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The Robinson Crusoe Experience: What It’s Like Working From One of World’s Remotest Islands

About 700 km off the coast of Chile, here's what it's like to #workforhumankind and volunteer to protect endangered species on one of the world's remotest islands.

The Robinson Crusoe Experience: What It’s Like Working From One of World’s Remotest Islands

This article has been sponsored by Lenovo India.

Almost a decade before #WorkFromHome became a necessity and trend, I quit my full-time corporate job in Singapore to lead a digitally-powered life that would allow me to work from anywhere in the world. I lived out of two bags for nearly seven years, worked on the go as a travel writer, slowed down to stay with local communities from Guatemala to Georgia, and slowly grasped the pressing challenges of climate change the world over. Then 2020 came around, and the pandemic turned my life, like everyone else’s, upside down.

After two years of being grounded, however, life feels like it’s come full circle, as I set out to #workforhumankind, on one of the world’s remotest islands: Isla Robinson Crusoe. About 700 km off the coast of Chile in South America, I’ll continue my storytelling and consulting projects from the island. Spending up to 20 hours a week supporting Island Conservation’s work, powered by Lenovo’s smart technology, on protecting endangered species on the island, I will be engaging with the island community on building a sustainable tourism destination.

The Robinson Crusoe Experience: What It’s Like Working From One of World’s Remotest Island

I vividly remember the evening I received news that I’d been shortlisted for Lenovo’s ambitious Work for Humankind project. At my tropical perch in Goa, I spun an old-fashioned globe to the other side of the world, and curiously ran my finger through South America, looking for my destination. There it was, a few dots in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, named the Juan Fernandez Archipelago after the Spanish sailor who first arrived there in 1574. He named the second biggest island of the archipelago Mas a Tierra – Spanish for ‘closer to earth’, which is believed to have inspired Daniel Defoe’s fictional novel Robinson Crusoe, and was indeed renamed Robinson Crusoe Island.

A few weeks later, I caught my first glimpse of those dots from the scratched window of a 6-seater plane built in the 1970s – the only way to cover the 700 odd kilometres from mainland Chile. We took off from a navy strip in Santiago’s wilderness and flew low over the Pacific Ocean. I felt my heart pounding amid the turbulence and skipping a beat as we descended past the desolate, volcanic mountains into a landing strip plucked out of the moon. At the boat jetty next to the airport, we were greeted by troupes of sea lions frolicking in the Pacific waters – a befitting introduction to an island believed to host more biodiversity than the famous Galapagos.

The Robinson Crusoe Experience: What It’s Like Working From One of World’s Remotest Island

Navigating the world on an Indian passport has always been challenging – but in the new “normal,” we must adapt to even bigger challenges.

The island is home to only 1,000 people (or 800 by some estimates and 1,300 by others). With nearly the entire population vaccinated and boosted, the island authorities created some of the strictest quarantine restrictions for our Work for Humankind squad – five nights of quarantine in mainland Chile, followed by four nights of quarantine on the island.

The Robinson Crusoe Experience: What It’s Like Working From One of World’s Remotest Island

Typing this from my wooden studio, watching the play of light on the desolate volcanic ridge before me, I’m slowly biding my time in island quarantine. Anytime now, my friendly host Guillermo – whose grandparents were the first to host travellers on the island several decades ago – will chime my name and pass me my dinner: vegan. Whipped up by a fine chef on the island and bursting with flavours, the meal constantly tempts me to break my quarantine shackles and find where those wild berries and mushrooms grow. The sun and clouds will continue their flirtations well into the night (sunsets are typically 8:30 pm), islanders will holler hola (hello) and como estas (how are you)? on their way home, and just before I call it a night, I’ll step onto my terrace to hear the gentle waters of the Pacific softly crashing on the shores. A bright moon will rise into the infinite sky above, caressed by the clouds drifting past, leaving me to wonder where I really am. Closer to earth?

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