Saturday, 31 March 2007

Thoughts On Chile

Tomorrow (Sunday) I head over the Andes to Argentina, where I will spend most of April. After this my plan is to head back over into the northern part of Chile, and a little of Bolivia, before dropping back down into northern Argentina once more.

So after just over two weeks in Chile what are my thoughts.

Of course 6 nights of my 2 weeks were spent on Isla Robinson Crusoe, a remote and wonderful place, but one where opinions on a whole country should not be made. But I have also been to the capital, an Andean vilage, Valparaiso, and a village in the coastal mountain range.

I certainly did not expect to see Chile as developed as it is. I would say this country is already first world, or at least is approaching it fast. It definately feels European. Everything works efficiently well, the public transport system is quite fantastic.

The people are efficient and honest, and appear to work hard. They are latin, but not loud. Social attitudes appear to be modern, they have a woman president after all. There does appear to be a respect for the law.

There are a lot of street dogs and cats. But they, on the whole, appear well nourished and healthy. My guess is that dog owners just let them lose during the day whilst at work.

I knew Chile would be quite expensive. It´s certainly cheaper than Europe, but I would not describe it as a cheap destination, more a moderate cost destination. Argentina should be considerable cheaper than here.

The food here has been excellent, particularly the seafood. Although the food I have had here has been pretty basic, no grand meals out, and I have taken the advantage of the lunchtime menu del dia's. The fruit I have bought has been deliscious. Apparently Chile is one of South America´s market gardens.

Santiago's pollution levels are high, Chileans aspire to clean this up.

What will Argentina hold? Watch this space. One thing for sure I will not be mentioning the Falklands War on Monday (which ironically is an Argentinian holiday day, start of Semana Santa week)

Here are a few pics not yet posted.

Friday, 30 March 2007

In Darwin´s Footsteps

Here is what Charles Darwin had to say about the mountain I climbed today (Friday 30th)

16th. -- The mayor-domo of the Hacienda was good enough to give me a guide and fresh horses; and in the morning we set out to ascend the Campana, or Bell Mountain, which is

6400 feet high. The paths were very bad, but both the geology and scenery amply repaid the trouble. We reached by the evening, a spring called the Agua del Guanaco, which is situated at a great height. This must be an old name, for it is very many years since a guanaco drank its waters. During the ascent I noticed that nothing but bushes grew on the northern slope, whilst on the southern slope there was a bamboo about fifteen feet high. In a few places there were palms, and I was surprised to see one at an elevation of at least 4500 feet. These palms are, for their family, ugly trees. Their stem is very large, and of a curious form, being thicker in the middle than at the base or top. They are excessively numerous in some parts of Chile, and valuable on account of a sort of treacle made from the sap. On one estate near Petorca they tried to count them, but failed, after having numbered several hundred thousand. Every year in the early spring, in August, very many are cut down, and when the trunk is lying on the ground, the crown of leaves is lopped off. The sap then immediately begins to flow from the upper end, and continues so doing for some months: it is, however, necessary that a thin slice should be shaved off from that end every morning, so as to expose a fresh surface. A good tree will give ninety gallons, and all this must have been contained in the vessels of the apparently dry trunk. It is said that the sap flows much more quickly on those days when the sun is powerful; and likewise, that it is absolutely necessary to take care, in cutting down the tree, that it should fall with its head upwards on the side of the hill; for if it falls down the slope, scarcely any sap will flow; although in that case one would have thought that the action would have been aided, instead of checked, by the force of gravity. The sap is concentrated by boiling, and is then called treacle, which it very much resembles in taste.

We unsaddled our horses near the spring, and prepared to pass the night. The evening was fine, and the atmosphere so clear, that the masts of the vessels at anchor in the bay of Valparaiso, although no less than twenty-six geographical miles distant, could be distinguished clearly as little black streaks. A ship doubling the point under sail, appeared as a bright white speck. Anson expresses much surprise, in his voyage, at the distance at which his vessels were discovered from the coast; but he did not sufficiently allow for the height of the land, and the great transparency of the air.

The setting of the sun was glorious; the valleys being black whilst the snowy peaks of the Andes yet retained a ruby tint. When it was dark, we made a fire beneath a little arbour of bamboos, fried our charqui (or dried slips of beef), took our mate, and were quite comfortable. There is an inexpressible charm in thus living in the open air. The evening was calm and still; -- the shrill noise of the mountain bizcacha, and the faint cry of a goatsucker, were occasionally to be heard. Besides these, few birds, or even insects, frequent these dry, parched mountains.

August 17th. -- In the morning we climbed up the rough mass of greenstone which crowns the summit. This rock, as frequently happens, was much shattered and broken into huge angular fragments. I observed, however, one remarkable circumstance, namely, that many of the surfaces presented every degree of freshness some appearing as if broken the day before, whilst on others lichens had either just become, or had long grown, attached. I so fully believed that this was owing to the frequent earthquakes, that I felt inclined to hurry from below each loose pile. As one might very easily be deceived in a fact of this kind, I doubted its accuracy, until ascending Mount Wellington, in Van Diemen's Land, where earthquakes do not occur; and there I saw the summit of the mountain similarly composed and similarly shattered, but all the blocks appeared as if they had been hurled into their present position thousands of years ago.

We spent the day on the summit, and I never enjoyed one more thoroughly. Chile, bounded by the Andes and the Pacific, was seen as in a map. The pleasure from the scenery, in itself beautiful, was heightened by the many reflections which arose from the mere view of the Campana range with its lesser parallel ones, and of the broad valley of Quillota directly intersecting them. Who can avoid wondering at the force which has upheaved these mountains, and even more so at the countless ages which it must have required to have broken through, removed, and levelled whole masses of them? It is well in this case to call to mind the vast shingle and sedimentary beds of Patagonia, which, if heaped on the Cordillera, would increase its height by so many thousand feet. When in that country, I wondered how any mountain-chain could have supplied such masses, and not have been utterly obliterated. We must not now reverse the wonder, and doubt whether all-powerful time can grind down mountains -- even the gigantic Cordillera -- into-gravel and mud.

The appearance of the Andes was different from that which I had expected. The lower line of the snow was of course horizontal, and to this line the even summits of the range seemed quite parallel. Only at long intervals, a group of points or a single cone showed where a volcano had existed, or does now exist. Hence the range resembled a great solid wall, surmounted here and there by a tower, and making a most perfect barrier to the country.

Almost every part of the hill had been drilled by attempts to open gold-mines: the rage for mining has left scarcely a spot in Chile unexamined. I spent the evening as before, talking round the fire with my two companions. The Guasos of Chile, who correspond to the Gauchos of the Pampas, are, however, a very different set of beings. Chile is the more civilized of the two countries, and the inhabitants, in consequence, have lost much individual character. Gradations in rank are much more strongly marked: the Guaso does not by any means consider every man his equal; and I was quite surprised to find that my companions did not like to eat at the same time with myself. This feeling of inequality is a necessary consequence of the existence of an aristocracy of wealth. It is said that some few of the greater landowners possess from five to ten thousand pounds sterling per annum: an inequality of riches which I believe is not met with in any of the cattle-breeding countries eastward of the Andes. A traveller does not here meet that unbounded hospitality which refuses all payment, but yet is so kindly offered that no scruples can be raised in accepting it. Almost every house in Chile will receive you for the night, but a trifle is expected to be given in the morning; even a rich man will accept two or three shillings. The Gaucho, although he may be a cutthroat, is a gentleman; the Guaso is in few respects better, but at the same time a vulgar, ordinary fellow. The two men, although employed much in the same manner, are different in their habits and attire; and the peculiarities of each are universal in their respective countries. The Gaucho seems part of his horse, and scorns to exert himself except when on his back: the Guaso may be hired to work as a labourer in the fields. The former lives entirely on animal food; the latter almost wholly on vegetable. We do not here see the white boots, the broad drawers and scarlet chilipa; the picturesque costume of the Pampas. Here, common trousers are protected by black and green worsted leggings. The poncho, however, is common to both. The chief pride of the Guaso lies in his spurs, which are absurdly large. I measured one which was six inches in the diameter of the rowel, and the rowel itself contained upwards of thirty points. The stirrups are on the same scale, each consisting of a square, carved block of wood, hollowed out, yet weighing three or four pounds. The Guaso is perhaps more expert with the lazo than the Gaucho; but, from the nature of the country, he does not know the use of the bolas.

August 18th. -- We descended the mountain, and passed some beautiful little spots, with rivulets and fine trees. Having slept at the same hacienda as before, we rode during the two succeeding days up the valley, and passed through Quillota, which is more like a collection of nursery-gardens than a town. The orchards were beautiful, presenting one mass of peach-blossoms. I saw, also, in one or two places the date-palm; it is a most stately tree; and I should think a group of them in their native Asiatic or African deserts must be superb. We passed likewise San Felipe, a pretty straggling town like Quillota. The valley in this part expands into one of those great bays or plains, reaching to the foot of the Cordillera, which have been mentioned as forming so curious a part of the scenery of Chile. In the evening we reached the mines of Jajuel, situated in a ravine at the flank of the great chain. I stayed here five days. My host the superintendent of the mine, was a shrewd but rather ignorant Cornish miner. He had married a Spanish woman, and did not mean to return home; but his admiration for the mines of Cornwall remained unbounded. Amongst many other questions, he asked me, "Now that George Rex is dead, how many more of the family of Rexes are yet alive?" This Rex certainly must be a relation of the great author Finis, who wrote all books!

This is what Clive Culley has to say.

Bugger Darwin. And bugger him for saying it is a great mountain to gain perspective on Chile. Yes you could see the Andes, snow capped in the distance, and the Pacific Ocean. But from the national park hut, where I paid my entrance fee, it was straight up by 1500 metres (that´s one a half Snowdon´s - from Sea Level).

For those wishing to restrospectively sponsor me on this hike, please send your Western Union transfer, to Clive Culley Beer Account. For this is the account I am about to raid!

Was a great day, but boy am I bushed!


On Monday, after my weekend in Baños Morales, I took an admin day, to catch up on the blog and do some banking. On Tuesday I got the bus from Santiago to Valparaiso.

They say you either love or hate Valpo. I loved it. The city is set on numerous hills dropping down onto a sweeping bay, and well deserves it´s World Heritage Status.

There is really very little to see here, but the city spread over the hillsides, with multicoloured homes made of corrugated metal, and accessed by 100 year old, and older, funicular carriages, is a delight.

It´s a working port, and home to the Chilean Navy. As a port city it has it´s rough sides too. What was great about it though is that it is an attractive historic city that still very clearly lived in and alive.

Valpo grew serving the Spanish ships running up and down the west coast, this continued after Chilean independence, being a major stopover point between Europe and the developing west coast of America. A major earthquake in 1906 and the opening of the Panama canal, saw it´s fortunes decline.

It is a great place to walk and wander about, taking the occasional "ascensores" up to the hills above the port. It had a real bohemenian feel; there´s some great street grafiti art, and many galleries etc.

I also loved the food. I found a place that sold seafood soup for lunch (Paila Mariner), deliciously made with every available type of mollusc. So good was it I went twice to the same restaurant on both my days there.

Had a text to say I´m not included enough pics of me. So here I am with what I´ll call my new Armada De chile haircut (and suntan). Yes I have been to the barbers. Of course we chatted away, him asking where I´m going on holiday, me replying well Chile and the rest of South America (actually I sat there in complete silence as the cut throat razor whirled around like in some circus act).

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Baños Morales

From Santiago early on the Saturday morning, I took a small mini bus up high into the nearby Andes, for a weekend of fresh air, walking and picnicking.

The journey took two hours, and followed a river valley that quickly became a canyon. I was headed to the head of this Canjon De Maipu, the village of Baños Morales.

After finding a small guest house run by a very elderly couple. I headed up the glacial morraine towards Momumento National Morado, a great pyramind of rock, drapped with glaciers.

The trek to the lake below the glaciers took about 2 hours and was very easy going. Being on Santiago's doorstep, it is very popular here at weekends. In summer (January February, I believe it gets very crowded).

The following day I took it easy just walking around and watching the Andean condors fly high on the thermals. Magificent huge birds.

Sad to leave

Not many places really capture me like this island has. It was everything I was hoping it to be and a whole lot more.

The story behind the island was what activated interest, and when I knew it had stunning scenery as well, my mind was made up to try to come. I guess everybody dreams of beautiful islands, and the life that could be had there. The 600 odd people who live here certainly ooze an inner happiness. They were so friendly.

It was one of those places that you really did not want to bump into other travellers, and apart from a tiny number of mainland Chilean tourists, I met no one. On my walks around the island I would rarely see another soul. I was the only foreigner there at that time.

The island only gets about a 1000 tourist visitors per year. Many of these are friends and family of island inhabitants. Fishing for the local huge langoustines is the main activity, and this season lasts only 6 months.

It was great to see so many young people living on the islands, and lots of young people. In many parts of the world, islands are just the bolts holes for the older generation, but here there are people of all ages.

On the plane back I spoke to an islander I recognised. He worked as a guide for tourists and also worked for the Chilean national park service. He spotted a newspaper, and said to me "I{ve not seen one of those in months, it will be full of bullshit, just like the last newspaper I read one year ago" He was travelling for a wedding in Santiago. He was looking forward to his week in the big bad world, but was also looking forward to getting home to his island.

I loved it there, realy did not want to leave. I wanted the weather to be bad so the plane could not take me away.

At the airstip the same pilot who flew me to the island, tipped me off to sit on the left. Here is just one of the photos I took from the plane.

Adios Isla Robinson Crusoe, hasta luego espere.

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Stowaway!

Hello my name's Spotty and I'm a dog. Some say I'm a naughty dog, and I guess they're right cos I love getting into scraps n all. Boris Bear thinks I'm pretty bad, but him being German and a stickler for rules, he would wouldn't he.

Anyways Sam I just had to do it. You know get away. That blasted ginger cat of yours was terrorising me. You should rename him Musthaffa.

Heard you Dad was off on some mad jaunt so decided I woulds come too. I mean we went to Romania and fought vampires, then Morroco with those Cobra snakes and humpy camels. I likes going to other places to bite other animals, and the chance to come and nip the tail of an anaconda, well just had to come mate didn't I?

Course your Dad was a bit surprised when he found me in his boot (he should change his socks more often, travelling in a smelly boot for 24 hours was not fun, and I hate gorgonzolla cheese!).

Anyways this is how I did it. One weekend I snuck into your overnight bag and got to the Chicken House in Rossett (where Welsh collies live. Hide in the cupboard under the stairs for a bit then got into the walking boot (left one to be precision like) and got packed in his rucksack. No first class travel for me NO!. In the blooming cargo hold no less. Once I felt we had taken off I got out and had a wander round the hold. Some girls doll was packed deep in a bag and couldn't get out. Sad she didn{t want to copme out when she found out I was a dog, so I growled at her he he he.

Got discovered by yer Dad when he came to put his boots on for going over to that island. He took it alright, I mean I'm not heavy to carry am I?

The island was OK. There were loads of other dogs there, but not one could speak English. I tried talking loudly, even waved my ears round a bit, but nope. Surely they understand "Woof", but all they says back is sort of "woofo". What the blooming does "Woofo" mean?

Went swimming on Tuesday. Course they didn{t have four small fins for my paws, nor a mask for my little snout, so I just jumped in a doggy paddled. This sea lion sealk thing comes up to me, I expected trouble. I barked at it, and guess what, blimey! darn think barked back!. Bah mammals that think their fish, it's not right is it?

Came away to get away from ginger cats, mmmm, yeah what comes through the window on day one, yeah bloomin ginger cat. Home from home eh.

Anyway gotta go and chase a hummingbird now - tricky things them, thet're like bees, you think your gonna catch one, then it flies off in a direction you didn't think off.

I'll get one though..............Woof!

Unusual Tour Guide

The storm had blown away the humidity and Thursday, my last full day on the island, looked promising for a clear day. I decided to hike back over to the eastern side so see if Yunque was showing her crown.

So picnic made I head up towards Selkirk's mirador. On the way I stopped by to look at the small fort built by the Spanish, long after Selkirk's time, in order to twart British pirates and buccaneers. Here I met my tour guide. Normally I do not like using tour guides, I like to go at my own pace. But today I had no choice. This chap was coming with me whatever I did or said. He just seemed to know I was heading up to the mirador and over the other side. He was a great guide for me. As he walked in front, waited whilst I ate more myrtle berries, and I never even got know his name.

Here is a pic of him up at Selkirk's lookout point on the ridge. Isn't he fabulous?

The weather from this point on just got better and better, and was chystal clear as hoped. So it was down through the cloud forest and along the coast to have a good look at the ridges and mountains that are the spine of this beautiful island. I'll will let the pictures tell the story from now onwards.

The Tempest

At 4am on the Wednesday thinking the sea sounds a lot louder. Well it sure did, for the wind was very strong and getting stronger.

At 5am I could sleep no more as the noise was quite something. I made a cup of coffee, and sat in my lounge listening to the growing storm. The hut ctreaked in the unrelenting wind. As it got light I looked out to the rough seas watching spray dance accross the bay.

Mt feet ached a little from the hike the day before, so it was a great morning to do very little and just enjoy the isolation in the bad weather.

In the afternoon once the storm hads passed I went walking up Lord Anson's valley, to look at more indigenous greenery. The wind was still strong and the clouds low, so a good day for being in the forest.

Here's a pic of the ginger cat who kept me company whilst I was pottering about in my shed (interior pic)

Myrtle Berries

On Tuesday I took the launch to the airstrip so I could walk 5 hours back to the village. This was described as the best trek on the island.

The boat was an hour late leaving the dock as it only heads out once the flight has departed Santiago, and low cloud was loitering over the eastern end of the island. Chugging along the coast, past my new sea lion friends, watching flying fish dart out of the water, was a very relaxing way to start what would be a tough day.

Low cloud was still drifting over the airstrip, but it was beginning to clear. The wonderful view look back towards the airstrip and Santa Clara island was stunning, and view getting better and better as I looked back.

Only having been to this part of the island when I first landed and today, on both occasions low cloud prevented me from seeing precisely what I was walking towards. So on turning the corner at Punta Larga and coming face to face with Yunge (The Anvil), the islands highest point, literally took my breathe away. What a stunning view.

I was lucky to see the top of Yunge as quickly the clouds rolled back over her summit and she was gone.

The coast here was quite stunning, I took far too many photos!

From the coastal path I started to climb towards the saddle on the ridge (so called Selkirk's lookout). It was a steep up, on a muddy, bolder strewn path, and the weather was getting worse. I was entering the cloud forest, and it was cloudy and raining! The views were gone. What replaced the views were getting up close to the wonderful plants that grow here (many grow no where else, and the islands are second only to Hawaii, in have the most number of emdemic species of life).

There was no view from the lookout down to Cumberland Bay and San Juan, but there were Myrtle berries. The hike down to the village should have taken an hour but I took longer, as these berries are deliscious.

I got back to my garden shed, just one hour before dark. The walk had been one of the best I had ever done.

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Treasure Me Hearties!

After our close encounters with the sea lions, we had a fishy lunch. Then headed back towards the village. On the way we stopped at Puerto Ingles (so named bacause of all the British pirates who used to hide out here)

Here there is cave, supposedly used by Alexander Selkirk, when first marooned here.

But there is more here me hearties, for here there be buried treasure! I kid you not.

Under the pyramid mountain by the yellow rock shaped like a scorpion is Spanish gold buried. I know this because Pedro introduced us to a American who had been here for the past eight summer seasons carefully digging with a team of local chaps, looking for the missing Spanish treasure. He has researched this story well. He even came to Chester to check the Cheshire County archives, as a letter was sent in the 1700's to a aristocrat living in Runcorn.

The gold was stolen from a treasury in Mexico, and transported and hidden on the island for collection at a future date. However it was never collected. The story of this treasure haul has attracted a lot of attention of the centuries. The British became interested as it would fund the war with Spain. The Spanish monarchy became interested 50 years after the treasure was stolen.

Is it true? Is this American wasting his time? He appears confident, and will be back next summer season.

I asked Pedro if he thought there was treasure here. He replied "Oh yes, there is treasure here, the treasure is the island"

Pedro is right, this island is a jewel in the sea.

50 kisses in one hour!

Monday dawned bright and sunny. After a breakfast of bread and homemade apricot compote (apricots taken from the tree just outside my cabin), I made my way down to the pier, to meet Pedro, and three other Chilean tourists (Monique, Veronica, and Oscar, all Psysiotherapists from Santiago who had dreamed of coming to this island for years). We were off snorkellng with the Fur Seals.

In a small boat we headed east hugging the high cliffs. The physios were great company and spoke spiffingly good Queen's English. On the way a fishing boat pulled alongside ours and we were offered freshly grilled fish for elevenies. After sharing the fish, we headed to the fur seal colony. We did two passes, the first we just watched them swimming or lying vertically head down in the water with their rear flippers in the air.

Then it was on with the wet suits, mask and fins and into the water.

It was quite amazing to watch them nimble creatures swimmimg with great ease just in front of my mask. They did not seem bothered by my presence at all. Only once did I feel nervous and this was when a huge male swam past me totally blocking my view temporarily. I thought wow he is a powerful brute.

I then swam closer to the cliffs, as I could see the youngsters were swimming there. This was the right move. They were totally inquisitive, playful and friendly. They would swim right up to my mask, sometimes knocking it slightly, peering at me as I peered at them. I could feel them sliding and jumping over my legs. Their eyes underwater had a violet luminescence, quite beautiful on their cute little faces.

I decided to stop being inert and held out my hand. They would come up to my hand and I could stroke their little heads, feeling their stiff whiskers and their soft ear flaps. Some would take a finger into their mouths and would play bite as a puppy would. Their fur was so soft, and you could feel their body heat.I spent about the best part of an hours with these wonderful animals.

These Fur Seals, an endemic species of Sea Lion, almost became extinct, as their fur was highly prized (Napoleonic hats were made of fur seal). However they survived and since becoming protected have thrived once more.

Island Trek

Sunday dawned somewhat drizzly. This turned out to be advantageous as I decided to hike to the West of San Juan De La Baptiste, which meant climbing a rather steep mountain to start with, and this in the blazing sun would have been tough.
First though I headed through the village to the place where a first world war navel shell is embedded in the lava cliff. This is not the only remnant of the naval battle that took place here, the other lies 100 metres down on the sea floor of the small bay. The German battleship Dresden lies here, having been cornered by three British warships, and scuttled by the German captain (in order to save the lives of his crewmen).

I then headed up through the forest, looking for the path west. It took a while to find, as on two occasions I ended up in somebody's front garden. Once found the path hugged the coast, although the view was just misty and grey. Then it was straight up a sometimes rocky path, sometimes lose cinder stones. As I approached the summit of the hill the weather started to clear fast and at the top I was rewarded with a view of the two massive headlands I had past the day before in the boat from the airstrip.

After a picnic lunch I decided to trek on, up and three valleys in all. The rocks and soil here are a multitude of colours.

Then it was time to hike back, enjoying the views from high up above the sea.

My garden shed was equiped with a kitchen and all utensils so I decided to self cater. Perhaps it was my tuna pasta that attracted Pedro's ginger cat, but from that evening onwards she was always on my lap. Pedro had loaned to me the British author, Diana Soutami's, book on Alexander Selkirk.

The trekking was hard, so it was early to bed, falling asleep to the sound of the waves crashing onto the boulders below on the beach.

Monday, 26 March 2007

Marooned (in a garden shed)

I returned on Friday from the place you have probably not heard of, but you definately have heard of.

Up until 1966 this island, part of the Juan Fernandez archeopeligo, was called Masatierra. After this the island,s name became far more memorable.

Welcome to Robinson Crusoe Island.

Alexander Selkirk was born in Largo, Fife, Scotland in 1680. He was the son of a tanner, and was expected to join his father's trade once he had grown up. Circumstances, however, set him on a very different course. His father once remarked that Alexander's temper would "cause him to lose his life", and certainly his early years were somewhat tempestuous. Aged just 15, he was accused of indecent exposure in his local church, and was duly summoned to appear before church elders for punishment. He never did appear before them. Instead young Alexander made his way to the Forth and joined a ship heading to Central America. The goal of the voyage was to establish on the isthmus of Panama, in the Darien, a Scottish plantation. The voyage was not a success as the Darien is a swampy, jungle infested area, that even today is a significant obstacle to land transportation between Panama and Colombia. However, Alexander quickly learned his seamanship, and returned to Scotland qualified as a ship's master.

At home, trouble hit once more, with a major argument occurring between himself his brother's and his father. Once again as a result, he was called to attend a hearing of the church elders, but once again he fled to sea, rather than endure the public humiliation that awaited him.

He joined the ships St George and the Cinque Ports, under the command of Darmier, the goal being to plunder Spanish shipping in the South Seas. Queen Anne sanctioned their buccaneering voyage, as Britain was at war with Spain and France. The crew were hungry for gold and the riches the Spanish controlled.

The journey to the West coast of South America was not a happy one. Insufficient food and water had been loaded, and what had quickly became rotten and weevil infested. Furthermore the ships condition quickly deteriorated, with the ships timber becoming weakenned by worms. Scurvy broke out amonst the crew and many lives were lost to this mysterious sea bourne disease. The two ships also had very little luck in encountering Spanish galleys, and the crew became increasingly restless. Talk of mutiny was a constant topic.

As ships master Selkirk was very concerned with the state of the ship. He argued with his Captain, Stradling, that the ships should moored up for a long period for repairs to be made and for fresh food and water to be loaded. They headed for the Juan Fernandez islands, discovered in 1574, and stocked by the Spanish with goats, for the purpose of meeting their ships needs. Whilst moored in Cumberland Bay, the disagreements between Selkirk and Stradling reached their peak. Stradling wanted to move on to the coast of Peru quickly, to plunder Spanish shipping, Selkirk argued that the ships were unsafe. In temper, Selkirk demanded to remained on the island. Stradling gave him his wish.

Selkirk expected others to challenge Stradling, but he was mistaken. A boat was arranged to carry him and his sea chest to the beach. He pleaded that he had changed his mind, and would now accept Stradling's leadership. But Stradling was as determined to teach Selkirk and any others who may have displayed disobediancy a lesson.

On the beach he watched as the ship set sail and out of sight. He was marooned and alone. Thinking that the ship would soon return, he remained on the beach, also fearing the dense forest would be full of dangerous beasts. It was beast of one sort that forced him to abandon the shore. The sea lion mating season brought the aggressive males antics. In the forest Selkirk built and hut, learned how to catch goats, and read his bible. Rats plgued him, biting him whilst he slept. To counter these he domesticated ferral cats. These were his only company for four years and four months.

Each day he would climb to his look out, ready to light his beacon if a sail was spotted.

One day he did see a ship, heading directly for his island. He lit his beacon and waited for the ship on the beach. His excitement at the prospect of rescue was high, but was quickly dashed when he realised the ship was Spanish. Capture by the enemy would mean slavery, a fate worse than death, forced to work in silver mines or worse. He fled to the forest, pursued by Spanish sailors. He evaded them by climbing a tree. Once they had gone he found his hut burnt and his few possessions in tatters. He fell intro great despondancy, thinking he would die on this island, receiving no Christian burial, to be eaten by his cats.

His beard grew, his language lost. He became savage at best. But still he maintained a vigil for a hoped for rescue.

The British galley, The Duke, approaching the island, saw his smoke signal, but feared a Spanish garrison. It took days before a boat headed to the shore, where Selkirk welcomed them with roast goat and fresh water and vegtables.

He was at last rescued, by British bucaneers. The ship carried on up the coast of Chile to Peruvian waters to wait on the arrival of the Spanish Manilla galleon. This ship, a great prize, was taken. Selkirk and the crew were overjoyed at the riches they would now share in.

On return to Britain, Selkirk's story quickly became became notorious. It was his story that gave Daniel defoe the idea to write a novel of a castaway on a remote, uninhabited island. The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe quickly became a massive international bestseller.

Alexander Selkirk continued his tempestuous life, marrying two women, and running away back to sea to escape the consequences. He died of yellow fever aged 41 off the west coast of Africa.

My journey to the island was far easier. I flew. It was off and on whether I could travel there. Only at 5pm on the Friday was it confirmed I had a seat on the return flight, and that the weather for Saturday 17th was forecasted as good for a landing on the islands airstrip, and for calm seas (as the airstrip is only linked to the island's one settlement, San Juan de la Bapiste, by and hour and a halves boat ride)

My confirmation of the flight included the mobile telephone number of the pilot, just in case I was delayed in getting to Santiago's airport. The plane I took was a twin engined propeller plane with just four seats. A young family occupied the other three seats, behind us a cargo of wood and other essentials needed by the island 600 strong inhabitants.

The island was swathed in cloud after the two hour flight. The airstrip was located on the far eastern peninsula, in a totally volcanic and stark landscape. We walked 30 minutes down to the boat pier, and headed out of yhe bay in a small fishing boat. The family I journeyed with were islanders returning home. Even though they had lived there for 5 years they still were taking photos of the 300 metre high basalt cliffs.

The boat ride was fantastic as the low clouds lifted to clear skies. Above the cliffs the islands jagged peaks emergeds from the clouds. The island is very small just 23km by 7 at it's widest. The peaks of the island are high, topping 900 metres, and covered in cloud forest, comprising ingigenous plants found no other place. The sound of the sea mixed with the barking of numerous "fur seals", a species of sea lion found no where else.

Arriving in San Juan, I met Pedro, a dive master, returning from a trip with other visitors. He spoke great English and offered me the use of his cabin in his homes garden just above the sea. This was to be my garden shed for the next six nights.

On my birthday I had travelled to one of the world's most off the beaten track destinations. Sitting on the veranda of my hut, sipping Chilean wine, gazing at the twinking southerns stars I was very very happy to be here.

Friday, 16 March 2007

Fish n Chips

Today was a little crazy regarding my hoped for trip to the place you have not heard of, but in fact you have heard of it. The long and the short of it was that first it was on as wanted, then it wasn´t, then maybe the dates would change. One hour ago it was finally confirmed I could travel tomorrow and return Friday next week. I´m am over the moon with excitement. This little trip will be totally different.

I spent the day wandering downtown Santiago. The city looks and feels very European. The people too resemble Europeans with their stylish clothes and calm outlook. The weather today was much hotter than yesterday, so it was on with the cap and suncream. I climbed a small hill, Santa Lucia, in the centre of downtown, just as the noon day gun went off. Wow it was loud, and I jumped out of my skin. Great views over the city from here, although too hazy and smoggy to see the Andes.

As it is my birthday tommorow, and I will be in the back of beyond, I decided to have a slap up lunch. Within the Central Market (Mercado Central), which maily sells fish, are some great seafood restaurants. So at 1pm I headed here to eat under the iron and glass 19th century roof. I ordered what my guidebook said were things that lived in shells but had legs!. I still have no idea of what these were, but there were very tasty. The main course was conger eel. This was served fried with chips. It was a zillion times better than the local chippy. All this was washed down with a few glasses of Chilean Sauvignan Blanc.

After my lunch I did more exploring. It was lovely to get out of the heat in the cool churches. In one there is a statue of Christ that was damaged by an earthquake in the 1600´s, causing Christ´s crown of thorns to slip down to his neck. When they attempted to push it back up, the statue started to bleed. Fearing a massive haemorhage they decided to leave it be.

Tonight I will go downtown for a few beers, there´s an Irish pub and as St Paddy´s is tomorrow it should be fun there.

I will be well out of touch until Friday next week. My destination tomorrow is very very remote, so suspect only satellite phones are usuable there.

Here are a few pics from today.

Thursday, 15 March 2007


The journey has now begun, and I have to say the journey was a long one. I am totally totally tired!!

Greetings from Santiago, captital of Chile.

The last few days have been so busy, and to be honest quite stressful. Over the weekend myself and Sam went down to my brother´s. He has been quite ill, and was hospitalised for a dew days. Over the weekend he experienced yelping pain once more and was taken back to the hospital. Tests finally revealed a kidney stone in his ureter. So this put a dampener on the weekend a little, but Sam and Lauren still managed to have great fun bouncing around on the trampoline, and we were able to have Saturday lunch in a great rural pub that serves homegrown and homecooked organic food. I had steak and ale pie. Even the real ale they serve there is organic.

Once back from Berkshire, it was on with the house cleaning and clearing. Given that we live in a "just in time" society, I can confirm myself and Greg were still mopping, dusting, and polishing, ten minutes AFTER we should have set off for Liverpool airport.

All flights were on time, Areolinas Argentinas were fine and I slept well on their smooth transatlantic flight. The flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago was spectacular, and we flew over the area of Aconagua, the highest peak in the Western hemishere. Here´s my first South American pic.

My first impressions of Santiago are very positive. It looks and feels like Madrid or Barcelona. Sections of manicured and watered grass alongside patches of brown scrub, overlooked by the pervasive warm weather smog. Everything seems very efficient, the airport bus was clean and cheap, the roads in great condition, and the city metro far superior to London´s!

Found my hotel and showered before heading back downtown for lunch and a little exploration.

I headed to the Plaza De Armas, dominated by the cathedral facade. For lunch I had a sort of hamburger, although the meat (pork) was roasted and it came with a vast amount of green beans. My goal for the afternoon was to visit the Museum of Pre Colombian Cultures. The exhibits were beautiful, and very well presented and explained. I learned that all of the civilisations that have emerged and then disappeared in South and Central America, over the past five thousand years, have been very much into decapitation, also into paediatric cranial deformation, but none of them had yet to realise the benefit of wearing underpants.

I have made progress on my hoped for visit to the place "you have not heard off, but you have heard of it". I may be going on Saturday, my birthday. Anwers by e mail or text if you can think of where I am heading.

Brother had his procedure to remove the stone yesterday, however the urologist succeeding in pushing it back up to his kidney. Another procedure soon.

Time for bed, well maybe a beer..........Adios amigos!

Sunday, 4 March 2007

Peal O'Bells

We were so lucky last night with the clear skies for the lunar show. This morning it was back to low dark clouds and slashing rain.

Enjoyed a good old fashioned British Sunday roast dinner at the Peal O'Bells pub in Holt with a couple of close friends, who were unable to party with me on Friday night. This was washed down with a pint of very tasty real ale. Boy will I miss pubs and real beers, maybe I should cancel............Maybe not!

Emboldened by my pint I then went over to Mold to call my first quarter peal on 8 bells (only managed up to 6 previously).

Here's the entry in Campanophile (the ringers online database).

Mold, Flintshire
St Mary the Virgin
Sunday, 4 March 2007 in 44mins
1288 Middlesex Bob Triples

1 Abigail McLeod
2 Gregory Morris
3 Elspeth Parry
4 Maryan Jenner
5 Herbert Heaton
6 John R. Williams
7 Clive Culley (c)
8 Fred Miers

-First as conductor on 8 - 7

Rung by a Mold Sunday service band for Evensong as a farewell to Clive Culley who is going to South America for a Year to learn Yorkshire Surprise.
Roger Howes was away that day but would want to be associated with this QP.

Thanks to all my fellow ringers for staying on their blue lines during this nerve wracking 44 minutes, and for not thinking one of my coughs was a bob. Also thanks to Roger for sharing the calling.