They say it is the journey and not the destination, and when you spend a month sailing across the South Atlantic you’d expect that saying to be particularly true… but while the month at sea was something quite incredible and I will write at length about it, I can not help but be amazed by my destination, a small town called Stanley.
Stanley is the capital of the Falklands Islands, a small group of islands off the east coast of Argentina. It’s British and there was a war in the 80s when Argentina invaded. That tension is not over. Argentina continues to rumble about new invasions and has sanctions on flights and goods leaving or entering Argentina.
When I said Stanley is the “capital” I had to use that term very very loosely. You can forget whatever image you had built up in your head of this place. It is almost certainly not what you think, but let me first mess with your head.
Stanley has an army, a cathedral, its own tv and radio stations, postage stamps, its own currency (complete with coins) and two airports. But, and this is where things get interesting, Stanley is tiny, insanely tiny. You could walk from the one side of the “city” to the other in less than an hour and during that walk you’ll meet enough locals that when you’re in the pub later someone who you’ve never met will invariably approach you and say “Hi, you must be Jonathan”. They don’t get a lot of new faces around here.
Stanley also doesn’t have any ATMs, elevators, escalators or optician. If you run out of cash after 3pm and you want to buy something from a place that doesn’t accept credit cards, well, you can’t. There are only two places that accept credit cards and they’re both “supermarkets” of the sort that also sell fishing equipment and 1 liter plastic bottles of vodka.
Being small definitely has its benefits. The idea of stealing someone’s car is hilarious to the locals. Where would you go? Muggings never happen because the chances of the victim not knowing the attacker are almost nil.
Stanley does however have a crime problem. Their prison is full. All 8 inmates and they recently had to build a new female wing to house their first female prisoner. Never fear though, the convicts are sent to the shops to buy groceries, ever so occasionally bumping into their victims along the way. This would almost be funny if it wasn’t for the issue that most of Stanley’s prisoners are pedophiles.
They take crime seriously here… the local youngsters telling us that getting caught with weed will “get you done” for 6 years and similarly driving under the influence, which is a hilarious concept as your house is almost certainly less that a 15 minute stumble away from the pub, is taken very seriously by the police force. By police force I mean the 3 cops, but only before 3am when it becomes “the cop”, and that cop has to man the phone, so really it’s more of an honor system.
Criminals are treated with such disdain that the monthly newsletter details an incident by incident run down of the previous months arrestees. The latest edition chronicles another pedophile who got caught, complete with a photograph, his full name and address. He hasn’t actually been found guilty yet.
Taking name-and-shame to a whole new level, the local paper also provides names and criminal history for all four of the previous month’s DUI and speeding arrestees. Please don’t forget, this is in a town with a population that is dwarfed by some big high schools.
Stanlians have their own accent. You wouldn’t notice it in the UK as they definitely sound British, but once you’ve met a few you realize that they all intonate in a very peculiar way that once you’re aware of becomes unmistakable. Another interesting quirk is that everyone seems very well educated and quite attractive, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that a lot of them look very very similar.
The Falkland Islands do not have any tertiary education institutions and as a result there is a very odd demographic. Most of the university age people are simply not here and it seems that most of the young professionals leave as soon as they can. I am yet to meet a 30 year old that isn’t disabled, an alcoholic or both.
What that does leave you with is old people, young people and immigrants. The young people are probably the most interesting. Most of them are either not yet in university or have just got back from university and have found that it’s easier to find employment on a remote island with a tiny population than back in the UK. Sadly that says a lot about the state of the economy in the UK.
A 25 year old in Stanley is unlike anything you’ve ever met in the UK or probably the rest of the world. Full of self confidence and lacking the routine hang ups associated with that quarter life crisis. This is a population of educated Hendrix and Led Zep fans talking about politics in a way that would make your average Che t-shirt wearing hipster stammer. They are fun to hang out with and are quick to invite your rag tag crew of dirty sailors back to theirs when the pubs close. Pub’s close at 11pm with a regiment that would make Hitler smile, but not before a 5 minute free-for-all where the locals boozily buy cases of beer over the counter at bartered prices that still seem too high. Then you’re off to theirs (usually in a taxi driven by a motherly australian woman who doesn’t even need to ask where you’re going) for some more drinks while you listen to an 18 year old tell you how they recently got into Oasis but really they grew up on Springsteen.
I can’t say anything bad about Stanley other than the food. There is one place that supposedly has good food but it looks like an old age home and has food prices that should include a night’s accommodation. Everywhere else has food that seems designed for the squaddies (soldiers who live on the base over the hill) or oil workers; deep-fried everything and almost no flavor so you end up coating your entire meal in tomato sauce and/or mayonnaise depending on how British you feel like being.
Sadly I’m flying out of here tomorrow, but rest assured that tonight will be spent in the bars, all 3 of which where everybody knows my name.
Photos to follow when I’m in a place that doesn’t charge for internet by the minute.