The Voyage to Nowhere

Juan Fernández Archipelago Background Information

Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to visit the islands, so I have no experiences to report or pictures to share. That's too bad, because the islands are supposed to be very interesting and photogenic. As a consolation prize, I'll give you a little background information.

The archipelago consists of three islands: Isla Robinson Crusoe (36 square miles), Isla Alejandro Selkirk (33 square miles), and tiny Isla Santa Clara (2 square miles). Isla Robinson Crusoe is about 410 miles west of the mainland port of Valparaíso, Chile, and Isla Alejandro Selkirk is about 105 miles west of Isla Robinson Crusoe (all statute miles). The islands are of volcanic origin and have rugged mountainous terrain.

You might be curious how Isla Robinson Crusoe got its name. In 1704, a quarrelsome Scotsman named Alexander Selkirk was put ashore on the island and abandoned; he had been a crewmember on a privateer but couldn't get along with the captain. As the island's only inhabitant, Selkirk lived a hard and lonely life for four years before being rescued by a passing ship. As his story became known, in 1719 author Daniel Defoe wrote the novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, which is said to be loosely based on Selkirk's story (although Defoe's story places the island in the Caribbean). Isla Robinson Crusoe was named after the main character in Defoe's story. Ironically, Isla Alejandro Selkirk was named after the Scotsman but he never set foot on the island.

At the outbreak of World War I, the German cruiser Dresden was cornered by British warships just off the coast of Isla Robinson Crusoe. Rather than surrender, the Dresden was scuttled and the surviving crewmembers were taken prisoner.

Nowadays, Isla Robinson Crusoe has about 500 residents; Isla Selkirk has no year-round residents. Lobster fishing and tourism are the main activites and most of the archipelago is a national park. Tourism facilities and services are limited, especially in the off-season. There is a small airfield with irregular air taxi service to the mainland.

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