Not easy! Even though small, this society has its own rules and it considers the tourist more like a cow to be milked than a partner with whom one can share a moment of life. This impression we have already had during our internet contacts for preparation of the voyage. The majority of these contacts were only commercial and not easy. It seems that very few people have received the sense of business and tourism and they only answered if the speaker found a direct interest. If there wasn't we were often told that it was impossible or ill-advised (renting a car, lodging in certain farms and even according to the French tourists met on the spot, the impossibility of travelling with the R.A.F.) which turned out to be totally false.
If this difficulty of approach remained during our whole stay, it allowed us to appreciate all the more our too rare meetings and discussions with welcoming people. We can only here thank these people. The following texts try to allow you to discover by means of remarks and anecdotes, the specific conditions and the mentality which rule such an isolated society.
Our landlady, owner and manager of a Bed & Breakfast was a unique person. She welcomed visitors very simply which put everybody at ease immediately. A visit to her house, one of the oldest in Stanley, allows you to find out a bit more about this alert grandmother. Hundreds of knick-knacks and a very kitsch decoration are seen in the house and outside the garden dwarfs are carefully arranged on a perfectly mown lawn.
During our stay there were 7 guests, two of whom were living in a tent in the garden and this little world revolved around the same kitchen, toilet and facilities. Always doing little things for her guests she pampered them with attention. There was never a lack of food, cake and tea and she didn't hesitate to provide packed meals, free of charge for guests who were going on an excursion. Once she had finished the innumerable chores which she imposed on herself everyday it was always interesting to talk to her. She was never short of anecdotes about people, which was strange at the beginning because she spoke to you as if you had known them for a long time.
She also told us of her childhood and adolescence on the island. She had worked as a maid for a director of a farming company and received £2,5. She once asked for a rise of 9 shillings which she never received. One evening while she was showing us a book about the history of the Falklands, she stopped at a photo of a dozen distinguished gentlemen: the snobs. They were mainly administration accountants and directors of farms. The term snob often came up during our stay in the form of a joke. It must not be forgotten that even here the class society existed and at that time it was not even imaginable to see people from different classes mixing or having any activity together. Even though often joking, she mistrusts and despises these snobs. Besides, nothing pleases her more than to see them clinging to privileges that are no longer of our age.
She spoke of the past and of life in the settlements (farm colonies far from Stanley) as a happy period and the fact that she had never lacked anything at all or suffered any isolation. She had notably lived on the isle of Saunders for several years and for Kay, Stanley is the big city.
One feels that her life has not always been easy but you would never hear a complaint or a regret, very much the contrary. She was a real character and hence unique. When we spoke to other people, we did not hear a negative remark or even a doubt about her.
When we left, like many others we felt a certain emotion (reciprocated) which shows well that she had given a lot more than food and shelter.
There is surely a book to be written about her but you can't talk to her about it. It was even impossible for us to get her to have her picture taken, from shyness but also by coquetry. Finally we used a ruse to get what we wanted and it even became a game between us. Hiding in the street we managed to photo her behind a window, before she hid!
This young baker trusted us by lending us material for diving (weight belts and cylinders) without complications and as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
We met him on the internet by means of the diving club web site (www.zapsaod.com) he belongs to. Thanks to him and his colleagues we were able to carry out a number of dives in the Falklands. It is true that we got to know him most during our first meeting and during the evening following, We were lucky enough to discover the night life of Stanley in a memorable evening.
After this episode, we met Mick on several occasions, notably in his baker's. There, he explained to us the special difficulties of a business situated in such an isolated place. For example he must always have a stock of flour which represents three months consummation. All supplies come from Great Britain by boat and this reserve allows him not to depend on a boat which doesn't arrive. It was also this reserve which allowed the island to live during the conflict. He delivers, everyday, bread to Stanley airport which is then distributed to the settlements by the Figas aircraft. The problem of training is important because for university studies the education system foresees sending students to Great Britain but not for professional training. Most people learn on the job or use the knowledge of an old professional. This does not stop some other jobs disappearing from the isle and a dozen years ago there were no baker. During quite a long period it was Kay who baked 8 batches of 4 loaves in her kitchen oven. Other aspects are more favourable: there is no competition and it is a stable market.
Wanting to discover the region of Salvador, which has been the property of Nick’s family for 6 generations, we phoned him to obtain authorisation to visit his land. We got it without any difficulty and he invited us to go and see him to say hello! This was very appreciated when one knows that some owners forbid access to their land or demand rights of passage.
Nick, sitting on his trail bike, received us with great enthusiasm, clearly pleased to be able to explain to us life in the settlements and its peculiarities. Like everywhere, the number of inhabitants living in the country tends to be decreasing. He lives alone with his wife and his parents and no young people are interested in the independent life of a sheep farmer as it is much easier to find a job as a civil-servant in Stanley.
In Salvador, as in many other settlements, the farmers live cut off from the world and are used to an almost complete autarky. At Nick's you see this in his mania for picking up vehicles; if you look carefully there isn't one tractor or car with its original engine. Near a hanger is an old Mazda bought from a Russian sailor passing through; by the side of the house is an old Navy helicopter which fell not far away about 30 years ago and was picked up by his father. Nick said he has not one vehicle which has not received a spare part from its engine.
The only modern aspect is propane used instead of peat for heating and for the electricity generator which works 4 hours each evening. It is necessary to be organised because using a vacuum cleaner at the same time as another electric apparatus which uses a lot of electricity is impossible. It's difficult to imagine for us!
Organisation and helping each other is what allows these people to survive.
We surprised this sheep farmer hard at the work of shearing. While most people on our continent would have said to come back later, Robin took the time to explain to us, with enthusiasm and in great details the problems and advantages of his activity.
Unhesitatingly, he took us into the big shed where two shearers were busy, with a bare-footed woman running between them picking up the wool which was falling at their feet. Robin's wife selected the wool according to its quality while he introduced it into a press to make 200 kg packages. He also checked the number of sheep in the shed to make sure they had enough available. Two minutes was enough to shear a sheep of its coat of wool. In one day not far from 500 sheep were sheared!
During this intense activity, Robin still found the time to talk of his work and his states of mind. The main advantage of life in this region is the almost total freedom. It is paid for by the almost total isolation which is why any pretext is used in order to have company and liveliness. Shearing and sheep branding are the principal ones. The passage of foreigners also allows breaking the monotony against which, with the years, it is more and more difficult to fight. The future of the islands is also a constant worry in everybody's mind. He also talked to us about the inevitable subject of the conflict of 1982. The people hold a severe grudge against the Argentinians, not so much because of the conflict and its physical consequences but especially because of the feeling of having been betrayed by the Argentinians in whom they had complete trust.
Text: © Michel Chabod • Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra