Navel of the World

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
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Saturday, October 7, 2006

Heading back to the airport and wishing Paul a hearty good-bye we boarded one of the remaining flights on our round-the-world ticket. Easter Island here we come! Or is that Rapa Nui here we come? No it was Isle de Pascua! Confused yet? We were! This place had three different names and depending on who you were talking to they'd look at you blankly if you called it the wrong one. Well when we were kids we got taught it was Easter Island, so for this entry it shall be so. Santiago left a bit of a bitter taste in our mouth so we were really looking forward to experience the mysteries of the statues at Easter Island.

Flying across the Pacific we had a fair bit of turbulence, with the Captain flicking on the seatbelt sign a number of times, not that any of the other passengers took any notice. Then finally out the windows of the plane we could make out some statues by the beach. Fantastic! At the airport terminal there was the usual array of people trying to entice travelers to their hotel, residence or hostel. We negotiated with a couple of ladies, avoiding the overly priced hostel international representative. We had chosen one place when suddenly the other lady made a winning final offer of a double room with our own bathroom for less, negotiating with us in impeccable English. We jumped into her van with four American backpackers and headed to the hostel. When we arrived we signed in and were shown to a dorm room with shared showers. This wasn't what we negotiated but when we questioned it the lady said "No, no you misunderstand me. My English no good. You misunderstand!" We hadn't misunderstood her, she had just decided to up the price, figuring once we were there we'd just cop it on the chin and pay the extra amount. Now being on the road for a while now we've been through this rouse many many a time and again with her not honouring the agreement we upped it and left.

In this case it probably wasn't a good idea as most of the people on Easter Island, we quickly realised, are related in some way. For the next three hours we hiked around town and pretty much everyone knew that we'd been offered a "good room" for a "reasonable price" at the original hostel and that we had completely "misunderstood" her. Finally at a hotel we were offered a room at a five star price, but when we asked if they had a cheaper one (we'd mentioned the rip off lady and found the one and only person not related to and not a fan of the original lady) she said she'd ring a friend to see if she had any spare room. Yes we were in luck. Her friend arrived quickly and we jumped into the back of her ute for a lift to the residence. When we arrived the room looked great and the price was too, that was until she said the price was per head! Geesh we were getting no where and we literally had to beg for a better price. Easter Island at this stage was one big rip-off! She finally reluctantly agreed to a reduced price, if we sacrificed breakfast, and we took the room for four nights. After a bit of a sleep and some refreshments (we'd bought a heap of food with us from Santiago as everything here has to be flown or shipped in and is ridiculously expensive) we wandered down to the beach to see the sunset, behind the Tahai standing moais.

It is well documented that there is a national park fee that all visitors must pay on arrival to the island, unfortunately the only place to pay it is a two hour hike by foot or 30 minute drive. We decided to hike up to the ceremonial village of Orongo, to pay the $10 USD fee and along the way realised that most people don't seem to do this trek, as the track was pretty overgrown. On the track we found a visitor's ticket from the previous day and decided we might try to pay for just one ticket that way if we were asked we had two tickets as evidence. On the way to the ranger's station we walked along the ridge of the Rano Kau volcano. Extinct for many a year, the bowl is now a cool looking swamp. At the ranger's station we bought one ticket and signed in. To be honest we think we got ripped off paying just one fee as out of the plane load of tourists arriving everyday the book only had about 10 to 15 names in it each day. The fee does pay for the upkeep of the island's statues so we figured we had done our little bit, though it looks like the fee is completely optional.

On the way back into town we walked to the Ana Kai Tangata cave that is supposed to have cave paintings inside. We reckon you'd have to have a very keen eye to spot them. We also continued up the beach to see the Tahai moais again, this time in the daylight. Here there are three temples with five statues at one, a single with white eyes and another wearing a top knot (hat). Further up the beach is the Hanga Koi'E moai which looks really cool, standing by itself.

As Easter Island is quite small we figured we'd be able to see more statues by hiking around the island. Alas not. The best way to see them is to hire a car. So off we went to get competitive quotes. We found that the best prices for car hire and food was off the main street. Organising a car for the next day got us thinking of the costs we'd seen on the island. To get a taxi you have to read the sticker stating the separate fairs for tourists ($1600 Pesos) and locals ($600 Pesos). We've seen this before in places such as India, but the difference there is nothing when you convert it. Here it's so expensive and with the locals trying to rip you off at every opportunity (in our opinion!). Internet access wasn't too bad at $2 AUD for 15 minutes but using the telephone to call home ($2.20 AUD per minute) was out of the question.

We picked up a little Suzuki 4x4 and with Megan behind the wheel headed off on the dirt tracks to see more of the famous island's moais. Where do we start? We first stopped at Ahu Hanga Poukura to see a fallen moai, the statue lying face down in the dirt. Onwards to Ahu Tetenga, which is a huge ahu (temple) with another fallen moai. Driving around the island's coast we then came across a deserted Ahu Tongariki. Here were fifteen moai all in a row. The site had been restored by Japan back in 1993 after a tsunami knocked them all down. It was great standing in front of these statues, with no one else around.

Nearby is Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai statues were carved. Here there are over 400 fallen, finished and unfinished moai still in the cliff face. Again there was no one around. It was great seeing statues still lying within the stone cliff face. Why were they made and how did they move these massive statues to their temple sites? Eventually someone did rock up; the guy repairing the walking track. We were surprised not to see anyone around as it was after 11AM. Still not having our fill of big faced statues we drove on to Ahu Te Pito Kura, the tallest moai to be raised over a temple. Megan at this stage wanted a break from the driving so we headed down to Anakena, the island's main beach (only two beaches on the island). Here there was also Ahu Nau Nau, seven moai restored in 1979 and Ahu Ature Huki, a single moai restored in 1955. Getting a little burnt we headed along the coast to find Te Pito O Te Henua, the "Navel of the World". No luck in finding it though. Must be one of those things you only see if you're on a paying tour.

Rick decided to take over driving in the afternoon and this made Megan a little bit wary, as Rick hasn't been behind the wheel of a manual car since he got his licence 14 years ago. After a couple of bunny hops and a cloud of dust he was off. It was like riding a bike; you just don't forget. Driving to another part of the island we checked out Puna Pau, the quarry where the "hats" or top knots of the statues were carved. This quarry is miles away from where the statues reside. Further down the dusty dirt road was Ahu Akivi, five moai restored in 1960 that reside on a ceremonial platform, restored in 1960. These are the only moais to face the sea, though as with all ahu temples they also faced a village. Five minutes down the road was Ana Te Pahu, a large cavern in the Roiho lava field. By this stage we were statue'd out and had pretty much seen all the moai we could handle for this trip. It was amazing though that the faces had been carved, each one unique, then been moved miles to their final platforms. Why it was done no one really knows.

Dropping off the car early the nice guy gave us a little bit of a rebate. This paid for dinner at a confused place called the "Bar Restaurant Pub Café Tavake". They served up lovely tasting local food where fruit tastes like fruit and vegetables like vegetables, not the bland mass produced stuff from home.

As we'd seen all the statues we wanted to the previous day we slept in and packed up, getting our way to the airport. The trip out to Easter Island is a long one off the beaten path in the middle of nowhere, but in our opinion well worth the effort to see the amazing moai statues.
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