Well friends, I tried to cover quite a bit about Easter Island in Part I or Part II of this report. Part II, crazily enough, took place almost entirely on the day of my arrival. When you land and get settled into your lodging, there’s this moment where you sit there and say “ok, now what?” The answer, obviously, was “look at statues.” So I did. As I settled into a muggy bedroom the first night, I had the same question: “What do I do tomorrow?” The answer? “Look at more statues.”
Oscar, my hotelier, told me that a lot of “crazy people” go out to Ahu Tongariki first thing in the morning to see the sun rise over the Moai. Well I’m pretty crazy, plus I don’t typically get a lot of sleep, so it seemed like a good fit. Sure enough, I awoke at about 4:30am the next morning, read for a bit, then hopped in my trusty little clown car and made my way to Ahu Tongariki. When I got there, it was just me, the statues….and about 100 other people doing the exact same thing. The sun started to creep over the horizon and everyone pulled out the BIGGEST LENSES EVER SEEN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH and started shooting.
It was in the lens area that I felt a little, insufficient. I don’t shoot with a DSLR. Instead, I use my iPhone 5 and (more often) my Fuji X10, which has a fixed lens and doesn’t look at all impressive or compensatory. Plus I had an awesome little travel tripod that Santa brought me for Christmas by way of my brother, Alex Travel Blog. So, compared to others, who appeared to be shooting with the Hubble Telescope, my setup was a little more…compact. I even heard a chuckle when I was setting up for a shot. Screw that guy, I can deadlift more than he can.
As the sun came up, the sights got better and better, at that point I was just trying not to screw up anything.
I took a step back, turned around, and looked at Rano Raraku. The shadows you see are from the Moai.
I know it was a pretty touristy place to be, but man it was special to be here when the sun rises. I encourage everyone to do it, don’t come all the way out here and sleep in.
I had to get one of me and the Moai. They don’t allow you to get too close (some people did anyway, these people are jerks), but did the best I could.
I spent a couple of hours at Ahu Tongariki before bidding farewell and drove back to town to sample Oscar’s “really good breakfast”. I scarfed down some eggs, ham, sweet cakes, bananas with chocolate syrup, and tried as best I could to talk to a Japanese guy who was staying there. I took a short nap and then consulted my map and decided to take the road that cut up the island to the northeast to check out the beach around lunchtime.
Easter Island doesn’t really have that many white sand beaches, really just two, Anakena and the hidden one. Anakena has beautiful white sand and a nice little village atmosphere with food shops and souvenir stands dotting the landscape around the beach. It was a Sunday so families were out enjoying the sunshine.
Now, I’ve been to plenty of white sand beaches in my life, but none had anything quite like this…
Ahu Nau Nau was restored in 1980 and has some of the best preserved Moai on the island.
The topknots (“hats”) are actually balanced atop the Moai, they’re not affixed in any way (that I’ve read anyway, I didn’t test it myself).
From Ahu Nau Nau, you get a really nice view of the palm trees around Anakena Beach.
I walked past the parking lot in the background of the above picture and decided to keep walking along the coast for a bit.
I happened upon a small truck that got stuck in some mud and helped a few people push it out, after which we all high-fived pretty manlyishly. They gave me a ride back to the parking lot so I could go check out some other areas.
I went through Hanga Roa to try the other road that goes through the island, on the west side. I came to this ahu.
Ahu Akivi is unique in that it’s very astronomically precise. Set a bit inland from the coast, it faces the Pacific Ocean (which is rare, most Moai faced inland) and faces the sunset exactly during the Spring Equinox and have their backs exactly to the sunrise during the Autumn Equinox. Cool bit of bar trivia there. The Moai were restored to their standing posture by an American archaeologist in the 1960s.
From Ahu Akivi there are plenty of trails to go up to a volcano crater, but as you can see behind the Moai it got kind of rainy for a bit. Nothing more than a seasonal shower, but it prevented me from doing the hike I wanted to do. Undeterred, I went back through town, down the coastal road by Ahu Tongariki one more time and came to the parking area for Poike on the easternmost tip of the island. Poike is one of three volcanoes on the island and hasn’t erupted for about 700,000 years, so I felt safe hiking up. As I hugged the coast before catching the trail upward, I happened upon the other white sand beach on the island, nestled in a little cove protected by what looked like the Agro Crag from the old Nickelodeon show Guts. There was a couple having a bit of a…um…romantic time on the beach, so I felt kind bad taking a picture of the beach, so I instead tried about 90 times until I managed to get a picture of a wave crashing against the rocks.
I started up the side of Poike, passing an area for ceremonial cremation.
I climbed up as far as I wanted until the trail just kind of…stopped. The terrain was incredibly dangerous, pretty much a bunch of odd-sized volcanic rocks covered with grass. I almost rolled my ankle probably 300 times (I of course wasn’t wearing hiking boots, rather some cross training shoes). I did manage to snag a few good shots though.
Satisfied with my work, I turned around and tried to figure out which way I was going to take to get back to the clown car. I decided to walk upward a bit and then wanted to smack myself as I found…a road. My ankles were fine, but only just. I took the road until it stopped, found a trail, and made my way back to the clown car. I went back into town and my villa as night began to fall. I noticed everything was quiet and dark. Well, it turned out the power was out…to most of the island.
I had plans to have a nice dinner at a restaurant, but with the power out I couldn’t find any that had a generator (apparently the power outages are pretty normal). There was a grocery store that had a generator, so I stopped and picked up a really unhealthy dinner (chocolate and crackers) and had a candle-lit dinner at my villa. I was honestly pretty exhausted from the day, but before I went to bed I drove out of town on the main road a bit to see the stars.
The stars were incredible. I’ve never seen a night sky so bright. You have to go to Easter Island for this reason alone, it’s that good. I climbed up onto the roof of my car and laid on my back looking at the stars for what seemed like OW OW THE BUGS THEY EAT and then went back into town. The power had yet to come back on, but I decided to walk back into town from Oscar’s to find some bottled water when…
I almost got run over by a guy on horseback.
I’ve been taught from an early age to look both ways before crossing the road. The assumed part of that is that you’re looking out for cars. But not on Easter Island. If you sit and watch the traffic on Easter Island in Hanga Roa it’s actually pretty funny: car, car, truck, scooter, three dogs, guy on horseback, car, scooter, etc. So without looking where I was going (the street lights were out) I walked out into the road and heard the horse equivalent of screeching tires. The guy on the horse said something pretty terse in Spanish (probably “NICE SHIRT!”). I wanted to apologize, but didn’t really know how to translate “I never once pictured that in my life I’d have to look out for traffic on horseback in the dark” for my explanation, so I just mumbled something and walked away.
Sometime during the night the power came back on, which was good because the oscillating fan was about the only thing that helped cool me down enough to sleep. I was marginally rested and decided to use my last morning to do a photowalk around Hanga Roa.
My camera was running low on battery and I needed to begin packing for the long journey home, so I made my way back to Oscar’s and got everything together.
Oscar was kind and gracious as always and drove me to the airport for my 2:05pm flight. I picked up some souvenirs at the airport shop and grabbed some lunch at the airport cafe (one of the few places that accepted credit cards).
Our plane had recently landed and was in the process of disgorging its passengers, most of whom were embarking upon the same magical journey I had just completed. They were in for a treat and probably didn’t even realize it. There’s a special magic to Easter Island. If you have the chance to go, please go. It’s almost as if you’re entering a different world on its own terms. You’ll find yourself relaxing a little bit more, having conversations with people you encounter, escaping horses, and doing the one handed steering wheel wave at people. It’s just great. One of the simplest memories that I cherish of the island was driving back towards Hanga Roa from Anakena. There was an oncoming Toyota pickup truck and we waved to each other as we drove past. A little ways behind the truck was a German Shepherd, running happily at a nice trot down the road. There are lots of stray dogs on the island, but none are aggressive and most are friendly. This German Shepherd just decided that day that it needed to go to the beach, so it did. Between the Happy Dog and the random galloping horses, it’s just a wild, incredible place.
My advice for getting there: keep checking Flyertalk.com in the Mileage Runs forum. There’s usually a sale to Easter Island once or twice a year connecting through Mexico City. If you can do it cheaply, you have to go! The flights are worth it, I promise. The worst part of the journey is, of course, connecting in Mexico City. One of the worst connecting experiences I’ve ever had. And I have to do it again in a few months on my way to Machu Picchu.
Thanks to everyone who reads these, I’m grateful for you and you motivate me to keep writing these. And thanks particularly to the folks from Flyertalk who I got to chat with before our Santiago-Mexico City flight, it was great meeting other people who were doing the same trip as I did! For the rest of you, until next time, happy traveling!