Argentina’s national airline has a magazine in the seat pocket with a map that shows their routes. The map of Argentina includes the Malvinas which the U.K. calls the Falklands. The map also shows part of Antarctica which the rest of the world has not recognized since 1959. [The U.K., Chile and nine other countries also have Antarctic claims which are not internationally recognized.]
Aldo, a good friend, was born in Argentina. And while I liked the people I met on the islands, I have no friends there. Therefore, it pains me to say I can’t see Argentina’s claim to the Malvinas. Historically, they have about as much claim as the U.K., but they have never had a significant on-the-ground presence there, and the U.K. does.
The islands were uninhabited. France had a small settlement there for three years in the 1760s followed by Great Britain. Spain took control in 1767 and nearly got into war with Britain, but it was settled with neither relinquishing their claim. From 1774 to 1811, the islands were
uninhabited except for a small Spanish force which was withdrawn when rebellion sprang up in the Spanish colonies. England had left a plaque claiming the islands, but the Spanish removed it.
Argentina declared its independence in 1816 and was recognized by Great Britain in 1825. Argentine governments made several claims to the islands through 1833 that were not recognized, and the British reestablished military control that year. British and American whalers used the islands for water and provisions. A British Colonial Administration was established in 1842 along with
a penal colony. Today Port Stanley, which has about 2700 of the 3000 inhabitants, is very much an English village.
In 1908, in addition to its early 19th Century claims, the U.K. extended its claims southward to Antarctica. Argentina, however, invaded the Falklands, South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands in 1982, and a sad 74-day war was fought with losses on both sides, but particularly Argentinean. Based on signs we saw in and around Buenos Aires, the hard feelings haven’t passed yet.
Because we boarded our ship at the second stop of the cruise, all the Falkland penguin tours were already fully booked. We were wait-listed for one, but by the time we got to Port Stanley, the ship had added another trip with “Joe’s Penguin Tours.”
Joe is a farmer. As near as we could tell, he arranged transport of twelve of us at a time to the edge of his fields. Our driver, a young Englishman, had left the U.K. Army to settle in Port Stanley with his wife. Later, they had a little girl. On the way out, he told us a little about the area. He apologized for the unusual weather: the sun was shining at the time. But the most startling thing was to see miles and miles of coastline fenced off because they still contain mines from the 1982 war.
When we reached Joe’s farm, three of his friends boarded four each of us into their SUVs and we headed out bumping our way across the fields. When we saw a group of cows in a mine field, our driver told us “they seem to know where to step.”
Joe was waiting for us next to a metal shed. He pointed out the penguin rookery. He had marked the limits of our walk with a long nylon roped staked along the ground. Someone asked why the birds were so far from the sea (maybe half a mile), and Joe replied “I suppose to get away from the seals.” Joe is a farmer, not a naturalist.
These Gentoo Penguins nested among the rocks at the edge of Joe’s field. Unlike the Magellanic Penguins we saw earlier in Punta
Arenas, they did not have burrows. They did have a lot of fuzzy half-grown chicks, and the most entertaining part of our visit was to watch the youngsters clamber over the rocks and occasionally chase each other around.
Looking out far in the distance, I saw two adults waddling our way. They had already come up over the hillside and took another eight to ten minutes to reach us. When they arrived, they raised their beaks and honked like a goose. Several chicks came rushing up to be fed, including one that clearly did not belong to the adults. So for a few ridiculous moments, I watched this adult
being chased by a chick until his own chick finally arrived to claim his meal.
Alie, having less patience with penguins than I, retreated to the shed to talk to Joe. It turns out Joe was an immigrant from Northern Ireland. He said he grew up about 8 miles outside of Cookstown in the County Tyrone. Alie’s grandfather Cargan also grew up about 8 miles outside of Cookstown, and a great-uncle lived there until the mid-twentieth century (see Sep. 25, 2011
“Diversions”), but we did not know the geography well enough to say whether the Cargans and Joe’s family were neighbors.
We bumped our way back along an alternative route that took us closer to the rugged coast and stopped once to get out in the wind and watch the seabirds. Then our 12-passenger bus took us back to town passing the driver’s home so he could show us off to his little girl. After a short walk about town and a stop to buy an ornament for our Christmas tree and some “homemade Diddle Dee Jam from wild berries gathered in the Falkland Islands” to take home as presents, we lined up for the next to last tender back to the ship.
After a couple of days at sea, we made our next port where we had lunch with Aldo and his wife Erika. They showed us around Punta Del Este, Uruguay. We had a great time, lovely lunch, and met some of their friends. None of us talked about the Malvinas nor about the Falklands.