An Afternoon in Stanley, Falkland Islands

It's my last afternoon in the Falkland Islands, and I'm cruising down the main drag in Stanley along the ocean. The temperature is cool, but not oppressive, and there is a slight drizzle in the air. This is enough to keep my camera in its bag. I will pull it out when I need it.

Stanley is on the island of East Falkland, an area that sees a lot of rainfall. Unlike my recent landings on Saunders and West Point Islands, which are pristine and secluded, there is civilization here in Stanley, although hardly a metropolis. The population of this town is only about 2,100 people!


I'll admit that I had only a vague familiarity with this area during the Falklands War in 1982 when I was finishing medical school. The war became more real, however, when I was touring Buenos Aires in 2013 and came across an interesting mural in the city's center that depicted the flags of Britain, Argentina and the USA.

In the early 1980s, Argentina was experiencing a period of rapid inflation under a military government led by General Leopoldo Gaitieri. Hoping to distract the country from his failed economic policies, Argentina declared war on Great Britain, in an attempt to claim "Las Malvinas," or the Falklands, as their own. This resulted in a 2-month war in which Britain, led by Margaret Thatcher, prevailed. There were nearly 1,000 casualties on both sides,  the preponderance being Argentine.

The cathedral and whalebone arch

The cathedral and whalebone arch

For Argentina, the war did not end in 1982, as it did for Britain and the rest of the world. It remains an Argentine obsession, exemplified by a 50 peso banknote featuring Antonio Rivero, a gaucho who led an uprising against the British in 1833. Argentina's president, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, is quoted as saying, "This is homage to our Islas Malvinas and to all those who gave their lives to this cause. It will compel every Argentinian to keep alive on a daily basis the flames of love for our islands which are and always will be Argentinian."

From the Falklander's point of view, the difference in perspective regarding the events of 1982 is glaring. As I walk down the main street, I encounter a sizable group of people making speeches, and saying prayers, eulogizing those lost in the war. Across the street is the Historic Dockyard Museum. Having paid the entry fee, it is apparent to me that the majority of patrons are viewing a movie in a dedicated audio-visual room. This is a fascinating, albeit gut-wrenching, series of interviews with islanders who were children in 1982. I cannot help but sympathize with the impact that this event had on the community.

I continue to walk along the ocean, imagining Stanley growing as a deep-water port. Before the Panama Canal was constructed, Port Stanley was considered an important repair stop for boats traveling through the Straits of Magellan. Due to the rough waters and intense storms that are quite common near the tip of South America in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, many ships were forced to land in Stanley Harbor. This resulted in the development of the ship repair industry that helped to drive the island's economy.

The drizzle is starting to get more intense, and I have some time to kill before I can take the shuttle back to the Sea Explorer. This is a perfect opportunity to hit the Victory Bar on Philomel Street, an old-style pub, quite dark and well worn. I see Gretchen, one of my shipmates, sitting at a table, having a beer and reviewing her pictures. I grab a draft and become captivated as she tells me about her experience climbing up to Mt. Everest's base camp.

Struck by the diversity of the world we live in, both good and bad, I reflect on having become familiar with the meaning of the Falklands War from both the Falkland and Argentinian points of view. There are always two sides to every story. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.