When our cruise ship called at Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, I learned a rather odd fact. The visitors from one ship outnumbered the visitors who came by other means in a year, and stayed awhile. That, I suppose, is because it’s difficult to get to, if you’re not a cruise passenger. … unless you’re a member of Her Majesty’s Forces,
If you’re not into battlefield tours, the main attraction is wildlife … lots of it; seals, sea lions and many different kinds of penguin. We’ve seen penguins in the wild before, but Little Penguins, (aka ‘Blue Penguins’ or ‘Fairy Penguins’) in Australia. But since they only come ashore at night, we weren’t allowed to photograph, as the flash damages their eyesight.
These, however, were a different breed of penguin altogether: Gentoo and King Penguins, all huddled together with their chicks at a place called Bluff Cove. It’s not a place you can just drive up to. The minibus from Port Stanley drove us to a remote car park miles from anywhere … everywhere in the Falklands is miles from anywhere … and we transferred to a Land Rover, which took us on a bumpy ride across a barren, featureless plain …‘where we’re going, we don’t need roads’
I suppose if a road was to be made, more visitors would come, and the penguins would go elsewhere.
I had been wondering what the collective noun is for a group of penguins. I found that it differs. On land, it’s a colony, a huddle or a waddle; when they’re at sea, it’s a raft. And, I think they call the place where penguins gather, a ‘rookery’.
Anyway, we visited the ‘rookery’, and saw the colony, huddle or waddle. There they were, standing in a sort of disinterested huddle, just being penguins. They were surrounded by a ring of metal markers which the rangers in attendance told us not to go beyond. Nevertheless, we were able to still get quite close to the birds without alarming them.
Just over the dune was a Portakabin containing a café, gift shop and a small museum, showing, and, of course selling all things penguin. But, more importantly, distributing cakes and most welcome hot drinks, which were included in the tour price.
They also sell quality woolen goods, for the main occupation in the Falkland Islands is sheep farming. … indeed, they even produce their own Bluff Cove tweed. Another unique specialty they offer is jam made from the berries of a prolific local bush they call the Diddle Dee.
Back in Port Stanley, we had a choice. The minibus stopped at the memorial to those who fell in the Falklands conflict, besides a bust of Margaret Thatcher. Funnily enough, around this time, there were doubts about a statue of her in London, because of fears of vandalism. Here, they won’t hear a word said against her.
Across the water, we could see where visiting sailors of the Royal Navy picked out their ships’ names in stones on the hillside.
We could rejoin the minibus for the short ride back to the tender, or we could walk back. This allowed us a quick look around the houses; some brightly painted, others stolid and foursquare, which wouldn’t have looked out of place in a British seaside resort.
We even saw a section of the mast of the Great Britain, which was wrecked here, and subsequently returned to Britain and restored. She’s on display in Bristol nowadays; I keep meaning to go and see her, but never got around to it. At least, I can now say I’ve seen her mast!