The Falkland Islands

Falklands 008 I’d certainly heard of the Falklands Islands because of the war between England and Argentina twenty years ago. But I didn’t know much beyond that. It was the land stop on our first leg of our Antarctica Expedition, though, so I was about to learn a lot about these islands, including that they constitute a distinct country with one city (Stanley) and a total population of 2,000.

Ushuaia 193 We boarded our ship on Monday afternoon, heading on a loop to the Falklands, the South Georgia Islands, Antarctica, and then back to Ushuaia through the dreaded Drake Passage. Drake can be exceptionally rough, and we’re bracing ourselves for a challenge. Our ship is the Explorer II, operated by Abercrombie and Kent. It holds about 200 passengers, with a crew of about 150. If the name “Explorer” rings a bell, it’s because their Explorer I was the ship that sank late last year while on an expedition. We’re hoping for better luck this time, that’s for sure, but we definitely paid a bit more attention to the safety briefing than we normally would.

Ushuaia 218As we set off, we got some great looks at the bottom of South America. Our first day was spent at sea, motoring to the Falklands. We were chased most of the way by a set of ocean (or pelagic) birds, including the Black-browed Albatross (right). We’ll be seeing a lot of different albatrosses on this trip, and I could watch them all day long. They almost never flap their enormous wings (the Wandering sets the record with an 11 foot wing span), and move gracefully along the water, riding the air currents that are pushed up by the ocean swells.

Falklands 199 We spent two incredible days exploring the Falklands. On the first day, we made two landings, each accompanied by short hikes. Having been to the Galapagos earlier this year, I note parallels between the two places. The geology is fairly interesting, but the amazing aspects are the unspoiled nature and the exotic and tame wildlife. We were able to go right up to some fascinating birds (penguins, albatrosses, penguins, herons, penguins) and they would just go about their business. We spent Wednesday afternoon on a beach just watching a colony of Magellanic Penguins, who were completely captivating. They would bump into each other, call loudly, and walk purposefully about. Our kids just stared at them for almost two hours, laughing the whole time.

Falklands 187 Late on Wednesday, I had a “Kodak moment.” Or maybe a “Nikon moment.” I bought a high-end Nikon camera (D40X) over Christmas, with detachable lenses. It’s taken quite good pictures (limited by the mediocre photographer), although it’s pretty bulky to carry around. Well, two days into our expedition, I’m on the beach, taking a photo, and — aarrrgggghhhhh! No photos. I get an error message telling me, “Error: press shutter release button again.” I figure, “No problema.” I try pressing every button, but that doesn’t do it. I take out the battery and put it back in, no luck! I use the software reset, confident that will work. Nope.

I get back to the ship, go on-line, and find the user’s manual. After digging for fifteen minutes, I find the dreaded error message, with the straightforward advice — “Take camera to nearest authorized Nikon dealer to get it replaced.” EXCEPT I’M ON A SHIP IN THE SOUTHERN OCEAN HEADING TO ANTARCTICA!!!! So now I figure I’m totally hosed. My only hope is our stop the next day in the booming capital of the Falklands, Stanley.

Falklands 180 The next morning, we head off on a three-mile hike on the main Falklands Island. The scenery was beautiful, and we came across a lonely King Penguin walking along the field. He/she came up to us, welcomed us to the Falklands, and went along his/her way. Later, we saw the Magellanic Snipe, which was a great bird as well.

Falklands 171 The highlight of the trip, though, was observing the interaction between Gibson and our Falklands-based naturalist. At one point, Gibson asks him, “Are those Ruddy-headed Geese?” To which he responds, “No, those are Upland.” Gibson says, “No, I think they’re Ruddy-headed.” As we get closer, the guide announces to the group, “And over here we have some Ruddy-headed Geese.” Later, the guide tells us we’ve just seen Commerson’s Dolphins in the sound. Gibson says, “Are you sure? I think they’re Peale’s Dolphins.” They consult the guide book, and our naturalist tells the group, “And over there are the Peale’s Dolphins.” Anyway, Gibson spends most of his free time now reading field guides about animals and has great retention.

Falklands 190 I have to admit, I felt a bit distracted during this great hike worrying about my camera. We have an extra point-and-click with us, but the pictures have never looked quite so bad as when I had locked in mind my superior — broken — camera. In the afternoon, though, we went to “downtown” Stanley, a lovely little place with about ten stores. Once we were there, I go to all the stores (about ten in all), and — much to my ever-lasting good luck — there’s one that carries about a half dozen cameras, including theFalklands 058 Nikon D40X. They won’t accept my old one back (don’t blame them), but I’m able to buy a replacement before spending 14 days in one of the most beautiful regions of earth. Whew! Now, this wasn’t the cheapest camera you’ll ever find — about 2.5x list price in the U.S. But a bargain at any price. And the old one is now disposable (I suppose I’ll try to get credit for it back in the states, but it’s useless to me on the trip). And if the new one flashes the same error message, you’ll probably hear my yell all the way from Antarctica!!!

So now we’re off to South Georgia Island. We had absolutely gorgeous, clear, and warm (actually a bit hot) weather in the Falklands, but it’s turning quite cold as we head further south. More later!!

Check out our photos of the Falklands.

One Response to “The Falkland Islands”

  1. Giovanni Biasutti Says:

    Hello Ted and family,

    Still remembering your expedition to Antarctica and its adventures! In particular I recall often Gibson and Sterling being on the Bridge helping me to negotiate our way…


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