8 Things a Year in the Sub-Antarctic Taught Me

Lessons from a frigid rock

In 2013 I quit my job at an advertising agency in Chicago and jumped at the chance to join a British Royal Air Force flight heading 8000 miles south to the Falkland Islands. After making two previous journeys filming a documentary series, I was eager to return to the country I affectionately referred to as “The Last Outpost”. The Islands felt like a remnant from another era; a contentious and empty landscape with tightly ingrained ties to a former empire. But this trip was different. I wasn’t returning home in a few weeks; I was going to try and hack it for a year, and the whole time without fresh orange juice (more on that to come). This experience would change my life and teach me a few valuable things in the process:

1. Isolated places still exist

Populated areas of true remoteness can still be found. The search for them has always fascinated me and the concept of living on the fringes of our world was what attracted me to the Falklands in the first place. This is a place where establishing a connection in an attempt to call home could take me four hours and never eventuate. It’s a place where if you get your vehicle stuck, guess what, no one is coming to help you - you’re walking out. Oh, and good luck trying to stay dry.

2. Look at the map and consider life’s detours

I work in a fast-paced industry where you are considered lucky if you can live and work from anywhere you like. If you want to get ahead in the world of media production, you need to be near a major city where the biggest and best work comes through. That’s the compromise. But if you’ve got nothing to lose, or maybe more accurately you don’t mind losing what you’ve got then the abrupt detours have often led me to some great unforeseen opportunities.

3. Say yes to an invitation to go to a pub

Possibly the most important lesson I took away from my year in the Falklands. In small communities like this, the pub acts as the philosophy classroom, the town hall, the counseling session, the travel agency, the guide hire, the bank, the boxing ring and occasionally a place you can go have a beer. Most importantly however, it is where I’ve met lifelong friends who would go on to make my time in the Islands one of the most memorable years of my life. So go on, 7/10 times you come away better off for it.

4. Don’t take fresh produce for granted

You there, passing Whole Foods without a second glance, shame on you! Having experienced a total lack of vitamin C, cutting around moldy bits on damn near everything, long life milk and freeze dried coffee, by the end of my year I would have broken many morals to cozy up beside a glass of OJ. Even Sunny Delight…

5. Enjoy the simple things and make time for yourself

Some of my best experiences came from having nothing to do, or maybe more accurately making time to do nothing in particular. It’s not often you’re given space to breathe with so much distraction around, so set aside some time to enjoy it if you can.

6. Some rules are meant to be broken

Not ones like ignoring signage indicating an active minefield. (Fun fact, there are still around 28,000 mines buried in the Falklands though thankfully sheep are not heavy enough to set them off). More like dating rules and such. Understanding the complex web of relations and eavesdropping of the local population I decided it was in my best interest and the work I was doing to observe a “no dating rule” in the Islands. That would be broken two months before I left when I met my future wife - a newly arrived Physiotherapist from the UK. It was a good effort.

7. Small communities offer up big lessons

The population of the Falklands is approximately 3,000 people. I’ve worked in office buildings with a larger one than that. Now imagine seeing those people and only those people for an entire year. Each day, whether you like it or not, you need to interact with those same people. This teaches you to be more diplomatic, more accepting and more proactive in your approach to things. All very useful qualities and in short supply.

8. Do it while you can

This really is the moral of my story. If an opportunity presents itself to do something a little crazy take a minute to consider it. I’ve never experienced irreparable damage following my heart, but I have wasted a fair amount of time listening to my head. 

Published: March 14, 2017

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound Collective.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Jamie Gallant

Auckland

American import to New Zealand. Co-founder of the Bureau of Explorers and supported by Western Rise™ and YETI™