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Journey to Falkland Islands and Patagonia

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Penguins Falkland Islands

Travel to the Falkland Islands

Former RAF man John and his partner Helen recently decided to fulfil a life’s dream and visit the Falkland Islands and Patagonia.

They flew with the RAF via Ascension Island to the islands in the south Atlantic – check their photos on Facebook here.

 

John and Helen write:

“Ascension Island is a speck in the Atlantic Ocean just south of the Equator barely 10 miles across at its widest point. At first sight it seems inhospitable with black lava rocks tumbled everywhere, and something military on every hill as it is a strategic base for both Americans and British.

But the road system is very good and with our hire car we visited every place we could. The big hill is nearly always covered in cloud and is known as Green Mountain, as the top is covered in tropical rain forest.

Ascension Island is one of the important sites for turtles to lay their eggs and we were there in the height of the season. We were unable to photograph them but the following morning the beach looked as though tractors had been crossing there all night.

There is still a problem with rats. Cats were brought in to deal with this, but ate the nesting birds instead so were got rid of (you need a permit to have a pet cat now) and most of the birds nest on offshore islands or inaccessible cliffs.

There are many which are only found on Ascension Island and we were lucky enough to see a lot of them.  There are also crabs which live up the mountain and only go to the beach to breed.

 

Falkland Islands

We flew on to the Falklands and got an insight into the war as our driver had been imprisoned by the Argentines.

The landscape was rolling and rocky with no trees and we passed a few minefields as we went towards Stanley.

After a night in Stanley we flew to Pebble Island in an eight-seater plane. This was a wonderful flight as it was a sunny, calm day and we flew at 500 feet. The pilot even circled round for us so we could see some whales.

Pebble Island is a haven for wildlife, especially penguins. There are no roads, but we were taken across country in a Land Rover. We saw colonies of three different kinds of penguins, the most cute were the rockhoppers (you may have seen them on TV), magellanic, which live in burrows and gentoos, which were very comical. They were quite tame and curious. There were lots of different and rare birds too.

We then flew to Port Howard on West Falkland. This is a well-kept working farm with big gorse hedges as windbreaks. We saw lots of dolphins in the Sound and plenty of birds on our trips out. We loved West Falkland and would like to go again, and then flew back to Stanley in very windy conditions.

 

On to Paine National Park

There we hired a 4×4 (there are no tarred roads except in the town) and toured around for a few days.

On the day of the referendum in the Falklands, we flew to Punta Arenas in Chile and travelled to Torres del Paine National Park.

We took a short walk up to Lake Grey through forest that unfortunately had been burnt, due to the carelessness of campers. The next day we walked to Refugio Los Cuernos, missing out the Valle Frances, as being elderly we knew it would take us all our energies to get to the next hostel.

The stars were magnificent, the Milky Way a ribbon of white, and of course there was no light pollution.

The following day was a long trek to the Chileno hostel where we were to stay for two nights. This was across lovely countryside and it was clear and sunny with good visibility.

The next day we walked up to the viewpoint of the Torres.

After an hours walking we arrived at a signpost which told us that the lookout was 45 minutes away! It took us over three hours. We were glad of the streams of wonderful water as it was hot and steep and we needed to drink frequently. The view at the top was very clear with cloudless blue skies – people who had been before said that it was the only time they had seen the views, it was usually wreathed in cloud.

 

The Horns in Torres del Paine National Park Chile

The Horns in Torres del Paine National Park Chile

 

Cruise to Ushuaia

We headed to Puerto Natales and then on to Punta Arenas where we caught the boat to Ushuaia.

We had a large ensuite cabin with picture windows, three enormous gourmet meals a day and unlimited free alcohol.  The weather was calm and visibility good. Off loading into Zodiac boats went like clockwork and we saw a variety of landscapes and wildlife that very few people see as there are no settlements in the fiords and the cruise ship is about the only way to see it.

We saw glaciers galore, plenty of birds, dolphins, seals and an elephant seal. We saw Cape Horn in flat calm, which is most unusual.

We landed after four days at Ushuaia in Argentina, claimed to be the most southerly town in the southern hemisphere. We went on local buses to explore rather than take very expensive tours.

Ushuaia Tierra de Fuego Argentina

View from boat to Ushuaia

 

Overland

From here we took the bus back to Punta Arenas. We had had bad reports about the bus: a long, dull journey, major hold-ups at Customs as there is bad feeling between Argentina and Chile, 12 uncomfortable hours.

In fact we found the journey fascinating, it was a lovely day and the scenery was interesting and the Customs only took 45 minutes. The journey involved an interesting ferry ride.

We reached our hotel feeling very relaxed, ready to catch our plane back to the Falklands in the morning.

We had some flight delays, and had two more days in the Falklands and met some interesting people again.

We were invited to the Junior School where we took photos of the children with the penguin from Norham School that had travelled with us.

The children were very interested in what we had done and what Scotland was like.

The holiday was fantastic and the organization went like clockwork until the end.”

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