November 2022: To complete my visit of all South American countries, I felt that I would be leaving too much out by not visiting the Falkland Islands. The remote British archipelago with abundant wildlife that lies between Patagonia and Antarctica, fought over in a 1982 war between Argentina and the United Kingdom (U.K.)  with miles of sweeping wilderness landscapes, was a place that I just couldn’t miss.

Abouth the Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands are not known to have been inhabited by anyone prior to the arrival of Europeans. The islands were just too far from South America and too desolate and hostile. The British were some of the first to maintain settlements on the islands and have had a presence there since the 1700’s.  The first settlers were seafarers lured to the islands in order to seek refuge from the ferocious storms of the Southern Seas. The Falklands were originally used as a base to repair ships battered and bruised by the hurricane type conditions that commonly greet ships when navigating around the southern tip of South America-Cape Horn. The islands attracted more settlers during the whaling era and whales, penguins and seals were almost hunted to extinction for their oil. Then more settlers came to the islands during the California gold rush that saw more ship traffic between Europe and the Americas, since prior to the constriction of the Panama Canal, all inter-continental ship traffic had to pass by the islands when rounding Cape Horn. When the Panama Canal was constructed in the early 1900’s and ship traffic came to a halt in the region, the islands in a way disappeared into obscurity.

The Falkland Islands maintained a British military presence throughout World War I and II and the islands were critical to the British in naval battles against Germany that ocurred in the Southern Atlantic.

After World War II, the Falklands remained one of Britian’s most remote territories and it was because of this isolation and proximity to Argentina-approx. 300 miles away that the military dictatorship of Argentina in 1982 determined that Argentina could easily take the islands in an invasion. In the harsh weather of winter, Argentina invaded and quickly over ran the scant defenses of the island and established fortified positions and layed thousands of land mines on potential landing areas and beaches. Many of the Falkland Islanders, including ones that I met recounted stories of Argentine soldiers arriving at farms and escorting them at gun point to internment camps, where they were held until the end of the war.

Despite Argentina having months to fortify positions on the islands and having a superior number of troops. the U.K. dispatched a fleet of navy ships and launched its own invasion and successfully reclaimed the islands from Argentina only four months later. The war saw brutal hilltop raids by elite British forces such as the British Royal Marines, Scottish Guards, and Gurkhas, all who stormed Argentine machine gun nests during daring nighttime raids. In the aftermath, 649 Argentine and 255 British soldiers were killed.  Despite losing the war and a voting referendum held by Falkland Islanders that overwhelmingly was in favor of British citizenship, Argentina continues to claim ownership of the islands and refers to them as La Islas Malvinas instead of the Falklands. As a result, the U.K. maintains a heavy military presence in defense of the islands. The island’s main airport, Mount Pleasant, that all air passengers must fly into, is actually a military airport and passengers are subject to military restrictions including no photos being allowed.

The islands are still remote due to their geographical isolation. But in recent years wildlife tourism has been introduced and thousands of cruise ship tourists enroute to Antarctica make the islands one of their stops. Additionally, tourists such as my wife and I have made the journey to the islands by plane. Industrial fishing as well as the export of wool from sheep on the island has also greatly assisted the economy.

The population of the island is only approx. 3000 people and with such a small population to land ratio, this leaves vast tracts of wilderness. The people of the islands have a frontier like mentality, are hardworking, and self-sufficient and many of the farms and outer settlements reminded me of visiting the Australian outback.

Location of the Falkland Islands to the right of the tip of South America-Cape Horn

Getting to the Falkland Islands

Since most flights need to pass over Argentine airspace to get to the Falklands and the islands are so remote, there just aren’t many options to get there. There currently are only two flights into the Falklands per week. One is a weekly flight on LATAM Airways departing Santiago, Chile via Punta Arenas. As part of an agreement between the Falkland Islands and Argentina, the LATAM flight is required to stop twice per months in Rio Gallegos, Argentina after the initial stop in Punta Arenas, even if there are no passengers getting on or off the plane.  The 2nd flight to the Falklands is via a very long no-frills military flight from the UK that stops for fuel in Cape Verde on the way.

My wife and I chose to visit the Falklands via the Latam flight, which departs only on Saturdays from Santiago. This meant that our stay in the Falklands would-be a minimum of 7 days. We flew to Santiago and spent a day there visiting the city including the Human Rights museum dedicated to the victims of the Pincohet military government in the 70 and 80’s that tortured and murdered thousands of the country’s citizens.

Close up of Portraits of Chilean Citizens Murdered by Pinochet regime

Overview of Portraits of Chilean Citizens Murdered by Pinochet regime

Our flight over the Andes from Santiago, Chile

Then we flew via LATAM over the Andes Mountains to Punta Arenas in the southern tip off Chile where we exited Chilean immigration before flying to Rio Gallegos, Argentina where we picked up only two passengers and no one exited the plane. Regardless, this was a mandatory stop in accordance with the agreement with Argentina and the Falklands and so we had to stop.

From Argentina, the flight to Mount Pleasant in the Falklands was an hour long. However, the fun isn’t over there. The landing into the Falklands with its extreme gusty crosswinds is never a guarantee and I came to learn that many flights are turned away by the British military operating the airport due to unfavorable crosswinds from the north that can result in flights being denied landing.

For this reason, the airport may be closed for days on occasion. Our own flight when on final approach into Mount Pleasant had to make a missed approach due to strong northerly cross winds and at the last moment our plane suddenly pitched dramatically in an upward turn that sent everyone’s stomach’s dropping roller coaster style and the plane subject to some pretty nasty turbulence. The turbulence created a lot of angst andscreaming children on the plane and the kid in front of me vomited, which seeped down through the seat on to my camera bag. For the next 20 minutes the pilot flew circles over the ocean with the hopes that the winds would subside, and military airport authorities would grant permission to land. Thankfully, we were eventually allowed to land but later in the week the airport would be closed due to high winds and even the flight carrying Princess Anne from the British royal family was postponed by one day.

Staying at Volunteer Point with King Penguins

I wanted to spend a lot of time with the King penguins, which was one of the leading attractions to me on the Falklands. The remote Volunteer Point, only reachable by a rough 4-wheel drive tract from Stanley, has the largest population of King Penguins on the Falklands and is the best place to see them.  Aside from the Kings, there are also other species of penguins, Gentoo’s, and Magellanic as well as many other species of animals including sea lions that hunt the penguins.  When I discovered there was a small farmhouse on Volunteer Point with only two rooms and a small cabin available for guests to stay overnight, I realized that this would provide an opportunity for us to immerse ourselves in the nature of the area. When I initially reached out to the family that runs the operation and lives in the house and I was disappointed to discover that there was no availability for months. However, we lucked out and a guest cancelled allowing Paula and I to have the cabin for ourselves for 3 nights.  For 3 nights/4 days, we essentially were guests in a natural paradise.

Derek, who runs the guest house with his wife, picked Paula and I up at the airport and drove us to his home taking us across the northeast of east Falkland Island for approx. 4 hours via a 4-wheel drive tract through private land that consists of a sheep farm where his guest house is located. It is difficult to describe just how remote the location is. The guesthouse with a separate detached cabin, where Paula and I stayed, was the only structure located within hours of every direction. The cozy little house surrounded by a white picket fence overlooked the long white sand beach of Volunteer Point, where all types of penguins and marine mammals and birds lived.  From our cabin we could see Magellanic penguins guarding their burrows and flocks of semi-wild sheep with their lambs grazed on the grass side by side with penguins.

For the next few days Derek and his wife looked after us and a few other guests, pampering us with great hospitality and cooking despite being in the midst of a family crisis and for this I am grateful to them for trying as hard as they did to be good hosts in light of their challenges.  As cozy as the house was, we were rarely inside if of it. Instead, we opted to spent most of each day exploring the outdoors, walking the beaches and observing the penguins and other marine life. A small trailer at the end of the beach a mile or so down the beach stocked with couches, a heater and bathroom would be our base each day for further our wildlife exploration.

Paula walking in the distance to the guest house

Don’t be fooled by the white sand beaches at Volunteer Point, The Falklands are cold even in the beginning of summer during our visit. The Antarctic wind blasted us s we tried to walk the beach and we had to cover ourselves from head to toe in our winter garb to stay war, during our 3 days stay, the weather was mostly grim, grey, windy and freezing cold. The exception to this occurred on our last day, when the sun appeared along with 60-degree temperatures. This would prove to be the nicest day of our week in the Falklands. The nice weather didn’t last for long.

Along the beach we commonly encountered, Magellanic penguins, a shy species of penguin that dig burrows to nest their young, Gentoo penguins, Upland geese, sheep, and giant petrol birds with their huge wingspans. They were too fast for me to capture them with a photo.

Mother Sheep with Lamb

Maggelinic Penguin Guarding his Burrow

Beach of Volunteer Point

The highlight of Volunteer Point, however, is the colony of 3000 King penguins that live a mile down the beach from the guesthouse. The area is a private wildlife reserve, and the animals of Volunteer Point are protected by the guest house operators and rules put in place to keep the animals safe from harassment. With this said, the King Penguins had no aversion to visiting humans and even though we kept our distance from them, they didn’t keep theirs from us and they would commonly approach us to curiously investigate us. One penguin stalked us and followed us everywhere we went. He would approach us and stop to stare only a few feet from us. Once we turned to walk away, he would keep following.

Paula standing among the King Penguin Colony

Me with the King Penguins

The highlight of visiting the penguins was to just sit down among them and observe them going about their business while trying to be as un-imposing to them as possible. They were hilarious to watch. We enjoyed their crazy antics, especially the male penguins trying to display their bravado would move around in small circles while propping up their puffed-up chests to each other, while slapping their chests with their wings trying to appear as the most ma flap their chests with their wings. To feed their young, fat, plump brown furry looking penguins, that had yet to grow in their colorful adult plumage, mother penguins regurgitated their food into the mouths of the chicks.

Male Penguins in a Show of Maculanity

Mother penguin regurgitating Foodinto the Mouth of a Chick

Since we were so far south, there would be day light at 4am until 10pm every day. I would take full advantage of the long days to wake up early and have the penguins to myself, especially since day trip tourists would arrive around mid-day and stay until the early afternoon from Stanley. On our last day at Volunteer Point, I sat with the penguins and a cluster of hungry plump chick penguins waiting for their parents to return and feed them started to follow me. My impression was that they were hungry and confused and under the impression that was an adult penguin that might feed them. They would one by one approach me and out frustration when they realized I had no food for them would peck me with their sharp beaks.

Chickpenguin who kept pecking me

The Predators

Wherever there is prey, there are predators. At Volunteer Point the penguins are prey and there are lots of predators. There are the giant petrol birds, which glide like giant terakatals occasionally grabbing a baby penguin, and there are the turkey vultures that will scavenge on or eat sickly animals ranging from penguins to sheep. But the most impressive predator that I observed is the southern sealion. The southern sea lion, unlike the California sea lion has more of a lion appearance and appears bigger and meaner in comparison. large 1000 lb. sealions patrol the beach waiting to ambush penguins that enter or exit the water.  In the water, the penguins are torpedo like and cannot be caught by sea lions but on the long sandy beach, the sealion is faster than the penguin and has the advantage and will chase down a penguin snatch it, kill it with its powerful jaws and take it into the water to devour it. This was a scene I watched repeat itself during my stay at Volunteer Point. On one occasion, a lurking sea lion confused me with a penguin on the beach and began to charge me. It stopped to stare me down about 30 feet away trying to size me up, when an unsuspecting King penguin exited the ocean on the beach right next to the sea lion. I watched the sea lion quickly snag the penguin with its teeth and grab it into the ocean for a meal.

Turkey Vultures

Sea Lion Staring me Down

Sea Lion with a Penguin Meal

Sea Lion Hunting Penguins

It was strange to see penguins on a white sand beach instead of in snow. The penguins would march in troops down to the beach looking vigilantly for any sight of a lurking sea lion. As soon as any sign of danger presented itself, the entire squadron of penguins would waddle off back to the safety pf the grassy tundra.

Penguins  looking to enter the water on the lookout for sea lions

Penguins Retreating to the Tundra After Spotting a Sea Lion

Penguins Running in Fright

March of the Penguins

King Penguins Marching on Beach

On our last day at Volunteer Point, the weather finally cleared up and the temperatures soared, and we discovered that we had been in a paradise all along. Suddenly, the water turned turquoise green and the beach tropical white in appearance. We headed the opposite direction on the beach and climbed the sea cliffs exploring nooks and secret coves. It was one of the only times during the week I was able to remove the jacket.

Paula looking out over Volunteer Point beach

Hard to believe this isnt the Caribbean

Stanley, the Capitol of the Falkland Islands

The only sizable town on the Falklands, and by no means in it a big town, is Stanley. of the 4000 people that live in the Falkland Islands, almost 3000 people live in Stanley. The quiet little seaside town with its British village charm is a good place to base further travels into the islands. We ended up staying in Stanley for the remainder of our trip and we stayed 2 nights in the Malvinas Hotel and 2 nights in our favorite hotel, the Waterfront Hotel, a small boutique hotel with excellent dining. Our room on the 2nd floor had a large window with an amazing view overlooking the harbor.

Paula and I loved walking the town, observing how the locals lived their lives. We discovered that in addition to Caucasian British residents, 10 % of the population consists of Filipino service workers, who are eligible for British citizenship after 5 years of living in the Falkland Islands. There are also Immigrants of ex-British colonies such as India and Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans, experienced with land mine removal back home, came to assist with land mine removal in the Falkland’s and many stayed after their work was complete. Our impression of Stanley is of it being an idyllic multi-cultural friendly town where there appears to be no poverty.

While we were in town, the Falklands was celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1982 war and veterans of the war from the U.K. were visiting for a parade and memorial service that Princess Anne-sister of King Charles and daughter of Queen Elizabeth was in town for. Princess Anne laid a wreath at the memorial of the fallen British soldiers of the 1982 conflict while the whole town of Stanley gathered around. Everyone honored the fallen soldiers with a moment of silence followed by melancholic bagpipe music.

Stanley

Christian Church with Whale Bone Arch and Cut Outs of British Soldiers from 1982 in memorial of the war

View of the harbor outside our window

Typical house in Stanley

One of the small pubs in town we visited

Princess Anne Paying Her Respects to the Veterans of the 1982 War

Old sunken wooden boat in the harbor

Road Trip Across East Falkland Island

There are few roads in the Falklands and the main one is gravel. All of the rest are 4-wheel tracts that landowners use to patrol their land and round up their sheep. For this reason, almost every vehicle on the island is 4-WD and is either a Landrove or Range Rover. The antiquates land rovers common throughout the island were an impressive sight.  I rented a land rover for3 days to explore the east Falkland Island but when we arrived, we were informed that only a Pajero was available. With our 4wd rental vehicle we were seemingly free to explore the entire island. However, one of the rental rules was that we were not allowed to leave the gravel roads and venture onto any 4wd tracts. 

Empty Roads of the Island

We set off one morning with water and snacks to explore the island and it was amazing how quickly the town of Stanley along with any signs of civilization disappeared behind us. We were soon enveloped by a vast desolate wind bludgeoned land.  We came across very few other vehicles and the ones we did cross, always waved hello to me.

We visited some of the 1982 battlefields that are now wind-swept hilltops with rivers of stone left by retreating glaciers during the ice age. Paula who was feeling under the weather stayed in the car, while I braved the elements to climb some of the hills where ferocious battles between the British and Argentines occurred.

View from a hilltop battlefield

Argentine gun left on a hilltop

A building used by Argentine forces during the war that was bombed by the British 

View of Twin Sisters Mountains Battlefield

Mountain Spine Overlooking Stanley

It was a sombering experience to climb the solitary hilltops, where violent battles ocurred between British and Argentine forces in 1982. I tried to imagine the terror, cold and chaos of the battle and relics of the war are still scattered about the hilltop and easily visible today such as sharapnel fragments from bombs, bomb craters, guns, and ammunition boxes. 

Wreck of an Argentine Helicoptor that was bombed by British forces during the war

Settlement of Goosegreen on South End of East Falkland Island

We followed the Darwin gravel road to the southern end of the island passing very few other vehicles and almost zero structures. Even though it was sunny outside, the wind was fierce and cold. it was liberating to explore this beautiful and desolate land and to be free to go wherever we wanted, minus 4wd tracts according to our rental agreement. We visited the Argentine 1982 war cemetery, where over 100 soldiers remain buried in the direction of the empty wind-swept plains they fought over. Some of the soldiers are nameless and their tombs simply state, here lies an Argentine soldier known only to God.

Argentine Cemetary 

Later on down the road we came across a lonely graveyard for the settlement of Goose Green. Some of the tombstones were dated back to the 1800’s.  Afterwards, we drove to the settlement of Goose Green, with a population of less than 100 people. We hoped to eat at the small cafe, which a local lady informed us was closed.  

Goose Green Graveyard 

Small settlement of Goose Green from distance

Goosegreen church 

Goosegreen house

Paula bundled up in the cold 

From Goose Green we decided to visit the iron bridge-Bodie Creek suspension bridge built in the early 1900’s for local residents to transport their sheep across the ocean inlet that divides the area. Finding the bridge was not easy and we ended up driving along a rough deeply rutted 4wd tract to get there. The effort was worth it however, it was amazing to see the abandoned delipidated bridge, which was too unstable and unsafe to cross on foot.

Delipatated Bodie Creek Suspension bridge

Kidney Cove Day Trip to Visit Rock Hopper Penguins

On a day trip from Stanley, we shared a trip to Kidney Cove with two British friends we met in the Falklands at Volunteer Point, Simon and Lucy. Simon joined the British Royal Air Force and was extremely knowledgeable about the island and its military history and it was fascinating to listen to his stories. Kidney Beach is a huge tract of wild private land owned by a sheep farmer named Adrian. For most of the day, we explored the massive farm of Adrian in his beat up but reliable Land Rover. Adrian, a humble and good-hearted man, taught us all about sheep farming and living on the Falkland Islands. I was even amazed to discover that Adrian had been to Minnesota once.

Adrian showed us a few different Rock Hopper penguin colonies mixed in with a few colorful Cormerant birds located hundreds of feet above the ocean on clifftops, where amazingly enough these penguins climbed by hopping up the rocks to create nests and raise their chicks, safely away from sea lions. According to Adrian, he did see a sea lion on the cliff top once, so it turns out the penguins aren’t entirely safe.

4WD drive tract on Adrian’s wild private land

Rock Hopper Penguin 

Cormerant Birds

Rock Hopper Colony

World War II Guns Manned by Meggallanic Penguins 

Last Day at Gypsy and Pembroke Lighthouse

On our last full day, we had nice weather again and we drove the rental car to Pembroke lighthouse, an old lighthouse dating back to the 1800’s that is located on the point overlooking the entrance to the harbor of Stanley. From Pembroke Lighthouse we drove to the bay where there are two shipwrecks, the most impressive one being of the iron clad Lady Elizabeth that wrecked in Whalebone Cove on 1936. Then we drove out to the stunning white sand beaches of Gypsy Cove, where a British military unit was setting up a display on how they removed the Argentine laid land mines that until recently were still present on the beach. The beach is still roped off due to the risk of land mines floating ashore from sea. The Falklands was until only a few years one of the most heavily land mines regions of South America. The mine firleds are gone now,but on occasion a land mine will wash up on a beach.

Pembroke Lighthouse

Paula in front of the lady Elizabeth shipwreck 

lady Elizabeth shipwreck 

Gypsy Cove beach

Paula at Gypsy Cove beach

On the day of our flight departure, the winds were the strongest they had been all week, and I feared our flight would be cancelled. When I tried to ask a local if the flight was cancelled, I was often given the response, “flights are often cancelled here, we are used to it.” Luckily, when afternoon arrived the winds magically died down at the airport and we were able to depart on time back to Santiago, Chile.

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