Return to Stanley

Posted on October 26, 2010

Second day on Carcass and the sun is shining, and the wind speed has diminished to gusty, which feels like a gentle breeze after the past few days. In front of the lodge is a white sandy beach, with water colored aqua and turquoise. Looks pretty, but it's frigid, and only once a year do Kelpers go in the water, June 21, midsummer day when they head to the beach and in a contest of macho bravery run into the water, then run out, dry off and make a barbecue.

We take off by jeep for leopard beach, once home to predatory leopard seals now rarely seen here. They share their namesakes ferocity, not spots. Now the beach is safe for penguins and has a colony of several hundred nesting gentoo penguins and many Magellanic penguins with their burrows in the grass. We sit above the beach and watch the penguins make the transition from water to land. So buoyant they gracefully body surf to shore. Once ashore the best they can manage is a waddle, so they do look look like the elderly fat nuns of my childhood. The beach is so pretty it could figure in a brochure for penguin holidays (assuming they had the brains, desires, and disposable income to take vacations, a lot of ifs), crescent shaped strand, sugar white sand, water many shades of blue, huge mounds of tussock grass above the water line looking like palm trees (in fact, the first Europeans to sight the Falklands reported the beaches were ringed with palm trees, as the tussock grass grows up to 8 feet, and if you stretch your imagination, maybe you could mistake this grass for a palm tree). Rob's thoughts vaguely parallel mine when he comments "if it were Rio it would be all full of people, not penguins."

The penguins, in typical penguin style are uninterested in our arrival. These must be the jock penguins, they have to waddle 2 miles a day on 2 inch legs, then swim for hours to catch fish. It's a mystery why they chose the hill top, as they had formerly nested at the beach with the others. The view?

One group of gentoo penguins 2 years ago elected to nest atop the hill. Strange behavior, as they now have to walk a mile to get to their nests. Rob suggests we drive up to see them, and his Mitsubishi jeep rolls and groans over terrain seemingly too steep for the endeavor. The president of Mitsubishi, a bird watcher himself is coming to Carcass in a few months, I suggest he take him to the colony, show him what his jeeps can do. There could be a TV commercial come out of this. (You heard about it here first). The penguins, in typical penguin style are uninterested in our arrival. These must be the jock penguins, they have to waddle 2 miles a day on 2 inch legs, then swim for hours to catch fish. It's a mystery why they chose the hill top, as they had formerly nested at the beach with the others. The view?

Next morning we drive back to the airstrip, Rob has to drive up and down the strip to frighten the geese away. Most of them come right back. Then the plane drops out of the sky. Its time to go. We actually hug, so much for his British and my Nordic reserve. I'm fueled with only one cup of coffee, mindful of the fact there's no lavatory. And I'm the only passenger on the plane. FIGAS is not making any money with me. I claim my co-pilot seat, the pilot again is Paul. Fly for 20 minutes and pick up 4 passengers, then another 40 minutes back to Stanley. The planes fly so low, and slow (about 160 mph) the size and desolation of the islands easily seen. It's all uninhabited, with a few roads snaking over the terrain, and occasional groups of buildings, a house and its barns and sheds. Neighbors are 20 to 50 miles away. No trees and not even a shrub. Just grass and rock and sand. Mostly grass. The shore line either cliffs or beaches, the water a shade of blue associated with the tropics. Not the sort of place I'd want to live, and I'm reminded what I've heard many Kelpers say, why would Argentines want this place, when they have their own huge and beautiful country? But then they add, as does Paul that he loves these islands, and finds them beautiful. I'll grant they posses a stark and austere beauty, but probably the more common descriptors are barren, bleak and windswept. While I'd long wanted to come here, and am pleased with what I've seen, I don't see myself returning anytime soon.

And then we land in Stanley, and I return to my hotel. Arriving from Buenos Aires last week, population 8 million, the town seemed tiny, arriving from Carcass Island, population 4, it appears pretty big. Deterred from walking on Carcass and Sea Lion I set out to burn some calories. I spend 2 days and see every sight in Stanley, then back to the air base for the flight to Chile and home.

Next month, to Bhutan, never tire of returning there.