Jet escorts, bitter winds and puffing pig dolphins
After only a week and five days of being on these islands they call British overseas territory, it really does feel like a home from home. The Falkland islands are still hotly contested isles in a historical foreign affairs dispute that goes back decades and culminated in the 1982 Falklands war between Britain and Argentina, but I couldn’t have felt more welcomed by the islanders here that have an identity all of their own.
Mid way to the Falklands, we had to make an all-important stop on Ascension Island for re-fueling, which was a bizarre experience. We stepped off the plane after an 8-hour flight full of inflight meals and movies to an almost deserted island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. It felt like some kind of scene out of Lost as we were herded like sheep in to what can only be described as a sort of outdoor cage just off of the runway. We proceeded to make the most of duty free as the warm humid air blew in just south of the equator.
Back on towards the Falklands and my excitement started to swell. It all seemed very surreal at this point but my nerves had vanished and all I had left was a curious eagerness inside me, the kind you get when you anticipate your arrival into a foreign lands.
Our air bridge into the Falklands from RAF Brize Norton took a whopping 17 hours but was worth the journey as we were escorted in by the MOD’s typhoon jets to landing. I have to say it was an impressive welcome and only got friendlier as the days went on.
We met our neighbours and housemate Rosie pretty much straight away who explained the local culture and customs to us, of which were all too familiar to our British traditions. We were later taken to our house which will be our home here on the islands for the next nine months.
On the drive, the rugged countryside reminded me of the description from journalist Max Hastings book, Battle for the Falklands. I am slowly making my through it but as I gazed out the window to the baron rolling hills of dried sandy grass and jagged grey rocks, showered with sheep, I tried to imagine what life was like over 30 years ago. The wind was tempestuous and it had an Antarctic bite to it that made me realise just how cold it must have been for the soldiers of the 1982 war. They say some died of frostbite and hyperthermia. I took a moment to think about those lost.
Modern, spacious and warm were my first impressions of our cosy house as we opened the front door- warm respite from the bitter cold winds outside. I wondered if the weather would get any better during our stay and was reassured that we’d arrived just as the Falklands is blooming into Spring and Summer. I now had a base. Clean sheets, soft towels, a comfy bed and a cup of tea inside me- I now felt at home.
Once unpacked our fellow housemate and colleague Caroline who’s already been here for two months, decided after lunch it was time to take us to the beach. A counterintuitive move I thought as it began to rain outside and I slowly got the impression the attitude was – if you can’t escape the weather here then why not embrace it. Everyone has a pair of walking boots and everyone is ‘outdoorsy’. Surf Bay is closest and most popular stretch of sand here. I was stunned by the white glow off of the beach when we arrived. Had it not been sunny I could have mistaken it for snow. A local islander and tour guide, Stacey McKay, later told me that the sand here in the Falklands is one of the whitest in the world. As we stood staring out into the Ocean we joked about wanting to see penguins, native to the Falklands. I stood taking pictures to send back home, documenting my surroundings when I suddenly saw something flutter in the waves.
At first glance I thought it to be seabirds and then noticed whatever it was was surfing the waves- and retracted the thought of sea birds. I pointed and yelled “Look, there’s something in the waves”. I could make out it was small, barrel shaped and black and white. I thought we’d hit the jackpot and seen penguins on our first day here and both Josh and Caroline suddenly started focusing on the rolling barrels to get a glimpse. There they were again but this time I zoomed in and could tell they had fins and tails. “They’re dolphins not penguins”, I exclaimed and they were indeed surfing the waves in closer and closer to shore. Whether they could see us I don’t know, but they were very friendly. Later on that night at the local watering hole, The Vic, a local surfer, Jay Moffett, told me that “the black and white ones are Commerson dolphins, otherwise known as puffing pigs”, I laughed and thought that was very cute as he continued to tell me that they were a very curious species and would often surf alongside him when he was in the water, in which I replied that he was mad for going in at this time of year.
It doesn’t take me long to adapt and two days in, after a little orientation of the islands I felt like I knew my way around and that small town girl in me was fitting in very well. It was now time to start work…