Falkland Islands

19 December 2018

First day in the Falklands, punk Southern Rockhopper penguins like these stole the show amid the large colony of black-browed albatrosses at West Point Island.

At Saunders Island, we were enthralled by our first colony of King penguins. They continuously entertained as they paced around pompously.

Gentoo penguins liked to march along the Saunders beach,
periodically going for a swim and a snack.
Getting our first glimpses of all these cute aquatic birds in the wild was wonderful. I'd feared "penguin overload" on this trip but don't think I'll get tired of them. But I was most eager to visit Stanley, the Falklands' capital and home to most residents.

Down here in the far South Atlantic ― 8,000 miles away from the UK ― is this thoroughly British town, complete with an Anglican cathedral, red phone booths, lots of Union Jacks, plus proper fish and chips.

Some basics about the Falklands:

•  Under British rule since 1833, the Falklands are an Overseas British Territory with home rule.

•  About as big as Connecticut or Wales.

•  But sparsely populated ― home to 3,300 British citizens and about 1,000 British military.

•  Despite their modest homes, average residents here are wealthier than most people in the British Isles.

•  Fishing and the sale of fishing rights contributes half of the GDP. Agriculture (especially sheep) is still big, and tourism is rapidly growing. And if new oil fields strike lots of black gold, the Falklands may well become even more affluent.

Pretty little Stanley has most of its simple, colorful houses arrayed along the harbor for about six kilometers (nearly four miles).

Above:  Yellow flowering gorse line the road to the memorial for the WWI "Battle of the Falkland Islands," a decisive British naval victory that sank the German East Asia Squadron. 
Below:  The world's southernmost Anglican cathedral is Stanley's Christ Church Cathedral, built in 1892. In front is an arch made from the jaws of two blue whales.
Near Thatcher Drive is this
tribute to the Prime Minister.
In 1982, Argentina's dictator bet that the Brits, in post-Imperial retreat, would lack the will and the way to reclaim this seemingly unimportant, distant outpost.

He underestimated Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (whose own cabinet was ready to call it quits).

Analysts are still writing about the extent to which the British victory in the Falklands war ultimately may have had many big consequences such as to
lead to the downfall of the dictatorship in Argentina;
seal Thatcher's stature as a resolute leader; 
reverse the isolationist trend in the UK;
sustain support for a strong British Navy for decades;
influence strategic thinking on surface ship vulnerability;
reverse the West's defeatist outlook after failures of the 1960s and 70s;
and even embolden Ronald Reagan in the Caribbean (esp. Grenada), Central America, and Afghanistan.

Top: Royal Marines and local defense forces (FIDF) who had defended the UK's Government House are shown here taken prisoner at soon after the 1982 invasion.
Below: Fast forward to tourists in 2018, I'm on the far right, looking at Government House, still home to each London-appointed "Governor" since the 1800s.

Two footnotes:

① I'd never realized that Argentina also temporarily grabbed, along with the Falklands, the UK's South Georgia Islands.

The Brits won more than anyone knew at the time. Together, these small islands anchor large maritime zones that have turned out to have some of the world's richest fishing grounds and recently discovered oil fields as well! Moreover, in decades to come these territories may ultimately give the UK stronger Antarctic claims.