In this journal…
- I see penguins for the first time in my life
- I visit the smallest capital of the world
- Falkland’s unspeakable history spoken
“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.”
—Sir Ernest Shackleton
Welcome, to Antarctica
To be more precise, this is the beginning of my 20 day journey towards Antarctica. As the centerpiece of my Voyage South and final piece of my 7 Continents Plan, here is a list of quick teleport portals to help you navigate the 100000 word, 1000 picture epic.
- Part 1: Falklands/Malvinas (this journal)
- Part 2: South Georgia Island [A]
- Part 3: South Georgia Island [B]
- Part 4: South Orkney Island, South Shetland Islands
- Part 5: Antarctic Peninsula
- Grand Directory and Part 1 of Voyage South: La Paz, Bolivia
- Travel MasterPlan: all travels I have had in a neat list
- my complete lifetime travel map
Let me be honest: this ain’t your normal travel journal.
Of course, you are not expecting anything normal when you click into an article with “Antarctica” in its title. I am not talking about that. Firstly, I am not your normal travel blogger, or traveler as a matter of fact. Not only do I travel differently, but also do I write differently. I always wanted my readers to learn something, and more importantly, feel something, long after they close this tab on their lap top, or swipe right on their devices.
Secondly, I will add in days, weather, longitude and latitude every day to imitate a ship captain’s log. This epic took place on a small ship, and I do wish this unique style can get you into the setting and mood of this historical voyage for me as a traveler, and for you as a reader.
Thirdly, there are a lot of puns about the sea, sailing, and Antarctica. I mean A LOT. You will be PUNished by COOL jokes so much that you do not want to SEA anything else for days. And you will gladly take that, for shore.
Lastly, I want to include even more intriguing history and science about this little known piece of land, so this journal will be significantly more detailed in all parts to come. I really want to include as many interesting facts as I can, and I bet you do not know all of them! Please wait patiently or refresh your page if you encounter difficulties.
Oh wait, there is something else. I sincerely hope you enjoy this series, and if you feel like reading more, please feel free to subscribe with your email, or leave a comment here. I run this blog completely voluntarily, and your support means everything to me!
With that all out of the way, let’s embark on the journey of a lifetime!
My intention to take this voyage is simple: I wanted to visit all 7 continents in 1 year, and Antarctica is, shockingly, a continent! I had finished Africa, Asia, North America, South America, Oceania and Europe, and Antarctica as a finish for this life goal of mine could not be even more appropriate. All travelers either go to Antarctica by ship or plane, except that planes cost both of your kidneys and probably half of your liver, so I decided to go for the single-kidney option instead: ship. Most of these cruise itineraries only take you to Antarctic Peninsula in the standard 11-day-10-night package, as the destination is exploding in popularity, so the best way to make profits is to turn the ship around as many times as possible during the short window of southern summer. However, unwilling to give in to my corporate overlords, I wanted more than “the package”, because Young is not your normal lame-ass traveler! I ended up booking a 20-day unrivaled voyage with a company called Antarpply, and this journey would take me to not only the Antarctic Peninsula, but also Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas, and South Georgia Island. Now looking back, I am so glad that I opted for this option.
(all rights reserved, any usage should consult me first, thank you.)
Day 1, October 24th
cloudy, 5 knots west wind, 10 °C/50°F
It was 4 p.m.; I walked towards the tiny office of the Ushuaia port. A handful of travelers had already congregated outside, and amongst them Charlie and Christine. With 90% of the passengers being people over the age of 50 as normally only retirees would have the amount and time to enjoy life under the oppressive capitalism, we were some of the only few younger fellows onboard. While we were just starting to talk, we were called by a port authority staff, and handed in our confirmation printouts. We walked down the long dock to our ride, and tadaa, standing right in front of us was the magnificent MV Ushuaia, glistening with freshly-polished enhanced armor and a radar spinning lightning fast. Her bridge was already manned with a full set of crew, busy preparing for the first voyage of the season.
However, before we could board our shiny mobile home, all of us were dragged to clear immigration in a tiny office. An officer examined our passports, but did not stamp them. This is because Argentina holds claim to our first destination, Falkland Islands, which they call Islas Malvinas; the nation also claims the segment of Antarctica that we were visit last before heading back here, so there was no reason to clear us out of the country officially, even though the South American nation de facto controls neither.
Upon the completion of beureaucracy kerfuffles, all service members such as the bartender, chefs, engineers, cleaners, and servers, welcomed us at the gangway to MV Ushuaia, forming a long line on par with Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet. Wait, this was even better, because there is actual beauty involved on the other end. We had to drop our bags so they could be delivered onboard after a security scan, so I gladly stepped onto the floating fortress where I would call home for the next 20 days, failing to realize how much I would miss solid ground by the end of this backbreaking and breathtaking month. I looked into my room, a cozy 3 bed dorm on the starboard side, right beside a key set of stairs. There weren’t too many amenities, but I am a modest man. A small window, a roll of towel, and the hope of seeing the forbidding continent would get me nearly to good! “I am on a ship!!! I am on a ship!!!” I screamed like a 6-year-old, as I ascended the flights of stairs up to the viewing deck.
Let me introduce my ride before pimping it out. Our ship, MV Ushuaia, is an INSB Ice Class C expedition ship that was originally a research vessel for USA. Now her job is to carry at most 88 passengers and 38 staff through the most secluded areas in this world. Her top speed is 14 knots, and her gross tonnage is 2923 tonnes. With the length/breath/draught of 278/51/18 ft respectively, she is small, functional and highly maneuverable, but this makes her a leaf in the turbulent southern ocean. However, that is the trade-off I am willing to make if that means she can take us to places where those large gigaton-level monstrocities cannot.
Her decks are labeled by letters, and top deck is designated as H, and the observation deck above the bridge is I. Perching on the top, I looked into Ushuaia city, and had little idea how much the world would have changed by the time I return to this place. Not only would the most controversial US election of my lifetime take place while I was out of communication range, but also would my view on this world change by the end of this transcendental journey. A welcome cocktail was announced over the PA, and I appeared in the bar/lounge area to meet other fellow travelers, and shared a glass of champagne. I was introduced to other fellow young men Luke and Andrew, as well as Momo. The definition of “young” was used quite loosely as nearly 90% of the passengers were old enough to remember their first fight with mammoths. Not surprisingly, I was again the youngest on the entire ship, by quite a large margin, but hey, if that means I am not on my desk crunching through my TI-85 as my contemporaries were probably doing, I ain’t complaining about any age gap! By 6p.m., the ship sounded the horn, and promptly pulled out from the harbor.
I looked into the distance, barely able to contain my emotions. This would be the final home stretch of my grand dream, and I was so proud to say that I had done it. Mixed in with the usual suspects of happiness, excitement and disbelief, was a tad bit of nostalgia. This was it. After this journey, it would be a new world for me. I had been dreaming, and then planning, and eventually executing this meticulously-drawn masterplan for years, and soon enough it would be accomplished. What could I do next? I could feel the impending doom of getting lost in the vast ocean of possibilities.
As Ushuaia(from now on, this word will refer to our ship) sailed into the tranquil Beagle Channel, we were required to attend a mandatory meeting. Everyone gathered in the bar/lounge (I will call it salon from here on) on F deck and was given instructions of how to evacuate. I teamed up with Charlie and Christine, and prepared for an emergency drill. Charlie is an aspiring young doctor hailing all the way from down under in Australia, who always carried a large smile and an even bigger DSLR camera; while Christine is a huge goofball banker who somehow, ironically, has a more relaxed view on money than the hippies I encountered in Nicaragua, and that is why I somehow managed to drag her onto the most remote piece of land, Easter Island, with no prior notice. One thing I love about these types of extreme trips is that every single person who can manage to get on board has a special story to tell, a distilled essense of the elites, who can only have more to teach me.
Everyone had to wear these large red life jackets and follow a line to evacuate to a specific lifeboat. We formed the line by putting our hands on the person in front of us and slowly moving towards H deck. It was quite a lot of fun, because it fully reminded me of a childhood game we used to play in elementary school, which involves a long line of blindfolded kids with their hands on the shoulder of the person in the front, coming a piece of supressed memory buried deep in my subconscious.
After our little evac fiesta, it was finally time for dinner. Almost 8 p.m, the sun was still lingering on the western side of the sky, as the latitude of Tierra del Fuego was already unbelievably high. Even more south we go, we would end up like in Svalbard with the polar day! Light illuminated the South American continent for one last time, and as we gathered in the dining room, the night finally dawned onto this tiny ship sailing inside one of the most beautiful channels in the world. Thank you, universe, for making my life so awesome. My existence is pure bliss, and I know, I am going to experience pure joy, in the days to come.
The dining room was quite cramped, with barely enough space for me to squeeze my legs under the table. For a ship of this size, however, I was impressed by how much space they gave for the place to eat. The chairs were fixated to the floor, and there was not too much room for personal space as 10 people were stuffed onto a table, so I got used to eating with my elbow on Charlie’s shoulder quite quickly. Every meal was served with an appetizer/soup, a main, and finally, a dessert. Vegetarians like Charlie would get a different main course as almost all regular meals were some kind of meat: the crew is Argentinean after all!
After dinner, I went back to the end of the ship, as some birds were spotted following our wake. One of the older gentlemen was a professional bird watcher, and he had been looking through his binoculars ever since we boarded. I sat beside him, and watched until the very last drop of light was drained from the horizons.
A movie was aired by the time, and I watched the documentary about Falklands/Malvinas with a horde of people, all eager to learn something about our destination at the last minute. (Spoiler: in the following days, this enthusiasm did not last long as stronger waves brought in sea-sickness.) The tiny lecture room could only hold a dozen people, so most of us had to stand in the back, snuggled up extra cozy. It was a very interesting as well as useful watch since we would be in that remote archipelago within 2 days!
Open Ocean en route to Falkland/Malvinas
Day 2, October 25th
overcast/sunny/rainy, 19 knots northwest wind, 9°C/48°F
The breakfast was served buffet style, and we were offered a variety of fruits, cured meats and freshly prepared dishes such as eggs, potatoes and bacon. However, the fresh produce gradually dwindled as we sailed on, with our last breakfast with nothing but a few defrosted melons as the fruit option. A cereal bar was also present, giving us a choice of raisins, chocolate puffs, and dates as companions to jugs of cold milk. It was definitely not high-end hotel level, but surely beats my routine university breakfast staple: starvation.
Guess what? It is birdwatching time!
I joined the old birdwatcher couple cuddling at the back of H deck, and sat down as the officially registered 3rd wheel, facing the large flock of seabirds that decided to follow us on the long journey to Falklands. I immediately spotted a few black-browed albatrosses, which were very easy to distinguish because of their Youtube-tutorial-worthy make-up on the brows.
The feathered friends glided ever-so-elegantly, from starboard to port side, and from bow to aft, feeling the wind brushing through their open wings. Some people say that the birds follow the ships for food, because the turbine can knock out fish that are attracted to the sound of the engine. It is not entirely true: as in Antarctica, lots of the birds following our ship were enormous open ocean seabirds, and they needed much more than just tiny fish in the wake of the ship. Other reasons had to be there. The ship breaks the fierce gusts easily, and this creates a “jet stream” that allows these hitchhikers to traverse long distances without breaking a sweat.
A lot of other species were also in the pack, and the old gentleman had to explain to me how to spot the different breeds of seabirds. I quickly grasped the gist of it and was immediately able to identify a lot of petrels in the large fan base of our ship MV Ushuaia, tagging along in the freezing Antarctic gale. Giant petrels were enormous birds that were only second in size to the albatrosses, and they looked slightly ugly due to their bifurcated nostrils, but they were the most numerous.
At around 9:30, we were called to attend a lecture in the lounge. These are optional classes that one can take in order to further their knowledge of the mysterious Antarctica. A group of researchers and scientists specialized in giving these lectures, and today’s morning lecture was given by the German historian Monika. She explained the history and origin of the Falklands, which I will explain later in the journal. As many know, these islands have a long, long history that goes way back. Most people may not know too much about the islands themselves, but many know the particularly troubling history…
After a brief break, we had another lecture with our onboard biologist Julieta. We were taught a systematic way to identify the different types of albatrosses, petrels and others. Barely upon the conclusion of the lesson, nearly everyone decided to put our newly acquired skills to use in the front of the main deck, accompanied by Julieta who was busy doing the actual work by identifying the birds from afar and pointing them out. Fewer birds remained at the tail of our wake by that time, likely due to the stronger tailwind we encountered.
Before losing all my body heat due to extended hours on the deck, I retreated back to the dining room for lunch. The afternoon was nap time for most of the elderly passengers who made up the majority of the ship; therefore, there was not too much scheduled. You could see old ladies and gentlemen lying around, napping with their mouths gaping open, gasping for air while swirling some near the throat, bobbing up and down their uvulas in a symphony of motion. What time could be better than this dull moment to detail how a day would go onboard this moving home?
Morning calls are always announced via the PA system by the expedition leader, Augustin. He always begins with a loud, resonating “GOOD MORNING, ANTARCTICANSS!!!!” which makes it hard for me to be mad about despite the fact I probably needed 3 additional hours of sleep every day. Additionally, it had practically become a meme by the end of our voyage, with every person on board adressing each other by the title of “Antarcticans”. Everyone then wakes up to check the daily schedule that is printed and distributed to multiple bulletin boards in multiple public areas in English and Spanish. Breakfast is then served, with the scheduled morning activities. If we are floating on the ocean, it will likely be a lecture; if we are at a destination, then we usually take our sweet time to dress up and do a landing. The entire group always has to come back to the ship to have lunch. The afternoons, no matter what, are always sleepy. We either sleep our lives away, or another lecture takes place. However, on some rare occasions, we would luck out and do another landing to maximize the value of our precious time in heaven.
If I do not feel like sleeping since I am not ready to pay nearly ten thousand dallars to nap yet, I would join the younger guys and gals for a card game, or do some readings from the “public library” that was practically a glorified drawer stuffed with books. I would also stand on top of the I deck to watch the ocean, while pondering about my life, for hours and hours. Sometimes it got so cold that I could not feel my eyelids. Usually a snack plate is presented in the bar around 4:30pm, which is the very reason that supported my life all this voyage. My triple chins need their daily 40000 calories dammit! Dinner was always served late per Argentinean rituals, and people would need to rush, or you and your friends may have to sit separately. As a result, sometimes we would have to line up outside the door to the canteen 30 minutes before the scheduled commencement. Ah, just like my childhood in boarding schools! Additionally, due to the large number of passengers and the shortage of servers, the service flow during these meals were extremely slow. I quickly grasped the directions the servers served the dishes and used it to my advantage, in order to make sure I am always at the end that they began serving. Because sometimes there was a 20 minute disparity between people who were served first and last, so it was quite common to have those folks being served first finishing up their desserts before some at the other end could begin their appetizer! After dinner, a documentary is usually shown, and I either enjoy a drink with the others in the bar, or fall asleep from food coma.
That is a day on the ship~!
Now, back to the quiet afternoon. Right after the briefing about landings which informed us about the correct usage of these small rubber ships called zodiacs, we experienced a heavy shower, which produced a brilliant double rainbow. The folks rushed to the front of the ship to witness, and it was likely the brightest rainbow I had ever experienced. Even my low light exposure DSLR captured the mesmerizing gradient perfectly, and trust me, the image I had in my head captured by my mind was way more vivid, as if it was drawn onto my retina by a masterful artist.
Before dinner, we spotted land, probably some cape of Falkland Islands. Oh I mean, LAND AHOY!!! (sorry I have to say it) After that, you know the drill, dinner, movie, alcohol,
cry due to loneliness, sleep. And to many people on board, the land was a welcoming sight. Ushuaia had been rocking back and forth because we were riding the waves coming from behind, and almost every hour another person would throw up. I held my urge to get the free motion sickness pills from the doctor, since they induce lethargy as effectively as advanced calculus class in my university. I spent hours in the dusk at the top deck for fresh air, and I got the chance to witness the most beautiful sunset in my life.
Isn’t this surreal? After all this time, all these adversities, I am still standing, right? I watched the night dawning on the southernmost piece of ocean, and in a few hours, a new day would begin, in Falkland Islands/Malvinas.
Falkland Islands/Islas Malvinas
day 3, October 26th
sunny, 19knots southwest wind, 7°C/45°F
West Point 51°21’S,60°41’W/Carcass Island 51.18°S,60°33’W
We began our first zodiac landing right after breakfast. The zodiac is a small rubber boat that is motorized in the back. Its shallow draught allows landing at most beaches, and its lightweightness makes it ideal to carry onboard in quantity. We board the zodiacs from the back of the ship on E deck, which is specially designed for these procedures. Each zodiac is piloted by a sailor, and up to 10 people can sit on the two sides. The ship had 5 in total, but for safety reasons, only 3 would operate at the same time, shuttling back and forth between the landing point and the mother ship.
We landed onto the tiny colony of West Point with the entire village coming to welcome us. Both of the villagers hugged us as we stepped ashore with our rubber boots, and yes I said “both” since the entire village had just one couple in an old house. Now that is a place for introverts!
We left our gears in a shed, and started walking up all the way across the island towards the bird colony, our goal of this landing. After setting my foot on solid ground after 2 days of rocking back and forth, I gladly ran around like a 6-year-old on a sugar high. A lot of waterfowls dwelled in the tranquil bay, and amongst them the notorious Straited Caracara, a kind of skua in this area. It is a bird of prey that has gotten used to clawing human heads because they thought they could lift us off by the head. A few of us were unfortunately attacked, and it turned out that they only target those who do not wear a hat, and that prompted me to frantically search for one.
However, before I could find any head cover, I fell victim to this immediately, and I had to chase off one of these sharp-clawed devils before putting up a hoodie. A black-browed albatross was also around to greet me. I really like their sleek make-up, and cannot stop imagining their daily routine of carefully doing those eyebrows in the morning. Imagine the costs of just going to Sephora every week!
After a short walk pass the grassy hills dotted with docile sheep ready to fall asleep any minute, we finally reached the large patch of tussock grass. This type of vegetation is crucial for the birds because it provides cover from the harsh winds. However, the main industry of the Falklands, sheep herding, decimated this type of landscape. As a result, this patch of tussock had to be fenced around to prevent overgrazing, which can potentially collapse the last colony here.
This ain’t your normal seabird colony. One type of bird is for boring kids, so here we have 2 kinds of them breeding together, side by side. Crowded? Maybe. Lively? You bet your feather it is! Black-browed albatross, my second most favorite kind of albatross, uses the slope to take off and land against the strong wind blowing over. (You know I am hopelessly nerdy when I have a specific ranking of albatrosses in my head. But it is okay, I like it that way.) They have an area to take off/land like a runway, and they lay eggs in carefully-crafted mud platforms between September and November. Incubation is 70 days and chicks fledge in 120 days.
They are supposed to be noisy birds, but compared to their neighbors, they were country singers in front of heavy metal fans. Rockhopper penguins share this place with the albatrosses. Do not ask me why, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe they prefer the competition? They jump from pebble to pebble to climb all the way up the cliffside hills from the waters just to breed, rest, and recharge. They do this every, single, day. I wish I had this level of determination to conquer terrains.
They build nests from mud, and form them into the shape of a bowl. Two eggs are often laid, with the hopes that one will survive. They are also the smallest penguin in the world, at the size of merely my palm. If it is not for the fact that I would totally be arrested and charged for violating multiple international lawes, I would have totally brought a few with me back home with my backpack.
What intrigues everyone the most is their ridiculous eyebrows. Seriously what is it with all southern seabirds and their eyebrows? You have the smoky eyeliner on one side, and then you have unholy golden extension on the other. These penguins with bright yellow brows belong to the group called crested penguins. They all have red eyes and bills, and they are apparently all going through a rebellious stage with steampunk hair and unnaturally natural long eyebrows.
We spent a good two hours walking around, partially because the penguins were way too adorable hopping from one rock to another, and partially because the feeling of being at the edge of the world was just starting to kick in. Finally, were forced to return, to the dismay of the many of us. Surprise news: we still had a continent to explore, and we barely saw 0.01% of all the penguins! The elderly were driven back to the beach by the lovely couple with their jeep: the only vehicle within 50 mile radius. Huh, and this gets me thinking, how did they get the jeep onto the island? And how do they fill up the gas? We thanked the homesteader and his wife, and bid farewell to West Point for lunch onboard Ushuaia. Everyone was ecstatic, as it felt like our Antarctic journey had finally begun. It was for real this time, not like the thousands of times conjured up by our excited minds.
Nobody paid much attention to lunch since we were moving slowly towards our next landing site. And trust me, for me to not pay attention to food, there better be a great fucking reason. Carcass Island was home to a tiny village as well as a large colony. We lined up by the boarding area way before the scheduled time, eager to hop onto the beautiful island on this brilliantly sunny afternoon. After travelling for this much, very few things can get me riled up as much as penguins, and I am glad that I was. If, one day, I do not get excited for seeing these waddly friends, you have my permission to end whatever misery I am stucked in, okay? The first thing we saw as we hopped onto the jetty in the village was the wild flowers. The stunning yellow induced a feeling of love in me. I felt sweat droplets coming down from my jaw as my heart started pounding faster, and I guess this is what others call a warm-fuzzy feeling…
We had to land in the secluded village beach since the wind was not favorable for any landing site closer to the colony, which was quite a distance away. We had to walk the kilometer to the other side of the island for what we wanted to see, and for me I have energy for penguins anytime in the year. And it is not like this is a bad place to take a hike, just look at all these fields of flowers, the fluffy sheep, and the turquoise waters! And also, look at this! A Ruddy-headed Goose was feeding in the fields, organizing her plumage, as well as leading her newly hatched goslings, which I decided to name as Ryan, Ryan 2, Ryan 3 and Ryan 4.
I quickly sprinted into the vicinity of the colony, and the gentoo penguins did not care about my hyperventilation at all, just minding their own business, which boils down to being awesome and cute 24/7. Their tiny red beaks, the waddling, and the tuxedo, I can hyperventilate all day every day. I want to hyperventilate all day every day!
These guys are one of a kind. Their signature white “bonnet” is unmistakable, and their tails are highly pronounced, unlike any other type of penguins. As you fellow penguin experts may have learned, there are two groups of penguins, the ones that are larger, and the ones that are smaller. The larger group is consisted of emperor penguins, which can grow to the size of a small child, and live exclusively on Antarctic continent proper, and king penguins, which are about the size of a large cat standing upright. Gentoo, however, is the third largest, which makes them the king of the smaller guys. Highly adaptable, these cuties are the winners of climate change, as their territories are expanding consistently while all others’ shrink. However, their numbers are still dwindling despite their territorial gain, but the decrease is much less so than others, as some vulnerable species of penguins are being decimated by the continent heating up.
Gentoo penguins are much slimmer than the others because they are more efficient in energy, and thus need less fat in their bodies for insulation. They also are the fastest swimmers among these tuxedo-wearing birds because of the same reason. Their nests are large circular piles of rocks or twigs, and are jealously guarded with loud screeching. You do not want them to be your neighbors, as their trumpeting is such a loud call that I had to wear ear protection in order to suffer more than a few minutes next to them. However, not everyone is perfect, right?
A lot of other birds also joined the commotion. I spotted a blackish oystercatcher and a blackish cinclodes (seriously English is so unimaginative when it comes to naming things, addressing species by their name while in Chinese new characters are invented for each new species to make it look more poetic and consistent.) amongst the hectic penguins crossing around the colony. This is the reason I chose this specific journey, because it takes you to such different places as subantarctic islands like this offer a completely different set of birds besides penguins for me to enjoy.
After a good hour of the worst symphony in the world, I had to head back to the village. No, not due to my eardrum being annihilated, but because the staff were physically dragging me over the pasture despite my numerous complaints. How can 1 hour be enough with these cute birdies!? On the way back, I spotted two Magellanic penguins, and took a good look of them, since these were the only two we would ever see in the entire journey. They are mostly residents of mainland South America, and only a handful of them breed in the Falklands, so they are rather rare during this journey. However, the best way of seeing them is in Ushuaia, and you can see hundreds of thousands of them on offshore islands near the city.
As you can see, a lot of penguins lie on their bellies to rest. Just like me, this is the least energy-consuming position, and it seems that we all agree that this is also the most comfortable. They recline like this to lounge around, but not sleep. The large patch of fat in the belly functions as a large cushion, and I wish I can do this if I have such a large patch of fat. Oh wait, I do.
We returned back to the village only to be invited into a local’s house for a delicious English-style afternoon tea. Huh, I guess it does not have to include “style”, because the union jack was actually just flying over my head, so this is as British as it can be. To be honest, this is the best afternoon tea I have ever had in my not-British-enough life. Yes, I am including the few times I had afternoon tea in London, maybe partially the reason can be attributed to the fact that right outside my windows, I could see a flock of penguins playing with dolphins. Oh also maybe because I would never be rich enough to purchase 300 cookies for one afternoon tea. Needless to say, I devoured hundreds of scones, and even more chestnut cakes, before I was carried off in a stretcher to the zodiac.
Ushuaia raised her anchor again, and set sail for the capital of the islands, Stanley. We had a brilliant dinner, and dozed off to sleep while the ship silently waddled east like the many obese penguins we saw today.
Day 4, October 27th
cloudy, 19 knots south wind, 6°C/43°F
We docked in the long harbor of Stanley early in the morning. A government official came onboard to offer us her welcome, and proceeded to stamp our passports. No tourist requires visa to visit, but a stamp on the passport for one of the most remote parts of the world sounded exhilarating.
We had a bit more than half a day free in the city, so I joined Luke and Andrew, as well as Charlie, to explore the capital that had barely 1000 inhabitants. The entire town was open by the time we reached here because every ship’s arrival is a huge event for the locals. I saw a newspaper with a clear schedule of ships coming with tourists for the entire coming year, down to the exact minute when the tourists would likely arrive in downtown, so that the shop owners, restaurateurs, tourist bureaus can schedule around the ships’ arrivals. It is somehow surreal to know that every single souvenir shop, the only government tourist bureau, the post office, the bar, and the few restaurants were open just for my arrival, and I almost felt like I was the queen herself! Just think about this, the only normal connection to the outside world, is a 14 hour plane ride from the Royal Air Force airfield down the road, once a week, to Manchester, via Ascension Island. Just think about the logistics of even going to see a proper city, and that is why everyone in town was excited to prepare for about 100 new people coming to town for just 5 hours. And guess what, how can I deny them the priviledge of being graced by my presence? The dock was a good kilometer away from the center of the town, and a bus was scheduled to go back and forth between the ship and the town every 30 minutes, but I opted for the walk.
Finally, time to address the whale in the room: the history of Falkland Islands, or Islas Malvinas. Brace yourself, this piece of forgotten history is quite a ride. Grab a snack, and a drink, cancel your weekend plans, and make sure your next year’s tax filings are in order, because this is gonna be long.
Nowadays, this island is still disputed between Argentina from old Spanish claims and British who control the islands. And that brings us to the very first chapter of this island’s turbulent past. The first European discovery of the Falklands was debated, as numerous accounts indicated possible sightings in 16th century by Spanish, British, Portuguese, French, and the Dutch. Year 1600 was the first accredited sighting of the island, and it is by neither the Spanish nor the British, but actually a Dutch bloke called Sebald de Weert. However, per typical discoverers, he barely made a difference by claiming the land for the Dutch and then promptly moved on.
The first settlement on the island, again, was neither Spanish nor British, but by the French in 1764 in Port Luis. In 1766, French transferred this town to Spanish authority because their territories were getting too many and too difficult to manage, meanwhile the British settled in and founded Port Egmont on the other side of the islands. A war almost broke out when the pair of mortal enemies found out the fact that they were actually sharing the same bed, nearly sparking the 2400189th conflict between the two, and a treaty prolonged the peaceful coexistence until 1774.
At that time, the Brits decided to retreat, and left the islands to focus on a war that was taking place a bit further north. You see, at that time, a bunch of slave owners were busy dumping tea off the harbor in Boston, and the British thought if they focused their forces a little, this issue would totally be over in a jiffy. It is not like, the 13 random colonies would one day coalesce into an industrial empire that would eventually become the most powerful nation to ever grace the planet which can send people to the moon as well as dropping bombs that can wipe out a city each. Pfft, don’t be absurd!
Spanish now had the only governmental body on the islands, and they withdrew as well in 1811 due to Napoleonic Wars, leaving a power vaccum in this seemingly barren island. However, that would not last long. Meanwhile, a bit closer to this island, Argentina declared independence 5 years later, and its existence was recognized by the Brits in 1825.
The very next year Argentina commissioned a German called Vernet to set up a colony in the islands they now called Malvinas because we did not have enough countries involved in this mess already. You have the Dutch, Brits, Spaniards, French, Argentineans, and of course Germans have to get involved. (They were just practicing on taking land for a century later, shhh, it is a secret.) They finally managed to do that in 1828, and successfully established a new town on top of the old French Port Luis.
However, you know who else has gotta join the party. Not too long after the founding, a dispute erupted over fishing in 1831, with nobody other than the Americans. Quickly, the US government sent USS Lexington over because these islands apparently needed more freedom. They kicked Vernet’s ass, evacuated almost everyone on the island, and declared the island “free from government”. Ah, classic Americans. So idealistic at that time, right before their cynicism phase of industrial revolution. Now, we were back to square one. Thanks Yankees!
2 years later, 1833, Britain is back, and this time with more men, and also Charles Darwin, hence beginning Falklands 2: Electric Bugaloo. They have not left ever since. New capital Stanley was set up in 1845, and not too much happened for a long time. Because, honestly, who cares? There were way bigger fish to fry during this entire time, and who other than the land-maniac UK would bother a piece of land that has just penguins and misery? As a result, the region remained off the radar of anyone. The Falklands were a minor base for the Brits in the two world wars, and a few battles took place. A garrison was deployed during WWII here to prevent a potential Japanese seizure. (seriously, Japanese now?) However, that never happened, and the people, as well as the sheep, grazed on as if nothing was happening, while the rest of the world went to shit.
Even though technically the Argentina never gave up control to the island after the Americans came and kicked everyone out, the nation was too preoccupied by all other things rather than this little island. The dispute was revived, or maybe, reinvented, in 1950s and 60s, especially after UN passed to “decolonize” territories, which Argentina thought:”wait, isn’t there something that belonged to me” and probably also immediately followed by: “finally, for Christ sake!” And guess what? UK, extremely against its normal character, was not against the idea of giving out this piece of land sitting at a rather inconvenient corner of the world. British secretly negotiated for a transfer of authroity since they wanna drop it like it’s hot, but the locals were furious after they discovered it, since most of them were descended from Scottish immigrants imported by the government to establish farmsteads many generations ago. In 1977, Thatcher government wanted to transfer it again, to no avail. The tension kept building, between the Argentinean government and UK, as well as the London headquarters and Stanley residents who felt they could be betrayed any time soon. They also feared that one day they would wake up and be told that they would suddenly become Argentinean, being handed a salsa-pamphlet and probably a mate cup. Finally, in 1982, the string snapped, a war broke out, yet it was for another reason altogether.
Argentina had been suffering from severe economic recessions for years since the military junta takeover in 1976, and the new admiral Jorge Anaya thought reclaiming the Malvinas would serve as a patriotic distraction, and he believed UK had no patience to engage in a war. Because they had approached Argentina twice for a handover, so they must be eager to get rid of it, right? Oh boy was he wrong. He occupied Stanley on April 2nd in a post-modern version of Blitzcreig, and South Georgia the next day. Upon declaring victory, General Anaya thought it was a good enough show, and was getting ready to take a break. Yet, on the other side of the hemisphere, UK was not taking it with a smile. 40 hours later, a naval amphibious assault force was assembled by London, and Prime Minister Thatcher quickly proceeded to hand Argentine’s asses into their hands. By the end of the 74-day war, Argentines had to surrender due to poor preparation and inferior war machines, and a complete domination put the nail in Anaya’s coffin.
Almost every single form of war was used. Air assaults, land battles, blockades, etc, you name it. Both sides put up a good fight while the rest of the world watched in awe. While everyone expected to be annihilated by the nuclear warheads dropped with either stars-and-banners or hammer-and-sickle painted on them, nobody expected the two weirdest kids in the class to begin a brawl. About 650 Argentines and 250 Brits lost their lives in the war, and a few dozen ships and submarines were sunk. Minefields lined the shores, and a significant damage to the local environment was done. The two sides did not re-establish diplomatic relationships until 1990, a solid 8 years after the war. The aftermath can still be felt today, as the dispute is still ongoing in UN. You can see large banners posted by the locals everywhere, and every single Argentinean I have met would state their stance with fervent patriotism the moment I mention the words “Falklands”, and then proceeded to correct me with the correct pronounciation of “Malvinas”. Many people know the touchy subject of China and Taiwan, or the two Koreas, and definitely the shitshow in Gaza strip, but few know about this strange fight still taking place nowadays.
This is the tortured history of these islands.
We had a blast in Stanley. After some souvenir shopping in the tourist information center, I paid a visit to the back mountains that contained a satellite array, one of the only ways to receive outside information. The government is keeping the island as close to the mainland as possible, so all BBC soap operas, Cardiff theatre shows, Edinbourgh parades, and Belfast radios are beamed directly onto the island in real time. We also entered an Irish pub to enjoy some British accent as well as some good beer. The islands use Falkland pounds that is fixated to pound sterling, but it is kept separate for the island pride and probably as an annoyance to the typical tourist. Carla, a British lady on board, was particularly intrigued and annoyed by the fact that these are some insane similarities to her home country yet it was so different in even more. The fish n’ chips we had in the bar was brilliant, despite very few of us got to have it. It was because it was a Monday. If you ask a local why they don’t serve fish on a Monday, they would look at you like you have two heads:”Who the fuck goes fishing on Sunday?” There was even a whalebone exhibition by a local enthusiast. This 1000-people capital was strangely charming despite being at the edge of the world.
We took the bus back to the ship, just in time to get on board before we departed. We waved the lovely locals goodbye, and before we knew it, the islands disappeared from our sight. This marked the end of our voyage to the Falklands/Malvinas, and our little ride proceeded on the long, long journey further east to an even more remote island…
I left Argentina in pure excitement, then spent a full day on the ocean watching more birds than I had ever seen in my life. In this archipelago, I encountered penguins for the very first time. However, Falkland Islands/Malvinas had more than just penguins and albatrosses on offer. The enigmatic history and attractive capital Stanley were the ones that made my heart stay. I could not even imagine what next leg of the voyage would bring me, in the remote South Georgia Island…