Thursday, April 11, 2013

Falkland Islands II: Gypsy Cove (cont.) and Stanley

After walking up the pathway past Gypsy Cove and Yorke Bay, you turn a bit inland and up a small prominence where there is a World War II gun that was used to defend Port William (where our ship is currently anchored), the outer harbor on the approach to Stanley.

The reason we went to Gypsy Cove was to see penguins, and I haven’t mentioned those as yet. Magellanic penguins—the only kind at Gypsy Cove—are known as jackass penguins because of their loud, mournful, braying call. They nest in underground burrows, mostly in the tussac grass area north of the Cove. Their burrows are up to 6 feet long, and it is the soft, peaty soil in this area that allows them to easily dig their burrows.

One thing becomes starkly clear when you view the Falkland Islands from any direction. Our ship moved slowly into Port William, so it was easy to see. Something that impresses you immediately is the lack of trees. There are no trees; those one can see grow low to the ground, more like a bush than a tree. One cruise passenger we were near, looked up a single street in Stanley and spotted one tree—and only one—but it clearly has been specially and carefully cultivated and nurtured—the only way a tree might grow on this barren set of islands.

Our Princess Port Guide says, "All efforts to introduce trees on a large scale have failed. In fact, although 150 species of flowering plants grow in the Falklands, only two species of brush grow higher than ground level." Why? It is the fierce winds encountered nearly year round.

Leaving Stanley going east, west, or south, the gently rolling hills are quickly noticed, as is the barren, rocky terrain (devoid of trees). If you go straight north out of Stanley, you go straight into Stanley Harbor!

We left Gypsy Cove and in about 10 minutes were back in Stanley with plenty of time to tour the downtown area (which is right where the ship’s tenders drop you off.) Having had a "port talk" by Joe May, we had a good idea about what to see and what we would see. This is where the man’s comment (from the opening paragraph of the previous essay, Falklands I, becomes especially relevant: "Thank heavens for the Falkland Islands that they have penguins." I repeat that comment here before I describe our complete walking tour of Stanley.

As an aside, there are two points to be made about excursions in foreign ports and cities. First, you get a great deal of the local history. In our Princess Port Guide, there are four paragraphs devoted to the history of the Islands—who first sighted the islands (Captain John Davies in 1592), who first landed here (Captain John Strong in 1690), who took formal possession of the Islands (Captain John Byron in 1765), when the Islands were abandoned (in 1811 by both the Spanish and the British), who reestablished a settlement (Louis Vernet in 1824), when the island reverted to an unpopulated state (in 1831 by a U.S. naval expedition) and when Britain occupied and asserted her rights to the Islands (in 1833).

The second point about excursions in foreign ports and cities is a simple one: You quickly forget what you learned. There is just too much to know, and you just can’t remember most of it. It does, however, provide fodder for trivia games on history or geography—if you could remember it!

Most of what we saw in Stanley, we discovered on Ross Road, which parallels the water.

Stanley is the main shopping center on the islands. It is the hub of East Falkland's road network, and the attractions include the Falkland Islands Museum, Government House—built in 1845 and home to the Governor of the Falkland Islands (currently Nigel Haywood).

We walked past Victory Green, where we saw the mizzen mast from the SS Great Britain, and on Barrack Street, just about a block south of Ross Road, the Tabernacle, United Free Church built in 1892.

Walking farther along Ross Road, we came to the 1982 Liberation Memorial, built as a tribute to the British Forces and civilians who lost their lives in the 1982 Falklands Conflict. At that end of Ross Road, too, was the Secretariat, the main government administration building.

There is a golf course which we passed on the way to Gypsy Cove, several
war memorials, and the shipwrecks in the Stanley Harbor—most of which can be viewed at low tide.
The Falkland Islands Company owns several shops and a hotel. Stanley has four pubs, eleven hotels and guesthouses, three restaurants, a fish and chips shop, and the main tourist office. There are three churches including the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral (consecrated in 1892), the southernmost cathedral in the world. The cathedral makes tiny Stanley a city. Outside the Cathedral is the whalebone arch (1933) constructed from the jawbones of two blue whales.

Having seen a couple of Falkland’s eleven hotels along Ross Road, I asked a salesclerk in one of the small stores, how can a hotel (much less eleven!) make it? The answer actually explains a lot of things: "Because a lot of people come to the Falkland Islands just to see the wildlife."

Let me end this second essay on the Falklands by quoting the last paragraph of the "Stanley—Princess Port Guide" just to underscore what this salesclerk was talking about:

"One of the primary objectives of visitors to the Falklands is the unusual wildlife that inhabits them. The islands are a paradise for bird watchers, as more than 120 species of birds have been counted, half of which are residents. Bird life includes several species of penguins, among them gentoo, rockhopper, king, and jackass penguins. Other birds common on the main islands are upland geese, steamer ducks, oystercatchers, gulls, and terns. Albatrosses and giant petrels nest on some of the small outer islands. Fur seals, sea lions, and elephant seals are also present in small numbers during part of the year. Sport fishing for sea trout (sea-run brown trout) is said to be excellent." It is easy to be fooled by what you don’t see. There is so much more to the Falkland Islands than what first meets the eye—or, even more accurately, what meets the eye of a tourist who can only spend less than a day on the islands. It is an extraordinary experience because of its uniqueness, and it is amazing what’s there considering both its size and location.

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Wikipedia has the most complete information about the Falkland Islands ( including information about the Falklands War.

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Copyright April, 2013, by And Then Some Publishing LLC

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