The Falkland Islands are a moody place even when the sun is out. According to my local friend Alan, there is always something going on.
“Spring and summer are obviously the breeding time for most of our birds and mammals,” he says. “Magellanic and rockhopper penguins and albatrosses return to the islands in September and October after spending the winter at sea. Female elephant seals come ashore to pup and, after a very brief 21 days suckling their pups, they mate and depart. But the wind drops off in the winter so we get fantastic calm bright sunny days with clear blue skies without a cloud in sight. The night sky in the winter is amazing with very little light pollution. Quite often we can clearly see four planets.”
But the pull on me is more complicated than mere topography. I feel, here, as if I have one foot in South America – especially Patagonia and another in a place that could be home. The gale that beats you up as you hike around Stanley is the same one that blew Antoine de St-Exupéry’s plane backwards over Tierra del Fuego. But there on the corner is a cozy pub and some Victorian redbrick houses, and a Land Rover Defender going past – the Falkland Islands are said to be the highest concentration of Land Rovers in the world.
As I make my way back to the Akademik Sergey Vavilov – the ice-strengthened Russian vessel that brought me here, built as a spy ship at the end of the Cold War but refitted for tourism and scientific research – I think of Darwin and FitzRoy on their epic Beagle voyage, dropping in just as Britain took over the islands. I think of busy, bothersome Buenos Aires and how the politicians and military men had lacked the imagination to wonder how their crass invasion might go down in a place so other, so quiet, so free of crowds.
Plenty of material for idle dreaming.