Friday, 13 December 2013

Castaways 14


                        “The shattered water made a misty din.
                          Great waves looked over others coming in,
                          And thought of doing something to the shore
                          That water never did to land before.”
                                               Robert Frost, Once By The Pacific

On our last day on Isla Robinson Crusoe, Robyn and I met a plant biologist named Luis, in his conservancy greenhouse. He spoke eloquently about how, out of over two hundred native species of vascular plants, found nowhere else in the world, over seventy per cent were on the endangered list. A ray of sunlight landed on an enchanting small flower, stretching strange white petals, out of a small black pot.
“Es el ultimo.” He said. The last one.
At the appointed time, we walked back past the town hall, beside the Emergencia rusted gong, suspended between its two tall metal poles, and timed an entry jump back into the open lobster boat that would take us back around the island to our return flight. As we bobbed along against the waves, one of the crew produced two large local crayfish, and two boxes for the return flight. These men had little, and we were humbled by their gift. Our old pilot greeted us as warmly, and told us how fortunate we were to have left with such a gesture. “Vamos.” He said, motioning for us to find seats, and taking his own. The same erupting cloud of blue smoke from the cowling filed the flight plan. “Tres horas. Seiscientos kilómetros. Tal vez.” Three hours. Six hundred kilometers. Maybe. The same maraschino cherries blood-stained the white bread of the ham and cheese that he handed over his shoulder on our rescue.
Our landing at Los Cerillos felt like Selkirk’s return to Largo. Robyn and I arrived rich with stories and sea plunder, and decided to head for the coastal garden town of Viña del Mar, the same afternoon. We boarded the subway to begin our journey, precariously balancing the large crates in our laps. An elderly woman took the seat beside us, on the outside of our row. The boxes jumped violently on our knees, as we left the station. She looked at us with a mixture of fear and suspicion.
“Langostas.” I said. And the tension in her face relaxed.
An hour and a bit later, we were climbing the stairs to the lobby of a seaside hotel. The concierge greeted us, and I asked him to fetch me the chef. A sturdy white stained uniform emerged from the kitchen a few minutes later. I opened a crack in one the containers to daylight, and asked him if he knew how to cook these crustáceos.
“Ciertamente, Señor.” He said, with obvious admiration for our prizes. I told him we’d be down in an hour.
Robyn and I checked into our room and showered off the Southern Sea. Refreshed, we descended to the floor-to-ceiling glass harbor vista, in the busy restaurant. We were seated at a rare window table and, as few minutes later, a bottle of sauvignon blanc, and two giant red crayfish arrived with a flourish. The clamor of all conversations around us stopped dead. Diners from other tables began pointing in our direction. One group of Santiago businessmen next to us became insistent, and asked to see the chef. He arrived in the dining room, radiating a mischievous grin, as he approached the pinstriped executives. They demanded to know why he was refusing to provide them with the same delicacies that these Gringos were enjoying.
“Son los últimos. Náufragos.” He said, shrugging his shoulders. They’re the last ones. Castaways.
On February 27, 2010, a twelve year-old girl, named Martina Maturana, finally rang the rusted gong, suspended between its two tall metal poles, on Robinson Crusoe Island. A ten foot high tsunami came along right behind it, destroying most of San Juan Bautista, killing eight of her neighbors outright, and causing eleven other to disappear. She had saved the rest with her quick actions, and compassion.

“To-day we love what to-morrow we hate; to-day we seek what to-morrow
 we shun; to-day we desire what to-morrow we fear.”
                                                                       Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

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