Local history adventure show fogged in at the bottom of the Atlantic
Well, looks like we are stuck here, off the tip of South America. Instead of arriving on the LAN Airlines flight from Chile into JFK on the morning of Monday the 16th, Hit and Run History is still in Port Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. And it doesn't look like we're getting out of here until at least next Saturday.
How did Cape Cod's scrappy band of gumshoe historians get stranded down here? Three words: "fog" and "more fog."
We had travelled down here thanks to the generosity of LAN Airlines (lan.com), South America's largest commercial carrier. After driving down to New York on May 5, we took the overnight flight to Santiago, Chile. After a 24 hour layover at the magnificent Hotel Orly (orlyhotel.com) we took off for points south. After a brief stop in Punta Arenas, in the very south of Chile, we headed east into the Atlantic, landing at Mount Pleasant on East Falkland Island, then onto Port Stanley.
But we still hadn't reached our final destination. After a few days there to conduct a little business, including a second interview with the Falkland Islands Radio Service (FIRS) and trek out to Cape Pemberton Lighthouse, we headed into the remote west Falklands. The Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS) operates an on-demand route around the islands, and is pretty much the only way across the vast expanses or open country and between postage stamp-sized islands of just a handful of residences.
A 45-minute ride in a small two-engine bush plane in gale winds at last brought us to Saunders Island. Here, in February of 1788, Captain John Kendrick made landfall with the vessels of the first American voyage 'round the world -- the Columbia Expedition.
This would be the last stop of the ship Columbia and sloop Washington before attempting the rounding of Cape Horn.
While Kendrick would consider wintering over here on Saunders, Robert Haswell, who kept the only surviving first-hand account of the voyage, would attempt to jump ship. Our goal coming here was to retrace Haswell's journey across Saunders Island to Port Egmont -- the first English settlement in the Falklands, but which had been demolished completely just a few years earlier by the Spanish.
Having concluded our filming there to great satisfaction, even more so by a visit to "the Neck", a bird-watcher's Xanadu with its 10,000 penguins of many varieties as well as Albatross and other rare sea birds, we waited for our flight out on FIGAS. The day of our departure was my 45th birthday -- Friday the 13th.
When we had arrived first in Stanley, we remarked at the wind.
For the 45 minute shuttle ride in from Mount Pleasant, we saw many sheep, a few cows, one horse, plenty of hills and grasslands and stony peaks -- but not one tree. We kept on remarking that it was straight out of the Lord of the Rings movies. Or if you've ever been above the treeline atop Mount Washington, imagine a whole country like that, surrounded by subantarctic ocean.
It is not the cold down here that keeps trees from growing. It is the constant wind, which is even worse in their summer months of November to April. Gusts had been up to 70 mph prior to our arrival, and we found it hard to walk around the little town while there. Only there did we find a few hardy species of evergreens -- cedars, yews and hemlock for the most part -- well-tended in people's yards. Still, each one was bent and gnarled from the ever-present westerlies.
By the time the wind at last died down to gentle breezes and the skies cleared by early Thursday afternoon, we were done with filming and ready to start our journey home. We backed our bags that night, and Friday morning were ready to meet the FIGAS plane scheduled to touch down on the grass strip here at 11:30 AM.
Except by 10 AM we learned that Stanley Airport was fogged in the plane could not take off. With the once-per week LAN flight out of the Falklands scheduled to depart the next day at 3:25 PM and many miles and islands between us, slowly we began to realize how hard it might be to get to that one plane in time.
(to be continued...)