Remote Falkland Islands Back In The News

The Falkland Islands are back in the news, now that Britain has allowed the first oil wells to be dug in the South Atlantic island nation. So host Guy Raz checks in with Stephanie Pearson of Outside magazine, who profiled this remote land of quirky sheepherders, dangerous minefields and one of the largest albatross populations on Earth.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Roughly 700 miles north of Antarctica, the British overseas territory known to them as the Falkland Islands is back in the news.

Britain has started to drill for oil around the archipelago, and that's infuriated Argentina, which never gave up its sovereignty claims over the islands. The two countries, of course, went to war over the Falklands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas, back in 1982. Buenos Aires is now calling on the U.N. to intervene and stop the British oil exploration.

Back in January, 2009, writer Stephanie Pearson explored the Falklands. You can read her article in the March issue of Outside magazine.

Here's an excerpt.

Ms. STEPHANIE PEARSON (Writer, Outside Magazine): (Reading) With all due respect to the war, the Falklands are where Monty Python meets the wild kingdom. Life in Stanley, home to 2,115 of the islands' residents, takes on a rogue British flair: The brightly colored tin roofs, the red phone booths and flapping union jacks are a quirky, cheerful antidote to the raw surroundings.

RAZ: There's even a Thatcher Drive, named, of course, after Margaret Thatcher, a hero to many of the people who live on the islands.

Stephanie Pearson joins me from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Welcome to the program.

Ms. PEARSON: Thank you.

RAZ: When you were there, what sort of signs and remnants from the 1982 war did you see? Are they still present?

Ms. PEARSON: They're very present, actually. You drive from Mount Pleasant, which is the big military base, to Stanley, which is the capital city, and basically, it's all cordoned off with barbed wire, with signs that have, you know, warning, landmine signs, and all of that has been land-mined by the Argentineans.

And apparently, they planted 30,000 landmines, and they were plastic, and so they're hard to find. And so you really don't want to go beyond the barbed wire.

RAZ: I should mention that the Falklands are made up of 740 islands, and you describe how difficult it actually is to get to some of these islands. There's a sort of an inter-island plane service, and there's a place you visited called The Neck. Can you describe what you saw there?

Ms. PEARSON: It was amazing. It's this mile-and-a-half-long, I would say, isthmus, and it's this beautiful stretch of sand, and all these different penguin colonies are there. So these magellanic, gentoo, rockhopper penguins, king penguins, they're all basically just standing on the beach, and they're -you know, some are just looking into the water, standing. You know, some are molting, some are going to the bathroom, some are mating, and it's like, I think I described it in the article as like people-watching on a beach in Rio. It's just fascinating to watch these different species intermingle.

RAZ: And because there's no real sort of long-standing, well-developed tourism industry, you can literally walk up to these animals.

Ms. PEARSON: You can, and I'd like to add the caveat that you need to be careful because that's part of the beauty of it, that they are unspoiled, but it's one of those places like the Galapagos where the animals really have no sense of humans, and so they're very curious, and, you know, they'll come right up to you. And, you know, that's a blessing and a curse.

RAZ: From the photos in the article, they really look in a sense like the Scottish highlands. Does it sort of feel like this odd British outpost?

Ms. PEARSON: It had this surreal British feel to it but out in this raw, ravaged, windswept island. You know, there were shipwrecks in the harbor, but people are very - they keep to their British tradition in a lot of ways in terms of having tea. In Stanley, they have, you know, red phone booths and the Globe Tavern and Thatcher Drive and...

RAZ: And double-decker buses.

Ms. PEARSON: And they have a double-decker bus for tourists.

RAZ: What about politics? I mean, are the people you met pretty hard-line when it comes to any Argentinean claims on the islands?

Ms. PEARSON: My sense of it was that they went through a very frightening experience when Argentina invaded in 1982, and it was terrifying, and...

RAZ: Terrifying because some of them were sort of imprisoned temporarily.

Ms. PEARSON: Some were imprisoned and, you know, cut off. Like, these settlements on the outer islands, they were completely cut off, all communication, and they literally had no sense of what was happening in the rest of the world, other than maybe seeing a fighter jet fly over. And they don't want that to happen again.

RAZ: That's Stephanie Pearson. She's a contributing editor for Outside magazine. You can find her article on the Falklands, also known as the Malvinas, in the magazine's March issue.

Stephanie Pearson, thanks so much.

Ms. PEARSON: Thank you.

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