We set out just after the new year on a 14-day cruise of South America, which took in a visit to the Falkland Islands. I was curious about this bunch of islands in the middle of the South Atlantic that Argentina and England had fought over so ferociously in 1982.
There isn’t a clear winner, unless of course you talk to an Argentinian whose country refuses to pay the costs of de-mining the thousands of acres of “Malvinas” (the Argentian name for the Falklands) they laced with mines during the war. Or if you talk to a Falkland Islander, who would sooner spit than take your Argentinian pesos for a souvenier, even if you just arrived from Argentina for your visit.
We found that what is important about the Falklands, other than perhaps the world’s largest peat fields, (hey, if energy costs get any higher, this is a free source of heat! All you need is a sharp spade and some elbow grease.) is their location relative to Antarctica. Many countries are laying claim to some Antarctica ice and setting up some type of field operation on their claim. It seems that territory above Antarctica, when claimed as territory as well, creates a wider arc of influence for the country doing the claiming. Picture a pie chart: larger pieces of the pie can be claimed by a country from its pinpoint in Antarctica, radiating out to encompass any other land mass like the Falkland Islands, that is also claimed as an outlying territory. For the U.K., the Falklands are valuable for that reason alone.
Upon our arrival, others on our cruise chose to visit the penguin colonies along the coastal areas. We figured we would see penguins at some point and chose to take the one and a half hour drive to visit a 33,000 acre sheep farm. Along the way, we noticed Zimbabweyan workers in the vast rocky wayside. It seems that the U.K. and the Falklanders have decided to hire an African company to comb the countryside for the many left over mines that keep blowing up the island’s sheep, thus further undermining a lagging wool market. The workers have strung off a large grid and spend one hour on duty, 15 minutes off, walking the grid and combing the area by hand to identify the mines, which cannot be detected with metal detectors. Once a mine is located, it is flagged with the intent of detonating them all at once at some future date. That should be quite a fireworks show, visible all the way to the Argentinian mainland, less than 200 miles away.
We passed by a number of stone rivers, or stone runs that were noted by Charles Darwin on his visit to the Falklands two hundred years previously. These stone runs are periglacial entities that are really just like streets of huge stone dragged and left there by glacial efforts.The stone blocks that fill these rivers are from two to twenty feet long, and rest “irregularly one upon the other, supported in all positions by the angles and edges of those beneath,” according to an 1889 Geological magazine. Apparently all the requirements for an actual glacier existed except for the ultra cold temperatures and thus no ice, but rock remains. The largest stone river in the world resides in the Falkland Islands. Darwin called it the “great valley of fragments”, but it was subsequently renamed Princes Street Stone Run after Edinburgh’s cobblestone Princess Street. This river of stone is 4 km long and 400 m wide, running east-west.
The Watson family presides over their modest, but sprawling 33,000 acre farm where 3000 sheep call home. They use horses to round up the sheep about one third at a time for shearing, with the wool sent to the mother land. When not shearing sheep, the younger Watson digs peat for the kitchen stove that is used for both warming and cooking. A fine garden exists, protected by wind swept evergreens, and the lupines are even finer than those in our yard in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Back in the town of Stanley, we visit a few of the tourista shops filled with penguin baubles and note the archway contructed of the bones from two blue whales that stands before Christ Church Cathedral on the main street of Stanley.
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