I’m sitting in the back seat of a Land Rover bouncing down a bumpy dirt road on the West Island of the Falklands.
“This is the trip of surprises… and it’s only just beginning,” Derek observes from the seat next to mine. “Who would have thought this would happen? We thought we were going to South Georgia, but here we are, herding sheep in the Falklands.”
“Yeah, you can cross that one off your bucket list,” I joke.
“That was never on my bucket list,” Derek responds, “but thankfully I left some blank pages in the back of my notebook, so I can write it down and then cross it off when we get back.”
Ever since we found out we could not go to South Georgia, we have been experiencing quite a lot of surprises. Instead of venturing out into the Southern Ocean, where our ship would have been tossed around by fierce winds and high seas, we have been island-hopping in the Falklands, watching birds and enjoying some unexpected encounters with animals of the wooly variety, such as watching sheep shearing when we visited Saunder’s Island.
And now at Dunbar we are about to help our generous hosts, Hugh and Marie Paul, herd their sheep for the upcoming shearing. Our good-natured expedition team has gamely piled into two Land Rovers and taken off after Hugh and Marie Paul, who are riding dirt bikes, to begin the roundup.
Hugh is wearing an orange jumpsuit with a matching orange beanie and Marie Paul has an identical outfit on, but in red. They lead the way down the dirt road and we watch the rocky, scrubby landscape unfold, rising up to large hills and tall ridges and lowering back to the seashore, where white sand beaches meet the water.
We reach a gate and Marie Paul hops off her bike to explain to us where we will find the sheep, where we will herd them, and what exactly we will need to do. We distribute radios, split up into teams, and take off in different directions. Keri and Josh take the fence line; Karin, Derek, and Jay head down to the beach; Greg, JD, and Dan go up the ridge; and Deb and I walk the middle road where we can keep an eye on all the activity. Hugh and Marie Paul buzz off in their dirt bikes, ready to cover as much ground as necessary. Those of us on foot have to make sure we get all the sheep rounded up, so we can’t move too fast or some may get left behind.
Sheep are shy animals, so when they see us walking toward them they mostly run away, but some of them need a little urging. How do you urge sheep to go where you want them to? Turns out we’re pretty clueless about the finer points of sheep herding, so a variety of methods are attempted by our group. We clap our hands, wave our arms wildly, and shout loudly. The shouting is by far the best part. Utilizing our expertise on sheep psychology, we yell things like “Wooooooooo! Sheep! Mooooove! Woooo! Wooooooooo! Mooooooooove!” and “Yo sheep! Run sheep! Run! Not that way! No! The other way!”
Despite our ignorance, we manage to keep moving the sheep along in the right direction. As we near the final gate, two sheep rebel. We hear the play-by-play over the radio as Karin takes on these rebels that are attempting to run in the opposite direction. Karin stands her ground, but the sheep succeed in going rogue.
After we’ve finished herding the sheep, we gather inside Hugh & Marie Paul’s warm and welcoming house, which has large windows overlooking the water, providing a picturesque view of the sunset.
Hugh and Marie Paul are farmers and sailors. Their sailboat Le Sourire sits in front of their lovely farm house, ready for their next excursions away from land and out on the salty seas. I am impressed to hear that even with a busy farm life they still make time for sailing. Over a dinner of freshly caught fish, we all discuss life at sea vs. life on land, the various adventures and misadventures of sailors in this part of the world, the history of the Falklands, and the complexities of the island’s relationship with Argentina.
So, yes, it may not have been the day we expected, but it was a good day. And hey, now we can all say we’ve herded sheep in the Falklands.