Our Antarctic Adventure – Part VI

Thursday, Feb 5 – Falkland Islands

Captain Gundersen’s perfect record continues!

Antarctic-Adventure-065 As we entered the Roads of Port William near York Point and dropped anchor around 9:30 AM we were hopeful that the weather would hold. The anchorage went smoothly and weather continued to cooperate. By ten o’clock we were on the first tender heading to Stanley’s Public Jetty. Our hearts were lifted as we motored past our old friend the ms Amsterdam as we remembered good times onboard. She had arrived about three hours earlier and had already disembarked a large number of her passengers. The “tender” into the Jetty was filled with happy smiling faces, as we had been warned to expect adverse weather conditions, which so far had not materialized. By the time we disembarked, the sky was clearing and the glorious sun was bathing our happy faces – there was little or no wind! As promised, Patrick Watts and two of his drivers were waiting for us on the Jetty. He had managed to book 14 passengers from our ship for the two hour trek “into the Camp” and our visit to Volunteer Point. We were a bit disappointed as it took the arrival of two more tenders before our party of 14 was assembled. Due to our late arrival, time was of the essence as we had a rigorous two hours ahead of us. After making sure everyone had their “potty break” we were off.

As we sped over gravel roads, our driver and guide, Mario, regaled us with stories of the Falkland War and how it affected his life. Born in the Ukraine, in his early twenties, he had come to the Islands for three months employment and had ended up staying for the next 23 years. He did leave briefly during the war but quickly returned once the conflict ended. He and his Chilean wife have raised a family here and own and operate a successful business. He and his son fill in as drivers/guides for Patrick Watts as needed. After “flying through” the countryside, over cattle guards and through closed gates, the “maintained” road ended and the “off-roading” began. And when I say off-roading, I mean just that! The surface of the next 12 miles is made up of peat bogs and rock outcroppings, and ruts. This trip is not for the faint of heart and brittle of limb, as one is continually jousted about inside this five passenger “land rover” tripe vehicle. As we lumbered on, we started to wonder to our selves “is this really worth it?” As we crested each hill we “hoped” we would see our destination – not yet! Then we managed to make out tiny black and white shapes in the distance and WOW, what was that sticking up out of a burrow – why that was a Magellanic Penguin!

Shortly after that we reached this broad expanse of green grass, penguin molt feathers, and poo. There standing before us, and scattered about were hundreds of King Penguins! It being one of the mating seasons, a large “battalion” was lined up cheek to jowl in an area surrounded by white painted rocks that had been placed there by the wardens as a boundary between “them and us”. They could come out, but we could not go in. We could slowly approach those outside the boundary and they seemed unconcerned with our presence. They are such beautiful, gentle creatures! It was just a dream.

We all were permitted to continue our experience without being “herded” around by our guides, so we wandered as we pleased. I am talking about an area the size of several football fields, with three species of penguins; King, Gentoo and Magellanic, going about their lives as if we were not even there. My previous experiences with penguins had not jaded my love and respect for them, but enhanced it. I have no more words to properly express my feelings, except knowing that Barbara was now able to understand how I felt in the midst of these wondrous birds, and that she felt it too. Adding to this experience was the shared knowledge that this area is not a part of a governmental program, but is operated by the farmer that owns the property and graciously desires to share it with others. This farm family was concerned for the future of Volunteer Point and Volunteer Beach long before environmentalists came on the scene. It is beautifully administered. That we were able to, be on this wonderful February day, allowed to be here was truly a gift from God, and we are so thankful.

Much too soon it was over and we were “bouncing” our way back to Stanley. It was interesting to watch the “ballet” that was played out by our three drivers as one of them always wanted to be in the lead. Since there were no defined roads/paths through the bogs, each driver had to make split decisions to avoid soft spits and bog-pits. Well, as so often happens, the “adventure of the youthful” sometimes catches up with them, and the young fellow came over a rise and dropped the front end of his four-wheel into a pit! This is why Patrick never allows his drivers to “go it alone”. We quickly had the fellow back on more solid ground and we were on our way.

Upon our arrival back in Stanley, Mario gave us a quick tour of the town and dropped us off near shopping (for Barbara) and the Globe Tavern (for me). The timing couldn’t have been better, as we were able to make the last tender back to the ship.

I have been writing this (the next morning) facing our stateroom window and all the while, first one, then three albatrosses have been sailing back and forth over the sizeable waves just beyond. What a wonderful omen they are. Our glorious adventure continues….. JWC

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