March 31, 2008

Paradise has many forms

In Puerto Williams you can eat king crab every day. It’s as plentiful as canned tuna elsewhere. Colts roam the streets, along with free-range chickens, free-range cows and children. Strangers greet passers-by and the principle bar is a tilted German armor ship docked out in the harbor. Even in its desolation, it is impossibly romantic.

As we toured town, my host started most sentences “The problem is...”

Other residents, who were quick with an invitation to tea or a fireside chat, concurred. The population was cut off. Transit (via plane and weekly ferry) was irregular, which made tourism almost non-existent. Fishermen had employment only half the year. Islanders were just now acquiring a subsidy to cut heavy transport costs to bring food staples from the mainland.

Don’t even ask about the dismal male-female ratio (unless you like guys).

Inconvenient, insular and isolated, Navarin Island has suffered dearly. But it is one of the few places I know that willingly takes strangers into the fold. For me, that factor alone makes a world worth preserving, encapsulating, like a near-extinct species in a botanical garden. But this is arrogant outsider talk. Island residents are restless.

I bid Navarinos patience. Though it may happen in slow-motion, the world is coming to their island. For example, just this year, Puerto Williams got its first pizzeria. The crust is doughy and the cheese wilts in goopy slices, but it’s wildly popular. And as you’d expect, king crab comes on top.

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