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Day 3- Off to the Falkland Islands and Sea Lion Island
Today we really begin our adventure flying into Mt. Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands. We are on a military base so we can't take any pictures. This was the site of the 1982 war when Argentina invaded the islands Britain had claimed since the 1800's.
These islands have been claimed by the French, British, Spaniards and Argentines at various points. Rights to the Islas Malvinas remains a contentious issue for Argentina--hence the strong British military presence and security.
We arrive in a cold rain. Foggy car windows mar the view as we drive into Port Stanley. We pass one house sporting a giant-sized protest against whaling.
Stanley was the closest port of refuge, providing water, repairs, and provisions to ships sailing around Cape Horn, especially during the gold rush of the 1800s. The construction of the Panama Canal along with steam replacing sails ended this shipping boom.
We pass fields of sheep. Some fields are still marked because they contain land mines. Our local driver is a real character. He was here during the war and said he knew right away it wouldn't be much of a fight. Thousands of Argentines landed on the island but the commanders never had them did a latrine. When the war ended three months later, most of their island went back to normal. But he said they had the best crops ever because their soil was so well-fertilized. And now they bring in men from Zimbabwe to clear land mines one section at a time. When they have cleared a field, the men hold a football game to show the locals the area is now safe.
In true European tradition, we stop at one house that has dedicated itself to trolls...Man, there always seems to be at least one crazy troll house when there's European influence! But I don't think we ever saw this many trolls in one place, even in Iceland, Troll Headquarters! The rain and cold put a damper on any sightseeing in the little town. The Anglican Church was a bright spot against a dreary sky.
After loading our bags on the 383 foot converted Russian ice breaker, we left the Falklands for our first night in our new home on the Southern Ocean.
Tomorrow, we will have our first landing on the Falklands' Sea Lion Island.
Our first night aboard the re-fitted ice breaker Akademik Ioffe is busy--meeting the other 95 of our new, closest friends in our group, going through lifeboat drills and enjoying great food served by our Russian crew. Our interface is the Canadian OneOcean staff who manage the ship, and of course our Cheeseman Ecology Safari guides. (Cheesemans also led our East African trip.)
In the morning, we arrive on Sea Lion Island by zodiac. All our landings will be wet landings from here on out. That means we wear high boots to step into the surf each time we get in or out of the small boats. We land at Cow Point with tussock grass in front and our ship behind.
It's still cold and rainy as we walk along the beach. The island has wildfolwers, like the Patagonian Hawkweed.
We come across Striated Caracara birds who are obviously unhappy we are in there territory.
Then we see why--they have a nest with three chicks.
One comes up to me when I sit down with a snack bar. These are seriously aggressive scavengers. Members of the falcon family, they have beaks and feet meant for action. He is a bold little devil and keep coming closer and closer, trying to get some of the food. He finally starts pecking at my shoe. He has a dour expression--looks like he's about to pounce. I'm outta' here!
Along the beach we have our first elephant seal encounter. These are three-ton gentle giants. They certainly deserve our respect but they remind me of John Belushi in Animal House, slovenly but not mean. These two are raising a ruckus as they spar on the beach. They snort, belch, growl, burrp and fart (sorry, but a dainty term just doesn't fit these guys). They are funny and we will see many more as we head to South Georgia Island.
Megellanic peguins scamper between the rocks as they waddle from the ocean.
Walking up from the beach we pass the "Lodge". This is a 20 person hotel in an amazing place.
And come across some birds...pin-tail ducks walk lockstep across the heath.
And an Upland Goose with her chicks
A Magellanic Snipe watches us carefully as we walk past.
Best of all, we can hide to watch a mother Magellanic penguin in a burrow with her chick. Burrows are all over the island. We actually have to be careful where we walk. The island is mostly peat. We have a non-smoking trip, but our guides told us if the ground ever caught on fire it could burn for years.
The earth is so dark, it is a beautiful background for the red grass on the island.
At the end of ht da, we stop to check out the sea lions on the rocks below the southwestern cliffs.
Tomorrow we start our resident expert lecture series as we cross to South Georgia Island. This will include Tim and Pauline Carr, who traveled to the island from England on a 24 foot old-time sail boat. Then lived at Grytviken--by themselves--for 5 years. And many established geologists as well as Richard Alley of Penn State who authored the book aand series "Earth: The Operator's Manual (your planet is due for an oil change)", featured on PBS. He specialty is the earth's cryosphere and global climate change--glaciology and what's happening to the planet. How perfect.
Should be a real education!
Back on board, we celebrate a casual New Years Eve at 52 degrees south.
Next stop--Peggoty Bluff in King Haakon Bay, South Georgia Island
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