As soon as it leaves the South American continent behind, the elegant Twin Otter encounters a sky dotted with tiny clouds.
Here and there, drill them.
Six hundred kilometers later, the cloudiness intensifies and covers the Juan Fernández archipelago. It leaves some rough edges uncovered that the pilot recognizes without hesitation.
The track is tight between the clouds and the top of the cliffs of Robinson Crusoe. Despite the strong wind, the pilot gently steers the plane onto the beaten earth.
Wherever he stops the plane, a fluttering flag dispels any doubt that the distance and strangeness of the terrain could raise. We were returning to Chilean soil.
The aerodrome is on one side of the island. San Juan Bautista, the town where its XNUMX inhabitants are concentrated, is located in another. The impossibility of completing the journey by land requires a transfer by sea. In addition to being slow, complicated.
The rusty old jeep that connects to the boat refuses to start.
When it is picked up, because it is the only vehicle available, it has to make several round trips, each one more sluggish than the previous one.
As if that wasn't enough, the swell is strong. Throw the vessel in which we should proceed against the Bahia del Padre jetty.
The agitation generates successive discussions among the crew.
All around, dozens of sea lions swim restlessly. They seem to analyze the frenzy.
When the boat finally sets sail, they follow it for a few hundred meters, as if to ensure the integrity of their territory.
The misadventures were still unfinished. Just five minutes before reaching the destination, the boat comes to a standstill. The crew realizes that it has been losing fuel since it hit one of the pillars of the Bahia del Padre jetty.
In Robinson Crusoe, everything works out.
In three times, out of nowhere, a small boat appears that, with great effort, tows us.
The arrival in the village is troubled but apotheotic. Dozens of islanders wave, anxious for reunions with their families, or just excited for the renewal of the people. We started, to unveil a peculiar way of life.
On the pier, the locals fish by line and pull fish after fish from the water. Offshore, tiny boats unload crates of freshly caught lobster.
They thus contribute to the island's main export.
Robinson Crusoe sends many tons of these crustaceans to the Chilean mainland every year.
Their shipments have become so important that Lassa – the airline that operates flights to and from Valparaíso and Santiago – reserves half the space on its planes for them.
When we write half, we are referring to the entire side of the cabin.
As we have witnessed, on these occasions the chairs are removed. And the space provided is filled with crates that reek of seafood.
The sea has always been generous to the locals. It gives them something to do and feeds them. It cancels out the most obvious reasons for getting fed up with Robinson Crusoe's isolation.
600 km off the coast of South America, this is a separation that neither the passing of centuries nor the modernization of Chile have yet managed to resolve.
Robinson Crusoe Island: From Pirates to Treasure Hunter
Once we've settled in, we start exploring the island.
We are accompanied by diving guides and instructors Pedro Niada and Marco Araya Torres, a newly arrived French couple and Toni, an ERASMUS Biology student from Barcelona, who has been on the island for some time.
We set out with the purpose of exploring the rugged coastline and diving with the sea lions, one of the local endemic species, now in full recovery from the systematic killing carried out by hunters from various countries until the beginning of the XNUMXth century.
The route to the colonies of the “wolves” (as they are called in Robinson Crusoe) reveals the volcanic splendor of the contrasting scenarios that change depending on the orientation and exposure to the humid Pacific winds.
We also have time for a strategic stop at Baía do Inglês.
There, Pedro Niada introduces us to the story of George Anson, the sailor who named the bay where the pirate town of Cumberland was formed and gave the adjoining valley its name.
He explains to us that Anson hid a priceless treasure in the bay and that many have tried to unearth it. In vain.
It's even clear that Bernard Keiser, an American millionaire, is still trying. Niada had accompanied Bernard Keiser in several of his working seasons.
With patience and eloquence, like a documentary, the Chilean guide walks the cove and enlightens us on every mark in the rock, every measure and trail left by the pirates with reference to stones with curious shapes, streams or trees.
The narration makes us even more fascinated by the island. And somewhat disappointed that we are in the middle of the semester of restriction on the Kaiser excavations, a restriction imposed by the Chilean government.
Juan Fernández's Lush Archipelago
We left the English Bay. We follow along a coast beaten by the rough sea that only calms down when we come across the sea lions inlet.
If a spot quiet enough for diving is detected, we equip ourselves. Soon, we jump into the water.
In three stages, we find ourselves surrounded by frantic cubs and adults who cannot resist curiosity, challenge us and even bite our fins as if trying to understand what species we are.
Due to schedule issues related to flights and the limitations imposed by lobster transport, we don't have the time we wanted to discover the island. Accordingly, after a few trips along the coast, we decided to start exploring it inland, along trails that are almost always steep.
When we walk through the jagged core of Robinson Crusoe, its fascinating flora, enriched by endemic species, dazzles us. On their own, the landscapes arouse an enormous fascination. But the interest of Robinson Crusoe and his sisters goes far beyond panoramas.
The number of native animal and plant species and the dramatic geology at the base of its ecosystems have long attracted countless scientists to the archipelago.
The Real Robinson Crusoe
The island's key character Robinson Crusoe arrived much earlier. I was little interested in fauna and flora. Without having almost had time to understand how or why, he started to depend on them. The adventure remained for posterity as one of the most eccentric moments of British corsair navigation.
In the image of the nearby islands – Alexander Selkirk and Santa Clara – Robinson Crusoe was discovered in 1574 by Juan Fernández, a Castilian navigator of a Portuguese family.
Shortly thereafter, the archipelago Fernández gave its name became a favorite haven for pirates who attacked the galleons laden with gold and precious stones destined for Cartagena de Indias and other parts of the vast Hispanic empire.
In 1704, he anchored in Cumberland Bay, the “Five Ports“, an English privateer.
It had as Captain William Dampier, an admired mapmaker but considered unfit to lead ships full of rough and quarrelsome men in the most dangerous seas known to date.
William Dampier's Crazy Obsession
Obsessed with plundering the Spanish and Portuguese ships that skirted the west coast of South America, Dampier insisted, against common sense and the will of his sailors, on skirting the dreaded Cape Horn during the Southern Winter, the time of years when the storms there are more frequent and threatening.
Three times he tried the feat. In all of them, the ship was moved far off course and suffered extensive damage. When the crew, already suffering from scurvy, threatened to revolt, the bosun, Scot Alexander Selkirk alerted Dampier.
This one, refused to listen. Instead, he maneuvered the “Cinque Ports” once more south of Cape Horn, always at the mercy of a treacherous sea.
Luck was on the captain's side. Even damaged, the ship there managed to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Dampier then led him to Masatierra (now Robinson Crusoe) so that his men could recover from the crossing.
Alexander Selkirk's Self-dictated Abandonment
Selkirk expected Dampier to order a general repair of the “Five Ports“. Dampier was still anxious and wanted to sail as soon as possible. Convinced that the ship would not withstand any more storms, Boss Selkirk demanded to be left on the island. Fed up with your confrontations. Dampier complied.
Selkirk returned to the boat one last time. He took ashore his mattress, a shotgun, gunpowder and bullets, tobacco, an ax and a knife, a bible, navigational instruments and some books. He thought he would be well prepared for what he estimated was a short wait.
At the decisive moment, as the rowboat pulled away from the coast of Masatierra, Selkirk was still plagued by doubt and ran to the water's edge to call back his companions.
Forced by the captain to ignore him, the rowers continued towards the “Cinque Ports”. Selkirk watched the ship disappear over the horizon.
His solitude would last for four years and four months.
The Desperate Survival of Alexander Selkirk
During this time, it fed on goats that had escaped from other boats and colonized the island. As well as their milk, fruits and vegetables that the Spaniards had planted years before.
The surrounding landscape was, in its way, paradisiacal and fresh water springs proliferated.
Despite benefiting from a relative surviving well-being, Selkirk yearned, from the first minute, for the arrival of a vessel that would save him. He climbed, several times a day, to the highest points of the island where he was looking at the horizon.
Months passed without the Pacific bringing him news.
He then tried to settle in with more conditions. He built a log cabin that he lined with goatskins. Later, he moved into a cave.
Wherever he was, Selkirk kept a fire burning outside, hoping that someone would see the smoke.
His long solitude only ended in early 1709 when he saw the “Duke”, the ship that would take him back to Great Britain.
The pilot of this ship was William Dampier, the former captain of the “Cinque Ports” who had voted him to that long and cruel abandonment.
With his return accomplished, Alexander Selkirk's adventure ran to the docks, taverns and inns of old Albion. It included such magical passages as dancing and singing with goats trained under the moonlight.
It became so famous that it inspired Daniel Dafoe to write “The Amazing and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe” based on a fictional character and set in the Caribbean.
In the Footsteps of the Abandoned Sailor
As a tribute, in order to take advantage of the tourist potential of the relationship between Alexander Selkirk and Robinson Crusoe, the latter would be adapted as the current name of the island. It was chosen by the inhabitants to replace Masatierra, used, until then, because the island is the closest to the South American continent.
We left the painful path that led to the Selkirk Viewpoint for the end.
After two kilometers of curves and curves that are always steep, the path goes through authentic tunnels of dense vegetation.
Soon afterward, he reveals to us Selkirk's lookout post, celebrated on the high ridge of the mountain by an explanatory bronze plaque.
From there, tired and buffeted by the wind, we admire, with delight, the fascinating beauty of Robinson Crusoe, reinforced by the green slopes of the surrounding hills and by the inhospitable tongue of land that extends to the south of the Tres Puntas.
As far as land was concerned, the view ended at the distant Isla de Santa Clara, the smallest of the Juan Fernández islands.
Santa Clara is the “neighbor” island that Alexander Selkirk is used to contemplating day after day.
Until the passage of the “Duke”, the vessel that rescued him, but that never rescued Robinson Crusoe.