Over to the West


I awoke this morning at ‘sparrows fart’, when the sparrows were probably only dreaming about their dawn song.

The early start is to drive ‘The Road’, a notorious 78 miles of the only, largely unpaved, highway in the Falkland Islands; with the hazards of potholes, loose gravel, sheep bounding up the steep road edges, and low flying Upland Geese to keep me alert.
As I leave the capital, Stanley, the sun is gathering itself behind the low hills surrounding the harbour, ready to leap into the day. A few clouds, piecrust- edged in pink and gold pre-dawn light hang lazily in the sky.

I hit the road at the speed limit of 40 miles an hour, cushioned by the suspension on my 4x4. The mountains to the north shimmer in subtle shades of brown, silver, grey and white. The rising sun glints off the quartzite rock of the stone runs, poetically known as Rivers of Stone as they tumble down the mountainsides. Away to my south the vast ocean – if my eyes could stretch that far I would see Antarctica – but I am going in another direction – West.

Once past Mount Pleasant Airport and the British Military Base, the halfway point, I drive onward through the empty plains of Lafonia, passing places with evocative names of times gone by, when travel was by horseback - Laguna Isla, Black Rock, Tranquilidad, Dos Lomas - what stories these places could tell!

One and a half hours later, I arrive at the Newhaven Ferry Port. The ferry looks reassuringly solid. I drive on, guided into a space next to a distinctly military 4-ton lorry; my wheels secured to the deck.

We are off! The Concordia Bay slips quietly backwards into deeper water turns and heads smoothly toward the choppy waters of Falkland Sound.

I am an apprehensive sailor, but the views are enough to keep my mind off such mundane things as sinking or seasickness! Penguins leap and dive toward their rookery on the point. Seagulls and caranchos soar above us; cormorants perch precariously on the rock face of a small island; high tussac grass framing them.

Further out, the boat takes a different motion, making way with a pitch and roll plus a cheeky waggle of her stern. Spray crashes over the vehicles on the deck. I try to keep my eyes on the horizon; all sailors tell you it keeps you feeling steady; but my eyes see a large brown moth valiantly clinging to the outside edge of a porthole, it flutters about and I think it will blow or wash away, but unerringly it alights and tucks itself into the porthole.

My fellow passengers chat amicably. Three anglers are away to the Chartres River, to land the ‘big one’. Several farmers are returning to their farms, philosophical about the state of wool prices and buoyant with ‘visit to the big city – good to be getting home’ feelings. A schoolteacher, who travels from farm to farm chivvying her pupils in the delights of Maths and English over running free on the farm, asks many questions. A couple of tourists, zipped into their North Face gear, enthusiastically snap away with cameras. The soldiers (with the lorry) make themselves coffee and sit on the fringes of the group – part of yet subtly apart from us.

Someone shouts ‘Whales spouting’, everyone rushes to the portholes, and there they are their columns of spray at least twelve foot into the air, in the middle of Falkland Sound - fantastic - sadly too distant to fully appreciate.

As we negotiate the entrance to Port Howard with the bulk of West Falkland mountains as a backdrop, a pod of Commerson dolphins burst out of the sea.
They leap and dive - leading us into the harbour…this brings to mind a story told by men from a Taiwanese fishing vessel. Intent on seeking asylum they jumped overboard and found themselves in difficulty in the swell and intense cold. Suddenly they were surrounded by dolphins and claimed they would never have made the shore but for the dolphins coming up under them and taking them shoreward.

Our dolphins give us one final pass and together head back into the deep, relieved, no doubt, on easy duties today!

I have made it over to the West; as I prepare to leave the cabin I think to look for the moth, and it is still there, unscathed by the crossing, and thankfully so am.

G.Steen

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