Thursday, January 21, 2010

Cape Pembroke Adventure

On Sunday we headed back into Stanley to get a bite to eat and pick up a few groceries. We decided we would pop into Stanley museum and hire out the key for the lighthouse at Cape Pembroke. I mentioned before the rock runs which come down from the hills on the road to Stanley. I tried to take some photos of them but they just don't come across well in photos. The one above is a small run of rocks and yet each of those are nearly as big as Maddie.
Cape Pembroke is the most easterly point of the Falklands and lies just over seven miles due east of Stanley. The road runs out just as you get to Stanley Airport and Surf Bay. From here you have to off road. The are a plethora of tracks heading towards the lighthouse criss crossing everywhere. They go over sand dunes through rock runs and down big ditches. John had great fun splashing through the puddles with the children squealing in the back faster, faster every time he managed to spray water up the windows. As duty navigator I got the task of taking the action shots of his new baby.
The water is brown due to the high peat content of the soil around here and it makes it very hard to judge what depth the water is. Shortly after this last photo was taken we came across an area where we had to choose from three water courses. John picked the middle one and I have to say I was panicking slightly as it really did look deep. In true bloke fashion John said "it will be fine woman stop your whinging". Well famous last words no sooner had he driven into it and we were stuck. Not only were we stuck but we had water surrounding us, up to a depth of just a few inches under the wing mirrors. Total panick was written over both J and my face. I think I might have said okay this is not funny now can you just drive on, when all I could hear was the wheels spinning and the engine revving. John was muttering that he would never live it down with his work mates if he had to call someone out to help us in his brand new car. The kids where hyping up in the back which only added to the tension levels. I couldn't help but think of the cost and damage that it might cause the new car if we couldn't get out of the water and how long the seals around the doors would hold. Thankfully John popped it into sand mode and cranked the steering wheel round as he pressed the accelerator to the floor. Thank the stars we started to move forward, everything moved in slow motion and what must have only been a few minutes felt like an hour. We rushed out the other side of the puddle with a nervous laugh escaping from John and I. See he said I told you it would be okay, heaven help my grey hairs I tell you!

As we reached the other side I told John to park up as my nerves wouldn't take anymore. We walked the last mile out to the lighthouse on foot although my legs were like jelly for the first ten minutes while I got over the shock.

The light house was last lit just as the Argentine Troops invaded. It was ordered to be extinquished so as to not aid the landings. Inside it is still in fairly good condition although rather fly infested. The steps up to the top are really steep and almost vertical. Miss Ellie no fear was straight up them with no problem, but poor Euan has a real strong fear of heights and took some persuading to head to the top. With Ellie being the first up she climbed straight into where the light would have once sat. Quite some time ago the lighthouse was vandalised and has sinced been partially restored.

The views from the top are stunning and we were lucky to get a fabulously clear but blustery day. Maddie was the first to follow me out onto the balcony at the top but stayed fairly close to the main building. Ellie at this point wasn't so sure, she didn't like the fact that the railings were open. Euan took further persuading to come out but he eventually did which we all thought was really brave of him. I am not sure if I had such a fear I would have made it up there.

After we headed back down to the bottom and locked up the lighthouse with the giants key (see the kids blog) we had to navigate our way back to the car which was hidden in the middle of the dunes. We took a very cautious route back through the rest of the off road section and stayed out of the water as much as we could!!

We took a quick tour around to Gypsey cove where the Argentinians landed to look at the beautiful beach. One of the reasons it is so beautiful is that it is a completely no go area. During the war it was heavely mined and has yet to be cleared. There were some Gentoo penguins wandering around the beach unaware of the possible danger they were in.

You can just see the lighthouse in the very distance out on the peninsula. All in all we had a very enjoyable if not slightly stressful day out. Lesson one learned for off road driving, never go out without your mobile, sleeping back, tow rope and a snack!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sea Lion Island

This past Saturday we headed off to Sea lion Island after being fortunate enough to get a helicopter flight. John had to work in the morning so was unable to come but he had been lucky enough to head out to the island the day before. We were all up very early which was hard for me as we had been out to dinner the night before and I had consumed more alcohol than I thought!! The kids were quite excited about going in a helicopter again and the girls dug out their ear defenders especially for the trip. Ellie beamed her way through the flight and I was chuffed to get this picture of her.

Sea Lion Island lies 10 miles south of Mount Pleasant and it took us just under 40 minutes to get there. We flew in a Sikorsky S-61N which is operated by British International. These helicopters are used for most of the island hopping and troup movments. There are three types of helicopter on the base, the ones above, Search and Rescue Sea Kings and Lynx.

When we got to the islands we were given a quick run down of what we could see and where to find it by Jenny. Unfortunately we only had three hours on the island so we were unable to make it out to the Rockhoppers as it was a 6 mile walk and we couldn't be sure to make it back in time. The helicopter does not wait for late arrivals. It literally touches down, picks you up and leaves. We headed out to Elephant Corner first so we could see the massive population of Elephant Seals that breed here. They are huge creatures many of which you could mistake for rocks and boulders as they lie so still and blend in with their surroundings. This is the first time I have seen elephant seals and I was not disappointed by their grandeur.

They are called Elephant Seals on account of their noses. They were fairly active on the day we visited and many of them were squaring up to each other and fighting. They pull themselves up to almost standing height and front up to their opponent. They make huge bellowing sounds and roar at each other. You can physically see their breath as they do this which the kids were rather vocal about. They then basically batter hell out of each other biting and thumping themselves together.

This particular seal was laid away from the main group in the seaweed and kelp towards the front of the beach. It was having a rare old time rolling around in the seaweed and burying its head under the mounds of kelp. It wasn't at all phased by me stood taking pictures but kept an eye on me never-the-less.

Their flippers are amazing, they are almost human like in the look and movement. You can also see the power in them. They use these flippers to haul themselves up onto the beachs. Sometime you will find them up amongst the tussac grass and you have to be vigilant when walking in these areas not to step on them. I can assure you that you would not want to be within striking distance of one of these creatures.

Euan soon got bored of watching the seals and started to forage for sticks and rocks to mark the sand with. He spent lots of time climbing up the rocks and launching himself off of them. The girls had started to get rather cold as the wind was biting so we decided to head a little further inland and look at the penguin colonies.

There are three distinct colonies of penguin on the island. Firstly, there are the Gentoo below who had lots of beautiful young. They were so cute waddling around with their little fluffy coats. I couldn't help but smile every time I looked at their legs, as they reminded me of a small boys baggy pants.

As I sat down to take pictures of the babies one of the penguins got rather inquisitive and siddled up towards me. He got so close I found I couldn't focus my long lense on him. I did manage to shot a picture of his feet though as I find them really interesting. I still cannot get over the bright colour of them or their size in proportion to the body.

Alot of the babies were led down in the mud fast asleep. When I first saw one I thought it was dead as it's head was flat out on the earth and it looked lifeless. There are no nests or mounds for them to sleep in, just the odd divot to huddle into. They are starting to loose their downey fluff and will be ready to go to sea by late March.

As we were watching the penguins a striated caracara flew over and tried to pick off one of the other visitors. It was so close to sticking its tallons in the poor persons head. Apparently this particular one is renowned for doing this especially if the person is wearing red! This one seemed very happy to be close to humans and came within two feet of me as I was taking its photo.

The Gentoos were making an almighty racket as it was trying to steal the last few remaining eggs. It was walking right up to the penguins and pulling at their feathers in order to get it of the nest.

The second type of penguin is the Magellanic which is also known as the Jackass penguin on account of its braying call. They are quite comical and they have these funny little head movements were they tilt their head completely from one side to the next and almost look at you upside down. The Magellanic penguins breed in burrows arriving in late September and leaving again by April. They are very protective of their young and it was very difficult to get a picture of their babies above ground. Their bellies are filthy where they scoot in and out of their burrows. We found the burrows all over the islands even in the tussac grass.

This particular one was on the beach and wandered up to me as I was taking pictures of the seals. The girls had pretty much had enough and were getting rather cold after two and a half hours so we head back into the lodge to have a cup of tea and a much needed warm up.

Back on the flight it was Maddie's turn to sit in front of the window and I think this shot sums up our morning best, windswept but content and happy with another wonderful adventure.
I hope to be back again in the next day or so with a post about our adventure to Cape Pembroke. Lets just say it involves a brand new car, a very large puddle and a rather scared family. Love to all Helen x

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to School

The children finally went back to school with a big hooray from Mum. I love them dearly but boy am I sick of the bickering that has been going on here lately. They all seem to have settled in well which is good. They came home tonight on the school bus and came off smiling, even Euan which is a relief. The poor fella has been having a hard time adjusting to the move and I have been worried and frustrated by him in the same breath.
I woke with a stinking headache, hot and cold sweats and sore sinus's which is not good. I have bad earache now and could quite happily head to bed. I went to a families meeting this afternoon which was a bit of a waste of time. The arrivals, hand over brief here is lacking to say the least. There are a lot of things I wish I had brought down which I didn't know about and have no hope of buying here which is frustrating. Hey ho I will just have to deal with it and get on with life.
Fresh food here is a real issue. The families shop on base is very hit and miss and what they do get is minimal and needs to be shared around a lot of families. It is reliant on the Airbridge to bring in the fresh produce. Apparently if you take more than your fair share of things you get a bad name for yourself! Fruit and veg are mostly frozen or you can buy from Stanley Growers and even then the quality is not great. To give you an idea of prices, a butternut squash of average size is £6 and half a cucumber is £4. There is no spring onions or fresh herbs to be had on the island so I think next summer I will grow my own.
Alot of the ladies get very upset with the situation and get quite bitter over it. I hope I can stay with the "whatever" attitude and just go with the flow. I guess if you want something you just pay the price and be done with it. Philidelphia, marscarpone, basic yoghurt, kids yoghurts or things like sour cream are nie impossible to come by so I am going to have to rethink quite a few recipes. Meat however is very cheap and very, very good. The beef mince has hardly any fat on it and tastes devine. In some ways it is quite nice to have restrictions. That may sound odd but it is definitely back to basics cooking here and less of a throw away culture as it is at home. My rubbish bags have certainly shrunk in size and we throw away a lot less food.
Right I had better go and get the kids some dinner. I am off to Darwin tomorrow with some of the girls here to do some spinning and weaving which should be fun.
Love to all Helen

Monday, January 11, 2010

Initially on Friday John had taken the afternoon off and we had planned to head into Stanley. Unfortunately John ended up having to host a visit and we postponed the trip until Saturday. It was a really changeable day with the biggest hail storms I have ever seen again and then heat haze off the rocks. It certainly makes for interesting driving here.
One of the things that keeps rolling through my mind as you travel about here is how massive the skies are. When you talk about big skies you are definitely talking about the Falklands. Whether it is because the landscape is all very similar and you just notice them more or I just became used to viewing the sky in England with buildings at the periphery I am not sure but god they are beautiful and they don't half make you feel small.

You can see the weather roll in from miles away and watch the rain showers heading towards you. The clouds spin along at quite a rate of knots making everything more impressive. The road to Stanley takes around an hour to drive. It is restricted to 40 mph and for good reason. The road varies from tarmac to gravel and back again continously. Depending on the weather they can be smooth (if just graded) or pot holed. If the road has just been resurfaced then you can very easily skid across its surface. At either side of the road are massive ditches which are car right off territory. The road is frequently closed to all vehicles if it is deemed to be to dangerous.

On Sunday we headed back to Bertha's beach as a family and to the left hand fork to go and look at the Gentoo Penguin colony. We bundled up in waterproofs and winter hats as the rain showers had been rolling through all morning. It is about two miles up the beach and thankfully the wind was behind us and we only had a few light rain showers. We started to see larger groups of penguins on the beach and then saw a procession heading inland to their nesting ground. Ellie counted over 320 penguins between the beach and the hill. There are still babies there but they have almost lost all their downey fluff.

I find the penguins absolutely comedic. You cannot help but smile when you see them waddling their way along the beach. Yes their feet and beaks are that orange. Although you cannot get particularly close to them they don't seem to bothered to have people around.

Maddie spent much of her time making sand angels up and down the beach and chasing her hat that kept flying off! Euan and Ellie headed over to the dunes to explore and later ended up have to wade over a water inlet. We all had very very soggy wet feet by the time we headed home.
I make no comment about how I got mine but I am sure John would tell you the story of me trying to jump over the inlet and then landing face first in the sand and water!

John and Euan enjoyed jumping, running and tumbling down the dunes which are really deep and soft. We started to head back up the beach which was slow progress as the wind was now in our faces. After three hours of solid walking in a round trip we made it back to the landrover. We asked the kids what the best part of the day was and they all replied it was driving back over the rough terrain in Dad's landrover. They bounced, splashed and giggled their way through the twenty minute journey. I tried to ask them are they sure, did they not like seeing the penguins and we had a yeah suppose so! Heaven help us. Well Mum and Dad enjoyed seeing them, I still find it surreal being here and seeing these sights.

As we headed back onto camp we had the mandatory wash down of vehicles to make. They have a great big drive through pit which washes the underneath of the vehicles off. The kids were screaming faster, faster as we sent a bow wave around us. Euan and Ellie argued over who was going to use the pressure washer first but was beaten to it by Dad who of course, had to spray everyone else with much glee.

Ellie tried to hide behind the wall but still got soaked. You can just see the drive through pit behind Ellie the otherside of the black and yellow post.

She then took great pleasure in squirting Mum who was safely sat inside the Landrover but hadn't realised the windows leaked badly, nice one.
The prior weekend we headed over to 1435 Flight which is the Eurofighter squadron here and that can be seen on the childrens blog.
Last night we had several of the squadron bosses over for dinner and I actually managed to pull together a half decent meal. We had curried scallops to start but I only had mild curry powder and it wasn't quite hot enough. For mains we had cheesy potatoes with fillet steak (only £7 for four steaks!!) and I had a go at making a pepper sauce which turned out alright. For dessert their was apple and cinnamon crumble or skillet baked chocolate chip cake both with caramel icecream and homemade caramel sauce. A lovely evening even if they all talked shop :)
So tonight is easy spag bol and then I will have to get my cook books out again and work out what doesn't contain philidelphia, creme fraiche or marscapone.
Keep safe, more updates soon Love Helen x

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Well we are finally on our way to our big adventure in the Falklands. I apologise for the lack of blogging but we didn't get connected until earlier this week and it has been an excited rush skyping friends and family back home and catching up with all the emails that have backed up.
We had a lovely, if rather cold christmas at my Mum and Dad's house, -8 was a bit chilly! Sorry I know alot of you reading this are still in the thick of that cold snap. I shan't rub it in and tell you I have started to get a bit of a sun tan :) I thought we would have some time to sit and relax when I finally got the house packed up and moved to Mum's but it just wasn't to be. We spent the week prior to christmas in an absolute whirlwind, dropping Fergus off at the Kennels, Great Granny at Marlborough, getting John to a consultants appointment and saying goodbye to friends and family. Of course all of this was in the middle of that big freeze with very interesting driving. Christmas came and went and then it was time to pack up all our accumulated goodies ready for our flight on the 27th. Packing was interesting to say the least, we ended up borrowing a suitcase and kit bag from Mum and Dad just to get the last few bits in. After everything was done and dusted we had 6 suitcases, 3 kit bags, 3 boxes and 5 peices of hand luggage much to John's horror. It was just as well we had hired a Sherpa van from the airforce to get us all to the airport. Sorry Mum and Dad I know our transport lowered the tone around your house for a few days! The kids thought this was wonderful and spent a full two days arguing over where they were all going to sit in the 15 seat mini bus.
We finally took off an hour and a half later than scheduled from Brize Norton with Maddie already fast asleep. Euan and Ellie were so excited about being in club class seats, they couldn't settle until they had fiddled and pressed with every button going. I think we all eventually dropped off around two in the morning. Our first flight lasted around 8 hours and with the entertainment system busted in our part of the aircraft we read, played eye spy and exhausted the batteries on our nintendos to keep ourselves occupied.

In flight food was as usual lacking to say the least. If we don't see another panini for the whole time we are down here we will not be sorry. There were lots of seat changes as they all argued over who was sitting next to me or the window. Maddie slept for pretty much the first leg which was great however the other two only managed a few hours.

As you can see my husband and son were their usual charming selves behind me in the plane. On arrival at Ascension we were tannoyed to get off the plane first which was wonderful. We know the Station Commander Ramo and his wife Sharon from old when he used to command the helicopter squadron in the Falklands, when John was in charge of 1435 flight for four months. Ramo gave us a personal tour of the island with a very informative talk about its history. I apologise now as I have forgotten most of it in my sleep induced haze.

On the island there are wild donkeys which are very tame, apparently they come to Sharon's house every day for the morning snack. The kids absolutely adored feeding and petting them. I think she said there are four in total on the island left over from the Marines who built the forts here.

The picture below is of Green Mountain, so named because it is covered in lush green vegetation. The original settlers used to walk up to the top each day to get drinking water.

Ascension is a volcanic island and much of the volcanic rock is still to be seen. Slowly the mexican thorn is starting to inhabit it and turn things a bit greener. I was shocked at how green everything was.

The population of the island is about 1000 made up of military, contractors mostly St Helenians from an island around 800 miles from Ascension and a few settlers. Their supplies are brought in by the military airbridge which flies in twice a week and the FIRS (Falkland Island Replenishment Ship) which comes through once a month.

This is a view below of the hill where the Battery Commanders house used to stand. There are still two of the canons placed up on this portion of the hill that the kids had great fun climbing over. The brown mound that you can see is the fort that the marines built to protect the island. It is a bit difficult to see from the picture but it is hollow inside with buildings in a circular layout.

Below is Turtle Beach so named because the green turtles come in every year to lay their eggs here. Unfortunately we didn't have time go and see the turtles but through the binoculars we did see a few heading in through the surf to come ashore. December and January is apparently the best time of year to visit and see this wonderful sight so we will have to try and head back next year.

After a quick breakfast at Ramo's we had to head back to catch the plane back to Mount Pleasant. It took us a further 9 hours to get there due to head winds and some mild turbulance. The Falklands is a rather barren place with not alot to see for miles around. There are the occasional spectacular rock formation that rises out of the ground especially on the way to Stanley but around the base it is relatively bland.

This is the road out to Mare Harbour which is the military port. Everything came into this port when they originally built the airbase. Presently alongside down there is HMS York and last week was HMS Scott. The FIRS will come into this port hopefully next week when it brings our car in. Fergus should also come into this port if he can make it onto the next ship that leaves on the 15th of January.

Ellie is posing for us here in front of Mount Pleasant which is what the base is named after. She is stood just outside her Father's office 905 EAW. There are lots of little lakes around the place which have alot of the native Upland Geese on them. The base itself is very utilitarian as you would expect. It is mostly sited along one long road and I have been told boasts the longest wooden corridor in the world.

Our house is situated on one of the bases borders which over looks the road into Stanley. We have a wonderful play park, rugby pitch and football pitch right on our doorstep. Mum was very pleased with herself the other day when she managed to kick a rugby ball over the posts from a bit of a distance!

The house itself is fine, a typical and slightly tired military quarter. Some of the rooms are quite light but unfortunately the middle corridor is rather dark as some smart person decided to paint all the woodwork black ? We have a conservatory off the front which acts as our main front door and gets stinking hot on a sunny day. There are alot of massive flies down here which are a pain in the house but we are slowly getting used to them. Euan bagged the smallest room mostly due to the fact it has bunk beds and the girls are sharing in the larger room. We have had our fair share of bickering over the last few weeks and Mum will be very glad when they get back to school on Tuesday. The main mode of transport down here is landrover, there are some other 4x4's but the military mostly use the Landrovers. John was very pleased to find out that he will be the first on the island to have a Discovery 4. Not so pleased when he looked at the stone chips that most cars have decorating them!
I have found it difficult at times to settle as I am pretty much housebound until our car arrives next week. One of my neighbours has been very kind and run me around to look at the local shops which is another story all in itself.
More to come soon including penguins and dolphins.
Stay tuned Love Helen