Stanley, Falkland Islands (2019)
We spent February 12 visiting Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands, about 300 miles east of the coast of Argentina. Stanley has a large harbor protected by a long jut of land and ships anchor outside, but from the top deck you can see the colorful corrugated iron roofs of the town beyond the harbor. A few days before reaching the Falklands we passed our last large iceberg, which we could see from our veranda on the port side of the ship.
We had signed up for a long excursion to an area where Rockhopper & Macaroni penguins roost, but it was cancelled a few days before we arrived. We were told that the landowner had decided that the penguins might suffer from too many visitors. We quickly signed up for a shorter excursion to another Rockhopper area, but the day before our arrival that one was cancelled as well. We were told later that both excursions had been cancelled because the penguins had already left their nesting areas, so there would be nothing to see. Big disappointment because we had never seen these little guys, who look like members of a tiny motorcycle gang.
Anyway, that left us with nothing to do but walk around the town. This is not a bad way to spend a day, since this is a nice little town, very English (it is a British possession). But we had already done that on our first visit here in 2012:
After breakfast we boarded a tender for the very long and choppy ride into town, the longest tender ride of the cruise. Weather and sea conditions often make tendering here too dangerous but we were lucky about that. Still, the weather wasn’t nice at all: cold and windy and drizzly. On our way into town we passed two other cruise ships, a small Hurtigruten expedition ship with around 100 passengers and a large Celebrity ship with about 2,000 passengers. Stanley’s population is about 2,500, so on this day there were more cruise passengers than residents. Antarctic terns were flying around the ship and the tender. At the tender jetty were six penguin on a sign welcoming us to the Falklands.
As we began walking the first notable place we came to was Jubilee Villas, near the jetty. These were built in 1887 and named for Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee that year, commemorating the 50th anniversary of her coronation. They are unlike the rest of the architecture in this town.
Opened in 1892 on the site of an earlier church, Christ Church Cathedral is the southernmost Anglican cathedral in the world. It is built of native stone & has stained glass windows from the 19th and 20th centuries that are protected from the elements on the outside by wire mesh screens. It was undergoing some renovation when we were there.
The cathedral has a nice, though small, pipe organ. There is also a collection of dozens of kneeling stools for the parishioners to use, each covered by a scene from the town needlepointed mostly by the women of the church.
In a park next to the cathedral is the Whalebone Arch, a prime symbol of the Falklands. The arch consists of four actual jawbones from two blue whales and is very striking in juxtaposition with the church next door. It was first constructed in 1933 to commemorate 100 years of British rule. When we visited here in 2012 the bones had a beautiful patina but in 2017 it was treated to protect it from the weather and from moisture in the ground where the whale bones are buried to a depth of four feet. Unfortunately the epoxy that was used to coat the bones has left them very white and smooth, so they look almost like replicas. But apparently without this treatment they would not have lasted much longer, so it had to be done. Still a beautiful landmark, particularly if you don’t stand too close. The park also contains many colorful flowers planted in beds in the English manner.
Along the waterfront is a large park called Victory Green. Dating to the end of World War II, it has a nice open view of the harbor & the hills on the other side (over which we took the picture of the town from the ship). On the town side of the hills are the names of five ships that served in this area during the 19th & 20th centuries: Beagle, Endurance, Protector, Barracouta & Dumbarton Castle. The names are formed by rocks that are painted white every few years. The Endurance was due to be withdrawn from the area in 1982, but after the Falklands War broke out she was involved in the retaking of South Georgia Island by the British. She continued to serve in the area until 1991, then replaced by a new ship with the same name. In Victory Green is the mizzen mast of the ship Great Britain, the first deep sea steamship propelled by an iron screw. When launched in 1843 it was the largest ship in the world and also became the first iron ship to cross the Atlantic. Today the mizzen mast is in Victory Green but the rest of the ship is on display in the harbor of Bristol, England.
St Mary’s Church is the only Catholic church in the Falklands. It is made of wood & was built in 1899. Inside is a nice triptych painted by an artist born here showing the church in the 19th century. The town hall contains the post office and a philatelic bureau, where we bought and mailed some postcards. Although a British territory, the Falklands today are self governing with the exception of defense and foreign relations.
The Falklands Islands Museum is located at the historic dockyard in town, presumably opened when Stanley became the capital of the Falklands in 1845. The museum includes a cluster of buildings and has a small but crowded collection with very good explanatory signs. The collection includes a lot about the 1982 war with Argentina, the extensive maritime history of the area (which was an important ship repair station before the opening of the Panama Canal), birds and animals of the region, Antarctic exploration (including a hut used by explorers who wintered over in Antarctica) and a lot more. One item we enjoyed was a Symphonion, a large carved wood music box about 6 feet tall. Very much worth a visit, especially since cruise ship passengers are admitted without having to pay the usual admission charge.
For those too young to remember, Stanley was occupied by Argentine troops for 2.5 months during the Falklands War in 1982. The Spanish have claimed the Falklands, along with South Georgia, for at least 150 years. They call them the Malvinas Islands and in 1982 they decided to press their claim militarily. Possibly under the impression that Britain was losing interest in the islands and would not resist, they invaded and found that Britain did not take such aggression lightly. More than 900 people were killed during the conflict, almost 650 of them Argentines. In 2013 more than 90% of the electorate turned out for a referendum on whether to remain a British territory and 99.8% voted to remain. This shouldn’t be surprising since most of the folks around here seem to have British heritage. Despite all this, Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over the islands, as was proclaimed in Spanish and English on a sign we passed on the dock in Ushuaia that proclaimed the islands “are, since 1833, under the illegal occupation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.
Memory of the war is still vivid in the Falklands, not only in the museum but in a memorial along the harbor front dedicated to “those who liberated us” in 1982. There is a street named after Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime Minister at that time, and a large bust of her near the road along the harbor.
Further along we came to Government House, the home of the British governor of the Falklands territory since 1845. Looking like a British country mansion, it also has some very nice flower gardens.
Stanley was the site of an important naval encounter early in World War I. After defeating a British squadron in the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914, discussed in our earlier post about Robinson Crusoe Island, https://baderjournal.com/2019/03/16/, the German commander, Vice Admiral Graf von Spee, sailed his group of ships eastward to the Falklands with the intent of destroying the British navy’s coaling station and radio station there. As they approached the Falklands on December 8 they encountered a larger British squadron coaling there, which had been sent to avenge the loss at Coronel. Unable to outrun the superior British ships von Spee’s squadron was destroyed. One ship, the Dresden, survived the battle only to be cornered and scuttled by its own crew at Robinson Crusoe Island a few months later. Some 2200 Germans were killed in the battle here, while some 1600 British sailors died at Coronel. We came upon a memorial, erected exactly 100 years later, to the British squadron that prevailed in this battle “thereby saving this colony from capture by the enemy.”
Not too far away was the Stanley community center, situated on a hill overlooking the water with the town soccer field in front. This building houses a school and the only public swimming pool. But we had sought it out because it also contains the public library. Unfortunately the door near the library was locked for a few hours at lunchtime so we didn’t get to see it. On the soccer field in front of the building a number of Upland Geese were browsing the grass for food. The males are white & the females brown & black.
Stanley is famous for its shipwrecks. There are some 20 of them in the harbor, more than any other port in the world. We passed a couple of them on our walk along the harbor. Ross Road along the harbor is lined part of the way with unique light poles, which have a boat through the pole as a decoration. And of course there were birds, including ducks and what we think were Kelp gulls. Sadly, no Rockhopper penguins happened by, but we did see a dapper one on a wine label in a gift shop!
We headed back to town & decided to stop for fish & chips before returning to the ship (British outposts always have excellent fish & chips). But you will recall that there were thousands of tourists ashore today with the result that all the pubs were full to overflowing. We finally found a nice little fish & chips place that wasn’t a pub and although it was pretty full we managed to find a table, where we ate some fine fish & chips & drank some ale imported from Britain. While we were there it started to rain pretty steadily, so after lunch we walked briskly to a gift shop across the street from the jetty (also very crowded). Our reward for sailing on a small ship was watching a long line of Celebrity passengers lining the street outside, waiting in the rain for space on a tender back to their ship. When we were ready to go we walked right past them to our tender, waiting for us on the other side of the jetty. So that was fun.
Back at the ship we took a couple of pictures of mountains near Stanley. The ship penguins were very excited to be visiting a British territory and were fully decked out for the occasion.