Sunday 31st January
Half way through the cruise.
What an amazing day! The alarm went off early again and we were both on deck before 7am to see the sail in to Port Stanley. It was going to be a beautiful day - the sky was clear and although it was sunny there was a strong wind, but not a cold one. The temperature was expected to be around 14 degC. We sailed through a channel with land either side for quite a while. It looked just like Scottish islands - very grassy, bare and tree-less, with rocky outcrops here and there. In the distance we could see a few peaks in a small mountain range. As we got closer to where we were going to anchor Port Stanley came into view - the colourful houses covering the side of the hill above the water. The roofs were different shades of orange, blue, green, yellow, and there were also a few black ones and even one painted with a Union Jack! The mostly white houses are imported in kit form from the UK and all have corrugated roofs as it is cheaper to ship than tiles.
We watched the lifeboats being lowered to be used as the tenders to take us to the shore - the harbour was not deep enough for us to get right into. An announcement over the public address system warned us that the tendering process would be challenging as the winds were high today. I had my Sea Bands on and had taken a seasickness tablet earlier. The sea actually looked reasonably calm but I suppose we were looking at it from quite high up. We had already heard from several passengers that only about 20% of cruises end up being able to tender onto the islands. There were quite a few passengers that were going to lay wreaths at the memorials around the island so, we kept our fingers crossed. Finally the number for our excursion was called and we made our way to the gangway. The short metal stairway went down onto a small platform from which we were helped into the lifeboat and everyone squashed onto the rows of bench seats inside. We could now see that the sea was quite choppy. The lifeboat took about 20 minutes to make its way to the jetty, and every so often as we bumped along, spray from the bow wave would be blown into the lifeboat through the half open sides. One side of the boat was facing into the wind and the passengers on that side were getting quite wet. I was in the middle of the boat and was damp down one side and Martin was next to me on the wet side and got a little wetter. As it was cold most people had coats and hats on but some only had jumpers or fleeces. When we got to the jetty and disembarked, one man who had jeans and a jacket on and was soaked all down one side shouted at the man in charge of the lifeboat and told him he should have put the covers down on the doorways, saying he was going to report him. It was unfortunate that he got wet, but it was the first journey across for that lifeboat so the First Officer wasn't to know how bad it was going to be.
At the jetty our group went in two minibuses on a short drive to rendezvous with our transport to Bluff Cove. The road started off tarmac'ed but soon turned into gravel. We met up with 8 Landrovers driven by locals, and were divided up between them and introduced to our drivers. Ours was called Kenny and he had been in the Island Parish TV programme just before Christmas, when his son's wedding was featured. He took us on a roller coaster ride across the island whilst answering our questions. The drive was across the undulating peaty, grassy landscape towards the sea, up and down and side to side, following vague vehicle tracks that sometimes disappeared - Kenny knew where he was going...
We crossed a low turquoise river or lagoon and went up the sand bank on the other side and across more bleak grassland. Then on the horizon we could see the other Landrovers and the penguin colony! We spent about 45 minutes watching and photographing the penguins in different areas of the shoreline and in amongst the white sand beaches. They were mostly Gentoo penguins plus a handful of King Penguins who sat in the centre and highest point of the largest group of Gentoos. There were also groups of Ruddy Headed Geese. The Gentoo penguin chicks were now adult size and were losing their fluffy baby feathers - some were still completely cover in fluff and others only had a few tufts of fluff left to lose. The King Penguin chicks that were visible were still quite small and very dark and fluffy. You could see which King Penguins had chicks as they had a big bulge over their feet where the chicks were sheltering. There was an area marked out that we weren't to go into, but there were penguins walking around in amongst the people outside the area so we got to see them up close. Martin left the crowds and wandered along the beaches - there were several in different directions. The landscape and white sand beaches was similar to the Outer Hebrides, but with penguins! Before we left we quickly visited the shop and the Sea Cabbage Cafe on the edge of the beach and had complimentary tea and cakes. There was also a small museum about the role of Bluff Cove in the 1982 Falklands War but sadly we only had an hour at the colony and would rather watch the penguins, so we didn't go in the museum. Then it was back in the Landrover with Kenny for the roller coaster ride back to meet the minibus. He was the 5th generation of his family to be born on the island, on his father's side his family originally came from Nottingham. Martin asked how it was for the islanders when the Falkands War started and Kenny said it was a bit unreal as you never expect something like that to happen to you. Unfortunately many of his family's houses were trashed by the Argentinian soldiers and there wasn't much left in them - it was rumoured that the soldiers had been sent without any supplies, provisions or equipment.
Back in Port Stanley we wandered up the main street and went to view the outside of Government House, built in 1845, then back towards the jetty stopping in the few shops on the way. Most of them were gift and souvenir shops, but we also went into the supermarket West Store. It wasn't a branded store on the outside but many of the basics were Waitrose brand. Some items were priced similar to UK prices - maybe the essentials, as I bought hair conditioner only a little more expensive than normal - but some were very expensive, possibly 'luxury' items, e.g. packets of normal biscuits were nearly £3.00 each, but we also bought Mars and Snickers which worked out around 80p each.
We queued for the tender back to the ship and at the end of the jetty there was a sea lion basking in the sun. A couple of people approached it to take close up photos - they were lucky they did not get bitten as they can be ferocious animals and their bite can be fatal. The port officials eventually put up a barrier to stop anyone getting too close to it. We boarded one of the smaller lifeboats this time, with all the covers down! The journey back was slow but uneventful and we got back on the ship safely.
That evening the ship was accompanied by some Southern Giant Storm Petrels flying alongside. Great big brown birds with a tube along the top of their beak. We watched the sunset and went to bed - the unrelenting gale force winds all day were exhausting.
Monday 1st February
No alarm set and we woke up at 9.30 and nearly missed breakfast!
It was a bright sunny day but cold and windy. The Petrels had been joined by a few Black Browed Albatrosses overnight and their number increased to a few hundred during the next couple of hours. They were mesmerising, just floating in the air alongside the ship, up and down, backwards and forwards on the thermals on the sunny side of the ship. Loads of us watched them for ages!
In the afternoon I found a quiet spot to read in the Palm Garden (a small lounge with cane furniture and lots of plastic palms). I was so well hidden in the corner that Martin couldn't find me for an hour or so and was starting to panic. There aren't many places to hide on the ship as it is so small but I found one!
After dinner we watched the Karaoke for an hour and were impressed by the participants' enthusiasm. Not so much with the singing, but none of them were too bad.
Later we went to the show lounge to watch the ET present From Russia with Love - traditional Russian songs and dances. The costumes were very elaborate today and the dances were excellent. The songs were...mostly in Russian with a few English lyrics in a couple of them. Unfortunately there was a Ukrainian couple (probably the youngest passengers on board) in the audience who afterwards said the enunciation or accents of the singers wasn't the greatest, but they were probably the only people who would have known this - to us it sounded Russian!