Outside in the car park, a battalion of Range Rovers all display Union Jacks. We count seven flags attached to one. Most carry at least three.
It’s the Union Jacks that give it away really. In truth, there are more flags to welcome you to Stanley than you’d see at a royal wedding and diamond jubilee combined. Yet we were thousands of miles away from Britain, on an island off the South Atlantic coast of South America, and the effect was slightly surreal.
“They’re more British than the Brits,” a crew member aboard our ship, Polar Pioneer, had insisted as we were discussing the Falklands Islands. I’d smiled, thinking he was joking. He wasn’t.
We’d come here on the final stop of our three-week Antarctic and Subantarctic Island cruise, which had departed from the Argentine port of Ushuaia. While we’d been at sea, the Falkland Islanders had had their historic referendum, with 99.7% of the population voting in favour of retaining their current political status as an overseas territory of the UK.
Despite the residual buzz of the referendum outcome, and the Falkland Island’s bigger role in modern British history, Stanley presents itself as an intriguing, yet slightly sleepy, little town.
We’re welcomed warmly by locals as we take in the main sites on a morning bus tour: the whalebone arch by the church, the peat fields that provided fuel for the early settlers, the pristine gardens of Government House, shipwrecks in the harbour, souvenir shops filled with stuffed penguins and the construction material being stockpiled for the ongoing oil exploration in the Falklands.
One local tells us commercial production will start in 2015, another casually mentions 2017. In the meantime, men in expensive suits with thick accents pore over papers at lunch in the town’s nicest restaurant while their plates of delicious food go largely untouched.
While we devour ours, it’s not rocket science to join the dots between the potential oil money and the renewed bickering over the sovereignty of the islands. Afterwards, we walk along the shore to see an art installation of the solar system. A passenger jet coming in to land catches our attention.
Flanking it on either side are RAF fighter jets. We’re unsure if it’s an exercise, or routine for all planes coming into land, but from afar, it’s a slightly jarring sight.
With the sun shining, most departures passengers are to be found drinking away their last hour in Stanley on picnic tables outside the Globe Tavern. Some declare they could never live here, describing it as being stuck in the 1950s. Some talk sovereignty and politics. Others look around and drink up the small town with their eyes, imagining a quiet life here. Me? I feel restless. There’s so much more to this place and its history. I’d simply love to have more time to get to know Stanley better.