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Montevideo, June 13th 2024 - 01:58 UTC



A very British invasion of the Falkland Islands.

Tuesday, November 30th 2004 - 20:00 UTC
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According to the most recent census, in 2001, there were 1,989 persons, living in Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands. As this number includes everyone from babies to the old and infirm, it doesn't take much mental effort to compute that the arrival, all at once, of a further 1,600 people on board the Cunard liner, QE2, constitutes an invasion of significant proportions.

Fortunately for the citizens of Stanley, the invasion, which began on Monday for most people shortly after breakfast, was a peaceful and friendly one, especially as the vast majority of the ship's passengers were British. Fortunately, too, the sheer size of this elegant greyhound of the sea prevents any attempt to bring it alongside a jetty or even into Stanley's inner harbour, so the flow of the invasion is regulated by the capacity and speed of QE2's own tenders, which run a continuous shuttle service between the ship and the shore throughout the day.

Arriving at the Public Jetty in their tenders, some 1200 of the passengers coming ashore were immediately seated on coaches for a variety of tours around the town or out to a point, where four wheel drive vehicles took them on a short cross-country trip to visit a penguin colony. Others signed up for launch tours of Stanley's historic harbour or to an island nature reserve, while many more simply took advantage of a warm, wind-less and occasionally sunny day to stroll through Stanley's streets.

If the general atmosphere was of calm, rather than chaos, it was the famous calm of the swan, beneath whose tranquil upper half, there are legs in constant motion. In order to provide tours, drivers, guides and other services for such a large number of visitors, a sizeable proportion of Stanley's population have to give up their normal occupations to lend a hand.

In the Tourist Information Centre, the ladies behind the counter include a former farm manager's wife, the wife of the manager of a shipping company and also the wife of the Attorney General. Among the ranks of the drivers offering vehicle tours are a former Director of Aviation, a former head of the local radio station, the hospital handyman and a Building Advisor. On the coach tours, the knowledgeable local guide may turn out to be a school teacher, a nurse, a journalist, a farmer or even a member of the Island's Legislative Council. Among the drivers are to be found at least one policeman, a mechanic and a fireman. It is literally a case of ?all hands on deck' to produce not only the quantity, but also the level of service that such a large number of visitors expect.

The quality of the visitor's experience is something which concerns the Falkland Islands Tourist Board and visitors waiting in the queues for the QE2's tenders are approached by Visitor Centre staff with questionnaires and asked to enumerate those things which they have liked and those experiences which may have disappointed.

Conducting its own small survey among local traders, Mercopress discovered a general air of satisfaction with the way the visit had gone. Tourists filled the Globe Tavern, where fish and chips were being served and manager of the popular Falklands Brasserie, Alex Olmedo, reported a very busy lunch-time, if not the busiest ever. British visitors, he said, appeared very appreciative and less likely to question the price and value of things than North Americans, whose buying power has suffered with the recent fall in the dollar's value.

A&E knitwear, which is situated close to the tourist landing stage features garments made entirely from the very special wool of the Falklands. Recently new ranges have been introduced for the tourist season. The ?classic' sweaters, which have been the staple of the company's output for the past ten years have now been supplemented by chunky hand-knits and soft woollen ?hoodies' aimed to appeal to a younger market. Besides sweaters, felt hats, gloves and woven scarves now catch the eye, along with ponchos and pashmina-style wraps in several styles and colours. Asked how today's visit of the QE2 had gone, Karen Lee, new owner of the business since June and the instigator of all this innovation, answered with an unequivocal "fantastic".

By mid-afternoon, the human tide of visitors begins to turn and Stanley's shops and streets to empty of tourists. As if to a signal, local shoppers, who know better than to brave the queues in the town's main supermarket during cruise ship days, begin to emerge to take their place. Meantime, down at the jetty, queues begin to form for the tenders which will take Stanley's tired visitors back to their luxurious floating home and on to further adventures. The queues are quiet, but cheerful?. after all if this was an invasion, it was a very British one.

John Fowler (MP) Stanley

Categories: Falkland Islands.

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