Of all the locales immortalized in song, one place in particular comes to mind as being just as obscure as the song that contains it. In Pink Floyd’s 1983 album The Final Cut, there’s a tiny track entitled Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert. It starts with the sound of wind echoing across a plain and a distant voice shouting the title to a pair of men whose questioning whispers are interrupted by a deafening mortar blast. This is followed by what sounds like a string quartet launching into a catchy little tune. After one refrain, bassist Roger Waters comes in with a single stanza of lyrics:
“Brezhnev took Afghanistan (a reference to the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979).
Begin (pronounced BAY-gin, a reference to the Israeli Prime Minister) took Beirut.
Galtieri took the Union Jack (a reference to General Leopoldo Galtieri’s invasion of the British-held Falkland Islands).
Maggie (British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) over lunch one day, took a cruiser with all hands (the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano).
Apparently, to make him give it back.“
This ditty is ended with some humming before seguing into the next song.
As a teenager I was obsessed with Pink Floyd and always felt a certain fascination about this short but poignant song that inspired me to look it up just to find out what it was about. Not surprisingly, it was this song that I was humming when the cruise ship I was traveling on pulled up alongside the windswept coastline of the Falkland Islands and I prepared to disembark.
The Falkland Islands (or Islas Malvinas depending on the side of the conflict you’re inclined to support) are a pair of dry, hilly, butterfly-shaped islands not far off the extreme southern coast of Argentina. A British possession since the 1840’s, it’s hard to imagine that this barren landscape at the bottom of the world would be worth fighting over. But fight they did, and those few months of conflict in the early ’80’s still reverberate in the minds and fields of the islands today. More on that later.
Stanley, or Port Stanley is a tiny town that looks as if it has been wholly transplanted from rural England. From the architecture, the gardens and the fish and chips offered daily in the town pub, from the inside you’d never know you were on the doorstep of Antarctica and not in the North Sea.
In town there’s a cathedral with an interesting whalebone sculpture alluding to the settlers’ reason for coming to the islands so many years ago. There are also some quaint houses, souvenir shops, a memorial to the fallen during the conflict and the aforementioned pub. Beyond that, this is not exactly what would be considered a metropolis.
On the outskirts of Stanley there are some lovely coves such as Grace Bay, where penguins congregate along a shimmering green crescent of water. Gun emplacements and shipwrecks dot the coastline, and that’s probably when you realize you’re not in England anymore.
Remember when I mentioned that the Falkland Conflict still plays a role in modern times (like, four paragraphs ago)? This is because there are still active minefields dotting the open landscape, clearly marked as danger zones. For such an undeveloped and tranquil place, the threat of death from below is a constant reminder of the ‘sins of the fathers’. My advice: Don’t go in there.
The Stone Runs
An interesting geological anomaly are the so-called Stone Runs, located a ways down the coast of East Falkland. Essentially rivers of rock ‘flowing’ down from the grassy hills, they attest to geological activity that’s even older than the ’80’s.
The people I interacted with during my one-day stay were very polite, resilient and more than just a little patriotic. It won’t take long to sense that annexation by Argentina is NOT a preferred alternative to the island’s inhabitants. One would think that anyone daft enough to live year round in this lovely yet forlorn outpost of human habitation should have some say in which far-off government they get to pay taxes to, but most people would probably say “Who cares?”.
Getting There & Around
Getting to the Falkland Islands is not all that easy. Last I heard there are no direct flights from Argentina (the nearest landmass) which means that Chile would be the closest departure point. Far easier is to arrive as I did – by cruise ship – either on an Antarctic or Round the Horn sailing. With not a whole lot to see, one day should sate most visitors’ curiosity, though I would recommend hiring a guide to get the inside scoop on the island and its history – as well as pump a few dollars into the local economy.
The Falkland Islands are a place you see when you’re headed toward somewhere else, but this doesn’t mean they’re not worth seeing. Anyone who is a fan of (mostly) untouched landscapes, penguins in the wild and the occasional active minefield will find that a day or two here is a pleasant diversion. As for the rest, take a listen to Pink Floyd’s Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert and see if the concise lyrics are enough to spur you on a journey to the last stop before Antarctica.
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