Tuesday, 27 August 2013

10 things I loved about living... in the Falklands

The Falkland Islands, in case your Geography is as bad as mine was, are in the southern hemisphere about 400 miles off the South American mainland.  The population is approximately 2500, on a land mass about half the size of Wales.  The people are English speaking and many can trace their families back to the original British settlers, 9 generations back.  At the risk of being political and getting nasty comments: the people who live there have the right to self-determination and they have chosen overwhelming to remain a British Overseas Territory.

For three years we lived at Mount Pleasant Complex (the base, MPA or MPC variously), about 40 miles from the capital Stanley.  Just one of about 40 families living there - the rest of the population on base being 'singlies'.  It's not just the British and Falkland Islanders who live in the Islands, there are also many 'contractors' from all over the world, but particularly from St Helena, Chile, and New Zealand.

When we arrived in September 2009 Miss I was just 4 years old, Mr J was 2 and a half, and Miss A was 4 months.  Miss C was born in Stanley in June 2011 - in the middle of the winter.

So, my 10 favourite things about living in the Falkland Islands



1. The journey there.  (This is also one of the worst things, but it's part of the experience!)  18 hour flight broken by about 2 hours on Ascension Island, where you wait in The Cage next to the runway for the plane to be refuelled.   It's a long way with small children, but they've always coped amazingly.


2. Getting blaise about penguins.  After a few months in the Falklands, the children were unimpressed by the sight of yet another penguin colony.  My favourite Penguin encounter was when we'd taken some visitors to see the Magellanic penguin colony on the local beach.  Heavily pregnant with a two year old in tow, I wasn't able to walk the several miles along the beach, so sat down half way to rest while the rest continued without us.  After about half an hour sheltering my sleeping two year old from the wind blown sand, I saw people heading back towards us.  In the water I could see five penguins keeping pace with the walkers.  Every few metres or so they would come pottering out of the water and look at the humans as if to say, "Come on, what's taking you so long."  Then they waddled back into the water to swim a bit further along.  Eventually they were parallel with where I sat, and I got a lovely view of them without having to do all the walking (or having to smell a whole colony of them)!  Penguins, you see, don't pay attention to the rules that tell you to stay away from them.  Far too curious.


3. Traffic - or rather the lack of it.  In three years living there we were only ever twice in a traffic jam - both times on the way back from a fireworks display that everyone had attended.  I also just love the Stanley Road (otherwise known as the F25 given it's part of a big ring road around East Falkland).  Some of it is tarmac, with potholes, but much of it is gravel, since this is easier and cheaper given the local resources.  Maximum speed limit of 40 mph, and occasionally closed to MPA traffic due to high winds or snow.  The first time I drove the car after I got my provisional licence was on the Stanley Road, and I drove for about 30 minutes at 30 mph.


4. The walk to school.  Depending on the weather - i.e. if there wasn't a hurricane force gale, rain or sleet at the time we went to school - this was our walk to school, along with many of our friends that we gathered as we walked along (our house being one of the furthest out).  It was about a mile distance from home to school, and kept me fit, especially pushing our EasyWalker all terrain double buggy!  If the weather wasn't good we would walk through the mile long corridor that connects most of the accommodation and facilities on MPA complex.  If you watched any of the reports from the Falklands while Prince William was stationed there, you'll have seen pictures of the Corridor, but no pictures or descriptions can do it justice.

5. The wide open vistas.  The skies in the Falklands are amazing.  Firstly, there are very few trees and very few high buildings - other than the air traffic control tower I can not remember a building over two stories.  This means that there is very little to obstruct your view unless you're near one of the mountains, so the sky just seems to stretch on forever.  I think it may also have something to do with the position of the Falkland Islands, but I'm no expert on that kind of thing.  I just know it was spectacular.  This picture was taken outside our house with my rather basic camera.  The other thing that makes the sky amazing is the stars.  There is very little light pollution (not enough people!) which means that if the sky is clear you can see so many stars it hurts your eyes.  Almost every clear night I saw the Milky Way.

6. The ever changing weather.  Many places claim to have changeable weather - including the UK - but I truly can't believe anywhere is like the Falklands.  Beautiful blue skies, that suddenly cloud over and dump ten minutes of torrential rain on you,
only to clear again before the wind brings new clouds that drop a ton of snow which settles for an hour and then is washed away again.  And all the while the wind blows - usually a southerly wind that reminds you that the only thing standing between you and the Antarctic is a few penguins!  One of the things I can't quite get used to now we're back in the UK is long periods of rain.  In the Falklands I could time my journeys around the rain.  If it was raining, most of the time I could just wait ten minutes and I knew it would clear long enough for me to get to the corridor and shelter.  As I couldn't drive, this was very useful! 

7. Stanley.  A city (it has a Cathedral) affectionately known to those at MPA as Stan Vegas.  Population about 1800, I think (except when the cruise ships arrive).  Steep roads that I walked up and down in an attempt to encourage Miss C to put in an appearance.  Colourful roofs on many of the houses.  Two major supermarkets - one with stock mostly from Waitrose (add £1 to any pre-priced item!) and the other carried Sainsbury's but you could buy two kilos of Uraguyan Fillet Steak for £15.  There are also lots of shops that sell things to do with Penguins!  And it's Twinned with Whitby.  One day we will have to go to Whitby to see the sign that says it is Twinned with Stanley!

8. The Thrift Shop.  This is a very personal thing.  I was co-founder and bookkeeper of the MPC Thrift Shop, a place for people to sell or donate unwanted items.  Due to the high turnover of personnel on base there was always a lot of stock, and as there weren't many other places you could shop it was very popular with everyone in the Islands.  All profits went to charity, which was about half the income.  In the two years I was involved we raised £12,000 for local and UK charities, and it is still going strong now.  My favourite memory is helping some of the lads find dresses - the uglier the better - for a fancy dress party one evening!

9. The community.  Both the locals and the community on base.  On base we were a very tight-knit group, particularly among the families, and there were days, 8000 miles from home, when the only thing that kept me sane were my friends - especially my next door neighbours.  When we first arrived there weren't very many small children, but this quickly changed as new families joined us.  We didn't have access to the kind of childcare and activities we take for granted in the UK but we had each other.  From coffee mornings to mums & tots, soft play in the gym to book club, we kept ourselves busy.  Those without small children enjoyed learning crafts like Spinning and Felting.  And if you needed a lift somewhere or an elusive carrot (fruit & veg were often quite hard to come by) for a recipe there was usually someone willing to help.  If you had an emotional meltdown - and by about week three after arrival everyone did - everyone knew what you were going through and was there for you.

10. Miss Cs arrival.  My third daughter was born in the Falkland Islands, and for that reason it will always be a special place for me.  We had to move to Stanley for a month before she was born as it was the middle of winter (the day she was due my husband took part in the mid-winter swim, which involves lots of crazy people running into the icy cold water) and we couldn't risk the road being impassable - especially as she is number four and expected to come pretty quickly once she came.  After a month of waiting (she was 8 days late at this point) we had to move out of our temporary home as it had previously been booked by someone else, and after a anxious night back at MPA with the Search and Rescue helicopter on stand-by alert, we moved into the lovely Malvina House Hotel for two days, with the induction due at 10+ days.  I went into labour naturally and the male midwife (my second by coincidence my first male midwife was overseas too - must be something in the water) broke my waters.  Within half an hour Miss C was born.  I will always be so grateful that I was allowed to stay in the Falklands to have my baby (many of my friends were sent back to the UK), and to my mother in law who came out to stay with the older children.  Two weeks after Miss C was born we were invited to the Governor's for dinner to say goodbye to Husband's boss and she joined us, sitting under the table in her car seat, beautifully behaved (except when she did something unmentionable very loudly in the middle of the Governor's speech).

So, that's my 10 things I loved about living in the Falkland Islands.  I would love to go back one day, but I don't expect we will get the chance.  We are so privileged to have had the opportunity to live there, even for a short while.  Of course, it wasn't all wonderful and certainly not easy (as my references to meltdowns will suggest), but it certainly is an amazing place.

8 comments:

  1. I would have loved to visit - like you say, you have to experience it to really understand. I've heard all about it from you but think I still can't really imagine the lifestyle. I do remember the kids in the shops though when they came back to England for visits - they wanted fruit instead of sweets!

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    1. I know, we'd messed them up for life! Miss A still begs for apples like they were chocolate!

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  2. I am especially thrilled to feature in one of the photos! Good stuff x

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    1. I tried to find a picture with blurred faces... but I guess you always recognise yourself! Glad you enjoyed!

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  3. Oh Nicola, now you made the wanderer inside me want to pack up and go. I can tell you, my husband will not be happy... ;)
    Sounds like an excellent place! And with Penguins!!!
    Can't wait for the next places in the series....

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    1. Maybe I should do one about the 10 things I hated to balance it! The next posts won't be as exotic, but still fab places to live in their own way. (You inspired me to be a bit more specific, by the way, with your Gib post. I will do another Gib post at the end of the series.) My husband is the itchy feet one, but to be honest the thought of not living anywhere else (which is a possibility) stirs my wanderer too! Shh! Don't tell him...

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  4. Just found your blog after trying to find information about travelling to The Falklands with children and absolutely loved it. I am planning to go for a couple of weeks over Christmas to visit my husband who will be based there for 4 months. When I tell people I am planning to do this with a teenager and 10 month old, they think I am mad. Reading your blog has given me the confidence to know it can be done.

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  5. I hope you have a really fab time there. And don't feel just because you're a visitor you can't join in with the family activites - we were always happy for those visiting to come to Mums & Tots etc (although your teenager won't be too impressed with that!). The journey is long, but your little one will sleep most of the time, I'm sure. Snacks and small toys were my mainstay for keeping the children occupied when awake. I'm glad that my blog has helped you - although you might want to read the things I hated about it, just to give yourself a bit of perspective!!!

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