Our most anticipated stop on the cruise was Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The day was a windy gray, but that was expected given the location in the middle of the south Atlantic. Our ship was too large to dock at the small pier or even make it through the narrow passage to anchor in the interior Stanley Harbor. Instead, we floated a thirty minute tender boat ride away in Blanco Bay.
Our goal for the day was to hike to Gypsy Cove (and avoid the $20 per person shuttle fee and the many-times-more-expensive tours to the large colonies of penguins). The cove, and its small Magellanic penguin colony, is about 4 miles from the pier in Stanley. We asked at the information desk in front of the pier, and the woman behind the counter seemed a little skeptical of our intentions, but nonetheless provided us with a map and verified that a shore path covered much of the distance and the rest was on sidewalks or on gravel roads.
I searched the internet beforehand and wasn’t able to find directions, so I thought I’d summarize the path. Basically once you land at the main jetty, turn east (left as you walk on shore) and head down Crozier Place and along the shorefront on Ross Road East. Where the road begins to curve away from the water, a faint set of tire tracks continues. This is what you follow. It eventually turns from a vehicle path into just a walking track and follows the (slightly muddy) shore all the way to the single-lane bridge. Here we followed the road for a few minutes and then cut back to the shore on a path that headed down toward the wreck of the Lady Elizabeth. The trail follows the bay’s curve and then crosses over the top of a rock-topped hill where it rejoins the road for the final stretch to Gypsy Cove. The walk there took us about an hour and a half, though we had the wind behind us and good weather.
A lot of places around the world claim that their weather changes quickly, but in the Falklands the conditions really vary with astonishing speed. We arrived with light rain and a slight wind that got faster and colder throughout the hike. At Gypsy Cove it started to rain in large splashes. We got a lift back into Stanley as some people from the boat who had rented a vehicle took pity on us. That turned out to be good luck as the rain got heavier and continued for the next couple of hours. We had enough layers, rain coats, and an umbrella that would have gotten up back on our own, but it would have been a wet and chilly ninety minutes.
We were lucky enough to spot other kinds of birds on our way to see the Magellanic penguins. I’m not a birder by any means, but based on signs and some fast internet searching, we passed a couple of night herons looking for lunch in the shallows, large turkey vultures, and a molting King penguin. The King had chosen a quietish beach on which to get his new set of feathers – we kept a decent distance for taking a few photos. Later we learned if they are annoyed by crowds they will try to go back in the water but will often die due to exposure. They also don’t eat as they molt and regrow feathers; they gain quite a bit of weight in advance and go into a semi-hibernation and if they are fed their body will go into organ failure.
There are several boats along the path that are sunken or beached and being slowly abraded by the elements. The largest and most-photographed is the Lady Elizabeth, which was stranded in Stanley decades ago after being declared unseaworthy and is now rusting in Whalebone Cove. Yorke Bay, also passed on the way, is full of hummocky sand dunes and mines places there by Argentinian soldiers during the Falklands War. The area is still off limits and has become something of a safe zone for animals.
Gypsy Cove did provide penguins, though here you cannot get as close to them as you can at the large colonies in other parts of the islands. Still, we saw several Magellanic penguins right away, coming back ashore after hunting. With some patience, we saw at least a dozen others, including some that were on the slopes of the hill and much closer to the viewing areas. On land they seem out of place, like toddlers learning to navigate stairs for the first time, but the water was clear enough that we could also seem them swimming with graceful turns that confirm they are more at home in the water.
Back in the city (Stanley is technically a city even though it has just over 2,000 inhabitants), we saw the British war memorial, Christ Church Cathedral, the West Store Supermarket, and inside of the Globe Tavern. The Tavern was dry and had beer, and it was hard to argue with prices that weren’t that inflated despite the Islands’ lonely location. The store and bar even kindly take US dollars.
Stanley is quiet and very picturesque. It looks much like any other small town you might find in the US or England, through just about every driveway houses a Range Rover with bumpers covered in British and Falkland Islands flags. Many people also keep horses for riding and racing. I imagine it would be a very peaceful place to live, though any small town comes with pros and cons.
I want to say at little more about the West Store – it is one of the best-provisioned I’ve been inside in a long time, especially for its size. There were Poptarts (multiple flavors)! Doritos! Chocolate bars! Nutella! Thai noodle mixes! Hot sauces! Donuts! A decent selection of Margaret Atwood books! Of course, it serves as THE STORE for the islands, so it also has all the staples a grocery and drug store need. Based on its contents, I could eat quite happily in the Islands even though the weather might get wearing after a while.