So what is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions The Falklands? War? The British? Penguins? I remembered the conflict (they don't like to call it a war) of 1982 but I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I had never associated penguins with this group of islands. Well, you just have to walk down the main street of Stanley and gaze at the window displays of the many souvenior shops and you will see more penguin paraphernalia than you ever thought possible. Princess offered many different penguin excursions but you had to choose between seeing the Rockhoppers OR the Gentoos, the Kings OR the Macaroni. Prior to leaving the states, I contacted a couple of tour operators in the Falklands and inquired about a private tour that would take us to see as many species of penguins as possible. Out of the responses, I chose Adrian. He's a Brit who married a girl whose family owns a large farm on the Falklands which they now own and run. Come to find out, he owns the land where 90% of the cruise excursions for penguin watching go. He has 5 different species that reside on his sheep ranch. We started by going to see the Gentoo colony which was about 1 hour away, most of it over bumpy tundra, bogs and streams. On the way, we passed his farm house, some massive peat bogs and the fenced off areas where there are still land mines.
I was very surprised at the number of penguins in the Gentoo colony and how far away from the water they were. There were two separate areas where they had established their groups. Most had one or two chicks. A few were still trying to keep eggs warm in the frigid wind. Sadly, we were informed, those eggs would not hatch. There was a rope on the ground that we were asked not to cross but it was crazy to me just how close you could get to them and how unafraid they were of us. It was a little surreal to see these darling creatures up so close. A little like being in a Mary Poppins film. After snapping hundreds of penguin poses, we headed to the little mobile home on the property where we were served some delectable biscuits (English butter cookies peanut butter cookies) and hot tea or chocolate.
Our next journey followed the path the penguins would take from the colony down to the sea shore about 3/4 of a mile away (that takes a long time when walk like a penguin). The beach was fenced off because there are still land mines on it. These don't pose a danger to the penguins because they don't weigh enough to set them off. We could see about a hundred penguins waddling around on the beach and diving into the water where they would eat fish and then waddle back to their offspring up at the colony and regurgitate those fish to feed their chicks. Adrian got out his binoculars so we could see a couple of King penguins that hang out on the beach with the Gentoos. They are about a head taller than the Gentoos and have a little different coloring.
Behind us in the little shelf that surrounds the beach were the dugouts of the shy Magellanic penguins. Unlike their cousins, they were more fearful than curious and would diappear in their burrows when we got too close.
Time to go to the Rockhoppers. Most cruise passengers didn't make it out to see the rockhoppers because they were so far away and required a 4x4 to get there. They definitely missed out. These guys were my favorite. The journey they make up from the sea is nothing short of miraculous. It's steep and so far up the hill that you would think they burn up all the calories they take in while down fishing. There are certainly no fat penguins waddling around up at the top. They are intensely curious little creatures and completely unafraid. Here there is no rope stopping you from plopping yourself right down next to them and sticking a camera right in their cute little faces...just common sense and propriety. They are pretty vocal too. Lots of squawking and squabbling with a firm peck to the neighbor if they don't get out of their way.
They swim in a pod like dolphins, their bodies arcing out of the water. At first, I thought they were a pod of dolphins, but their distictive black and white bodies are easily recognizable. I wish that I had brought a zoom lens with me so I could have captured their graceful movements in the water. We had also hoped to see some Macaroni penguins here. Adrian told us that a seal had climbed all the way up to the colony the previous week and had killed a large number of them, mostly the chicks. He said that the Macaroni's that had been hanging out with this colony of Rockhoppers were some of the ones killed by the seal. So sad. The seal didn't even eat them, just killed them. You can see below the bottom of the hill where they dive into the water from the large rock face. See how steep that hill is?
Our last stop was by Adrian's ranch we he showed us where they store the peat that they cut out of the bogs. We learned how the wool is sorted and baled. We got to see his peat stove that heats the house and that they cook on as well as their cream separator. They sell the extra cream in town from the small herd of cows they milk daily. They try to be as self sufficient as possible, growing most of their own food.
Back in Stanley, we had to stop by the famous whalebone arch before heading back to the ship.
In answer to the post title: we learned that anywhere in So. America, you should refer to them as the Malvinas. Anywhere else in the world, they are the Falklands.