Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Fernandez

Good-by Robinson Crusoe Island, goodbye Juan Fernandez Archipelago. What
a magnificent place you are. Standing tall, volcanic eruption out of the
sea, the top of the Andes, the rest below water, mountainous terrain
none-the-less. A walk from one side to the other starts us in lifeless
desert, the 'white land', harsh winds nearly knocking me over as we
cross saddles connecting Pacific to Pacific. After half an hour some
signs of life, there are small shrubs. And there are cows,- COWS! What
do they eat? They are skinny. Who thought to bring cows here? COWS? Of
all things, to a global nature reserve, to a place with infinite lobster
and fish, to the most arid and lifeless corner of this rocky terrain. I
feel sorry for the cows.

Every corner we round brings a new ecosystem. The shrubs become small
trees and bushes that cling to the ground, then a wave a soft grasses
across one hillside. We are climbing steadily, away from the rocky beach
brimming with fur seals, their barks resonating off every wall. Away
from the dry and rock, into the green, the green grows larger, small
trees become tall trees, after a couple of hours we even come upon
water, fresh from the mountain. Looming above us, jagged, ominous, huge
peaks. The leaflet says 'unreachable'; Andy is salivating. The island
contour is magnificent. Jagged, tall, rocky. In places you can see how
the lava melted, and stayed in that form. It crumbles in my hand, I am
glad he's not climbing though I know those climbs fill his thoughts. The
path climbs steeper, we have been walking for several hours now. No more
cows, a few horses, the rock back there, it was like the desert, like
the middle-east, but surrounded by blue sea. Wild. Wild. In every sense
of the word.

The path climbs steeper, I am getting out of breath, I am tired. Why am
I so tired? Oh yes, we were listening to the local band at 3am.
Climbing, climbing, feels good in my legs though they are tired. The
music was fantastic, the whole bar singing along "Juan Fernan-dez". The
singer-songwriter a local hero, in his 50s or 60s, belting out the songs
to a chorus of kids who have clearly been nurtured on them. Music gives
a place heritage. Behind him he is supported by his three sons on
guitars and drums, as well as a three others on bongos, marakas, and
double bass. The one drummer son is on a set of twin conga drums, no
drum kit here. The sound is incredible, pure joy. Passion. They love
this island, they are proud, and rightly so.

The men are gorgeous. There is defintely a 'look' around this island and
it's all about the machos. Long hair, pointy beard, scarves and bandanas
aplenty, and of course fit bodies resulting from life on steep hills and
open sea. Chilean blood through and through, grown up in an island
visited by european explorers for centuries and famous as a pirate
haven. There is buried treasure here for sure,- we've heard the stories,
met the seekers. Buried in the 1700s in a landscape that has been
continually growing, that's a lot of digging.

Back to the hike, we're on the steep part now, just past our first
waterfall, so delicious. Suddenly we are deep in jungle, ferns taller
than me, feels like a rainforest. Lush. Watch out for the orange
hummingbird – in all the world she only lives here. It's fantastic, was
I really in a desert 2 hours ago? Now in the jungle and next, as it
becomes steeper still, we have trees, huge trees, I'm in a temperate
forest! The earthy smell, tall trees, rocks that we climb upon like
steps, feels familiar, takes me back to northern europe. There's no view
beyond the trees and my feet on the rocks and then –pow- pop out the
top, on the crest, that's right: we're on Robinson Crusoe Island, in the
Juan Fernandez group of islands. We're in the middle of the Pacific,
middle of nowhere, on this huge rocky island. And there's people here too!

That side of the island, where the walk began, is uninhabited. This
side, the one we are entering, holds all the human life. There's a navy
ship visiting today,- it's here for three days and brought two hundred
people with it. Tourists, family members, friends, navy personnel. The
town has come to life. As we climb down the peak, towards the town, we
pass about twenty people on their way up, to the viewpoint. Though in my
opinion everywhere around here is a viewpoint. Have I said it is
magnificent? Impressive, grand, powerful terrain. Most fo the folk are
hiking, some are on horses. The concentration of people today was also
the reason for the gig last night. Later I meet two of the brothers in
the band, one lives on the mainland.. it's a special thing for them to
all get together and sing like that. It's a special visit from the boat:
only occurs twice a year, bringing students in and out, both times in
both directions. We meet several people from the island coming back for
a three day visit to their family. The boat takes 30 hours and goes
twice a year. A plane goes three times a week but only seats about 10
people and costs US$800. There's also a monthly supply ship… but cargo

Remote? Of course it's remote. I love it. I love the people, the
scenery, the resourcefulness, the lobster. The lobster is delicious. On
our first night our french friends invite us over for a lobster welcome
on their boat. ("Where have you been- we've been here three days! Bad
weather? No, we sailed all the way, fantastic. Why didn't you go further
west early on? And motor in the calms? Could have avoided those three
days of beating…") I'm happy to see them. That was no storm, just a
learning curve for us.

On their last night we had a lobster barbeque on the beach. Lobster is
what this place is all about. Don't kill them by dropping in boiling
water, our fisherman friend explains, much more humane to put them in
fresh water ('sweet water') for fifteen minutes. Then they just go to
sleep. If you put them in hot water they sometimes kick off their legs
as a defence mechanism. So brutal, we are told. So we put them in a bag
in a river and sure enough they die in a way that for me, at least, is
more gentle. And they're delicious. With potatoes baked in the fire, and
some wine. Who needs more?

I repeat, this place is all about lobster, at this time of year at
least. And the fishing. On our second day we try to buy a fish but
clearly the catcher will get a better price from Santiago. So we catch
our own. Jaimes supplies us with a fresh fish every day except the day
Andy went hunting with the spear-gun and brought us back our own. We are
loving the fish, loving the protein… such a change from the pasta
craving we had at sea.

The folk here really aren't much bothered by our presence. I love that.
None of this excitement at new visitors in town. Tourism is a low-level
constant. Always a few 'plasticos' flying in, flying out, rocking up on
boats. A yacht or two every couple of weeks at this time of year. Not
bothered. Non-islanders are plasticos: superficial rubbish that floats
in from the sea.

Face-to-face the locals are friendly enough, I like that too. We buy
eggs from Trinidad and her family, John takes us out to the start of our
hike, Ximena bakes us a cake, the nice people in the blue house sell us
fresh food from their garden: tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, mint, kale,
chives… delicious. The day after the barbeque we had lobster salad…
mouth-watering freshness, all local. Even the navy are welcoming and

Above all, amazing hospitality from Pedro, his family, and his
friends… the most precious for me was the welcome to the island when
we arrived, and the saludos waves as we leave. Makes the visit feel
complete. They also recommended hikes, did our laundry, made us
piscos… and took us diving. Oh yes, back in the blue. Inside the blue.
I have been diving before, but I count on my fingers that it's 17 years
ago. Pedro holds my hand the whole time, pointing out the moray eel,
fish feasting on a sea urchin, underwater somersaults by fur seals. I'm
only a little dissappointed that cinematography these days is so good:
it's just like the nature documentaries with an underwater camera.. but
with a darth vader soundtrack, that's me breathing too heavily. I've
guzzled my tank before the others are half way through. But we're here,
we're really here!

There's always more to say, there's always more to do as well. I could
stay another fortnight. I could live here awhile. I'd be content if this
was our destination. Jaimes and Nicole have sailed on, however, and it
seems it's time for us too. The weather right now is good, we hope for
fair seas and following winds. Easter Island is fifteen or twenty days
sail away, the longest leg of the Pacific crossing. Maybe that's why I
want to stay awhile more…. I could stay a long time here, I know that.
It's a climate and terrain that I love. Not too hot, a little wet, a
great sillhouette against an overcast sky. But we won't stop here, we'll
move on. And we should do so in time for the weather to still be good in
our future destinations. I know we should.

Today is a Friday, no good for sailing. Ask any mariner. We leave tomorrow.

3 thoughts on “Robinson Crusoe Island, Juan Fernandez

  1. Hi guys, sounds like the area where you are might be badly effected by the earthquake. Hope all is well on the boat and with the peoples around you.

  2. They're safe:

    "thanks to you all for your messages, we're fine, really. The tsunami did hit Juan Fernandez but we were safe and advised to leave, which we have done. Will update later but don't worry about us, please. By all accounts the best place is to be at sea, in deep water, far from land, where waves just roll under you.

    all love

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