Asked to write about my greatest adventure. Hmmm. There’ve been a few and so I decided to narrow it down to adventures for which I have access to photos, and having said that I have to apologise for the quality of these images – they are scanned from photos which I thought at the time extremely top notch.
The destination is Las Islas Juan Fernandez, and the reason I call it an adventure is that the islands lie 670km west of the coast of Chile in the middle of nowhere. The next stop is Easter Island, which is another 3000km.
Las Islas Juan Fernandez is better known as the archipelago where Andrew Selkirk was marooned in the early 1700’s. Daniel Defoe moved the location to the Caribbean, changed the name of the main character, gave him a friend called Man Friday and published the very famous book about it – hence the colloquial name – Robinson Crusoe Island. The Chilean government has changed the name of one of the islands to Robinson Crusoe Island to strengthen the connection to the book.
Andrew Selkirk was a Scots sailor who sailed with the English explorer and privateer William Dampier. After a complicated story he chose to stay on the Juan Fernandez islands with some provisions and a bible rather than continue with the ship Cinque Ports – by this time it was sailing under a different captain. His life as a castaway is a great story of survival.
Goats had already been introduced, in a very forward thinking strategy by previous explorers to help anyone who might be stranded there in the future. They provided meat, milk and their skins. According to the story, he added to seafood and goats meat with wild turnips, cabbage leaves, and dried pepper berries that offered him variety and spice. At one point he was chasing feral goats and accidentally fell off a cliff but was saved from extinction because he landed on a goat. Twice he had to avoid being rescued by the Spanish as he was an English privateer.
When he was finally rescued – again by his old captain William Dampier, he’d been alone on the island for four years and four months, he was bare foot and wearing goat skins but otherwise apparently in very good condition physically and emotionally.
World Wars I & II
The Islands were a key strategic position during World War 1 and World War 2. One of the historic homes on Robinson Crusoe Island was described as the home of ‘a German ham radio operator’. Code name for German spy, but best not to mention the war.
I went on a weekend trip with a group of three other friends. We flew west out of Santiago on a light aircraft and landed on this ridiculous runway. It had a slope – so that when we landed we went up hill to slow the plane down and later when we took off again we went downhill to get enough speed to take off. That will give you an idea of the size of the island.
Like a lot of those volcanic Pacific islands it is a hill with dense rain forests and a couple of small beaches that make it accessible for boats.
We had a glimpse of the isolation and remoteness experienced by Andrew Selkirk.
A highlight of the trip to Juan Fernandez was a tour with a couple of local fishermen. We saw groups of seals sleeping in the sun on rocks. Fur seals have made a come back after nearly being hunted to extinction. For lunch the we caught our own fish and pulled up some lobster pots. The lobsters were cooked in pots on the boats and we ate them fresh with our hands, and the fish we ate later at the residence.
Early the next morning we got up and climbed to the peak of El Yunque, which even at 1000m was quite challenging. We saw some goats, and admired the fitness of Selkirk because he was able to catch them. Then we headed back to the exciting runway for the trip back to Santiago.
Sadly in 2010, after I was there the islands were hit by a 3m tsunami which sadly caused a lot of damage and some loss of life.
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