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A heads up on Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Authors note: This blog was partly written on our final day in Easter Island and part when we returned home. Quite a difference between sitting in a bar with a cerveza and sitting in an home office with a cat but hopefully I can still capture the Easter Island spirit. – Rich

We are not doing well with flights on this trip (bring back the trains!). It is our last day in Easter Island and once again we have been delayed! Being stranded on probably the most remote island in the world (over 4000km to Tahiti, over 3000km to Chile) isn’t the worst thing that could happen though. We know the daily flight will be here at some point, the sun is shining, the airport is only 5 minutes walk from town and our guest house hosts let us stay late. It is hard not to be relaxed here on the island as we have found a comfortable bar to sit and spend the late afternoon. Part of me wishes the plane stays away and we can rest here a little longer. While we have some time to kill we may as well fill you in on what we did…

Tuesday 17th March – Around town and sunset heads

We arrived at lunchtime, 2 hours later than expected due to the technical issues with the flight back in Tahiti. We were first off the plane and through immigration and customs. We thought we were doing really well at this point however then we did not see our name on any of the boards held by people waiting at arrivals. Maybe not doing so well then. We also couldn’t find where we were meant to get our national park tickets for Easter Island or where to change money to Chilean Pesos. Really not doing so well it seems.

Standing outside the terminal as other people met their hosts and went to accommodation we were approached by various taxi drivers to offer us lifts. Telling them we were waiting for “Kaimana Inn” they looked around and shook their heads saying that they were not here to meet us. Being a small Island a lot of the town turn out a the airport when each flight arrives and they all know one another. Despite multiple laps of arrivals (this did not take long as it is one room plus the patch of ground outside) to check all the signs being held up we still could not find anyone waiting for us. At this point the first taxi driver said he would take us even though we had no way to pay him the $6 fare (we had $100 bills or nothing). He said it did not matter and would sort it with our guest house so off we went. 3 minutes later we arrived at our destination which was just around the corner (as is most of the town). We could have walked there and back in the time we were waiting. The taxi driver left us, spoke to someone to say we were here and true to his word left without payment. Quite strange but we weren’t going to complain about the free ride.

After being ushered to our room by a non English speaking housekeeping lady we were a bit at a loss. Our accommodation was advertised as having Marcelo, an English speaking owner, who would pick us up from the airport, give us a tour of the town and help us to sort activities. It turned out he was in Santiago so not present to help us. His wife came to meet us eventually and explained this in broken English to us. It seemed her English was only good when she was trying to get us to eat in her restaurant or see the show they put on twice a week (we didn’t as it was overpriced and always empty). Fortunately we were eventually passed on to the sister-in-law of the owner who introduced us to the island and gave us tips on island tours. Overall not the arrival we were expecting but we eventually found our feet and were ready to explore.

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Our guesthouse, the Kaimana Inn.

As it was lunchtime, a good first stop was going to be lunch (no surprise there). We wandered through the town of Hanga Roa down to the sea front. Here we found the bank (pesos eventually sorted after trying almost every bank card) and a cabin that served excellent sandwiches for lunch. Actually we found 3 cabins next to each other that at first glance appeared to be a single restaurant but on closer inspection turned out to be separate but with no separation. Ordering was a bit odd as after deciding what sandwich fillings we wanted and placing an order we were left alone by the waitress for 5 minutes to decide if we wanted chicken or beef in them. This was a decision we had made already and we thought we had offended her somehow when she left us for so long however it just seemed she wanted us to be sure about our decision. A quick note here to say that the sandwiches on Easter Island were amazing and our staple food. They had a wide variety of fillings and were huge.

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Rich at our favourite sandwich place Club Sandwich. Sandwich on left id not real. One on right not much smaller but real.

After post lunch exploration of the town and a rest it was time to leave for sunset. We had been told that the best place on the island for sunset was 10 minutes stroll from the guest house, but in reality it was a 20 minute brisk walk and so we ended up seeing sunset in the wrong place. We did get to see some nice colours in the sky with the backdrop of  Moai that had been restored and lined up for sunset photos. We decided we would need to come back another night to make sure we saw the sunset from the right angle as this was a very special place to see it as you could tell by the crowds gathered to enjoy the early evening spectacle.

As we had a late lunch, dinner was a quick empanada stop, where we were accosted by a couple of stray dogs (the island is full of them) that we already seen at lunch time. Roy and Jeanette as they came to be known followed us home, and according to another guest at the hotel, kept watch outside of our room all night.

Wednesday 18th March – Thierry’s tour

We had booked a tour of the island through the sister-in-law of the owner of our guesthouse. Thierry was a ‘jack-of-all trades’ type islander, who thanks to an American mother, had spent time in the US before returning to the island to settle down. When not farming or building houses he conducts tours of the island. We spent a day with him exploring the coast road and learning the history of the Island Moai.

Within 5 minutes of setting off, we were deep in conversation about world politics, which is not a subject we were expecting to discuss on Easter Island. However, this set a theme for the day – Thierry was very keen to discuss all aspects of politics and self-determinism, and held strong views about how Easter Island was governed. He had grand plans for how the Moai should be presented to maximise conservation and the experience for the tourists. It was good to have someone so passionate about the island as a guide.

As Easter Islands main draw you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that our day tour included seeing a lot of Moai. Not just heads as a lot of people are led to believe, these are actually statues including a head, body arms and bum (cheeky). When created they would also have had coral eyes and were topped with a red stone hat (pukao). Except for a couple of restorations you now typically see them as just the statues.

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The statues are tributes to the ancestors of the Rapa Nui people that were placed on the edges of villages on stone platforms called ahu. Situated around the coast they face inland so that they were looking at the village rather than out to sea. They were put in place between 1250 and 1500 and as such are now showing a lot of wear making it harder to see the original detail. All the statues around the edge of the island had fallen over at some point causing damage and making them lose their pukao.

The most impressive site related to the Moai is the quarry where they were carved from the volcanic rock at Rano Raraku. Since most knowledge about the production of the statues has been lost due to a majority of the descendants of the creators being wiped out (mostly by western visitors to the island), how the statues were created and why production stopped is still somewhat a mystery. As over half the statues on the island are still in site at the factory in the quary you get an idea for how they were created.

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Here you can see statues in the process of being carved from the rock but never completed. There are many statues buried up to their heads that had been freed from the rock and stood up right for the final carving process. Once completed they would then be walked across the island to their intended sites. Nobody quite knows why production stopped (or why it started for that matter) but from what remains you can see that one day it just ended and the quary abandoned part way through work.

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The many statues around the island are a real treat to see. Seeing them lined up at Ahu Tongariki makes you wonder why such an effort was made to carve and transport the statues however we are very glad that they did.

Our day ended with a stop at the beach on the far side of the island from the town. The fine white sand and another ahu with a swim in the warm water was a real treat. A lot of people think of Easter Island as a desolate wind swept place however it is actually very warm most of the year and has hints of a tropical island in parts.

Thursday 19th March – Deep sea Moai

It wasn’t just heads that we went to Easter Island for. When researching the trip we heard that diving here was not to be missed. Having done our refreshers and a few dives at the Great Barrier Reef we were both ready to take a dive.

Our first dive stuck to the head theme. Just outside the harbour from Hanga Roa there is a sunken head. This is one head that a lot of people miss but we were luck enough to see. Although put there intentionally for a TV programme it was still quite a sight on the dive. The rest of the dive was spent enjoying the beautifully clear water. The visibility was perfect and as good as we have ever had. Although a short dive as one of the girls we were with ran out of air early it was well worth doing.

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Having seen the head Vicki was happy with her diving. I wanted to have an extra two dives though, one that afternoon and the other the next day. The first was one on one with a guide through a coral garden. Lots of interesting marine life again but no heads this time. My final dive was at a sight called the cathedral. This was deep dive this time going down to over 30m. It was made interesting by the rock formations we explored. There were a number of caves and arches that we swan around and under. Overall a really good dive.

We chose to dive with Mike Rapu which turned out to be a good choice. Although they were catering mainly to Spanish speaking divers they had good equipment and friendly and well trained dive leaders. I was very glad to have done these dives and would recommend diving in Easter Island. People expect a rough sea around the island however it was calm and amazingly clear. Importantly, it was also not too cold.

After my second dive I met up with Vicki at the dive centre and we headed off for a walk. We followed the coast on a hunt for caves passing a couple of ahu on the way. We missed some of the caves but the ones we found were still worth the effort. These were extensive underground cave systems that you could easily walk in and out of. You would enter one end and come out several hundred metres away in some cases. These caves were used as store rooms and hideouts in the past. Our favourite was the sunken garden where the plant life was growing from the bottom of the cave.

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We headed out on our walk armed only with two bottles of sparkling mineral water that we had expected to be still water. We soon realised our mistake as it was deceptively warm and the walk longer than we expected (10 miles!), not enough water and not nearly refreshing enough was an issue. As we struggled along saving our water rations and feeling very thirsty we were saved by a couple of wild guava. Apparently these grow all over the island however we clearly weren’t at peak season as most of the guava bushes had no fruit. We did find a few though which were extremely welcome and hugely refreshing. Perhaps the others had been picked by hungry walkers before us? Important lesson on Easter Island…always carry a spoon for eating wild guava!

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In spite of the guava, the hear clearly got to Vicki. Parched we arrived back in town and at the first shop we found I headed straight in for a drink. With no water available Vicki was all set to leave. This is the first time I have seen her turn down a cold can of coke that I gratefully accepted. She soon came to her senses though as she realised that there were drinks other than water that would quench her thirst.

Friday 20th March – Free range

Following my final dive the next morning we went exploring. Having learnt our lesson about walking too far yesterday today we got ourselves some wheels. Our Suzuki Jimny may not have been the most luxurious vehicle but on a small island with very bumpy roads the 4×4 was ideal.

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First stop was the volcano crater and nearby Orongo village. The village is associated with the birdman cult. This was a serious athletic challenge where competitors had to clamber down a sheer cliff face, swim to adjacent rock and collect the first egg laid by the sooty tern before returning with the egg including a swim and cliff climb. The prize was a good one, the winner’s chief got to live on his own in the village for a year. Nothing like a bit of peace and quiet. Luckily they don’t do this challenge anymore, I would have been worried that Vicki would have tried to give it a go otherwise.

Lunch was empanadas at another ahu. Empanadas in Chile have replaced our pie based diet from New Zealand. These are very much like a Cornish pasty but with cheesier fillings. One thing we are experiencing on this holiday are the pastry based foods of different countries.

The car gave us another chance for an afternoon at the beach. Soaking in the sea and soaking up the sun gave us time to relax and a busy few days of sightseeing.

Our final evening on the island was back at a restaurant we had visited before. We found the restaurants on the island to be extremely tasty and good value. The food was ample with delicious fresh fish being the highlight. The locally caught tuna was a particular favourite. Accompanied by pisco sours, Chilean wine and the local pale ale the evening food even managed to top the lunchtime sandwiches and empanadas.

Saturday 21st March – Stranded!

Using our wheels we were up early on our last day to head back to Ahu Tongariki. This is known to be the site to watch sunrise on the island. Not wanting to miss out we drove over to watch the dawn break. Unlike some places we have been for sunset it wasn’t too crowded however one woman in white positioned herself right in front of the statues, determine to get in everyone’s photos!

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Circling back to where we were at the beginning of this post, the rest of our last day was spent waiting for our plane. We made the best use of our time though, visiting the top of the volcano again to check the views one last time, lying around on the small beach in town, playing with Chester the cat and also getting in a short but very hot run.

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One thought on “A heads up on Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

  1. martinandjohn

    Wish we were there !
    It all sounds very pleasant and interesting.
    From all the food notes we are surprised
    you didn’t have to be given extra width seats on successive flights.

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