Where penguins outnumber people
The McGills vary the tracks they drive their Land Rovers along to help prevent erosion. Rob drops me at the island’s northern tip by the skeleton of a southern right whale. The bleached bones and brittle sheets of baleen, the colour of dark amber, lie among rocks patterned with saffron yellow lichen, pale clumps of sea cabbage and wild celery. Along the shore, a loud burp from the tussock grass announces the presence of an elephant seal. I keep my distance, then notice three pairs of eyes watching me. The inquisitive, eagle-like striated caracara is rare in most of the islands, where it is known as a Johnny Rook, but it’s common enough on Carcass. The official advice is to keep a respectful distance from all wildlife. It is hard to follow this rule when some of the wildlife seems determined to pinch your sandwich, test the resilience of your rucksack or simply perch on your head.
Back at the settlement house, the 10 guests sit down to dinner. One of them, Georgina Strange, is a Falklander stopping on Carcass on her way home to even more remote New Island, a nature reserve part-run by her family. She and her friends are preparing Marmite-spread crackers for the five-hour boat trip the next morning. Georgina will stay on New Island for six or seven months unbroken, working on conservation projects, with a supply boat visiting every six weeks. ‘It’s proper wilderness,’ she says. ‘I miss going out to cafés and buying magazines.’
A generation ago, the wool-based economy of the islands was in decline and its population slowly ebbing away. As a distant outpost of a largely vanished empire, the Falklands had an uncertain future. However, today’s islanders are less inclined to see their home as an outpost and have plenty to feel proud of – from their efforts to restore local wildlife to the self-reliance and sense of community you see everywhere. By their nature, the Falklands may always be in a fragile position, but its people are prepared for this. Georgina has lived in Britain and Australia, but like most young Falklanders today she is staying on the islands.
‘I think you have to live somewhere else for a while – it’s unhealthy not to. But I’d say 90 per cent of people come back. It’s the freedom more than anything. Cities are fine, but life gets annoying with all the rules. On my island, something really interesting happens every day, even if it’s only tiny.’