Quién no conoce el bosque chileno, no conoce este planeta. De aquellas tierras, de aquel barro, de aquel silencio, he salido yo a andar, a cantar por el mundo.
Those who do not know the Chilean forests, do not know this planet. From those lands, from that soil, from that stillness, I have come out to walk, to sing for the world.
Pablo Neruda’s words echoed in my mind as I began experiencing the breathtaking landscapes and biodiversity of Robinson Crusoe Island (earlier called Mas a Tierra), nearly 700 km off the coast of Chile in South America.
Over the past decade, I’ve been lucky enough to slow travel through many unique places around the world. But nothing could’ve prepared me for the month I spent on Robinson Crusoe Island, learning about its endemic species, grasping the challenges of conservation, bonding with the local community and working on sustainability initiatives. Here’s why:
No humans had set foot on Robinson Crusoe Island (Chile) until 500 years ago
A Spanish sailor first arrived arrived here in 1574 – and the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, to which the island belongs, is named after him.
So the island’s endemic forests, plants, marine animals and birds evolved in isolation
Many species are only found here in the entire world!
Getting to Robinson Crusoe Isla involves an adventurous journey on a tiny 6-seater plane – not for the faint hearted!
Only 4 people + 2 pilots can fly the 700 kilometers at one time – and only when the weather is just perfect for landing on the short, narrow strip that is the Robinson Crusoe Island airport. Before the pandemic, it was also possible to take a boat over 4 days.
The endemic Juan Fernandez Fur Seals greet you at the airport jetty
Declared extinct in the 1800s, a few seal pups were found in a cave in the 1960s. The island community decided to protect them, and the Chilean government finally declared their hunting (mostly by American ships) illegal. Their population has bounced back beautifully in recent decades!
And the boat ride to San Juan Bautista – the island’s only inhabited village – is reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park
Only a 1000 odd locals call the island home
As per the 2017 census, the official Robinson Crusoe Island population is 976!
Yet life here is bustling with community activities
Think basketball and football tournaments, hikes for women, triathlons, swimming in the ocean on a full moon night, entrepreneur fairs etc!
Even though 97% of the Juan Fernandez Archipelago is a protected national park
Humans have left a huge footprint on the island
Invasive species introduced hundreds of years ago
Including rats, rabbits, goats, cows, horses, dogs and cauti (feral cats) – and plants like mora (blackberry), maqui and murtiya.
Have been crowding out the slow-growing endemic forests
Making it one of the most endangered places on earth
Less than 500 Juan Fernandez Firecrown humming birds remain here in the wild
Found only on Robinson Crusoe island in the entire world.
And the last remaining Dendroseris Neriifolia tree in the world!
But Island Conservation, CONAF (Chile’s forest department), Oikonos and other local organisations have been working to eradicate invasive species
The only way to protect the endemic forests and rare species of the island is to eliminate the invasive species – a painful task in every way.
Aided by Lenovo’s smart technology
That enables checking camera traps on the go.
Which also allowed me to work remotely
Journaling and documenting the conservation work on my Lenovo Tab 11 Pro.
And initiate new projects with the community as part of the #workforhumankind initiative
Including a pilot community farming project, and a proposal to aid the island’s transition from diesel-generated electricity to solar power.
Over a month, I experienced the stark, dramatic landscapes across the island
Tourism on Robinson Crusoe Island has officially been on pause during the pandemic though.
Built beautiful friendships with the island community
Came face to face with the reality of conservation, climate change and species extinction
Witnessed the most magical mornings and moon rises
And found immense inspiration, hope and gratitude to protect the species we’re lucky to share this planet with.
Do you dream of visiting a place as remote as Isla Robinson Crusoe?
*Note: I was invited to Robinson Crusoe as part of the Work for Humankind project with Lenovo and Island Conservation. What an honor!
Connect with me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to follow my travel adventures around the world!
Enroute to One of the World’s Remotest Islands
Tajikistan: A Country That’s Not on Your Travel Radar but Should Be
7 Years of Travelling Without a Home – and Then a Pandemic
What I Learnt Volunteering on a Remote Island in Cuba
What It’s Like to Travel Solo When You’re in a Relationship
Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, “sustainability influencer,” social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes that travel – if done right – has the power to change us and the world we live in.
Very interesting. Which language did you communicate in?
My broken Spanish!
Wow, what an adventure. Talk about shaking things up and leaving the mundane behind. I have never heard of this place, but it’s cool that you went to a place so remote with the cultures in tact and most of the ecosystem in good shape. Stories like this make want to take a trip to remote places for an amazing adventure.
Now I’m left wondering how to embrace the “mundane” after experiencing something so special!
I have never seen a humming bird in real. It must have been a wonderful experience seeing and capturing the Juan Fernandez Firecrown humming birds at Robinson Crusoe Island.
One of my favorite moments – thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time, to have the privilege to watch and photograph this species sadly on the brink of extinction.
Looks like one of its kind of place.
Amazing photos. You just can’t help that instinct to visit. Thank you for the great story.
Thanks; feel so luck that I got to spend all that time on the island!
Wow Shivya, I was just amazed to see those photos and loved each of them. Its your hard work and passion that has brought you to this place, of course it is an honor and you deserve it. Also your work made you fortunate enough to explore places like this where one feels closer and closer to nature. Thanks for taking us there virtually. By the way, I have started to follow you on instagram to see more magical places like this.
Thanks Amit – it’s been quite a journey, and in retrospect, I can see many dots connecting to finally lead me to this island. Glad to be connected on Instagram and look forward to hearing more about your own journey.
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Amazing post! I met a photographer from Chile once while I was researching for my thesis at Humayun Tomb, the way he described Chile and the way you described it seem so similar!
That is a wonderful blog Shivya! those are an amazing pictures you have taken. thank you for sharing your passion of taking pictures to us and keep posting