Life in the Falkland Islands... Where Mother Nature Still Reigns

STANLEY, Falkland Islands -- "This is not the end of the world, but you can see it from here" is a standard joke in the Falkland Islands, an archipelago of 400 islands, 15 of them inhabited by 2,220 people and 650,000 sheep.

Further in the numbers game, the Falklands lie at latitude 52 south, the same parallel as London is north; they are 350 miles off the tip of South America, and 1,000 miles from Antarctica, whose expedition cruise ships landed 3,000 passengers in the Falklands in 1996.

Other interesting numbers: Among 300 visitors who came as tourists in 1996, 65 were Americans.

Mother Nature is still in charge here: 162 species of birds are regularly seen in the islands, five species of penguins breed here, congregating in colonies easily approached by man, and, in season, sea elephants and sea lions galumph about the beaches while whales and dolphins cavort off shore.penguins

The traditional frontier life in Stanley, the capital, and the countryside, called Camp, can be as appealing to the American visitor as the island's wildlife. Consider: Sheep raising is the main occupation, and you can visit the sheds at harvest time (in February) when a professional shearer can clip one sheep every two minutes.

For cooking and heating the natives use peat, cut into bricks by local residents, who each have their own plots. Residents also have flower and vegetable gardens.

The dentist makes island "house calls" every six months, but doctors fly into settlements every other month. Furthermore, there is no neon, no fast food, no traffic lights. And since Falklanders are generally of British Isles origin, everyone speaks English.

In the Falklands, visitors travel as the Kelpers (original islands settlers) do: overland by Land Rover. Roads, where they exist, are mostly of gravel.

International flights land at Mount Pleasant Airport, which is part of Britain's Royal Air Force base. Local air travel (connecting 40 landing strips, all but two of grass) is provided by Falkland Islands Government Air Service, which flies, weather permitting, eight-passenger aircraft.

The names of passengers on local flights are read on the 7:30 news the night before, and passengers showing up for check-in are weighed in along with their luggage.

Last year at this time, the only way to get to the Falklands, other than the RAF flight from England, was by sea.

The new key to tourism in the Falklands is the weekly Saturday flight of Lan Chile, launched last August. Flying time is six and a half hours from Santiago, with stops in Puerto Montt and Punta Arenas.

The Falklands are less than two hours from Punta Arenas.

On arrival, visitors have a choice of two hotels in Stanley: the newer and more comfortable, 18-room Malvina House Hotel and the historic 16-room Upland Goose Hotel. Both have rooms with private bath, friendly service, bars and restaurants. Additionally, there are a half-dozen guest houses with two to five rooms.

In Camp, travelers will stay in guest houses -- often the former homes of farm managers.

Accommodations, on full-board basis, have twin-bedded rooms, some with shared bath, and a guest lounge and bar. Meals include hot English-style breakfasts; boxed lunches on request, and dinners.

John Fowler, director of the Falkland Islands Tourist Board and longtime island resident, said the islands are ready for more tourism. "Anchored by very good local tour companies, we have a small but user-friendly infrastructure that operates well below its potential," he said. "Increasing tourism is a government priority, and it helps that we are now called the Galapagos of the sub Antarctic."

Fowler is eager to work with U.S. tour operators and travel agents to bring more Americans to the islands. A visit to the Falklands complements a trip to southern Chile's Patagonia, although other options could be available if plans go through this spring to launch additional weekly air service between the Falklands and Montevideo, Uruguay, and on to Sao Paulo in Brazil.

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