We eventually pull into the harbor of San Juan Bautiste, the
island's only settlement. Locals refer to it as Cumberland Bay. I
step onto the pier and head off to my hosteria, wheeling a bag
along the bumpy dirt road. A huge wooden statue of Alexander
Selkirk stands in the village plaza. He looks tired.
I meet up with Pedro Niada Marín, a scuba instructor and ecotravel
guide who explains a few more details about the island. There are
no hospitals. There are no banks or credit cards. There is
telephone service and, as luck would have it, limited Internet
access, if you sign up in advance at the library (satellite
Internet service was donated to the island by the Bill and Melinda
The island has a school, museum, cemetery, soccer field, tourism
office, a few markets and bars, and two fuel-powered generators
that provide electricity. The harbor is dotted with freshly painted
green and white boats. Most people here make their living by
fishing, except for the mayor, who is also the police chief.
Supplies are brought in by ship from the mainland.
Beyond the Selkirk story, the Juan Fernández archipelago is ripe
with history. Spanish sailor Juan Fernández discovered the group of
islands by accident in 1574 while sailing between Peru and
Valparaíso, a Chilean coastal town, and christened the islands with
their original names. Some years later, the main island served as a
legendary hideout for pirates - although to the disappointment of
many, no treasure has ever been found.
Then during World War I, the German cruiser SMS Dresden was
surrounded by British ships at Cumberland Bay after the Battle of
the Falkland Islands. With no engines operational, and still flying
the ensign flag, the commander ordered it scuttled. The wreck now
sits in 200 feet of water at the harbor bottom. Divers discovered
the ship's bell in February.