Easter Island - April 10-13
Apr 13, 2010
|April 10, 2010
As the alarm went off at 5am, our last two nights of drinking started to catch up with us both. Thankfully we were both quick out of bed without hitting the snooze button and our taxi was dot on time to collect us. Once at the airport we were directed to the international check-in desks despite taking a domestic flight. Once we got there we couldn’t drop our bags off yet (I’d already checked in online) because they were dealing with another flight. Most airlines and airports can deal with checking in more than one flight at once but it seems LAN in Santiago like to be different! We found some seats and sat around for half an hour or so until we could get rid of our bags and go through security. As we had checked in at the international desks we assumed that we were to go to the international departure gates. After queuing for about 20 minutes we reached the immigration desk and were told we were in the wrong area. Slightly annoyed we walked back through and headed for the opposite end of the airport to go through security. Of course, we should’ve guessed we didn’t really need to clear immigration as we weren’t actually leaving Chile! Anyway, we finally got through and found our gate and just sat and waited. As we started to board we noticed the three nerdiest blokes we’ve seen on the whole trip. It is hard to describe such people but an absence of pictures leaves me little option. The most normal looking one was just your regular geek – bad haircut, glasses, overly conservative clothes and a look like he loved chess. The second was worse – he had the trousers pulled up to his chest look combined with a cross between a man-bag and a “fanny-pack” that was casually slung over his shoulder in an attempted über-cool manner despite the fact we could tell he obviously loved physics. But the crème de la crème was the third chap. We’d actually seen him first and he was the epitome of everything that is wrong with society today. The top half looked normal but it was from the waist down where it went really wrong. His three-quarter length trousers were met halfway up his shin by a pair of ghastly grey socks which were met at the bottom by a pair of polished black slip-ons. Now, I’m no fashion guru by any stretch but I do wonder what some people think when they look at themselves in the mirror each morning. Frankly, I doubt these chaps had ever seen a mirror. Elizabeth couldn’t stop laughing, blaming her hysterics and snorting laughter on tiredness and a hangover! After that we couldn’t get the Weird Al Yankovic song “White and Nerdy” out of our heads! Sorry, cruel, callous baiting of geeks complete!
Leaving that behind, we boarded ourselves and got comfy. We both watched “The Blind Side”, a film for which Sandra Bullock won an Oscar. It is about current NFL player Michael Oher and his life growing up. It was a really sad story with a great, happy ending and was really well made. I wouldn’t say it was ‘Best Actress’ material but it was good nonetheless. The flight wasn’t all great though as a couple of children near the front decided to use the aisles as their playground, their parents too wrapped up in their own lives to give a shit. After the third or fourth time they’d hit Elizabeth (including one time when they were actually in the space where her legs were supposed to be!), she complained to the stewardess. She came and asked the parents to make the children sit down but within 5 minutes they were up and running around again. They headed the other way this time and the stewardesses didn’t take kindly to children running wild in first class! It got worse when we got to collect our luggage as this little brat was running and jumping along the baggage belt and jumping on other people’s stuff. Despite his mother being right behind him and his father being next to him not a single word was uttered to make him cease what he was doing and behave. Eventually his grandmother came over and looked like she might do something but all she did was encourage him to run along the belt towards her open arms! I wanted to give him a clip around the ear and Elizabeth and I were both secretly hoping he’d have a nasty fall and get his comeuppance.
Outside the airport, previously unbeknown to us was a hotel pickup. We picked up a tourist map inside from the information desk and the lady there told us to expect someone from the Kaimana Inn to collect us. A gentleman was waiting outside with flower leis for both of us and welcomed us to the island. He drove us into Hanga Roa and showed us some of the town and then we got our first sighting of the moai (Easter Island statues) near to the city on a site called Ahu Vai Uri. After getting to our room he told us to meet in the restaurant for a welcome drink and some information. I expected the hard sell on some tours around the island but it was actually just a fresh guava iced drink and some pointers for where to go using the map we had picked up. It is so nice to not be hassled to pay for a tour!
After that we walked through town to have a better look around and to buy some lunch provisions for next two days. With tomorrow being Sunday there is not going to be much open so we thought at the very least we thought we’d best get drinks and food for lunches.
We decided to have a short nap in the afternoon prior to heading out for dinner. We stopped by a couple of scooter hire places first of all and rented a scooter for a couple of days. We had found out that organised tours of the island were going to be between $60 and $100 each for either a half or full day so we decided that we’d stick to our original plan of self-drive! We managed to hire a scooter for $60 for two days which isn’t that cheap but by comparison to the tours, it’s a bargain!
For dinner we went to Ra’a Café. We had noticed it at lunchtime and it was quite busy so we reckoned it was probably pretty decent. When we arrived for our early dinner the place was empty but we trusted the lunchtime crowd! I had fish lasagna and Elizabeth had fettuccini Bolognese. Whilst these weren’t exactly Chilean specialties I at least got to have some lovely fish.
The reason for our early dinner was because we wanted to try and watch the sunset over Ahu Vai Uri. We walked down to the waterfront and saw the single standing moai there at a site called Ahu Tautira. Ahu basically means the platform on which the moai stand and there are loads of these scattered around the island. During much of the 19th century most of the moai were knocked over, either deliberately during warfare or through natural disasters. Some sites have been restored and the moai are now standing back on their ahu. By the time the evening had arrived, the clouds had also arrived and so when we got to the Ahu Vai Uri site we couldn’t even make out where the sun was supposed to be! We still managed to get some nice pictures of the five standing moai before the darkness set in and we had to find our way across the dark field which was littered with horse manure and large rocks! We had gained a friend as we walked, too. Like much of Santiago, the island here has a lot of stray dogs and an Alsatian had decided to follow us almost all the way from town to the moais!
We have also seen loads of horses here and many of them seem to be wild. There were a load of them running around town and on the soccer field but most spooky were a load in the cemetery after dark. We could only make out the silhouettes of them from a distance and it looked really freaky! There must have been a good 7 or 8 horses chomping on the grass and walking all over the graveyard!
April 11, 2010
Today we got up early with the intention of going and seeing the sunrise but we decided to leave it until tomorrow. We’d had an early morning yesterday and fancied a lie in today. We eventually got up about 9 for breakfast and headed out just before 10 to visit more of the archeological sites around the island.
Driving out of the city past Ahu Vai Uri we got lost a few times and ended up at two or three dead ends! Eventually someone pointed the way for us and we found our first port of call along the island’s West coast.
This first stop was called Ana Kakenga and here there were small lava caves. We found the entrance to one and I climbed down to get some pictures. It looked quite enclosed and small so I didn’t go too far in and Elizabeth decided not to come in at all, still remembering her experiences in the tunnels in Vietnam!
The next stop was Ahu Tepeu which contains the stone walls of a large village, a single intact small head and some fallen moai. It is quite cool to see the fallen moai too but when they are face down it isn’t much to see as their faces are hidden.
Next up was Ahu Akivi, an area with 7 standing statues. This site was really cool and was also unique to the other ahus on the island as it is quite a way inland and the moai face the sea. All other moai are on the coast and face inland.
We carried on northwards after that to a beach on the very far north coast, Playa de Anakena. The beach was a lovely setting and even had more standing moai right on the beach (Ahu Nau Nau). We had a stroll around and decided this would be a good place to stop for lunch, the site having picnic tables and a little bit of shade to sit in.
After lunch we continued along the north coast before heading down the eastern side. At Ahu Te Pito Kura there was the largest moai moved from the original quarry, now lying face down, and thought to be over 10m before it was felled. We also had a bit of a reunion here – the little annoying bugger from the plane/airport was here with his still non-interested parents. Elizabeth recognised him immediately by his annoying whining voice! Everywhere we had been there had been signs about respecting the moai and archeological sites including not touching the moai, not climbing on the ahu and not removing any of the rocks around the sites. Of course, this little shit was picking up the rocks and throwing them around much to the amusement of his family. Usually I’d suggest sterilization but they’ve already polluted the world with their ghastly offspring. I’m just grateful that my family and friends actually take interest in their children and teach them manners – many parents don’t seem bothered.
The largest site of reconstructed moai was next and was called Ahu Tongariki. Here 15 standing statues were located on an ahu facing away from a large cove. This site had been returned to its former glory with aid from Japanese funding. The view here was completely awe-inspiring and each of the 15 moai was different to the next – some with noses which protruded more, some with large, rotund bellies and some with exceptionally long ears. For the first time though, we both noticed the hands on the statues which came down the sides and met at the base of the torso, just below an indentation which looked like a navel. Also, the moai all appeared to have round lumps at their bases which looked a lot like penises but I’m not sure this was what they were although I’ve read nothing to prove or disprove this notion! This was by far the busiest place we had been to today and even here there was not more than about 20 people. It had been great getting the scooter as we could make our own course and stop when we pleased. Many of the sights we had seen had been very isolated along the coastlines, linked only by unpaved (and very rough!) roads and we had been almost the only people at every one until now. It was so great being on such a beautiful island and knowing we were getting off the beaten track. Despite this island being relatively well known it is still considered quite virgin territory for tourism. Looking around Hanga Roa this is hard to believe – the main street is lined with hotels, souvenir shops, car/bike rental shops and cafés. However, as soon as you leave the main town you are pretty much on your own and as we are visiting outside their peak season, this isolation is even more noticeable.
Just a little further along the road was Rano Raraku. This was volcano and quarry where all the moai statues were originally made before they were transported to their ahu around the island. Still at this site are many unfinished heads stuck into the side of the hill and scattered around. It is so funny to see them perched at various angles looking in all directions as you take the pathways between them. Many of the moai seen here were actually bigger than the ones we’d seen around the island.
From there we headed south down the east coast in earnest, heading back towards Hanga Roa and our hotel. We made one brief stop at Ahu Akahanga where there is one large fallen moai. This site is supposed to be one of the most sacred of the ahus around the island and is supposed to be where one of the important ancestors is buried. Many of the ahu we had seen today were either covering burial sites or were used as cremation sites with the ashes of the tribal ancestors scattered around the area.
On the way back we followed the main road, the majority of which was paved thankfully. However we saw a sign pointing to Hanga Roa and decided to follow it and we ended up on the bumpiest piece of road to date. Given we’d been on the scooter since before 10 and it was now gone 4pm we could’ve done with some smoother roads to have given our behinds a bit of a rest! We were also surprised quite how many horses we saw during the day. We had seen a few last night around town but today they were everywhere from within the sites themselves to up on the rolling hills to walking the middle of the roads! Some of them looked a little malnourished but most looked like they had pretty healthy coats and seemed to be enjoying the free and easy life.
Back at the hotel we both showered, getting rid of the dirt and dust we’d collected from our day of mostly off-roading. It was so nice to feel clean! We were both hungry fairly early and so we had a walk around the town to try and find somewhere reasonable to eat. Being a Sunday little was open and we didn’t have a whole load of choice. We bypassed a couple places which looked expensive but after a lap around the block and only finding one really expensive place open and the Ra’a Café from yesterday we decided to check out one of the others before we made a choice. Right next to our hotel we found a busy little restaurant called Hetu’u with reasonable prices and decided we had nothing to lose given no bloody choices! I had a lovely fillet of fish with a caper sauce and Elizabeth had a nice chicken breast with pepper sauce and we shared rice and sautéed vegetables. The food was cheaper than last night and was much better. It was the first time I felt like I’d had a proper meal in ages and quite honestly I can’t remember the last time we’d had better food since leaving Thailand – well, maybe some of the ones I cooked at the hostels in Australia and NZ but I don’t include them!
The weather was again cloudy tonight so we skipped trying to catch the sunset again. We both attempted to have an early night tonight given we wanted an early start tomorrow and didn’t want a repeat of this morning!
April 12, 2010
When the alarm went off at 5am I was so ready to hit snooze or just roll over. However, it was our last full day on Easter Island and I was determined to see the sunrise over Ahu Tongariki. We actually had no clue what time sunrise was but I guessed at just after 6am which turned out to be a little inaccurate! We drove from the hotel to Ahu Tongariki in pitch darkness, the animals which were running wild yesterday nowhere to be seen and nothing else was to be seen either! The only way I knew I was roughly in the right place was the sounds of the ocean crashing against the shore by the roadside – I couldn’t see the ocean but the sounds were enough. The drive didn’t seem so bad in the dark. Although the road was still bumpy the darkness hid most of them so I just kept on going rather than trying to swerve around them! The guy at the hotel had said the drive was only about 20 minutes but driving at the speed limit it took us double that. Even so, we were at the site by 6am and it was pitch black and not a single other person was in sight. Right by the entrance to the field stood a single moai and it looked very creepy as the scooter headlights hit it. We’d remembered to bring the torch so we headed into the field and found a good spot sat on the rocks opposite the 15 imposing moai, barely visible in the darkness.
We waited until around 7am and finally the sun started to appear behind some annoying cloud cover. There was a fair breeze so the clouds moved quite a bit giving some nice sunrise views. More people started turning up too but even so when we left there were only about 15 people there to see it. Considering the hundreds we shared the sunrise with at Angkor Wat this was certainly a much more pleasant experience. As the sun rose, the statues created some amazing silhouettes even though the sky was still quite cloudy. Even though the light was still poor I was able to take some decent pictures, too, thanks to the rocks we were perched on. By setting the camera down on a solid surface and using the timer to keep the camera steady I managed to avoid too many blurry pictures!
We drove back in daylight and we now saw more horses, obviously awoken from their slumber. The road didn’t seem as bad again in the daylight and we made good time back, avoiding the awful shortcut we’d taken yesterday and favouring the nicely paved road instead. I didn’t tell Elizabeth at the time but I was glad we made it back – the scooter fuel gauge had been showing empty since we’d parked up at Ahu Tongariki and I was pleased we managed the 15km or so back to Hanga Roa!
Back at hotel we had a bit more sleep before breakfast. We had a couple of things to sort out in town including posting our postcards and as we walked back from the post office it started raining so we decided to hang out for a bit to wait for it to blow over. This gave Elizabeth a chance to play with the hotel’s cat in our room for a bit before my eyes started itching and we had to kick him out! When the rain stopped we quickly went to get some petrol for the scooter so that we could have lunch and head straight out but annoyingly the rain started again. We were glad we had squeezed so much into yesterday now as we could see today being a frustrating day.
Eventually the rain ceased for long enough for us to just go for it. We headed to the very south west corner of the island to visit Orongo. This is the site of a ceremonial village which has been restored to its former state. We even got our daily fix of little brat here, too but thankfully his shouting was coming as they were leaving whilst we were arriving. The site is near the top of Rano Kau, another of the dormant volcanoes on the island. At the village we were able to see a number of reconstructed buildings as well as some amazing views over the cliffs down to Moto Nui, the largest of the offshore islands. One of the ceremonies this village was known for was the annual crowning of the “birdman”. People who wanted this title and honour were required to climb down the steep cliff, swim across to Moto Nui and return when they had recovered the first bird’s egg of the season. This ceremony ceased in the late 1800’s and many people died taking part in this ritual. From our vantage point, I could imagine many men falling hundreds of feet to their deaths through just a single misplaced footstep. The site also had a number of petroglyph rock carvings. These rocks stood on the very tip of the peninsula and given the harsh wind and rain these areas faced, the carvings were fairly worn down. After looking quite hard at a few of the rocks, we were finally able to make out some detailed carvings of birds and animals and once you had spotted a couple it was easier to spot others. We also got to see into the crater of the volcano and rather than just a normal lake here the ground looked like marshland, the grassy filling obviously being saturated and showing small pools of water rather than having completely flooded.
While we were at Orongo the skies continued to look menacing. We wanted to see Ahu Vai Uri in the daylight as well as the nearby sites of Ahu Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku. These were walkable from the hotel but we decided to drive there and hopefully miss the rainfall. We needn’t have worried however as during the short drive back past the airport and into Hanga Roa the weather completely changed, the sun beating down by the time we got to the far side of town. The moai at Ahu Vai Uri were in various states of disrepair and Elizabeth even thought one of the smaller, squat ones looked like Danny de Vito! We also got to see Ahu Tahai which is a sole standing moai and Ahu Ko Te Riku which is a fully restored standing moai, complete with top knot and inset eyes. This is the only one on the island which has had the eyes replaced but quite honestly it looks a bit daft with the eyes in, having more resemblance to a cartoon type character than the eerie effect you get with many of the others.
Back in town we dropped the scooter back and headed back to the hotel to laze about and pack our bags. We’re flying back to Santiago tomorrow and then onto Lima the day after. We’ve had a great time on Easter Island but quite honestly I think we’d have struggled to fill any more than a couple of days. We had one day of blazing sunshine and one day completely mixed and it seems this is what to expect here. I’m definitely glad we made the trip out here, even so briefly, and it is definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far up there with Victoria Falls, Petra and the amazing diving we’ve done. I’d certainly find it hard to pick a top 10 things we’ve done so far but this would definitely be in that list!
As we were due to leave Chilean land fairly soon, we were low on Pesos and so decided to have something a bit cheaper for dinner. We picked a place called Ariki o Te Pana which was more of a fast food joint for the locals. Here we were able to get empanadas (tuna/cheese, cheese and meat) plus fries for about half the price of our previous meals. The food was really good and we were both stuffed after our feast. I am not a big fan of deep fried food and wouldn’t go out of my way to order empanadas regularly but these were freshly made and had plenty of filling. By the time we left, the place was packed full of locals so it was obviously the right place to try some more local cuisine.
Back at the hotel I packed up my bag (Elizabeth had done most of hers earlier) and settled down to read for a bit. Even though we’d had some downtime recently, especially lazing around in Santiago, I felt like I’d slept an awful lot so I decided to try and read instead. We’d bought an Ian Fleming book which included three James Bond stories and I worked my way to the end of Dr No. This was the first of the books made into a film and is one of my favourites. The book is very different in parts but I love the way Fleming writes, almost describing the women Bond meets with some kind of disgust and disdain, keen to pick up on any peculiarity of deformity. In Dr No, the girl had a nose which was twisted through a previous break – I have to admit I’d never looked at Ursula Andress’ nose very much in the film! Anyway, enough of book critique and back to the travelling…
April 13, 2010
Today started off rather blandly with some final packing and breakfast at the hotel. However that soon changed as we ended arguing with the hotel owner over how much we owed him. Since we had booked the hotel the rate had changed significantly and before we got here I had emailed him to request the lower rate and he agreed. When we came to pay though he refused to honour the full deposit we had paid preferring only to deduct 10% of the lower amount rather than the full amount we’d paid. It wasn’t a huge amount of money but it was the principle. Elizabeth eventually gave him the lower amount and after threatening to call the police, he finally did – or claimed to, his telephone conversation could’ve been with anyone. By this point I had emptied our room out and moved all our stuff to the hotel restaurant while we resolved it. The guy was so rude and just didn’t understand our point of view. Given it was our last day in Chile we had budgeted for this hotel plus one meal tonight in Santiago and now we were going to have to pay more and have nothing left for dinner tonight. I got fed up arguing and we paid the higher amount but I immediately went onto the website we booked through and wrote a scathing report about him. The hotel motto states you arrive as clients and leave as friends. Well, we certainly weren’t his friends.
Despite this the island was really cool and a really wonderful and interesting experience. I’m not sure it would necessarily be the kind of place we would re-visit but it is one of the places we both wanted to visit and it has proved to be worth it (ignoring that last half hour – I almost feel like the nerdy first year at school who has had his dinner money stolen! Oh well, missing one meal won’t kill us!)
Once at the airport we checked in easily and got our boarding passes for our flight tomorrow. The flight is at about 6am so we plan to sleep in the airport. We were hoping for good food aboard our flight today to fill us up but we only got one meal compared to the two we got on the way out here.
When we arrived in Santiago we sneaked our way back into the departure gate area for the domestic flights. We were able to use one of the airline lounges there for about an hour until they closed and after that we just laid out on the seats, trying to catch some sleep in between boarding announcements! At least where we were was secure and away from the draft in the check-in area.