The Falkland Islands are an archipelago of over 700 islands under British rule. Argentina calls them “Islas Malvinas” and as you are aware, have made previous claims on these islands. I won’t say anymore about that. What is really unique about them is that most of the islands are privately owned which I did not know. The early British settlers brought sheep with them and quite often, you can see them grazing in the hills.
Be flexible, not supple
One of the first things our expedition leader told us was that “flexibility” was the key word for this voyage. There were many places we were scheduled to stop at, however, it was all subject weather and the sea conditions. We are in a very remote (and sometimes dangerous) part of the world, so safety was the staff’s main concern. And a close second was seeing lots of cool stuff.
To the expedition leader’s credit, he told us that they were going to do everything humanly possible to allow us to “maximize” our opportunities. I think that meant they were going to make as many landings as safely possible on this trip.
We were scheduled to make our first stop at Saunders Island. If the winds were over 30 knots, we cannot safely go ashore in the zodiacs. The winds were in excess of that threshold, so we had to cancel our first landing. Oh well.
The expedition leader knew of another place that was a little more sheltered and we could possibly land there. So, we headed out to West Point Island to see if we would have better luck.
Here we are on the map:
After our arrival at West Point Island, we found out the conditions were decent for a landing, so we were going to make our first trip in the zodiac. Yeah!
Yesterday, we were given a lecture about how to dress appropriately when going ashore. You need to be waterproof as when you are in the zodiacs, you ultimately get wet with the sea spray. Once in a while, a wave will come over the side, so make sure there are no “openings” where water can get into your clothing (make sure your waterproof pants go over your boots).
The Falkland Islands can get quite warm this time of year, but high, cold winds can come out of nowhere, so we were told to dress really warmly (in layers). So with that in mind, I rifled through my locker and put on my medium weight long underwear, fleece pants and jacket, 2 pairs of socks, scarf, gloves, hat, sunglasses, waterproof pants, boots and parka. The the only thing I was missing was a Partridge in a pear tree.
I also proceeded to put my ThinkTank Ultralight Backpack into my wetbag… it was a bit of a struggle to do this at first dressed like a stuffed penguin (I had practised at home, but it did not seem to help much wearing all of that clothing). With my wife’s assistance, the camera gear was ready to go out into the wilderness.
So we boarded the zodiacs and went ashore. Getting into the zodiac was a bit of a challenge because it was moving around quite a bit in the water and I had so much stinking clothing on. It was really awkward to move without waddling. More on that later.
We succesfully made our first wet landing and were shown the procedure to get out of the zodiac. Many people (myself included) struggled with it even though the crew were really good in helping us out. I figured it would get easier in time.
After finding a suitable spot to unpack, I stopped and wondered why the hell I had so many layers on. I was about to self combust on the spot, I was so stinking hot. I removed my life jacket, parka and fleece jacket (but left my undershirt on 🙂 to cool off a bit, then I just put my parka back on (with it being unzipped to allow airflow). The ambient temperature was quite warm, but a cool wind could come at any time, so I wanted to be prepared.
The photo backpack came out the wetbag, I deposited my extra clothing in it and left it with the other passengers’ wetbags.
Now to explore the island and the wildlife.
Most of the Falkland Islands are pretty barren – not many people live here. As we walked uphill from the landing site, we got a really great view of the harbour and neighbouring islands.
As this was a private island, we passed a few small buildings owned by the family who lived here. The yellow plant/flower you see above is called Gorse and it was everywhere. It was introduced by the British and only flowers briefly during the year. I guess our timing was perfect as it was in full bloom.
The first creature we came across was a Caracara which are primarily scavenging birds. They don’t seem to be afraid of people as illustrated below: Ben, the expedition’s chief kayaker, was trying to take a photograph of this bird who was a bit curious and really friendly (or hungry).
We were also instructed not to touch or feed any of the wildlife, for the staff did not want want the animals to become accustomed (or dependent) on humans. You might even get bitten, if you were really unlucky. We had to keep a minimum distance of 5m from all penguins/birds and 10m from all seals (even more for male elephant seals). The animals always had the right of way.
Here is a shot of our expedition leader interacting with a Caracara in flight:
I guess they also like expensive camera equipment as this Caracara wouldn’t leave my camera bag alone:
After we made it to the top of the hill (man, I am out of shape) and we arrived at a Black Browed Albatross colony. They were nesting and it was amazing to see them tend to their nests and eggs.
I don’t know if any of you remember the show, “Sesame Street“, from your youth? I used to watch it all of the time. One of my favourite songs/games from that television series was called, “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things is not the same.“
Do you spot something “not the same” in the next photo? (hint: it is in the lower left corner)
Aha! My very first penguin sighting. This is a Rockhopper Penguin and they were nesting amongst the Albatross. I couldn’t get over how small (about 40 – 50cm) they were. I wonder what Batman would think of them (hee hee)? These little birds were so cute, they couldn’t possibly be anyone’s arch-enemy!
As you can see in the next shot, you can get very close to the animals. I think this Rockhopper was trying to figure out what this passenger was photographing:
Remember, what you ultimately use is a function of how you “see” the world.
We had an excellent first landing and now it was time to return to the ship. We are planning to land at Carcass Island later today. Hopefully the weather and waves will co-operate with us.
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