Thursday, January 28, 2010

Isla Robinson Crusoe

In 1848, a group of Latter Day Saints decided to travel from New York to California, not by wagon train across the continent but by ship.  No Panama Canal then so they sailed down the east coast of North and South America.  Rounding the Horn, never an easy passage, was especially harrowing.  Unable to continue directly up South America’s west coast to California, they stopped at the first place they could find, the tiny island from which Alexander Selkirk was rescued in 1708, after spending four years and four months marooned there.  In the years since his ordeal, which inspired the book Robinson Crusoe, people had set up a small community there, and these people took in the Latter Day Saints.  They looked after the travelers, providing medical care, and food and water so they could continue on to California.  To show their gratitude to the islanders, every year a group of Latter Day Saints spends four months on the island, working to improve the people’s lives.

The group was there when we spent a day, working to complete a house which was already fully framed.  The population of the island is around 660 people, so the cruise ship’s arrival more than doubled the number of people there.
(The above picture is not the house they were working on.  It's a house made entirely of bottles.  My new technical expertise doesn't appear to include knowing how to move a picture from one place to another.)

The island is very steep, and while some houses and most businesses – a couple of tourist-type shops, a small general store, and a pub/discoteque – are on the flatter area along the short of a sheltered bay, most homes cling to the mountainside.  There’s a hike to Selkirk’s Mirador, his viewing point located mid-island, on its highest point, from where he watched the sea, hoping to see a ship.  The cave he lived in was further, and most of us tourists found the hike, even if we went only part-way up, daunting enough, causing shortness of breath and aching legs.

It was a lovely stop.  No organized tours, few cars.  Most people go around on motor-bikes or ATVs.  Or by horseback.  Lots of dogs live there, happy and healthy, and very friendly.  The local people ignored the influx of tourists for the most part, going about their business.  Some higher up were pleased to see us, greeting us with big smiles, their arms around small children who stared curiously at these puffing people walking up past their homes.

As I walked about, I thought often of Selkirk.  This must have been an inhospitable place when he first arrived.  He was a Scottish sailor, and was concerned about the seaworthiness of the ship on which he served.  He’d apparently complained about many things during that particular voyage, and so the captain put him onto the island.  This was a good thing, actually, because the ship later foundered, and only seven men survived.

The island, though, would have been difficult.  Selkirk expected a ship would come by soon to take him off.  He’d also expected other ship-mates to decide to join him, but none did, so he was alone.  The island is a harsh environment, but he would have been able to find fruit and fish to live on. 

1 comment:

  1. Love the photos! And the one of the house made of bottles is great, even if it's in the wrong spot.