Thursday, 13 April 2017

Random thoughts 13042017


A small group of islands are situated about 700 kms  away from the coast in the Valparaiso region of Chile. This place is known after the Spanish sailor Juan Fernandez who discovered them in 1574. The Spanish named these three islands as Isla Más a tierra (near the land) , Isla Más a fuera (away from the land) and  Isla de Lobos  (sea-dog islands) respectively.  These islands were used by the pirates in the 17th and 18th Century and later they were used as penal colonies (much like Andamans ) . But escape from the islands  was not difficult for the convicts and many deserted the islands. The island was  a source of fur seal (seadog) skins and seal hunters visited the place for this reason. The species almost went extinct due to unlimited hunting but now a very small number remains as an endangered species. Besides this animal, A species of Penguin, claw-less lobsters and some exotic varieties of bird (petrels) are part of the notable fauna ecosystem here.

The book  Travels in Peru , during the years 1838-1842 by Dr. J.J.Von Tschudi  describes the place thus – “ In 1812 anumber of prisoners were confined there, but the rats, which had increased in an extraordinary degree, consumed all the provisions sent from Chile. Several fruitless attempts have been made to populate the island, but that object is now given up and it is only occasionally visited by sea-dog hunters. Ulloa speaks of the great number of sea-calves or dogs with which the island was frequented and distinguishes kinds which belong to the short eared species. Their skins are excellent and they sell at a good price in England. Wild goats are numerous and their propagation would be excessive were it not for the multitude of dogs, also wild, by which they are destroyed.”

But the main point of interest attached with the island is something else . In the year 1704, a man called Alexander Selkirk was dumped  as a castaway on this island by the captain of the ship he was employed with , as a sailor,  for his unruly behaviour. He was landed on the island of Más a Tierra  with a musket, a hatchet, a knife, a cooking pot, a Bible, bedding and some clothes. .In spite of expressing regret for his behaviour  he was refused to be let back on board. But Selkirk survived the island, then uninhabited, for more than four years without human company. He was rescued in 1709 and returned to his home in England in 1711 after being away from for 8 years. Incidentally, Selkirk never set foot on Más a fuera, only on Más a Tierra. Just to keep the contemporary perspective of time in mind, it may be noted that Aurangzeb , the emperor of India died in 1707.

The details of Alexander Selkirk's travels and the accompanying travails generated  great interest and his adventures became a part of folklore of mythological proportions. He later died in 1721 ,at the age of 45, of  yellow fever, a scourge of those times. Daniel Defoe wrote the famous book  The Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe , published in 1719 in which the character of Crusoe is sketched to a great extent on Selkirk and his adventures. This book has stood the test of time and still a great favourite of young readers . I myself love to read this book again and again and have a personal copy at my home.

In 1966 the Chilean government renamed Más a fuera as Alejandro Selkirk Island and Más a Tierra as Robinson Crusoe Island, in order to promote tourism. Isla de Lobos is now called Isla de Santa Clara.

I am presently reading the book Travels in Peru , during the years 1838-1842 by Dr. J.J.Von Tschudi  in ebook format.

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