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!
Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, instagrammer, social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes in the transformative power of travel.