On the 50th anniversary of its creation, Chile’s most famous national park - Parque Nacional Torres del Paine - has a new commemorative postage stamp in its honor. Every year, the park gets nearly 150,000 visitors, many of them foreigners who come to gaze at what might be the world’s single most scenic mountain range. According to Montevideo-based MercoPress, it is also getting a substantial budget increase - Chile’s agriculture minister says the park is responsible for seven percent of the southerly Magallanes region’s GDP - and a high-tech fire-monitoring system to help avoid the sorts of blazes that damaged its forests in 1985 and 2005.
Meanwhile, according to the online Santiago Times (subscription only), the future is less certain for Parque Nacional Archipiélago Juan Fernández, some 650 km off the coast of Valparaíso. On its Isla Robinson Crusoe, where the 18th-century Scottish castaway Alexander Selkirk’s solitary four-year exile helped inspire Daniel Defoe’s famous novel, Chile’s Ministerio de Obras Públicas (MOP) is proposing a road to connect the island’s airstrip with the village of San Juan Baustista.
At present, an hour’s sail or a four-hour walk - one of the most scenic and solitary I’ve ever done - is necessary to reach San Juan from the airstrip. It passes from the island’s arid south side - as dry as the Atacama desert - to the temperate rainforest on the north side, crossing the divide (pictured here) at the point where Selkirk watched every day in hopes that a ship would arrive to rescue him. As part of the park, the trail passes through forests rich with endemic plant and bird species, and passes a huge colony of the rare Juan Fernández fur seal at Tierras Blancas. A road would not only eliminate this stunning hiking route, but would do incalculable damage to the flora and fauna of an island that has (and needs) few motor vehicles. There is no real need for a road through this rugged, unique terrain, on a route that would not be significantly faster than the boat.