I cannot recall the first time I had the idea to get married in the Falkland Islands.
It seems like I always wanted to visit this remote archipelago in the South Atlantic. Conveniently, I also always wanted to travel to Chile, the country that happens to be one of the very few existing gateways to the Falklands.
After I met Alan – the man who very recently became my husband – I soon found out that he, too, dreamed of visiting the Falklands one day. Back then, I thought nothing more of it than a lucky coincidence for a joint holiday at some point in our lives.
I like to plan holidays literally years in advance and invested considerable time in devising a trip to Chile and the Falklands. Last spring, the plans had finally crystallised: the adventure would consist of two meticulously planned out weeks in Chile and one in the Falklands, and would likely happen around Easter 2016. Don’t ask – travel planning really is one of my all-time favourite pastimes.
Then Alan and I got engaged in March 2015, and the looming trip gained an extra dimension. I do not like the concept of a “honeymoon”; bluntly, I find it somewhat outdated and redundant in modern times. However, we welcomed any excuse for a prolonged holiday, and decided to go with it – albeit still refusing to call it a “honeymoon” proper and using a “wedding trip” instead.
And what about the wedding?
Important things sorted, the next question was how and where to get married. A self-confessed introvert, I always dreaded even a small wedding (a big one would probably have me flee in minutes) and cared very little for any sort of party. Our first plan was therefore to sign a few papers in London some Saturday afternoon and be done with the whole marriage thing with minimal pain.
At the same time, it was tempting to do something a little more special and hopefully involving an adventure of some sort. It did not take us long to decide to get married abroad (essentially elope), but where? Despite hailing from Latvia and having my parents there, I have lost most of my connections to the place. The wedding business in countries like Thailand and the Philippines is definitely on the rise, but we were not keen on following trends or spending our special day in an obvious tourist location. Moreover, we wanted to avoid dealing with translations or complications in the future should we pick an unusual jurisdiction.
The answer was nearer than we thought (though perhaps not immediately obvious to most readers): of course, the Falkland Islands! It is a UK Overseas Territory and, since we were already planning to go there, adding a wedding to the agenda seemed like a perfect solution. It would also pacify family and friends: we could excuse ourselves from inviting any guests as few people can reasonably be expected to fly half-way around the world for merely a wedding – especially to a destination they likely have little interest in.
Most people have heard of the Falklands and have a rough idea where to find them on the map. Just in case: the Falklands are an archipelago of about 800 islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, some 500km east of South American coast. The Falklands formally belong to the UK. Unfortunately, the archipelago shot up to front page headlines back in 1982 when it was briefly invaded by Argentina. UK came out victorious in the conflict, but Argentina continues to claim the Falklands to this day. Without taking any sides (difficult enough being British), I need to mention that the Falklands are known as “Islas Malvinas” in Argentina and the rest of the Spanish-speaking world.
Reaching the Falklands from the UK (and pretty much anywhere else) is not exactly easy. The most reliable way is by the sole existing commercial air link – operated by LATAM, Chile’s flag carrier – which runs once a week on Saturdays. This flight consists of 2-3 legs: from Santiago to Punta Arenas, then a short hop to Rio Gallegos in Argentina once a month, and finally on to Mount Pleasant, the principal airport of the Falklands. The door-to-door journey takes 7-8 hours – and remember you need to get to Chile first!
Believe it or not, there is also a semi-direct air link between the UK and the Falklands, namely the twice-weekly non-commercial flight operated by the UK Ministry of Defence from Brize Norton, Oxfordshire. A one-way journey takes around 20 hours, including a short refuelling stop on Cabo Verde (formerly Ascension Island) en route. The planes obviously aren’t fighter jets, but rather civilian aircraft adapted for military use. Most passengers on this route are UK military personnel but some seats are sold to the general public. The primary reason to operate this air bridge is military, and civilians can easily be bumped off their flights to accommodate a sudden military need.
I digress however: it suffices to say that Alan and I could not risk missing our own wedding and opted for the LATAM option. Conveniently, it was also significantly less expensive than the RAF’s.
Admin matters… Who said romance was dead?
Understandably, we could not just show up at Stanley Town Hall demanding to get hitched. Since neither of us is a permanent resident of the Falklands, in order for us to get married there we had to apply for a special licence from the Falkland Islands’ Governor. This consisted of a notarised written declaration from each of us about our intention to marry, proofs of address, notarised copies of our passports and a fee – nothing unusual compared to the rest of the UK.
The application took two weeks to reach the Falklands from London – by DHL! We received the Governor’s licence another couple of weeks later, agreed on the date and the time with the Registrar in Stanley and were nearly set to get married.
Finally, internet search helped me to find a Stanley-based photographer, with whom I arranged to take a few shots of our special day – as well as double as our witness. Strangely enough, despite having acquaintances all over the world between us, neither Alan nor I knew anyone in the Falklands. The assistant registrar quickly agreed to be our second witness, and the matter was closed.
I do, I do, I do
Long story short, time flew by in a flash and our departure day came. Having a long trip through Chile in front of me – including a 5-day hike through autumnal Patagonia – I could not afford to pack anything non-essential, including such luxuries as a wedding dress. Thankfully, I didn’t really need one for a simple civil ceremony.
For a laugh, I was going to get married in my full windproof / waterproof gear (Falklands can get chilly in April), but Alan (the wiser one) convinced me to bring one crease-free dress along. It was perfect – the dress being well worn, I did not have to worry about ruining it in transit. As for Alan, he donned black jeans and a white shirt – one of the many identical ones he wears to work on a daily basis. We then chose the wedding date we could both easily remember, namely 12 April 2016 (12 + 4 = 16). As you can see, we did not preoccupy ourselves too much with trivialities.
We showed up at Stanley Town Hall at the agreed time and found it surreal to be greeted by the people we had spent months communicating with but never before met in person. Having been somewhat overwhelmed by the importance of the occasion since morning, I found myself at ease at exactly the right time. Seeing how stressed I was, we once again knew we had made the right choice opting for a mini-wedding far away from the madding crowds. Anything more would have been torture, especially the mandatory wedding checklists so religiously followed in the UK.
The ceremony lasted for about 10 minutes, after which we had a good laugh being photographed pretending to sign the marriage certificate in the backdrop of the Falklands’ flag – it is apparently illegal to have one’s photo taken actually signing an original legal document under English law. Our photographer then drove us around to pose by the nearby landmarks including Christ Cathedral, Whale Bone Arch and Lady Elizabeth ship wreck. All of those are instantly recognisable sights of Stanley – though, understandably, only by a selected group of people!
And then? Then, to the pouring words of congratulations on Facebook, we grabbed a pint of the Peat Cutter – wonderful local stout – and disappeared inside Stanley’s fascinating Historic Dockyard Museum. Because, frankly, nobody was expecting us to do that first dance.