Stranded On Robinson Crusoe Island? Enjoy The Lobster

Lobster fishermen in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile
Lobster fishermen in the Juan Fernandez Archipelago, Chile
Winfried Schumacher

SAN JUAN BAUTISTA - For days, Teresa Maldonado has only had bad news for waiting passengers. "No room on the plane today! We’ve got to fly the lobsters out!”

Showing the lady a valid ticket issued by the plane company does not help. The lobsters have priority; they have to get to Santiago alive. Nobody wants prematurely dead lobster with their Champagne.

Still, Maldonado tries to give the passengers some hope. "If the weather cooperates tomorrow, you’re on that plane for sure," she says. She is used to refusing people although that doesn’t mean she’s indifferent to their plight. She will even offer them a place to sleep for the night in her wooden hut above the harbor “if you don’t mind that I haven’t had a chance to tidy up.”

Welcome to Robinson Crusoe Island – the island of castaways, where even today, nobody knows for sure when they will be able to leave.

Planes don’t follow regular schedules, and when they do fly it’s not only a shipment of lobsters that might keep ticket-holders off them –bad weather may also be the problem. But what are two or three days compared to the four years and four months Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk spent here in the early 18th century?

His fate inspired Daniel Defoe to write his famous novel. Since 1966 the two main islands of the remote Juan Fernandez Archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean have been named Robinson Crusoe and Alejandro Selkirk. Located 600 kilometers west of South America, they have belonged to Chile since 1818. Alejandro Selkirk is only inhabited part of the year – by fishermen. Some 800 people live on Robinson Crusoe, earning their living from lobster fishing and a little livestock farming.

If you’re shy about taking up Teresa Maldonado’s offer of a room, your only other option is Ramon Baeza Rubilar’s place. At his Hostal Petit-Breuilh, the island innkeeper is used to tourists showing up at the last minute. A former policeman, he looks after them well, serving up wonderful fish dishes and exquisitely prepared lobster.

About the stuffed bear decorating the premises he tells the story of the mainlander who came out bringing bears with him to breed on the island. The mainlander soon got tired of the isolation – and bear meat – so he let the animals loose and went back to Santiago. Bears live in the wild on the island now; “their meat tastes like wild boar,” says Rubilar.

Things have changed a lot here since Alexander Selkirk’s day in 1704. Forest used to cover large parts of Robinson Crusoe, but the only jungle remaining today is on the north face of Cerro El Yunque mountain that juts up nearly a thousand meters (3,281 feet) above the South Pacific. The forest with its many native species is now a UNESCO biosphere.

Juan Fernandez, who discovered the group of islands that bears his name, introduced foreign animal species in 1564. In fact, it was the Juan Fernandez goats that gave Alexander Selkirk food to survive on. But for the island’s native flora and fauna, the goats along with other imported animals like rats and rabbits soon posed a threat and today many native species are threatened with extinction. A large part of the island is now grassland where horses, cows – and hundreds of rabbits – graze. Soil erosion has become a problem in some areas, since there is so little forest and tree roots to hold back the earth.

"Lobster is this island’s gold"

Two islanders are taking a break at the Selkirk Lookout. From this vantage point, you can see over the dense dark forest to the deep blue of the Pacific. Selkirk is said to have come here daily to lookout for ships.

Cumberland Bay - Photo: Profe Lester

Two bearded men, their two horses and two dogs, are out hunting goats. Their guns and lassoes are fastened to their saddles. Michael Perez and Manuel Kotzing are drinking canned beer and are in the best of moods. "My grandfather was German and he came here as a pirate," says Kotzing. "He seduced my grandmother when she was only 14."

Germans have left another reminder of history on the island. In March 1915 the warship SMS Dresden was anchored here after escaping the British navy in the Falkland Islands Battle. But the British tracked the ship down and started firing. The Dresden sunk. Behind the island cemetery near Cumberland Bay there is a grenade supposedly from the British warship. The wreck itself, 60 meters (197 feet) under, is now a Chilean national monument.

"After Alexander Selkirk the Dresden was the second most important historic event here," says Guido Balbontin. The 62-year-old craftsman has spent years building up the island’s museum, where he has gathered objects from the doomed German warship. Balbontin also named his band Dresden. He writes both the music and lyrics of the songs he and fellow group members perform. They sing not only about the fate of the ship, but of lonely Alexander Selkirk, greedy treasure hunters – and the crustacean responsible for keeping many a present-day traveler marooned here: "Lobster is this island’s gold," says one of the songs.

At 19, curiosity brought Balbontin out here from mainland – and he ended up staying for good. "After 43 years in this isolation, I couldn’t live anywhere else,” he says. His four children were born here, and today his wife – about to give birth to their fifth – is being flown out to Santiago. His neighbor, Claudio Matamala Morales, also settled here. After coming here 15 years ago as a tourist and loving it so much, two years later he got a local government job and returned. Morales is also the island’s beer brewer – maybe the most isolated one in the world, and he doesn’t come across as unhappy. "I don’t mind the solitude, on the contrary I relish the quiet life here," he says.

His Cerveza Artesanal Insular beer is a success story, and it’s well known beyond the island. The Robinson Lager and Alejandro Selkirk Stout Ale have both won prizes. "It’s probably down to the unique purity and properties of island water that the beer turns out so well," he says. He imports the malt from Belgium. In 2014, to commemorate the outbreak of World War I, he’s launching a new brand called – of course – Dresden.

A new day – and another attempt to leave the island. Teresa Maldonado has some bright red lipstick on today, and she’s beaming. Leaning against the wooden wall of the airline company hut, she offers the two waiting passengers cigarettes. "No worries! No lobsters today, it’s your turn," she says. Then she tells the story of a Japanese couple that flew in just to have dinner and ended up being stranded for two weeks because of bad weather. Islanders provided them with everything from underwear to food because they didn’t have enough cash with them. But that was a few years ago, Maldonado says. Nobody has to wait that long nowadays.

Maldonado leads passengers personally to the motorboat that is going to get us to the airstrip at the other end of the island, an hour away. Juan Fernandez fur seals are swimming in the water. Two fishermen are pulling a boat ashore. Above the green El Yunque rock face the sky opens up; the sun shines. I wouldn’t have minded being marooned here a little longer.

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"The Truest Hypocrisy" - The Russia-NATO Clash Seen From Moscow

Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.

NATO chief Stoltenberg and Russian Foregin Minister Lavrov

Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS via ZUMA
Pavel Tarasenko and Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative.

These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."

In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."

The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.

Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.

NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.

"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.

The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."

Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."

The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.

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