Saunders Island, the fourth largest of the Falkland Islands, is a beauty spot for anyone with a misanthropic streak.
There is no smoko [a term used in Australian English, New Zealand English and Falkland Islands English for a short, often informal, cigarette break taken during work or military duty]. There seems to be no one living here at all. Instead, we hike along a hillside to visit colonies of black-browed albatrosses nesting on the bluffs, above communities of rockhopper penguins and elephant seals. From the top, there is a sweeping view over a sandy isthmus known as The Neck.
In 1764, the French landed at Port St Louis on East Falkland, the origin of the name Îles Malouines after the Breton port of St Malo. Spain gained control of the settlement in 1767 and translated this to Islas Malvinas. In January 1765, however, John Byron had landed at Port Egmont on Saunders and claimed the island for King George III. Each colony was initially unaware of the existence of any arrival, but it was on Saunders that the British escapade in the Falklands began.
As we sail round Volunteer Point and Cape Pembroke, I stare at the cold sea, topped by white horses whipped up by a westerly. From Blanco Bay, I see a landscape of yellowish grassland, arid-looking and gently undulating. In places, it is sheep-strewn, but mainly it is lonely and empty. My mind says: South America. I think of Patagonia, of the great southern steppe, coirón and mata negra.
But, suddenly, above a spit of land there appears a townlet. Stanley’s houses huddle together on a dozen or so streets, as if in fear of the elements. They look like the homes of pioneers, eccentrics, dreamers.