Antarctica journey includes a destination meant for long ago

By : 
Dr. Jan Meyer
Biker's Diary

Many years ago, in 1982 to be exact, a friend and I were planning to go to the Falkland Islands.  Many people didn’t know where it was, but because I like to “take the roads less travelled,” it fit my interests.

I don’t recall the details, and I do know it was taking some doing to get the arrangements made. And then, two weeks before we were to depart, the British invaded. Needless to say, we didn’t get to make the trip.  As things go, we didn’t get another chance. Then. Now, the first stop on the final leg of my big journey to the far south of the world would be those islands which are far better known now because of that war.

Because of our short one-day stop there, we needed to make the best of the time we had. We had four choices of on-shore “programs,” and it would be possible to fit only two of those into the time frame. I chose the history walking tour and then tried to get on the afternoon nature trip but alas it was full. That turned out to be a good thing, not the least because I was able to add a private tour for the afternoon.

Walking the small city to see its many historic sites and museums was great. What I enjoyed most, not surprisingly, was hearing about the people.  Some of the remote islands are populated, albeit sparsely, and because of the isolation and separateness, the country has developed a rather unique culture.  It’s hard to imagine what life on one of the other islands is like; surely it takes a special kind of people.

According to our guide, Dunham, the country is made up of two larger islands, East and West, along with 776 smaller islands.  The total population is about 3,500. Approximately 2,000 of those people live in the capital city of Stanley, which is located on East Falkland. Dwindling population has been a problem and has constituted a dilemma: the unemployment rate tops out at 1 percent, with not enough people population to support new industry.  However, now the population is growing due to younger people returning after going away to college, and also because of immigrants. 

But immigrants create a new problem: Newcomers must stay seven years in order to apply for citizenship.  In the meantime, they must have work permits, which are very difficult to get.  Dunham said he was fortunate because he arrived on a work permit, but then married a local woman. That gave him an automatic permission to stay.   However, then they got divorced, and he was sincerely concerned that he would have to leave. He said luckily that did not happen, and he is a full-fledged citizen with no intention of ever leaving.

We walked down Thatcher Avenue to the tribute to Margaret Thatcher and the 1982 war with Argentina.  The Falklanders are solidly loyal to the United Kingdom, and can rattle off the changes on the island since that date.  They credit her with an incredible upward change in the economy:  they have gone from poor to prosperous.  Focus was changed from sheep to fish, and now they have “fish money,” fees paid for licenses to do international fishing within their territorial waters.  While they like their connection to the UK, they “keep all the fish money locally.” 

Their ties to the UK mean that they have an appointed governor, however, since the war they have nine elected representatives to Parliament. In the past, they had two who were appointed, not elected. They are proud to report that Thatcher visited the islands twice.

When we were walking by the lone school building, our guide pointed out that the historic building nearby was previously a residence of a prominent family.  Now it houses older children who come from other islands to Stanley for school.  Obviously not all children are able to do so, and the guide explained that others, and the younger ones, are educated by traveling teachers, home schooling, and/or online classes.

All of the homes had beautiful and well-tended gardens. But many also had what we’d consider eyesores in our towns.  When anything big and metal, including cars, construction materials, even ships, are worn out or no longer working or fixable, it is left where it is.  It is too expensive to move the stuff off the island, so it just sits and rusts away.  I think there must be a new business opportunity there for some entrepreneur.

I learned early on in walking with Dunham that he was a fountain of knowledge, and eager to talk about his adopted country.  I was just as eager to listen; there is more!