Easter Island Stories and Tips

Easter Island II

Toppled Moais on the coast Photo, Easter Island, Chile

A nice straight in approach to the only runway at Mataveri airport [43K] gave no good vistas from the left side of the plane. All of the tour books about Easter Island advise that there will be ample locals awaiting the arrival of the plane from Santiago - when I entered the baggage retrieval hall, there was only two or three people soliciting accommodation. I decided upon Cecelia, from Chez Cecelia - $25 US/night, including breakfast. Of course, what I didn't realize was the Cecelia and a couple others had clearly paid off the local 'functionarios' to meet the pax in the baggage hall, as when we left there were a dozen or so other people outside the terminal soliciting places to stay, as well. Oh well - if it sucks, I decided I could move later, and Cecelia seemed ok.

Also staying at the Cecelia's residenciale were a couple from Madrid - Antonio Tauroni and Isabel Fuentes. We chatted for a bit, (they in English, or trying, me in Spanish, and trying). We headed off into Hanga Roa together to check out the town, and see if Sernatur, the tourist office, was open. Turns out that the one drawback of Cecelia's place is that it's a nice long walk from anything. We walked all over Hanga Roa, only to find out that Sernatur was closed, so.. we had a couple of Escudos (Chilean beer) at a café. We walked around some more, stopping and taking in nice scenery of fishing boats, some children swimming, Plaza Hotumatua (with me) as well as surreal view [38K] looking up the coast towards Ahu Tahai, the closest Ahu and moai complex to Hanga Roa. I really like that shot - it kind of looks like a painting.

The girl from Sernatur finally returned, and after an extended conversation in Spanish (of which I understood very little), Antonio advised that we would be going to see a Polynesian dancing show, and 'curanto' for dinner. (A curanto is where they cook the meat & veggies in hot dirt in the ground. Mmmm good.) The girl had apparently said it was the absolute best dinner and show on Easter Island. (Turns out later that she is actually in the show, but I don't think conflict of interest is in the Spanish phrasebook.)

That night we walked the mile or so to the restaurant, pausing to take a sunset picture [24K] of a solitary moai near the harbour. I balked a bit at the price of the dinner show - 15,000$ CLP ($50 CDN), as I wasn't that hungry, but I thought, hey, when am I ever going to be back here? The dinner turned out to be less than spectacular, I'm vegetarian, and the highlight seemed to be the roast beef and pork. Dinner also came with a free pisco sour, the national Chilean drink. More on pisco later. The dinner show was kind of a cheesy Polynesian thing with scantily clad young girls swaying their hips to local music while regularly encouraging the audience to come up and embarrass themselves on the dance floor (a humiliation which Antonio & I cleverly avoided by constantly fiddling with our cameras and backpacks.)

We had paid 5,000$ CLP for dinner to start - apparently you pay the remaining 10,000$ after the show. We, however, just sort of wandered out of the restaurant, honestly forgetting to pony up the extra pesos. (More on that later.) On the way back to the residenciale around midnight, we stopped, switched off our flashlights, and looked to the stars. With no pollution, clouds, or streetlights, the view to the stars was unlike any I have ever seen. We stood in silence for about three or four minutes, just gazing - I will never forget that sight.

Sunday, March 21
We started the morning by negotiating a Jeep for a couple of days. The standard rate, as we had found out yesterday, is $60/12 hours. Due to Antonio's superb negotiating skills, we were now in the possession of a Suzuki Samurai 4x4, at the low cost of $50/24 hours - for two days. After the standard Chilean residenciale breakfast of instant coffee, hockey-puck buns & marmalade, we decided to go to church. Not something I normally do on vacation, but the experience held some attraction solely for a glimpse into the culture.

The large post and beam structure was completely packed - standing room only. It was a catholic service, but had a lot of Polynesian music and chanting mixed in. The service was in a mix of Latin, Spanish and English (very little English) - I was surprised at exactly how much of the Spanish I understood, especially during the sermon. It seemed like everybody in Hanga Roa was there; and a few tourists besides ourselves as well. In fact the lady who was the door person at the curanto from the previous evening was there. After the service she accosted Isabel and demanded payment for the show from the previous evening. With genuine innocence we all offered to immediately pay - however she wouldn't take the money, saying she had already alerted the police, knew we were staying at Cecelia's, and we could deal with it when we were arrested.

At this point it was getting a bit absurd, so we decided the quickest way out of the situation was to leave and do some sight seeing. Her threats were empty, it turns out, but we kept running in to this lady all over Hanga Roa, and each time we did she would shoot us a nasty glare and mutter something under her breath. The conviction in her voice was strong when she talked about the police - I think she actually did report us, but who knows.

Antonio had planned a basic itinerary for the day, starting with groceries. Cheese, buns (more hockey pucks) and water, plus some soda crackers and granola bars - about $20 cdn - a little on the expensive side. We headed off to Ahu Vinapu, which is one of the oldest Ahu complexes on the island, located right at the west base of the airport runway.

To give you a bit of history, here's your one paragraph lesson about Easter Island. The island was settled around the 3rd century AD by Polynesians. In complete isolation, the culture, language, religion, etc. evolved until 1722 when first contact with Europeans happened, bringing their usual gifts of venereal disease, smallpox, guns, etc. etc. During the isolation period, the islanders carved massive stone statues, called Moai, out of volcanic rock, hauled them to all points on the island, and set them on Ahu, which are stone altars. Between the first visit of the Europeans in 1722, and their return in 1770, all the moai had been toppled over in tribal wars. Any moai you see standing today have been restored by archaeologists in the last 60 years.

There are no moai standing at Ahu Vinapu. The site does offer some of the finest examples of stonework, which Thor Heyerdahl (an archaeologist) mistakenly assumed was done by South American indians, as it so closely resembles similar stonework at Macchu Picchu. As we arrived, Antonio appeared to be in an advanced state of rapture. Isabel explained to me how he had wanted to visit Easter Island since he was about 13 or 14 years old, and that this was his dream come true.

..to be continued

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