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Off the edge of the world
Daniel Defoe’s novel about a ship-wrecked sailor has fascinated readers for centuries. Simon Willis got a taste of Robinson Crusoe’s life when he visited its island inspiration

Jul 28th 2016

When I emailed the airline, they told me it did not have a timetable. They hoped to fly on Tuesdays and Fridays but, as summer turned into autumn and wind and rain arrived, they couldn’t be sure. Nevertheless, one hazy morning I turned up at a private aerodrome in the Tobalaba district of Santiago, which the airline shares with, among others, the airborne division of the Chilean police. My bag was weighed – and then so was I. This was micro-tourism that extended to the transport: outside was my ride, a twin-prop plane with five seats and four passengers.

Our destination was Robinson Crusoe, an island in the Juan Fernández archipelago 700km (435 miles) off the coast of Chile. This little-known Pacific outpost is closer to the mainland but remoter than the more famous Easter Island, which is served by daily flights. The difficulty of getting there strengthens the lure. Other than the tiny planes – a flight costs almost as much as a ticket from London to Santiago – the only option is a boat, the Antonio, which visits twice a month from Valparaíso. The tourism business is not large, and in 2010, when a tsunami destroyed the only village, San Juan Bautista, and killed 16 people, it dried up. But things have picked up since, and in 2016 the numbers of visitors will match those from before the disaster – around 2,500 a year.

The romance of the island is literary as well as natural. For four years it was home to Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish mariner marooned alone in 1704, whose tale of survival – with only goats, rats and cats for company – inspired Daniel Defoe. His book, in turn, inspired pr men to change the island’s name from Más a Tierra in the 1960s. But the island’s role in the making of the first English novel is only the second most interesting thing about it. Shortly after it was formed by an undersea volcano 4m years ago, seeds began arriving on the wind, greening the landscape with ancient plants like the Lactoris, a species which predates all the continents. Birds like the gloriously named tit tyrant flew ashore; fur seals formed colonies. Many of the immigrants that flourished on Robinson Crusoe died out elsewhere, and today the archipelago has one of the richest concentrations of endemic wildlife on the planet – richer than the Galapagos for botany and birds, with a marine ecosystem second to none. It is the last place on Earth to see more than 600 species, a living museum where you can hike and dive among the exhibits.

It is also home to what might be the world’s most beautiful airport transfer. On a mountainous island sculpted by Pacific storms, surfaces flat enough for runways are in short supply. The airstrip and San Juan Bautista are an hour’s boat ride apart. We landed on a dusty plateau with sheer drops at either end – an approach described by a friend in Santiago as “exciting”. Our connection began from a jetty at the bottom of a sea-filled caldera, where chocolate-coloured fur-seal pups slept and played on the beach. We rounded the island close to the shore, below thickly vegetated turrets of stone and high cliffs laid down in layers of lava, their giant drips and globules lending them the appearance of fossilised patisserie. The natural wonders, though, were counterpointed by our cargo. Positioned in the prow was a giant grey bag held steady by two men. As we heaved over the rollers I asked what was inside. “Un ataúd,” came the answer: a coffin.

It was a reminder that, however majestic the surroundings, life here is difficult. The islanders depend almost entirely on fishing for Juan Fernández lobsters. Everything else, from food to funerals, requires deliveries from the mainland. Approaching San Juan Bautista you can see that the wounds left by the tsunami have not yet healed entirely. There is wooden wreckage by the water, and an outdoor basketball court that used to be indoors.

When we arrived at the pier, the coffin was carried up the iron steps and delivered, with consolatory back slaps, to the waiting family. A man in an orange boiler suit was fishing from the end of the pier, flinging out his line by hand and bringing in quantities of plump and glinting vidriola, which he dispatched by stamping on their heads. There was a stack of lobster traps, one of which contained a pink lure tied to a rope. It was the tiny amputated arm of a plastic doll. The spirit of Crusovian ingenuity seemed alive and well.

I was staying at Barón de Rodt, a family-run b&b and restaurant where Juan Torres does the cooking, presenting guests each evening with something simple, delicious and unannounced – a lobster with lemon mayonnaise, a plate of octopus in a garlic sauce, crab lasagne. The place is named after Alfred von Rodt, the Swiss immigrant who founded the settlement in 1877. Most of the island’s 900 inhabitants are descended from the first families. The comfortable wooden cabin I had rented, with a terrace looking down the dirt road to the ocean, was across the street from a white clapboard church. As I settled in that afternoon, a funeral procession more than a hundred strong filed out, carrying the coffin from the boat. It was led by two men on horses to the cemetery by the sea. At the graveside a man with a guitar sang the praises of Rafael, fisherman and father, while a boy on a primary-coloured tricycle scooted among the mourners.

The only way to explore the island is on foot, and early one morning I set out with Marcello Schiller, guide, fisherman and native to the island. We passed the deep “Caves of the Patriots”, named after a group of revolutionaries fighting for Chilean independence who were incarcerated on the island in 1814, when it was used as a penal colony. Climbing the hill behind the village we entered the tsunami security zone on our way to a notch in the rock high above, where Selkirk used to watch for ships. Navigating the switchbacks, we passed the remains of what is thought to have been his house, its low walls and hearthstone hunkered down in a clearing. We snacked on murta berries as we climbed.

Head in the clouds The ancient Juan Fernández cabbage tree ( Dendroseris litoralis )
From the top we descended into Valle de Villagra, where the grasslands of a Scottish moor mix with tropical banks of endemic ferns and pangue – or “Robinson’s umbrella” – its stem spiky, its leaves more than a metre wide and as thick as parchment. Ochre firecrown hummingbirds darted about. The uninhabited island of Santa Clara was visible in the distance; beyond it there was nothing but sea until New Zealand.

A rare bird The aptly named firecrown hummingbird
The walk was a form of ecological time-travel. Below peaks shaped like incisors, Villagra has a Jurassic air. Philippe Danton, a French botanist who has spent years studying the local flora, estimates that a new species arrived here naturally about every 8,000 years. With so few competitors, they were preserved in a kind of evolutionary steady state. But then settlers arrived with fast-growing plants such as murta and blackberry, which swept over the island and killed endemic varieties. Humans brought in as many species in a century as nature managed in over 2m years. Today more than 80 species face extinction.

But of all the migrants that have washed up here, one of the oddest and most endearing is from Chicago. Bernard Keiser, who used to work in textiles, is in his 60s. His grey hair, receding at the front, long at the back, takes its style cues from Thomas Hobbes. He is a treasure hunter who, for the last two decades, has spent eight months a year and tens of thousands of dollars looking for booty left by Spanish galleons and English privateers.

I took a boat round the headland from San Juan Bautista to Puerto Ingles, the site of his excavation. In a shallow cave beside the hole in the ground that is dug by the men he employs six days a week, he explained the series of Xs that he is convinced mark the spot: mysterious monograms scratched into the cave walls, a paper trail in Spanish archives, coded messages between English opportunists. “It’s the only logical explanation!” he said, sucking on his umpteenth Kent cigarette of the morning. His diggers looked on wryly, as do Chile’s archaeologists. But Keiser fits in on Robinson Crusoe, home to blow-ins, oddities and natural curiosities. He assured me that this October he would leave with chests of gold and precious stones worth $10 billion. The following day, I satisfied myself with a box of lobsters.■

How to get there Flights to Robinson Crusoe from Santiago are operated by LASSA. They have no website, but you can email them on ATA fly from a runway next to the city’s main airport Return tickets are 550,000 pesos ($800). Space is limited; book early. The Antonio, a ship operated by Transmarko Shipping, delivers supplies to the island twice a month and has six berths for tourists. It leaves from Valparaíso, an hour and a half by car from Santiago, and takes between 30 and 48 hours, depending on the weather. A return ticket costs 170,000 pesos.

When to go The best weather is from October to March. After that storms begin to roll in, and travelling to and from the island becomes less predictable. Leave a few days as a buffer either side.

Where to stay There are 220 beds for tourists, scattered around San Juan Bautista. A cabin at El Barón de Rodt costs 50,000 pesos a night. For more accommodation:

Lobsters emerging from the pot
What to eat This is the only place in the world you can eat the clawless Juan Fernández lobster fresh from the sea – simply boiled or in an empanada. Try El Yunque, a restaurant on the far side of Cumberland Bay. But call ahead to make sure they have lobsters. If not, they’ll get them directly from the fishermen for you.

Hiking and diving The island is a National Park, and to explore it you have to pay a one-off fee of 5,000 pesos. Highlights include the Mirador de Selkirk and Centinela hill, where you can find the remains of the island’s first radio station. Longer hikes include Valle de Villagra and Ramplones, where there’s a colony of fur seals. Diving is also a draw, with 87% of underwater life endemic to the island. Diving and snorkelling expeditions can be arranged through hostels and B&Bs.

images: gerhard hüdepohl, alamy




我们的目的地是鲁滨逊漂流记,一个位于智利海岸700公里(435英里)外的胡安-费尔南德斯群岛的岛屿。这个鲜为人知的太平洋前哨离大陆更近,但比更著名的复活节岛更偏远,后者有每日航班。到达那里的难度加强了它的诱惑力。除了小型飞机--飞行费用几乎与从伦敦到圣地亚哥的机票一样高--唯一的选择是坐船,即安东尼奥号,每月从瓦尔帕莱索来两次。旅游业规模不大,2010年,当一场海啸摧毁了唯一的村庄圣胡安-包蒂斯塔(San Juan Bautista)并造成16人死亡时,旅游业就枯竭了。但此后情况有所好转,2016年的游客人数将达到灾难前的水平--每年约2500人。

该岛的浪漫是文学的,也是自然的。1704年,苏格兰航海家亚历山大-塞尔柯克(Alexander Selkirk)独自在此居住了四年,他的生存故事--只有山羊、老鼠和猫为伴--启发了丹尼尔-笛福。他的书反过来又启发了人们在20世纪60年代将该岛的名字从Más a Tierra改为Mas a Tierra。但该岛在第一部英国小说的创作中所扮演的角色,只是它的第二大有趣之处。在它由4米前的海底火山形成后不久,种子开始随风而至,用古老的植物如Lactoris(一种比所有大陆都早的物种)来绿化景观。像光荣的山雀暴君这样的鸟类飞上了岸;海狗形成了殖民地。许多在鲁滨逊漂流记上繁衍生息的移民在其他地方消亡了,而今天这个群岛是地球上地方性野生动物最丰富的集中地之一--在植物学和鸟类方面比加拉帕戈斯更丰富,海洋生态系统首屈一指。它是地球上最后一个可以看到600多个物种的地方,是一个活的博物馆,你可以在展品中徒步和潜水。

它也是可能是世界上最美丽的机场转机的地方。在这个被太平洋风暴雕琢的多山的岛屿上,足够平坦的跑道表面是非常短缺的。飞机跑道和圣胡安-包蒂斯塔相距一个小时的船程。我们降落在一个尘土飞扬的高原上,两端都是悬崖峭壁--圣地亚哥的一位朋友将这种方式形容为 "令人兴奋"。我们的连接从一个充满海洋的火山口底部的码头开始,巧克力色的毛皮海豹幼崽在海滩上睡觉和玩耍。我们在靠近海岸的地方绕过岛屿,下面是植被茂密的石头塔楼和熔岩层铺成的高高的悬崖,其巨大的水滴和球状物使它们看起来像化石的糕点。不过,这些自然奇观与我们的货物形成了对比。摆在船头的是一个巨大的灰色袋子,由两个人扶着。当我们重重地压过滚轮时,我问里面是什么。"回答是:"一个棺材。



我住在Barón de Rodt,这是一家家庭经营的民宿和餐厅,胡安-托雷斯负责烹饪,每天晚上为客人提供一些简单、美味和不经意的东西--柠檬蛋黄酱龙虾、一盘大蒜酱章鱼、螃蟹千层饼。这个地方是以阿尔弗雷德-冯-罗特命名的,他是1877年建立这个定居点的瑞士移民。岛上的900名居民中,大部分是第一批家庭的后代。我租的那间舒适的木制小屋,有一个露台,从土路望向大海,对面是一座白色的木板教堂。当天下午我安顿好后,一支超过一百人的送葬队伍从船上抬着棺材走了出来。队伍由两个骑马的人带领,前往海边的墓地。在墓前,一个拿着吉他的人唱起了对拉斐尔--渔民和父亲的赞美,而一个骑着原色三轮车的男孩则在哀悼者中滑行。

探索该岛的唯一途径是步行,一天清晨,我和马塞洛-席勒(Marcello Schiller)一起出发,他是导游、渔民和该岛的土著。我们经过了深邃的 "爱国者洞穴",这是以一群为智利独立而战的革命者命名的,他们于1814年被关押在岛上,当时这里被用作刑罚殖民地。爬上村子后面的山头,我们进入了海啸安全区,前往高处岩石上的一个凹槽,塞尔克曾经在那里观察船只。绕过弯道,我们经过了被认为是他的房子的遗迹,其低矮的墙壁和炉石蜷缩在一片空地上。我们在攀登过程中,吃了些穆尔塔浆果。

云中之头 古老的胡安-费尔南德斯白菜树(Dendroseris litoralis)。
从山顶我们下到Valle de Villagra,这里有苏格兰荒野的草地和热带特有的蕨类植物和pangue--或称 "鲁滨逊伞"--其茎部带刺,叶子超过1米宽,像羊皮纸一样厚。赭红色的火冠蜂鸟飞来飞去。远处可以看到无人居住的圣克拉拉岛;过了这个岛,就只有大海,直到新西兰。

稀有鸟类 恰如其分的火冠蜂鸟
这次步行是一种生态学上的时间旅行。在形状像门牙的山峰下面,维拉格拉有一种侏罗纪的气息。法国植物学家菲利普-丹东(Philippe Danton)多年来一直在研究当地的植物群,他估计大约每隔8000年就有一个新物种自然地来到这里。由于竞争者太少,它们被保存在一种进化的稳定状态中。但后来定居者带着快速生长的植物来到这里,如Murta和黑莓,它们席卷了整个岛屿并杀死了当地的物种。人类在一个世纪内带来的物种数量相当于自然界200多万年的管理。今天,有80多个物种面临灭绝。

但在所有被冲到这里的移民中,有一个最奇怪和最可爱的人来自芝加哥。伯纳德-凯泽(Bernard Keiser)曾经在纺织业工作,今年60多岁。他的灰白头发,前边退后,后边长,从托马斯-霍布斯那里得到了风格上的启示。他是一个寻宝者,在过去的二十年里,他每年花八个月的时间和数万美元来寻找西班牙大帆船和英国私掠者留下的战利品。

我乘船从圣胡安-包蒂斯塔(San Juan Bautista)绕过岬角来到英格尔斯港,这是他的挖掘地点。在他雇用的人每周六天挖出的地洞旁边的一个浅洞里,他解释了一系列他确信标志着这个地方的X:划在洞壁上的神秘的单字,西班牙档案中的文件痕迹,英国机会主义者之间的密码信息。"这是唯一合乎逻辑的解释!"他说,吸着他早上的第16支肯特香烟。他的挖掘者们狡黠地看着,智利的考古学家们也是如此。但基泽适合在鲁滨逊漂流记上,这里是吹牛、怪事和自然奇观的家园。他向我保证,今年10月他将带着价值100亿美元的黄金和宝石箱子离开。第二天,我用一盒龙虾来满足自己。

如何去那里 从圣地亚哥飞往鲁滨逊漂流记的航班由LASSA运营。他们没有网站,但你可以给他们发邮件,。ATA公司从城市主机场旁边的跑道上起飞,。来回机票是550,000比索(800美元)。空间有限,请尽早预订。安东尼奥号是一艘由Transmarko航运公司运营的船只,每月向岛上运送两次物资,并有六个泊位供游客使用。该船从瓦尔帕莱索(Valparaíso)出发,距离圣地亚哥有一个半小时的车程,需要30至48小时,取决于天气情况。来回票价为17万比索。

什么时候去 最好的天气是在10月至3月。此后,风暴开始席卷而来,往返该岛的旅行变得不太容易预测。请留出几天时间作为缓冲。

住的地方 圣胡安-包蒂斯塔周围有220个供游客使用的床位。El Barón de Rodt的小木屋每晚的价格为50,000比索。更多住宿信息:

吃什么 这是世界上唯一可以吃到无爪的胡安-费尔南德斯龙虾的地方--简单的水煮或放在卷饼中。试试坎伯兰湾远处的El Yunque餐厅。但要提前打电话,确保他们有龙虾。如果没有,他们会直接从渔民那里为你买。

徒步旅行和潜水 该岛是一个国家公园,要探索它,你必须一次性支付5000比索的费用。重点景点包括塞尔克山(Mirador de Selkirk)和森蒂内拉山(Centinela),在那里你可以找到岛上第一个广播站的遗迹。较长的徒步旅行包括Valle de Villagra和Ramplones,那里有一个海狗的聚居地。潜水也是一个亮点,87%的水下生物都是该岛特有的。潜水和浮潜探险可以通过旅馆和民宿安排。

图片:Gerhard Hüdepohl, ALAMY
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