By Nelson Groom
A real life Robinson Crusoe turned his castaway fantasy into his dream job – and now makes a living exploring the world’s most far-flung desert islands.
Alvaro Cerezo earns his wages abandoning hundreds holidaymakers on unspoiled corners of the sun-bleached tropics, where the only company is wildlife.
The Spanish tour guide, 36, leaves adventurers with only fishing equipment and machetes to live off the land catching seafood and coconuts for days or weeks at a time.
Alvaro was a teenager when he decided to trade civilization for paradise and has set foot on more than 400 unchartered islands.
In the last seven years his company Docastaway has helped more than 500 people – from backpackers to millionaires – experience the Robinson Crusoe life.
The 36-year-old, from Malaga, said: “On my first desert island I immediately fell in love with the feelings of isolation and remoteness.
“I loved being alone on those last paradises, of being the only human there. Survival wasn’t the thing that attracted me the most. For me, the point was to escape from civilization – I loved feeling like those old castaways in history.
“When I was eight years old. I used to spend my summer holidays with my family in a fishing village near Malaga where there are plenty of secret coves and I would escape to one with my own little floating raft – without my parents’ permission of course.
“There, I experienced for the first time what it felt like being a castaway and when I was 19 I decided I wanted to be a real castaway and set about making my dream come true.
“There is always something magical about being alone on a desert island. Things haven’t changed since five centuries ago so it is like travelling in time.”
Docastaway offers weeklong stays on remote beaches where travelers can build their own beachside huts for shelter.
Alvaro set up his company in 2003 after staying on an island on the remote archipelago of Andaman and Nicobar in India and realising he could never work in an office.
A one week shipwrecked experience costs $1,500 USD per person for couples not including flights, while a solo experience is slightly more.
And while being deprived of comforts like the internet is confronting for some, Alvaro believes that’s where the appeal lies.
He scours the high seas for suitably untrodden islands, which can’t be too rocky, bare or littered with modern wreckage.
Each island is limited to one person or couple at a time to ensure genuine isolation – and desert islands in Indonesia and the Philippines are currently in the hottest demand.
Alvaro said: “Becoming stranded on a desert island for a few days is a good exercise to appreciate the comforts we have in modern life.
“There can also be an amazing connection between you and the island. It becomes your home, not only your shelter.
“When our team pick the clients at the airport, they generally look stressed. But on the last day all is happiness and joy. They enjoy that feeling of satisfaction and of having succeeded.”
Alvaro said castaways come from the world-over, but 95 per cent hail from North America and Europe, and 40 per cent ride solo, 40 per cent are couples and 20 percent journey in small groups.
And for people who can’t give up their luxury lifestyle, he does also offer experiences where castaways are still given access to creature comforts.
Over the years he has played host to many colourful characters, but said none made as strong an impression as Ian Argus Stuart, who was the first human to live on the newest island on earth, in Tonga.
The British millionaire, 67, set sail to the unknown after making a fortune buying and selling luxury yachts and survived on eight different desert islands in two years.
Reikko Hori, a 22-year-old from Japan, was his first female client to go solo and spent 19 days surviving on the island of Amparo in Indonesia without machetes or lighters to help her.
And Alvaro even helped a Swiss banker suffering from lupus become a castaway two times and an English woman who took her dying dad to a desert island when he had just a few weeks left to live.
But he said sometimes castaways do call to be ‘rescued’ – with one becoming trapped on top of a rock when the tide came in and two Canadians who panicked after seeing a python outside their shelter.
Alvaro said: “Ian impressed me the most. He has survived on eight isolated islands, including an untouched island in the middle of the ocean in Tonga.
“But are experiences are not at all expensive – we have catered for everyone from students to millionaires.
So strong is Alvaro’s love for self-imposed exile, he even withholds geographic details from clients to keep them from retracing their steps.
Most people stay for a week, and he recommends people visit for less than 15 days but more than five days.
Alvaro said: “The desert islands that we offer are secret. The names are imaginary. The clients get to know the exact locations just a few weeks before departure.
“Every year there are less and less desert islands left on the planet. We are in the last decades where humanity will see desert islands.
“My dream would be at least to delay that process.
“Some islands we offered when we started we don’t offer any more because the isolation has been reduced by coconut pickers, fishermen and backpackers so we always are exploring new archipelagos.
“Finding a nice desert island is not that difficult – the challenge is making it possible.”
For more information: go to http://www.docastaway.com/