Pampas Island


Some of the loneliest outposts in the world are the many smaller islands off the coast of South America stretching toward the Antarctic. Large islands being utilized as large ranches are sometimes void of roads and almost as void of people. Sometimes a single house is all there is on these islands. One can only imagine the isolation and the ability to entertain yourself during the endless hours.

While this might be a bleak picture of life, some love the lack of civilization and the safety of knowing you will not be mugged while taking an evening stroll. Some love an atmosphere where the TV shows only snow and the radio is void of any signal. Some love being the minority within nature run amuck. Such folks wind up on these windswept islands where clean air, clean water, wide open spaces and solitude prevail.

Such is the case for this long, skinny island stretching some 26.25 miles but not more than 6 miles wide at any point. Total land area is about 112.5 square miles. The island is fairly unique in that its terrain is much like a bowl. The outer portions of the island tend to be more elevated with cliffs on the northern stretches of the island. A lovely crescent shaped sandy beach at the center, separated by two steep hills both to the north and south. On the southern end of the island, the coast is steep terrain. In the center of the island are several small streams and a number of small lakes, all offering ample fresh water. The interior tends to have more sandy soils while the edges of the island are more rocky and gravely. There are no trees but grasses grow abundantly. Some say the name came from the island’s interior looking like the South American Pampas. Some feel the German family that first settled the island lived in the Pampas region of South America although we cannot confirm this.

The population is less than 20. Usually a few temporary hired hands cause the population to swell on this island where all are sheep farmers. The homes, mere shipping containers, are in fairly close proximity to one another although none are closer than a mile or two from one another. Hired hands live in small trailers.

A two-way radio is on hand for emergencies and there is a spot near the owner’s home where a helicopter or small airplane can land, although all needed supplies come by ship. The island’s small vessel lights the shipments to shore. Electricity is had by wind power generator and the vehicles and self contained trailers operate with natural gas.

The island has six homes, a sheering barn with small living quarters and four self contained trailers (from what I can make of the picture these look like old Airstream trailers) and I suspect them to be about 16 to 20 foot versions. There is a store or perhaps I should say a shipping container with a freezer, racks of canned goods and a few other items one might find of great use on such an isolated outpost. In the sheering barn, a room is sectioned off as a community room with a nice library of books and movies.

There are two further shipping containers that are rented out when an adventurous visitor comes to the island.

The central location has a greenhouse where fresh vegetables are grown. There area few cows, so fresh milk and beef is always available with the ability to milk cows and butcher in a section of the sheering barn. The owners have planted nice gardens of flowers and a few introduced trees.

The climate is not as cold as one might suspect. While wet and windy describes the climate aptly, the temperature range is not very significant throughout the year. Snow does fall in winter but never lasts long. In fact rain is the common form of precipitation throughout the year. The coldest nights are in the -5º C and the warmest days generally around 18º C. Rainfall is plentiful.

The biggest issues for the islanders is transportation. While the heavy duty all terrain vehicles can cover the countryside well, there are marshy areas that seem to change depending on recent weather conditions. Going ten miles will take a minimum of an hour and the driver who is an expert at recognizing these marshy spots will frequently stop and walk ahead with a long pole, slamming it into the ground here and there to test the solidity of the ground. Getting stuck can be a big problem in changing weather conditions, which is one reason the self-contained trailer comes with the vehicle (the other reason is the person may check on the various herds throughout the island).

The workers are true cowboys, spending time rounding up the herds and tending to the shearing.

As you might suspect, you must be a so-called ‘Jack of All Trades” on the island. If something breaks or something needs to be done, you are it. If you don’t know what to do or how to fix what is broken, there is plenty of time to figure it out yourself. It takes a very skilled person to live here successfully. As tranquil as life might be, a relaxed life is far from the norm as mother nature has a way of keeping you on your toes. Even basic medical skills are needed as are general medical supplies.

The nearest neighbor is a group of islands that is managed as a nature preserve. While the nearest neighbors are the more popular nesting spots for penguins and albatross, smaller numbers make an appearance on the island. One must suspect the steep inclines and cliffs deter many of the animals, encouraging them to head for other uninhabited islands not too far away.

The island was first settled in the 1880s by a German family that ran a productive sheep farm on the island but at some point in the early 1900s, the employees of the family were demanding an opportunity to enter ownership. The family chose to sell to the six employees. The land was equally divided and sold for about $2 US per acre or about $10 US per head of sheep. The payments stretched over a 20 year period. At the time of the sale, each of the six owners received 12,000 acres and 2,000 head of sheep. Today there are about 15,000 sheep on the island.

We have not been able to determine the name of the German family or where they came from. We know there were a good deal of German residents in the southern states of Brazil, in Uruguay and Argentina. Any of these countries would qualify as their previous home before moving to the island to run a sheep ranch.

The island, when owned by the German family had no name other than ‘Home’. When the workers took over, they realized it was difficult to convince qualified temporary employees to come to the island to work. Nobody wanted to go to some isolated South Atlantic island, so the new owners named their island Pampas. Simply by doing this, a few gauchos became interested in working on the island as the name made it seem to be the same terrain and climate they were familiar with. It a way, it was much like the Iceland joke where arrivals would be encouraged to sail west to Greenland, saying you don’t want to settle here, this is Iceland! Brrrr!

Over the years, one family moved away, selling their parcel to their neighbor who gave it to their children to operate.

The community acts collectively, all sharing the shearing barn, greenhouse and other collective buildings. Home schooling is the norm and church services are typically limited to the family and perhaps a hired hand if they are nearby. At times a neighbor might join them for a service.

The little store, with limited groceries, is open a couple of hours each afternoon a couple of days a week. The store publishes a monthly newspaper for the island, typically a single sheet with some text given to what stock is available at the store.

There is no medical facility but each home has an adequate medical kit and virtually all the adults have basic first aid knowledge. A few more expensive medical equipment or supplies are in the shearing barn.

Simply put, this is a lonely outpost, a working island, where the handful of people seem to be neither wealthy not destitute. There is a sense of community where people help one another, sometimes called the ‘cowboy code’. The thinking is help your neighbor and they will help you when you need help. As a result, everyone is ready to drop what they’re doing to help a neighbor at a moment’s notice. I suspect this philosophy has developed because the inhabitants realize they need one another to survive life on this remote island in the South Atlantic.

In typical fashion, shearing is done by lot with all joining in with the hired help to shear a neighbor’s herd. All gather to help bring supplies ashore and send the island’s exports to the ship in the commonly owned vessel. It is not uncommon for families to gather at the shearing barn in good weather for a meal, a movie or just a card game and conversation. At times, most of the men gather for morning coffee and talk about how they’re doing or to coordinate events.

The island really doesn’t have a perceptible government, but all of the men and women collectively, usually by sex, hash out details and determine the needs of the common property. When the commonly owned vessel needed some upkeep, the men figured what needed to be done, bringing their talents to the table and determining what supplies were needed. The purchases were made by all paying an equal share.

This cooperative lifestyle has not always been the case. Early on, there were rivalries between landowners. A few felt they got the worst section of land or the worst sheep from the original heard. Plus, people just got on one another’s nerves, especially when one tried to become a self-proclaimed leader. In time these issues softened, perhaps because of the aid of neighbors when problems came up. The ‘cowboy code’ they speak of is fairly explicit. In short, you’d not give a second thought to giving aid to your worst enemy if they needed your help. In other words, when somebody was in trouble, you couldn’t refuse, even if you couldn’t stand the person. To fail to come to the aid of another was a severe enough offence that you’d likely be run off the island or threatened with death by the whole community. You were simply worthless if you only thought of yourself. This included putting yourself in danger to help a fellow islander.

The lifestyle is very uneventful. In the beginning alcohol was banned. Over the years that ban has eased and a beer or stiff drink is acceptable but drunkenness is somewhat like the ‘gaucho code’. Get fall down drunk and you will be shunned by your neighbors for a good length of time, accused of being a bad influence on the community. Thus, any alcoholic drink is considered a special event, such as a beer to unwind at the end of a day or a shot or two with neighbors. Alcoholic drink is so hard to get t is rationed by its owner to last until the next shipment arrives. The people lean toward Lutheran beliefs loosely. As one has stated, the family worship is void of the more typical staples of today’s Lutheran service. In fact, one modification is the typical hymns are the Psalms.

The island, unlike many, has not suffered from any animal or plant species being introduced to the island. Many neighboring islands have mice, rats or rabbits and some have introduced plant life that threatens the local native species.

Aside from the sheep shearing, the only sources of income are handicrafts. Needless to say, the amount of handicrafts produced is minimal.


The first coins used on the island were inspired by old German coins, likely because the island‘s first owner was German. These were small low value coins. Keeping with the tradition, the hammer struck coins are still circulated for local use on the island. Although worthless off the island, offshore accounts the families utilize are normally in the denomination of the British Pound. The local coins are ‘small change spending money’ on the island. Since there is little to purchase and since most of the temporary help wants the bulk of their paycheck saved until they leave the island for the season, only a small number of coins are produced.  Over a 36 year time frame only 25,616 coins were made.

Interestingly, the coins, denominated in 1 Penny, feature the Linden Tree emblem found on late 17th century coins from Lindau in Germany back when Germany was a number of independent states.  In lieu of an identical emblem, the Pampas Island version contains 6 leaves or one leaf for each of the 6 sheep farms on the island.  The low denomination is explained as 'needed' because temporary workers like to gamble on card games.  A low denomination means it is much more difficult for them to gamble their earnings away.

During the Falklands War in 1982 all transportation to and from the island ceased and soon afterwards a coin shortage developed. There were a few issues of simple notes to resolve the coin shortage.

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