Flight to Isla Juan Fernandez, Chile on Beechcraft Super King Air 200
I departed El Paso on Monday, March 14 at 1:20pm on Delta flight DL 2307, an MD-80. In Atlanta there was a 3-hour layover, I then boarded Delta DL 147 (Boeing 767) for the ~ 10 hour flight to Santiago Chile, arriving at 7:25am. One reason I chose Delta over American is Delta allows seat selection, and I got window seat on the left (sunrise) side of the aircraft. The other is that Delta offers pretty good in-flight meals for coach passengers – American customers get nada. The round-trip Delta ticket cost 00.00.
After landing, I proceeded on foot to the Holiday Inn Santiago airport, a nice hotel that is right in the middle of the airport, next to the terminal. The staff was supremely kind and helpful, and all spoke perfect English. I spent the night de-jetlagging and biting my nails over the weather – for the first time in weeks the normally perfect autumn weather had turned rainy and windy. But, Wednesday morning dawned sunny and calm, and I made my way to Counter 96 buy my 0.00 ticket from Aerolineas ATA for the air-taxi flight to the island, 475 miles due west in the Pacific.
The flight on the twin-turbo King air 200 took about 2.5 hours. With the help of Google Translate and some friends fluent in Spanish, I had been able to get permission from Aerolineas ATA to ride in the co-pilot’s seat!
Although the flight was fun and routine, it was not without some pucker-pactor at the end. The tiny airstrip on the far west end of the island is only 2800′ in length and not for the faint-hearted.
The next video in this series will show my ride from the airstrip to the village in Miguel Depolo’s remarkable 56′ aluminum sailboat Orinogo. That was a real treat, as normally visitors are shuttled to the village in a 23′ open fiberglass fishing boat. Miguel’s crew had sailed his ship from Patagonia to the island, where they planned to make some repairs after gale-force winds had ripped the mainsail. Miguel and his son flew over from Santiago to assist in the repairs and then enjoy a leisurely trip back to Valparaiso.
You may ask, “Why go to this obscure island?” It all started in August 2011. I was sitting on the couch, watching an HD Theater presentation on the Galapagos islands. The video was stunning and the island glowing and gorgeous. I was reminded of my failed dream to sail solo around the world in a sailboat, but the urge to go someplace far, far away still gripped me. I realized I was not getting younger and this year might be my last chance.
So, I started my research. I rejected Galapagos – far too restricted, scripted and expensive. I then took the time to list my criteria: a remote island, at least 30 degrees south latitude (to be able to see the Magellanic clouds), uninhabited or sparely inhabited, free from annoying flying insects, sea cliffs with flattish ground on the top, not heavily vegetated, and with a good chance for clear nights.
As I studied the globe via Google Earth, I found many candidates that initially seemed perfect: the far south-west coast of Tasmania, the Auckland Islands south of New Zealand, Macquarie Island, Campbell Island (130 miles SW of Auckland). But, as I contacted people who has posted Panoramio photos of these places, a frustrating and disturbing pattern emerged. All of these beautiful places were futzy UNESCO “World Heritage” sites, and visitation was strictly, controlled – NO solo visits, ALL access requires accompaniment by a government representative, etc.
I turned my attention to Tazmania, and for several weeks I thought it would be the one. People were friendly, and there was a wealth of information about the southwest coast. Many bushwhacking forums, access was permitted, not tightly controlled. But, I discovered that the beautiful blue-sky photos on Panoramio were flukes – the island is lushly vegetated for a reason: it rains nearly constantly. I found some weather satellite websites that allowed me to look at 100-day sequences of images. Huge, comma-shaped storms sweep north and east from the Southern Ocean, the upper arms of these storms sweep across Tasmania about every other day. Also, the “mozzies” are thick on the track, as is the mud and the jungle. To top it off, nearly everyone reported ticks sucking their blood on every trip – although the ticks were (mostly) not the “paralysis” type. Yikes! So, it was back to Google Earth.
I had almost given up in despair, thinking I was born 200 years too late, when I spotted the tiniest dot of yellow off the coast of Chile. Zooming in, I saw the name “Isla Robinson Crusoe”, a tiny airstrip, and dozens of Panoramio photo dots. I knew I had found it!
Chile encourages Isla tourism, solo hiking was perfectly OK, and the little village caters to adventure tourists.
In the 1980’s Chile renamed the island from Isla Juan Fernandez to Isla Robinson Crusoe in an effort to encourage tourism, but most Chileans still use the original name.