Robinson Crusoe Island – and the Scottish lure of the Bag Monster

Mar 29 2011

robinson crusoe

502 miles and 4 days from Valdivia, Chile, we arrive on Robinson Crusoe Island, a volcanic pinnacle rising over 500 meters above the sea, and only 7 miles long from its furthest points.  6:00am the Sea Dragon idles into the protected harbor, “It’s looks larger than I imagined,” Clive says, as we all peer at the illuminated village in the deepest pocket of the bay.  We imagine there might be a trail to the top of the crest, a jagged skyline, illuminated by the first glow of the rising sun. “Let’s go there,” I say. We all agree. It’s our last chance for land till Easter Island.

The first thing recognizable is the open space and evacuated concrete slabs that define the first 20 meters elevation into town.  In February 2010 an earthquate rocked the island, followed by a tsunami that obliterated the nearsore neighborhood, killing 18 of the less than 500 residents that live here. Leaping onto the dock, we enjoy terra firma and the sweet smell of morning mist lifting from the forest above and rushing offshore over our heads.  The Bag Monster sets out first.

Andy Keller, founder of Chico Bag, and inventer of the Bag Monster, sports attire consisting of 500 single-use throwaway plastic bags.  He’s more akin to a walking landfill, now strutting his way through a gauntlet of chuckling Chilean fishermen and dock workers. I’ve known about the Bag Monster for years, having watched Andy and many comrades use this spectacle to bring attention to the wasteful consumption and loss of plastic to the environment.  I now see the power of the intended humor.  He’s the pied piper of plastic, entertaining and explaining this life’s mission to save the planet from plastic bags, one island at a time.

We hike up the hill into the eucalyptus forest, with a trail of dogs in our wake.  Like Santiago and Valdivia, the Chilean perception of street dogs is that they belong to the neighborhood, everyone collectively owns and takes care of them.  They are everywhere.  Andy stands too long and one pees on his Bag Monster outfit.  At the base of the trail only two dogs follow.  We take the switchback trail to the edge of mid-island ridge.  We get to the top and peer over the sheer cliff and howling wind on the other side.  Charlie breaks out his bagpipes.

Charlie Bradford, our Scotish sailor, has brought his bagpipes to sea.  Now, atop the highest point on the planet for 500 miles in any direction, he whines, wails and whistles to the wind.  He wants to be, and likely is, the only person to play bagpipes here.  It’s our first time hearing him play.  We are all in awe.  The Sea Dragon looks small in the bay below him.  In a few hours we will all be at sea again, but for now we are lured by this amusing and surreal moment, lured to this tiny island for the simple reason that it is here, and lured to the sea because of the true monster we seek.

This is the 5th of the 5 subtropical gyres yet to be explored.  In less than a week we will have the first scientific samples of the sea surface extracted from this region with the intention to look for plastic pollution.  Soon, we are aboard the Sea Dragon preparing dinner in the calm of the bay, anticipating the westerly journey into theSouth Pacific Gyre.