Sunday, 15 March 2009

End game...

Cambourne. The future of British lifestyle, a planned community centred around a Morrison's supermarket. It's quite a distance from the nearest five-star pub. But for the moment, it's my home. I'm back.

My visit to the Falkland Islands lasted from Saturday morning to Tuesday morning. I was woken up by the Falklands by its smell - a smell of green stuff. It was delicious. Signy had its own smells - primarily seal crap - but real civilization and grass and so on was a great smell. On Saturday, we couldn't moor up - there was no dock space - so we just sat out in the bay, and used a small Fast Rescue boat to shuttle anyone ashore who wanted to go. I was first in line. Oddly, many people had no urge to go ashore - perhaps they were institutionalized already. I, for one, was ready to go to the Antarctic halfway house, Stanley.

Stanley has 2000 people, give or take. It is by far the largest community in the Falklands, and it has one grocery store, about 3 bars and 3 hotels, and several knickknack shops. Its main industry is servicing the tourists and the military base - there's a bit of a wool trade too. And us, I suppose. Feels a bit like Newfoundland, actually, which probably isn't surprising.

Definitely a strong military feeling here. The invasion and subsequent liberation of the Falklands was about 25 years ago - and the island is still riddled with land mines and spent shell casings. On the second day, I took a walk looking for a beach of penguins. Cutting across country, I got into an area surrounded by land mine danger zones. Fortunately, they're well labeled. And I got to the beach....

and saw a few Magellan (?) penguins.

On the way back, I had a good view of some ships. Two worked, two didn't.

The two beached hulks each have their own stories - which I can't recall at the moment - but the one on the left was actually used as storage for awhile. Really tempting to swim out and check it out, but it's strongly discouraged for safety reasons. The two working ships are right in the middle, off in the distance. That's us. The Ernest Shackleton, and the James Clark Ross. The British Antarctic Survey's entire fleet, side by side.

The Shackleton is more fun, I believe - the JCR is built to be a science vessel, and we're more about logistics. But we have a good place to watch movies and relax; they have more boardrooms and such.

Anyway, we spent a few days poking around - some went to the bars, some went hiking. I mostly did the latter, as Stanley's pubs all gloriously failed my criteria for pub greatness. And then finally, Tuesday morning, we went to the military airport to board our plane. I was bracing myself for a Hercules - a military transport plane that was light on entertainment but at least had some legroom. I was totally unexpected for what I saw.

A sidebar here. I've flown a lot between the UK and Toronto. I've flown BA, Air Canada, Zoom, Air Transat...and FlyGlobeSpan. I like BA, boycott Air Canada (they stole my airmiles, another story), Zoom went bankrupt, and Air Transat is unpleasant. But FlyGlobeSpan was the worst. They were nine hours late - and I know people who've had much worse. Their plane has no entertainment. And hoo boy, is it cramped. After one trip of that, I swore never to fly it again.

And against my will, I was forsworn. For I found myself staring at a FlyGlobeSpan plane as I arrived at the military airport. Of all the places in the world. FlyGlobeSpan was outsourced for the 16 hour Falkland Islands run. Needless to say, not much sleep was to be had on this flight.

We did stop in the Ascension Islands in the middle of the night. They stuck us in a chainlink corral while servicing the plane. The Ascension Islands are halfway between Brazil and Africa - right in the middle of the South Atlantic, in other words. Still pretty far from anywhere.

And then we were back. Brize Norton, a military airport in Oxfordshire. I took a shuttle bus back to Cambridge, messed around in the office a bit, and ended up back here in Cambourne. And that, dear readers, is the end of another Antarctic season.

There might be one more season for me. Next year will begin early - October, probably, but possibly even September. Until then - I've got a round-the-world trip starting in a few weeks, but other than that, should be a quiet summer.

I'll leave you with a video shot by Tony, one of our RAF mast erectors who joined us at Halley this year. This is a fur seal, who (like any fur seal) doesn't like people and gave Tony a bit of a chase. A good test for Tony's balance and fitness to run backwards and try to keep the camera properly aimed!

Thanks for reading along again.

1 comment:

Coralee said...

I'll look forward to Season #3....