I landed in the Falkland Islands on 24th August 2016 (just one week before my 29th Birthday).
As it’s technically half way through the two year contract that I initially arrived on (Han arrived in October), it seems an opportune moment for me to reflect on what that year has meant and what these islands mean for people taking up life on the furthermost frontiers of the British Empire.
Initial impressions on landing in the South Atlantic Winter were quite daunting with Typhoon’s guiding our plane in and then machinery for removing baggage freezing up and causing delays. If this was to be a sign of things to come, the outlook was ominous! Nevertheless, it didn’t take long for me to get a taste of what life here would bring.
On the one hand, the time has flown by and it doesn’t feel like it’s been an entire year since last seeing our families. It doesn’t feel like a year since the last time we tasted fresh mango or watermelon, drank non-UHT milk, bought a takeaway or sat on a bus or train. On the other hand, the last 12 months has been a long journey, both professionally and personally. I came here as a teacher but have found myself being taught a great deal in living here.
I’ve talked before about the manner in which things here have started to become normal but it’s hard to over-estimate the way that the islands have changed my outlook on a lot of things. Driving, for example. Before coming here, I’d never driven anything about a 1.6 litre engine and on nothing but tarmac. Realistically, I know there are few other places where I can drive like this but the fact that you can run a 4×4 cheaply and make full use of it in the wide open landscapes here has completely revolutionised what I considered to be ‘normal driving’. Highlights including driving to Volunteer Point, up Mount Tumbledown and spending hours off-road on the West have left me getting tyre-envy for some of the phenomenally fat tyres you see around town:
On that vein, we’ve had the opportunity to experience some things that we might never have thought about before coming down. That list includes, but is not exclusive to, shooting revolvers, climbing a lighthouse, crossing a pre-WWII suspension bridge, drinks receptions at the old colonial Government House, flying in tiny fixed-wing aircraft, exploring old war positions and even riding a missile:
We’ve even developed a completely unpredicted but much-talked-about relationship with our pet sheep Milo:
Then, of course, there has been the absolutely unforgettable wildlife experiences that have marked our time here. They’ve been far beyond what we ever thought would happen and have, I assume, been a large part of the popularity of this blog. It will be difficult to look at a zoo (or even live back in the UK) in the same way ever again after knowing you can have experiences like this with wildlife:
But by far the most profound effect this place has had on us has been one that I never predicted and one that is bizarrely related to the terms of employment upon which we find ourselves here. It is the nature of many people’s jobs here that we find ourselves on a comparatively short-term contract: two years. This has had the odd effect of making us very conscious of our limited time here and therefore trying to take up any opportunity that comes our way for fear of not getting another chance to experience it, from trips to Camp, meals out, events going on, places to visit, people to meet and things to see. We’ve also been reflecting on the fact that a small, remote, intimate island population often with a similar outlook on life forces much more social life into the calendar; our last village in the UK had double the population of Stanley but I think I only knew about 10 people there whereas between us we must know half of Stanley with a constantly growing list of people always up for adventures of any form.
This perfect storm of knowing many more outgoing people and being overly aware of our short-term status here means we’ve been suffering a great deal from what Han likes to call ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out). We are so conscious of this that it’s had a far more positive impact on our attitude to life and we’re doing so much more with our time. A recent TV program I watched featured a dying patient in a hospital use the quote “when you know there is an end, it forces you to live”. Oddly, I found this to be a fine summary of the effect of contractor life here on the islands (the living bit, not the dying bit; it’s not that bad!). Hopefully those of you reading this living somewhere more permanent are now questioning how many of the local sites you’ve visited, how many nearby museums/historic sites you’ve truly taken in, how much you know about your local history and how often you’ve genuinely explored where you live. If you knew you only had a year left there, what would you do in that time and, more importantly, why aren’t you doing it now?