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March 2011
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The Falkland Islands – Special Guest Review

Written by:

March 26, 2011.

Fred A. Barger, from Chesapeake, VA, recently cruised to the Falkland Islands with his wife Jan. Fred authored the following guest review.

The Falkland Islands are a hidden but beautiful treasure in the southern Atlantic Ocean – a bit difficult to reach but well worth the effort. Sitting east of Argentina, these small islands are a great port-of-call for cruise ships. The harbor at Port Stanley is not deep enough for the large ships to dock and unfortunately the seas and winds are not always conducive to tendering, so it is not a guarantee that you will set foot on the islands even when scheduled to stop. The ship’s captain will have the final say as to whether the seas are safe to tender, but once on shore you will be glad you braved the elements.

Stepping in to Port Stanley is like stepping back in time but with some modern conveniences. The town is small, the residents pretty much know each other, and it is difficult to find a traffic light. I believe they have only one of them. There is a bank but there are no ATMs and you cannot buy a money order. There is a post office but everything has to be flown out and there are not many flights off the island. There are a few roads but most are not paved with asphalt so a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a must. Since the Argentina “Conflict” of 1982, Great Britain has spent a great deal of money to bring the residents some modern conveniences such as cable TV and internet service. However the residents are very polite and still say “hello” to all. The national language is English of course, and the official currency is the Falkland Island Pound although British Pounds and U.S. Dollars are accepted. The Falkland Island Pound is equal in value to the British Pound.

All the large cruise ships drop anchor outside the capital city of Port Stanley and tender directly into the downtown area. The capital is named for Lord Stanley Of Preston. All excursions have representatives waiting at the tender dock, so you have little distance to walk to join your group. There are many excursions offered and they are a bit pricey compared to some ports. There are also things to do in and around town if you want to do some walking and save a little money. Many cruise ship passengers stroll around town, visit the shops, and possibly end up at the local beach to see Gentoo and Magellanic penguins. The cruise ships offer tours which will take you further out on the island to see Rockhopper and King penguins. Another option – and the one we chose – is to hire a local guide to take you to one of the great spots to see the penguins.

We hired local guide Patrick Watts. Patrick is a retired journalist and long-time soccer fanatic who offers 4-wheel drive tours to Volunteer Point. Volunteer Point is home to thousands of Magellanic, Gentoo, and King penguins. It is the only place on most cruise ship itineraries where you can see King Penguins. The trip takes nearly two and one-half hours each way, with only around thirty minutes on paved and dirt roads. The balance of the trip is through farmland as a true 4-wheeling adventure, and thus is not for the faint at heart. People with back or neck problems should rethink any trip to Volunteer Point as it is a rough trip whether with a private guide or on an excursion booked through the ship.

Patrick leads a caravan of thirty 4-wheelers. There were nine in our group with four passengers in each vehicle. Since two-way radios are about the only method of communication outside of town, safety dictates traveling in numbers. A flat tire on a solitary vehicle could strand the passengers for hours so the the caravans stay close together. Patrick’s tour prices are about half of what the cruise lines charge so you must book early with him. We first contacted him in October for our February cruise and had to be put on the wait list.

The one regret I had with the tour to Volunteer Point is the scenery on the Island is so beautiful, even under the overcast skies, I wanted to spend some time photographing it. Due to the time it takes to drive to and from Volunteer Point and the limited time the ship is in port, there was no time to stop the vehicle and admire and photograph the landscapes. The diversity of the landscape is tremendous, from farm lands, (horses and sheep), to peat bogs, (still harvested on a small scale to heat some of the local buildings), to rocky mountain peaks, to the rocky formations similar to a river which was caused by the receding glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. This is one Island that I would love to travel back to and spend a week. One day is just not enough time in the Falkland Islands.

We were fortunate to not only get with Patrick’s group, but we were in Patrick’s vehicle. Patrick is a wealth of information about the Island, local customs’, the weather, the “conflict” of 1982, etc. He keeps you entertained, as I’m sure all of his guides do the entire trip out and back. And if you are not careful you just might learn something from him about these beautiful Islands and its people! About half way to Volunteer Point, the vehicles pull over for a short rest near a farm house. There are facilities there but be warned they are a tad different than what you are accustomed to on the ship. However, they can help you achieve sweet relief on this very bumpy adventure.

After a short break its back in to the vehicles for the last hour or so of the trip. Even though you can see the ocean from the farm house it is still a very slow moving, bumpy adventure. This last leg of the trip to the ocean takes you past the peat bogs. The scenery in this part of the Island is very similar to the countryside of parts of Ireland and Scotland. The weather is very similar as well. Again, I found it to be very educational as well as beautiful. Patrick was like an encyclopedia on anything to do with the Falkland Islands and the way of life over the past 50 years. Once you arrive at Volunteer Point you are given an amount of time, approximately 2 hours, to wander at your own pace to see the penguins up close. You will also be served a wonderful box lunch at your leisure. The food was surprisingly good, especially for a box lunch.

There are a few things to remember when you are around the penguins on the Falkland Islands. First, Penguins Have the Right of Way! If a penguin is walking to a point near you, stop and give them the right of way. Second, Do Not Touch or Disturb the Penguins! The Falkland Islands have a law that you cannot touch or disturb the wildlife or you may incur a fine of up to 3,000 British Pounds. There are rangers that patrol the area, so do not think you can get away with it. They really mean it!

They Really Mean It!

Magellanic Penguins burrow in to the ground to make their nests.

King Penguins are very colorful.

King Penguins are about 3 feet tall. Their legs seem to be longer than the other penguins and therefore they walk more normal while the other types of penguins use more of a waddle.

Gentoo Penguins have a single white stripe across their heads.

A journey to the Falkland Islands is an adventure that few people on earth have the pleasure of taking. It can be difficult but very rewarding. The Islands are extremely beautiful everywhere you look. The people are polite and laidback. When you reach Port Stanley set out to see as much as you can. The best way to do that is to hire a local guide, like Patrick Watts, to show and explain to you the beauty of the Islands, the wildlife, the people, and the history. Trying to see the Islands on your own will save you a few bucks, but since you already put out good money to get there, why stop short. Go the extra mile and venture out further. See, enjoy, and learn about this wonderful little spot of heaven on Earth. It is a true adventure that everybody should experience and enjoy at some point in their life. But since only a small percentage of people will ever have the opportunity to realize this adventure, why shouldn’t you be one of them?

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