Robinson Crusoe Island is REAL, Daniel Defoe’s fictional story based on the real life of a Scotsman

Robinson Crusoe Island is REAL
Daniel Defoe’s fictional story is based on the real life adventures of Scotsman Alexander Selkirk

Robinson Crusoe, by Daniel Defoe, is frequently cited as the first novel ever published in English, in 1719. It remains one of the world’s most enduring adventure stories, having spawned books, TV shows, and movies that include The Swiss Family Robinson, Gilligan’s Island, and Castaway. The book is a fictional autobiography of an Englishman who is stranded on a remote tropical island for 28 years. The real life Scottish sailor who inspired the classic tale was born in 1676 as Alexander Selcraig, later to become Alexander Selkirk.

In 1704, Selkirk was part of an English pirate expedition that set out to plunder Spanish vessels in the Pacific Ocean. Before returning to England, Selkirk quarrelled with his captain, insisting that the ship be repaired before they attempted to sail around the treacherous Cape Horn. the captain refused to delay the trip, so Selkirk deserted the ship and wound up marooned on the most western of the Juan Fernandez Islands approximately 400 miles off the coast of Chile.

It turns out that Selkirk’s desertion was wise, because the ship soon sank and most of those on board died. At the time, though, he had no way of knowing this, as he had been stranded on the island for nearly four and a half years before being picked up by a passing ship captained by English privateer Woodes Rogers.

Some claim that Defoe actually met Selkirk in person, heard his tales first hand, and even gained access to his personal papers. Others believe that Defoe simply read Rogers’s published account of Selkirk’s adventures. Either way, the link between the two was cemented in 1966 when the Chilean government changed the name of Selkirk’s Island home to “Robinson Crusoe Island”, located in the archipelago of the Juan Fernandez Islands off the Pacific Coast of Chile.

Today, nearly all of Isla Robinson Crusoe’s 700 or so inhabitants live in or near the village of San Juan Bautista on Cumberland Bay. Most of them depend directly or indirectly on fishing for the so-called Juan Fernández lobster, in reality a crayfish, and on the modest tourist trade. Both of these are seasonal activities, from October to April; the tourist season peaks in January and February.

Though still one of Chile’s most isolated settlements, San Juan Bautista has modern infrastructure, with comfortable guesthouses, a state-of-the-art phone system, satellite TV, and even roads. Visitors to Robinson Crusoe Island can retrace the steps Selkirk took in his daily journeys to a mountaintop lookout. His cave home is located at Puerto Ingles Beach, ten miles from the village. A variety of guided hikes are available, as well as horseback riding, bird watching, surfing, and diving tours.

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