sick bags

It’s charismatic Lebanese barman, Rami’s birthday today. It’s mentioned considerably more often that then the official birthday we’re supposed to be celebrating. He is both suave and good looking and has flirting down to a fine art..

There’s little to see but grey sky and sea, through the port holes, other than the odd shout of ‘Humpback’, which has usually disappeared by the time I’ve located it. It’s raining and I’ve got a towel under my window to mop up the drips. At least the swell is running with us now. There’s nothing to do except sleep, read and anticipate each meal, making all too fragile resolutions about eating less. Maybe Robert Louis Stephenson had a better time at of it in Christmas at Sea. At least it was frosty for him.

Boxing Day -The Sea, The Sea

There is a mini riot on board today. The ship has had to slow to eight  knots, because of the bouncy waves and David has just diplomatically announced that we will be in The Falklands, for our excursions on December 28th, as planned. So, our voyage from South Georgia will have taken an extra day (four in all) and without our early start we wouldn’t have made any Falkland landing at all, other than Stanley. They don’t tell you this sort of thing in the brochures.

And now what to do? It's too pitchy to walk round the ship; Austrian/Australian Petra tells me she spent 50 minutes pacing Deck 3 earlier. I can’t cope with the presentation room.  There's nothing to see out of the window except grey waves and grey sky. Canadian/ Russian crew member, Boris, has given me some of his videos to watch, an unlikely selection of rom-coms. His official title is adventure concierge. I’m not sure what this involves, but I know from experience it’s his job to check on sick passengers and bring them bento boxes of mushy food from the galley. He also acts as translator for the crew, if necessary.

27 December - Sea Daze

Reading, sleeping and not least, eating, are still the main preoccupations and I'm brain dead. Time to  wonder how they manage to keep all the food so fresh, for such a long time, on a boat. We’re still being presented with  fruit and salad. And they haven’t served up whale meat yet.

It's a little calmer, the albatrosses are still wheeling and I can spend time trying to take a  picture that's in focus, as they zoom across the deck, playing games. Now you see me. Now you don't. Finally, this afternoon, land ahoy.  There are great clumps of kelp floating and a pod of Peale's dolphins riding under the bows. Now I know how Christopher Columbus felt. Excitement is rife, but the ship maintains a tantalising distance from the Falkland Islands coast. We're promised our landing in the morning.

The limerick competition is judged this evening.  Unexpectedly, the expedition staff all stand in the corner calling Sueooooo, Sueooooo, while I'm trying to read my piece. By the time  I've finished the whole room  is joining in. So, I win the overall first prize – based on audience reaction. Here is my offering:

There was a young lady named Sue
Who travelled in search of gentoo
The penguins elusive
Antarctic exclusive -
She only found piles of pink poo

28 December Fabulous Falkland Islands

Wey hey. A landing at West Point Island - and what a landing. David knows how to redeem himself. A hike across a mile of gorse sprinkled hills, in yellow flower, glimpses of cobalt and aquamarine seas, looking deceptively tropical. There are few trees in the islands, and those that are there have all been planted by man. On the far side, above more crags, the tussock grass is head height, giving a proper expedition feel.  In the midst, a mixed colony of black-browed albatrosses and rockhopper penguins, both species with fledging checks in their nests.

The penguins don’t quite co-exist peacefully. The rockhoppers, really do hop round on the rocks, two feet together, with guttural shrieks, crests wobbling, trying to ward off the albatrosses, who in their turn make their disdain known, with ships’ siren calls. Nevertheless, both sets of birds seem to make excellent parents, preening or feeding their babies constantly and shifting around to make them comfy.

I’ve read that the Falkland Islands are home to 65% of the world’s black-browed albatross population. The white fluffy albatross chicks are settled in mud bowls, set pedestal like on the rocks, or tussocks of grass. The albatrosses take it in turns to go foraging and land, broad like cargo planes, wings held askew, scattering any birds in their path. Those taking their turn at babysitting perch serenely on their posts, every so often setting off a Mexican wave of cooling wing wafting. In-between, the adults without chicks indulge in beak fencing. Perhaps this is practice courtship.

The rockhoppers’ chicks are less fortunate, in that they seem to be stuffed under any suitable piece of rock, often beneath the albatross nests. But their parents are equally attentive, indulging in hugs and caresses, even though their offspring are not much smaller than them. Out in the cobalt bay float hundreds of albatrosses, behind them sei whales blowing. Glorious.

Elevenses in a farmhouse above the bay. They run 1000 sheep and 20 cows here, though none of them are in evidence. But we have a semblance of civilisation at last. China cups, Christmas cake and mince pies.

In the afternoon a second Falkland Islands landing and a plethora of penguins at Saunders Island. Gentoo, king, rockhopper and Magellanic penguins (stripy with a pink patch on the face, living in burrows) all lay claim to a stretch of stunning white beach. All have chicks, the gentoo babies as endearing as the adults, often lying flat out on the sand between their parents’ legs. Some individuals are laboriously collecting pebbles, one at a time, to build nests.  The gorgeous kings stand erect, eggs in their pouches. The Magellans scrabble down from their lofty burrows for a swim, introducing some of the bigger chicks to the water. And, at the point at the end of the bay, the rockhoppers jump in and out of the water, frolicking in the foam. Leaping dolphins escort the zodiac back to the gangway. It’s a great send off.

There’s an end of trip slideshow and it seems that now I'm famous. Every time I feature everyone calls out ‘Sueooooo, Sueooooo’. They miss one though. Maybe it’s because I’m in a group in that snap.

29 December - Stuck in Stanley -Trying To Leave the Falkland Islands

A big storm is forecast and they’re shutting the Falkland Islands Airport, so I can't leave today as planned.

That leaves a little more time to explore. The capital of the Falkland Islands, Stanley, sits on East Falkland, the largest island in the group. It’s the only town. There are no cash points, just one bank, no chain stores, a couple of supermarkets and cafes and seven pubs. There are red telephone boxes, which is more than we have at home. And just like in Britain, you drive on the left, if there is any other traffic. The cars are all four-wheel drive and the local dealer is Land Rover. There’s even a number 38 Routemaster double decker serving as a tourist vehicle. It’s the bus I used to catch to work and the West End, when I lived in Islington. There are also several  memorials of different sorts, mainly to the war in 1982, and a bust of Margaret Thatcher.

I wander a little, taking pictures in the increasingly blustery wind, - when I'm not waiting outside the LATAM office trying to rearrange my flight. it's more than a little stressful.

30 December Leaving the Falkland Islands - Onwards and Upwards

My fan club are still there at breakfast. ‘We love you Sueoooooo’. I shall miss them. The staff form a long line, wedding reception style to say good-bye. It’s all quite emotional. Naturally, today is sunny with blue skies, so I spend my last hour or so re-capturing all the photos I took yesterday, with a brighter background.

Aruba next - eventually - I hope...

Who Owns the Falkland Islands?

The Falkland Islands are a British Overseas Territory. They are self-governing, except for matters of defence and foreign affairs; the people voted to remain a British Overseas Territory in a referendum.

The British claim to sovereignty dates from 1690, and the United Kingdom has exercised de facto sovereignty over the archipelago almost continuously since 1833. … They gained full British citizenship with the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, after British victory in the Falklands War.

Argentina has claimed the Falkland Islands, since 1927. Their primary claim is based on proximity to Argentina and historical legacy from Spanish settlements in the area . They have never had any permanent Argentinian outpost on the island and their claim is only recognised by a few neighbouring countries in South America. They attempted an invasion in 1982, which led to the Falkland Islands War with the United Kingdom.

The Falkland Islands - Facts and Factoids

  • The Falklands are entirely financially self-sufficient, except for the cost of defence, which is only necessary in light of the threat from Argentina - the cost of which amounts to some 0.177% of the total UK defence budget.
  • The population is around 3,000 – almost all British by birth or descent.
  • There are 500,000 sheep on the islands.
  • The currency is the Falkland Islands pound, which is worth exactly the same as British pound sterling.
  • The islands are home to large bird populations, although many no longer breed on the main islands due to predation by introduced species.
  • There's also oil exploration mooted which probably explains most of Argentina's interest.

How Many Islands are in the Falkland Islands?

The Falkland Islands archipelago consists of two main islands, West Falkland and East Falkland, and about 776 smaller islands. They have a land area of 4,700 square miles and a coastline estimated at 800 miles.

Are the Falkland Islands Safe?

Crime is relatively unknown in the Falkland Islands. This must must be one of the safest places for the solo traveller to visit. Muggings and pickpockets belong to another world. The islanders are friendly. Once you've managed to get to this remote place.

Getting In and Out of the Falkland Islands

You come by boat or fly from Ushaiaa. I arrive by boat from South Georgia, which takes a very long time because of the ocean swell. Bad weather has plagued us the whole trip and the weather gods are rolling the dice again. A big storm is forecast and they’re shutting Mount Pleasant (not very appropriately named) Airport – there will be no planes leaving. I have a whole series of connecting flights planned up to Aruba in the Caribbean.

I spend most of my time in Stanley queuing outside the LATAM office, which is open from 10-12 on a Saturday morning. It costs me £1500 to buy new tickets. LATAM say it’s not their fault the airport is closed and Avianca don’t have any economy seats left up to Aruba. It’s almost New Year’s Eve. It feels more like Bah Humbug! I’m lucky. I was fourth in the queue. There are still folk standing outside the office at 12.30 a.m.

The airport is open again the next day. It's 40 miles or so from Stanley; East Falkland is a surprisingly big island and we haven’t even ventured very far inland, according to my map. The stark green hills, littered with copious amounts of stone, look beautiful in the summer weather, though it’s probably a gloomy prospect the rest of the year. There’s a fairly large river running through them - the Fitzroy, named after the captain of the Beagle. Mount Pleasant is the military base, established after the 1982 war and we have to be vetted before we're allowed through the gate. Aruba is four connecting flights away…

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