Having spent three weeks with hardly any significant contact with humans, it was a bit of culture shock for us to find ourselves back in Stanley at the Malvina House Hotel. It may be the size of a large village with about 2,000 inhabitants, but compared with “camp,” it feels like a large noisy city. We definitely feel the need to acclimate….
Although it has been 171 years since it was founded (in 1843), Stanley still feels like a frontier town. Before the opening of the Panama Canal, many ships visited Stanley Harbor seeking shelter from the ferocious storms of the South Atlantic. Later, it became a support center for the exploration of Antarctica. Today, the harbor is filled with cruise ships on their way to or from Antarctica, as well as international fishing trawlers. If you were not aware, these south Atlantic waters have some of the best squid stocks in the world and are a source of revenue for the Islands.
The city is characterized by brightly colored rooftops made of galvanized iron. Small vegetable plots and flower gardens surround the tiny houses. Red telephone boxes and post boxes are scattered here and there. There are a bank and a “petrol” station to fuel up the Land Rovers that dominate the automobile fleet here. Along the waterfront, there are a few tourist shops, catering to the cruise ship industry, some restaurants, and pubs. In many ways, it reminds you of rural Great Britain in the 1960s.
Stanley was the scene of fighting between British and Argentine troops during the 1982 Conflict, and there are many military monuments to visit (including for World Wars I and II), especially along Thatcher Drive, named after Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Many visitors come specifically to see the areas where the Conflict took place, centered particularly on East Stanley at Darwin (where the Argentine cemetery is located), San Carlos (where the British Cemetery is located) and Goose Green. Many of the islanders are veterans of the conflict and are always ready to relate their experiences.
Perhaps the most iconic site in Stanley is the Christ Church Cathedral and the Whalebone Arch. Consecrated in 1892, it is one of the few stone buildings in the islands. The Whalebone Arch is made from the jaws of two massive blue whales. It was built in 1933 to commemorate the Centennial of British rule in the Falkland Islands.
The Falkland Islands Museum is tiny but well worth a visit. The Museum is about to move from its old location in Britannia House (a building used by the Argentine Air Force in 1982) to a site across from the Malvina House Hotel. The museum has an excellent collection of objects representing everyday life in the Falklands as well as a remarkable collection of objects related to the many shipwrecks around the archipelago.
To see one of the wrecks, a walk along the harbor front will take you to the wreck of the 2100-ton iron barque, the Lady Elizabeth. Built in 1879, she ferried cargo, including the building materials for the Cathedral. In 1913 her rigging, deck, and steering were destroyed in a storm; as she limped into the harbor, she ran into Uranie Rock and was damaged beyond repair. With each storm her iron hull was pushed farther and farther into the harbor, which is where she sits, rusted and alone.
Also along the harbor front, in the village green (known as Victory Green) is the mizzen mast from the SS Great Britain which for many years lay in the outer harbor.
Just up the hill from the Malvina House Hotel (on Dairy Paddock Road) is a display of reconstructed whale skeletons. Mike Butcher, an ardent anti-whaling campaigner, rebuilt them from carcasses that washed up on the shores of the islands as part of his efforts to bring about a ban on whaling.
No visit to Stanley would be complete without a visit to the Post Office and Philatelic Bureau. Since they first appeared in the 1870s, collectors have treasured stamps from the Falkland Islands. You can buy first-day issues for a year after their initial appearance.
Although our time in “camp” is what we will treasure from our time in the Falkland Islands, our two days in Stanley help us understand much about the history of this tiny group of islands in the South Atlantic. With the discovery of oil reserves off the coast, Stanley is changing rapidly, with new construction to house the massive influx of oil-exploration personnel. One can only hope that the inhabitants will not allow the character of the islands to be changed by this new reality.