Shelter-in-place orders are confining people to home, but Jamis MacNiven’s tales of his exotic travels had listeners’ minds drifting off to faraway lands.
The owner of Buck’s of Woodside restaurant relayed his colorful adventures on remote Pacific islands during the Rotary Club of Los Altos’ virtual meeting May 7.
Speaking with a parrot on his shoulder, MacNiven described the history of Clipperton Island, a small, inhospitable coral atoll 600 miles southwest of Mexico. It has long been a French possession and was populated briefly by approximately 100 people harvesting valuable bird guano for fertilizer.
He also described visiting Más a Tierra (now Robinson Crusoe Island), a tropical paradise off the coast of Chile where British pirates resupplied their ships with fresh water. In 1704, Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, was marooned four and a half years on the island, surviving on lobster, goat, fruit and eggs. His memoir of his time as a castaway inspired Daniel Defoe’s novel “Robinson Crusoe.”
Traveling much farther north, MacNiven spotlighted Gravina Island, located off the coast of Ketchikan, Alaska. In the mid-2000s, a politician’s family planned to develop the land they owned on the island and link it to Ketchikan, securing congressional approval for a $395 million bridge, longer than the Golden Gate Bridge and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge. It became known as the “Bridge to Nowhere” after public outcry over the expense canceled federal funding.
Across the Pacific to Australia, MacNiven described Ball’s Pyramid, the remnant of an ancient volcano. Uninhabited, the pyramid has been climbed only three times and is sometimes called the most inhospitable island on earth.
Closer to home, MacNiven included Terminal Island in his talk, an artificial island in Los Angeles Harbor. Formerly called Rattlesnake Island and Dead Man’s Island, Terminal Island is home to a federal prison where gangster Al Capone was locked up for tax evasion. Other notable inmates included Charles Manson. According to MacNiven, Howard Hughes launched his Spruce Goose aircraft from Terminal Island and Elon Musk’s SpaceX rockets are now constructed there.
For more of MacNiven’s virtual adventure stories, visit pacificvoyages.net and click “subscriber.”
Marlene Cowan is a member of the Rotary Club of Los Altos. For more information, visit losaltosrotary.org.