“Desert Island” is to be a desert island no longer. The President of Chile and a party of officials have recently explored it and the Chilean government expects to colonize it. During my stay in Valparaiso I learned much of the condition of the island from members of the President’s party, and it is from photographs made by them that the illustrations of this chapter are taken.
The island is, as is known, that of Juan Fernandez, lying about 600 miles west of Valparaiso. It is now about 200 years since Alexander Selkirk, the sailing-master of an English vessel of ninety tons, was placed upon it. Selkirk had fallen out with the captain and headed a mutiny, the result of which was that he had the choice of being hanged at the yardarm or left on the is-land of Juan Fernandez. He accepted the latter alternative and with a small supply of provisions was landed in what is now called Cumberland Bay, This was in September, 1703. He lived there four years and four months, when an English privateer, attracted by his watch-fires, called at the island and conveyed him to England.
During his stay, Selkirk had many of the adventures described in Defoe’s tale of « Robinson Crusoe,” although Defoe, having a better knowledge of the islands north of Brazil, in the Carib-bean sea, has made much of his story correspond to them in its descriptions of scenery, products, and climate. The outline of Defoe’s story was, however, suggested by Selkirk’s adventures, and one can almost trace poor Crusoe’s wanderings in his life on Juan Fernandez. In the first place, the terrors which assailed Selkirk, when he found himself alone on the island, were the same as those of Crusoe. He wished for a time that he had chosen to be hanged rather than have come ashore. Later on he found an Indian who had been lost in the woods, having landed with a party which Selkirk did not see. This Indian he adopted, and his story concerning him was the foundation of Robinson Crusoe’s man Friday. You remember the nursery rhyme which depicts how Robinson Crusoe was dressed:
“Poor old Robinson Crusoe! Poor old Robinson Crusoe ! He made him a coat of an old nanny goat! I wonder how he could do so.”
When Selkirk was found, according to the narrative of Captain Rodgers, who took him to England, “he was clad in goat-skins and was running about as though he were demented.” He had built a fire on a rock, now known as ” Robinson Crusoe’s Look-out,» and had in this way attracted the ship’s attention. This lookout is on an immense hill, which rises almost perpendicularly from the shore and the top of which can be seen miles off at sea.
When Selkirk arrived in London he became the talk of the town. He was discussed at the clubs and coffee-houses, and Sir Richard Steele wrote a paper describing his adventures. In this he told how Selkirk, on first landing in England, seemed to have become eccentric and odd through his solitude, but how, later on, this eccentricity wore off. Selkirk himself published a small pamphlet of twelve pages describing his wanderings.
The bulk of ” Robinson Crusoe,” however, came from the brain of Daniel Defoe. It was his genius that made it the greatest story of adventure the world has ever known. It was written in London and was first published 18o years ago. A copy of the first unabridged and original edition is to be seen in a glass-case in the library of the British Museum. Later editions have been considerably altered, and it is said there are few books which have been so mutilated by the printers. It is now to be read in almost every known language, having been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Greek, and Arabic. When I was in China, a few years ago, I was told that in a Chinese edition it was exciting the minds of the youthful Celestials.
The Island of Juan Fernandez is a great mass of rock, twelve miles long by seven miles wide, which rises in places almost abruptly from the sea. It is made up of mountains, valleys, and ravines. Its northern half is covered with dense vegetation, but on the south it is as bare and bleak as the Peruvian desert. The best landing-place is at Cumberland Bay, where there is a fishing settlement which includes most of the people on the island, numbering all told not more than fifteen. Back of the settlement are some straw huts which were once occupied by agriculturists and stock-raisers. The huts are made of cane and wattled straw. The farming and stock-raising did not pay, and to-day the only animals on the island are wild goats and mules.
The new colony is to be established on the northern part of Juan Fernandez, where the soil is rich. The hills are covered with wild oats, and every open spot has a covering of good grass. There are fruit trees, the product of some planted by Selkirk 200 years ago; there are also wild fruits, and grapes as delicious as those which Robinson Crusoe dried for raisins. Pears, peaches, and quinces are to be found, growing wild, and vegetables escaped from cultivation.
There are many caves on Juan Fernandez, in some of which, it is said, Alexander Selkirk lived. One is in a ridge of volcanic rock. It is as large as the average parlour, with a roof fifteen feet above the floor. The entrance to it is sixteen feet in height, the cave extending inward about thirty feet. In the walls are little holes or pockets such as Robinson Crusoe describes in his cave home, and here and there are rusty nails, hammered into the rock, it is stated, by buccaneers who used the cave when the island was one of their favourite resorts. Other caves are covered with ferns, which grow so luxuriantly that it is easy to imagine that Selkirk planted the hedges there to hide his home from view.
There is a monument to Selkirk on Juan Fernandez. It is a marble tablet set in the rocks at Robinson Crusoe’s Lookout by some English naval officers in 1868. It bears the following inscription :
IN MEMORY OF ALEXANDER SELKIRK, MARINER,
A native of Largo, in the County of Fife, Scotland, who lived on this island, in complete solitude, four years and four months.
He was landed from the “Cinque Ports” galley, 96 tons, 18 guns. A. D. 1704, and was taken off in the “Duke,” privateer, 12th February, 1709.
He died Lieutenant of H. M. S. “Weymouth,” A. D. 1723, aged 47 years.
This tablet is erected near Selkirk’s Lookout by Commodore Powell and the officers of H. M. S. “Topaz,” A. D. 1868.
The uninhabited Galapagos Islands, which I passed in coming down the coast of Ecuador, have more recently had an Alexander Selkirk. This man, who was deserted by his companions, was found years afterwards quite naked and carrying a pig on his back. He had lived upon fruits and roots, and had caught wild cattle in traps and killed them with a spear, formed of a pocket knife tied to a stick. His hut was made of hides. The cattle came from some which had been left there years ago when the Galapagos Islands were used as a penal colony by Ecuador.
The most interesting of the islands of the southeastern Pacific are the guano islands. In proportion to their size, they are, perhaps, the richest islands on earth, for they have already added more than one billion dollars to the world’s wealth. Think of realizing a billion dollars out of a dung-hill ! That is what Peru has done in the case of her guano islands. Her creditors are getting something out of them to-day, although not so much as Peru got in the past.
The guano islands are scattered all along the South Pacific coast. I first met them north of Lima, near Salavary. When at Pacasmayo I saw a guano ship from the Lobos islands, and off the Bay of Pisco, Peru, I saw the famous Chincha Islands, which have produced more than 12,000,000 tons of this bird manure, and brought into the Peruvian treasury millions upon millions of dollars. The shipping of guano is going on from the islands to-day, although the deposits are so nearly exhausted that the present annual exports probably do not exceed 30,000 tons.
The guano islands are masses of volcanic rock which rise up out of the ocean in a region where it never rains. The result is they have not a blade of grass or any green thing upon them. They are merely islands of dry rock, which for some reason the pelicans, sea gulls, and other birds which feed by the millions along the shores of the South Pacific ocean have chosen as their nightly roosting-places. Night after night for ages the birds have come to rest upon them, disregarding other islands near by, which to all appearances are quite as desirable. The rocks of the islands are covered with a gray deposit. This is the guano, which is chiefly the manure of birds, although it has mixed with it other things, such as seals, which when alive climbed upon the rocks to die. Thousands of seal-skins have been found in the guano, 500 tons of such skins were, I was told, recently excavated from one spot.
The guano-making birds are of many kinds, the most import-ant being the pelican. The” latter fly a-bout the islands in such flocks that they sometimes darken the face of the ocean. They feed upon fish, and a flock of pelicans is a sign that there is a school of fish near by. They scoop up the fish with their bills into the pouches under their necks. They are the gluttons of the sea, and at times so gorge themselves that they cannot rise from the water, but must rest there until enough of their food has been digested to lighten their weight. I saw millions of pelicans on the Lobos islands. They are sociable birds and hunt in flocks, showing no sign of fear of human beings, and one can go up on the islands and approach them without disturbing them.
The guano of the Lobos islands is found in pockets covered with layers of sand, which vary in thickness from two to fifteen feet. The sand is shovelled off and the guano taken out. As it is dug into, so strong a smell of ammonia arises that the men wear iron masks over their faces to keep the ammonia dust out of their mouths, noses, and lungs. The guano looks like fine sand, which is first loaded on trucks and carried on a tramway to the shore, where it is, transferred to the ships, to be taken to Europe or America. After a few days at sea the odour disappears. The ammonia of the upper crust passes off, and the filthiness of the cargo is not detected until one goes into the hold. Guano is not worth so much now as it was years ago. Other fertilizers have taken its place, and its price is less than half what it once was.
There have been times when it brought $100 a ton. Today it can be bought, I am told, for $30 to $40 a ton.
The first guano shipment to Europe was made more than fifty years ago. At that time twenty barrels of it were taken to Liverpool and used on a farm near the city. The result was that orders were sent back for more, and soon hundreds of ships were engaged in carrying guano to Europe. Often 200 vessels could be counted at the different islands at one time. Chinese coolies were imported to get the guano out. Usually they were horribly treated, and to-day it is not uncommon to find dead Chinamen mixed with the new deposits. For a long time the guano islands provided the Peruvian government with a revenue of $15,000,000 a year. Now they are practically exhausted, and Peru, having lost its income from the nitrate fields as well, has fallen from wealth to poverty.
I am certain that there are more Corinthian columns in Santiago today than in Athens.
Some of the residences are like Italian palaces, and homes, which have cost $100,000 and upwards, are many. I doubt if there is a capital of its size in the world that spends so much money; one has only to look at the well-dressed people on the streets, and at the fine turnouts which pass our tram as we ride through the Alameda, to see that Santiago is a very rich city. The business streets have as fine stores as have any of the European capitals. The costliest of diamonds sparkle in the jewellers’ windows and the finest of all kinds of goods are in demand. The shop windows are tastefully dressed, especially in the many great arcades, roofed with glass, which are cut through a number of the larger business blocks from one side to the other.
The Plaza des Armes, where the car stops, is the ganglionic centre of the Chilean capital. About it are the chief business streets; on one corner is the cathedral, on another the post-office, and all around are portales or corridors filled with booths and walled at the back with fine shops. The plaza itself is a beautiful little park containing several fountains, palm trees, and many tropical plants and flowers. It is surrounded by a hexagonal walk or promenade sixty feet wide made of tiles which are as beautifully laid as is the tiled floor of a Washington vestibule.
Let us enter the portales and watch the people buying and selling. We are in one of the oldest sections of Santiago, a section which was in existence more than two centuries before the city of Washington had its birth. The portales have stores like those of the old cities of Spain; they are different from the modern shops on the other side of the Plaza; they are merely caves in the walls, the floors being covered with piles of goods so arranged that it is easy for the purchasers to handle them. Some of the merchants stack up their best cloths in the doorways and upon the pavement outside. Scores of women are moving through the portales. Many are shopping, and we notice that the desire for a good bargain is quite as keen as at home. Most of the women wear black gowns and black mantas. The younger girls drape their mantas coquettishly around their heads so that they form a sort of a bonnet, showing only the face. They look quaintly pretty and are noted for their beauty. They are tall, slender, and well-formed. They are not as dark as the girls of Peru, and they are more stylish and appear to have more intelligence than the girls farther north.
But let us look at the stores. We see that some have their goods marked and that among the lower-priced figures on pieces of cloth are $1, $2, and $3 per yard. Across the way is a store where silk hats are labelled $25 a piece, and next door ladies’ shoes are selling for $10 and $15 a pair. These prices however are in Chilean money, which is worth just about one-third as much as ours, so that the real cost of the goods is about the same as in the United States. All imported articles are high : for instance, one of the Santiago ladies told me that she pays $30 a pair for American shoes: she added that her imported bonnets cost her $50 a piece. At my hotel I have a fairly good room for $8 per day, the charge including two meals. It is the same in the restaurants and, indeed, everywhere. About the only things that are especially cheap are the street-car fares and cab rides. The cab. fares are only seven cents of our money a trip, and the hour rate is usually not more than thirty-five cents.
I wish I could take the reader into some of the more pretentious houses of Santiago and show him how the rich Chilenos live. Every one here is now talking of hard times, and I am told that many of the supposedly wealthy people are overloaded with mortgages. However that may be, they spend enormous sums of money and live like princes. I have been in Santiago houses which have upwards of fifty rooms, and which are furnished as expensively as some of the palaces of Europe. Many of them have their billiard rooms and ball rooms. They contain fine paintings, statues, and elegant furnishings. The curtains in one palace on the Alameda cost $200,000; another house is a reproduction of the Alhambra in Spain, and a third, situated in a garden of five acres, has a series of beautiful halls, ending in a Moorish bath-room, with a marble pool in the centre of the floor. These great houses are commonly of one or two stories, the rooms running around patios or gardens. They have ceilings frequently fifteen or sixteen feet high, and are furnished more with regard to striking effect than to comfort. Much of the furniture is plated with gold leaf, and the general style of the hangings is French.
There are no fireplaces in the Chilean houses. There are no stoves or chimneys with which they could be connected if so desired. Though Santiago has a temperate climate, it is sometimes as cold as Atlanta, Georgia, in winter, and I am writing in my room at the hotel with my feet in a fur bag and a poncho over my shoulders. Chilean gentlemen keep on their overcoats and the ladies their furs in the parlours, and it is not an uncommon thing for men to wear their overcoats above their dress suits when at dinner.
The meals of a Chilean family of the wealthy classes are different from ours. No one comes down stairs for his first breakfast; it is served in the bed room, and usually eaten in bed. It is merely coffee and rolls, without butter or jam. The meal is called “desayuno.” I pay forty cents a day extra for this meal at my hotel. Breakfast, or « almuerzo,” is partaken at eleven or twelve o’clock. It consists of a soup, some fish and meat, with perhaps a pancake at the close. As a rule, wine is taken at breakfast, with a small cup of coffee after it. At seven or eight in the evening comes dinner. This is much like the breakfast, only more elaborate. There are always wines on the table, and there are many courses served separately. There are soup, fish, entrées, roasts, game, and salads, ending with a dessert. I have never dined more generously than in Chile, and have never visited a country where the hotels were so uniformly good.
But to return to the butterflies of Chile, for the lives of many of the rich people here are almost as idle as that of the butterfly, they rise at about eight o’clock or later. From the time they get up until breakfast the hours are spent in walking or driving and to some extent in attending to business. After breakfast they rest and between three and six p. M. they are ready to receive or make calls. At six o’clock every person of note who owns a carriage goes to the Cousino Park. All are dressed in their best, the men wearing silk hats, frock coats, and well-cut suits, and the women having on Paris-made gowns and bonnets. In the park they parade their carriages up and down the principal drives and stare at one another. After about thirty minutes, by a sort of common consent, they all make for the Alameda, where they form a procession of carriages three or four abreast and drive up and down for a distance of about four blocks, still staring at one another. The driving is superintended by mounted policemen and the scene is imposing, although rather stilted and fantastic to the eyes of a stranger. The vehicles are of all kinds. There are drags, victorias, landaus, and four-in-hands; some are driven by their owners and some by coachmen in gorgeous liveries. The parade continues for perhaps half an hour, during which time no one speaks to another, but merely bows to his friends. After the parade all go home to dinner, some one carriage breaking the line and the others following suit on the trot.
After dinner the nabobs of Santiago go to the opera. The municipal theatre here is one of the largest opera houses on the Continent. It is subsidized by government, and has an annual season of Italian opera, the companies being brought from Italy. The season lasts for eighty nights and during its progress nearly every person of note has his box, which costs him a sum equal to about $400 of our money. Each box will hold six people. Usually all the boxes are taken, although two of the galleries of the large hall are divided up into boxes.
At the Santiago opera both sexes always appear in full dress, the ladies usually being resplendent with diamonds. The people pay but little attention to the music, devoting most of their time to looking at one another. In order that they may do this the bet-ter the lights are never turned down. Ladies take their hats off when they enter the boxes and the men bare their heads during the acting, but as soon as the curtain goes down every man puts on his hat. Between the acts both ladies and gentlemen go out to promenade in the lobbies, where there are restaurants at which the ladies can have ices and the gentlemen, if they wish, can have other kinds of refreshments. All varieties of liquors are sold, and one can have anything from a bottle of champagne to a special variety of cocktail, which was introduced into Chile by a former United States secretary of legation. It is, indeed, the one thing American that now holds and will always hold its own in Chile. During the intermissions visiting goes on among friends in the boxes, and the opera is thus more a social function than a musical one.
The Chilenos do not have as intimate a social intercourse as we have. Women are by no means so forward, and I have yet to hear of women’s clubs in Chile. The people are fond of dancing and the President often closes one of his large receptions with dancing. At such times the display of diamonds is magnificent. Quarts of precious stones are dragged out of the vaults, and their brilliance vies with that of the electric lights. At a recent reception one lady wore eight diamond stars and another a large bouquet of diamonds. There were chokers of diamonds, buckles of diamonds, and in fact almost every variety of diamond ornament that one can imagine. No one wore such common things as roses, although one or two ladies had bouquets of orchids so rare that in New York they would have cost as much as the jewels.
Among the social features of life in Santiago are the horse races, which are held regularly every Sunday afternoon during the season under the auspices of the Club Hipico. This is the event of the week. The men go dressed in tall hats, black frock coats, light pantaloons, and white kid gloves. The women put on their handsomest street gowns and the “four hundred” of the upper crust call upon one another between the heats. All bet more or less, and at times the scene is an exciting one.