Once I had actually made it to the island after a confusion with a shuttle bus nearly making me a little too late at the airport, my flight into the island was fairly uneventful, although it did somehow feel like 2 movies and 5 hours later of flying west from Chile across the Pacific that I must have been pretty much half way back to New Zealand. (Just to settle this, it's not quite halfway but only about 1500km's off being halfway!)
The island is tiny, only 24 km's by 12 km's at it's biggest, and there is only one town on the island so after landing here I spent the first afternoon just trying to get my bearings and walking around the town, getting a glimpse of my first moai next to the harbour and experiencing my first taste of the expense and limitations of being on an island that is really in the middle of nowhere (most supermarkets had run out of beer on this particular day, and the only pharmacy had sold out of mosquito repellent and wouldn't be re-stocking until the next bat arrived in 10 days time!). The closest piece of land for those interested is Chile, a mere 3,900 km to the east, followed by Tahiti, 4,000km away, New Zealand, 7,000km to the west, and Hawaii, 7,000 km to the north. When you think of it like that, it's really incredible to realise that you are walking on a tiny piece of land on the remotest island on the planet, and that feels very special!
To make the most of a week here, the next morning I took a day tour of the island which gave me a bit more history about the culture and the big stone statues. We went around a couple of the really famous sites such as the quarry where the moai's were created and transported from, and a couple of the tribal residencies where moai's either led in their fallen state from tribal wars or had been reconstructed by archaeologists.
The tour was all a bit rushed and there were about 4 vans of tourists all following the same route, so I never really got a chance to sit and enjoy the moment at any of the stops, but that evening I walked to the best place on the island to view the sunset, Ahu Tautira, and enjoyed the serenity and calmness as the sun went down behind the 4 moai statuesand dropped below the horizon for a pretty much stunningly perfect sunset!
The following day me, Lucile and Marina (that I had met on the tour) decided to hire a car so we could go off and explore the island better, starting with sun rise at Tongariki, probably one of the most famous and well known spots of the island, where 15 moai have been reconstructed to their platform after being knocked down by a tsunami in the 1960's. It turns out that driving in the pitch black on the wrong side of the road where there are no street lights and baron landscape and wild horses that make you hit the brakes every once in a while is actually a pretty eerie experience! None of us held out too much hope for any photo award winning sunrise shots as we had woken up to heavy rain and there were some more rain showers on the drive there, but we were very fortunate that it had managed to rain itself out before we got out the car and stayed dry for the rest of the day. It was pitch black when we arrived at the site and none of us had thought about bringing a torch, so luckily there were a few other better prepared tourists there which we could follow over the field to find a good viewing spot. It was still pretty cloudy so the sunrise wasn't spectacular, but it did all add to the magic and mystery of the morning and a definite "must do" for anyone going to the island.
To get over our ridiculously early start we headed back into town for some much needed coffee and breakfast, where I had the biggest slice of 3 layered cake covered in meringue - I really could get used to this! - and then headed back out in the car without really having a clue where we were heading. Lets just say, 3 girls trying to read a map and follow roads in an island
where there are no road signs or street names... what could possibly go wrong??? We stopped somewhere which looked like a good view point, and were met by one of the islands many stray dogs, who after wagging his tail at us excitedly and getting a few cuddles and ear scratches led us down towards a huge sea cave, Anakai Tangata, where he proceeded to play fetch with the
pebbles unless you threw it too close to the sea - he got a bit jumpy when the waves crashed over the rocks a bit too close to him!
We were quite pleased with our little furry tour guide at this point so tipped him with somebread and water once we got back to the car, and named him Dude. Only at the end of our free tour we realised Dude was actually a Dudette! I'm not sure that rewarding Dudette for her services was the best idea as she then decided she would continue to guide us to our next stop, so as we set off in the car she came galloping alongside us and then started running in front of the car, which we had thought was pretty funny and rewarded her again at the next stop with some tuna pasta salad - she loved us even more! We did all started to feel bad when she then chased after us again up a big hill and eventually ran out of steam, fading into the distance, and that was the last we saw of Dudette.
During the rest of the road trip we went to an ancient ceremonial village used once a year to hold the annual birdman competition, which involved jumping off a huge cliff and swimming to a small island to wait until the first Tern (seabird) to land and lay an egg, which they then had to steal and return to the village, all to determine who the next chief of the tribe would be. I think this should be reintroduced around the World... I can just imagine the likes of Ed Milliband and Bill Clinton sweating it out over a cliff jump in search of an egg!! For the rest of the afternoon we headed for the island's paradise white sand beach, Anakena, and cooled off with a fresh mango juice and a spot of bodysurfing in the waves - not a bad end to the day!
My 4th day here I had booked to go out scuba diving, but woke up to gusty winds, heavy rain, and an upset stomach, so quickly decided that my bed was sounding like a better option and thought I would rebook the diving for a calmer sunnier day, and spent the rest of the day enjoying the cool breeze and clear air thestorms had brought - it had been 30 degrees and over 80% humidity since Iarrived! That night we saw a local dance and music show and went for
dinner and drinks, lots of pisc-cola.
The sun never really picked up after that but it was still warm and perfect walking conditions, so after a day relaxing and avoiding the rain me and Lucille decided to walk to Terra Vake, the highest point of the island (with a BIG hangover from the night before) - before anyone gets too impressed, we took a taxi to the end of the closest road, and the highest point is only 507m above sea level, so only took us an hour of casual strolling to get to thetop, but once there it was pretty cool as you could see the whole of the island, and the sea on every side! Because the walk had been so easy we then thought it would be a good idea to walk back to Hanga Roa through the fields and along the coast line, which was all great until we ended up in a field full of bulls that were eying us up a bit too much for our liking, but thankfully left us alone.
We had also heard that there were some caves on the way back that were pretty difficult to find, but got lucky and met a local guide with his horse who pointed us in the right direction to one of them, although his description of turning right once you got to the banana trees was pretty vague considering we only found eucalyptus trees. The cave was amazing and pitch black, and you could walk underground from one end to an small exit the other end in complete darkness, quite scary in places!
Keen to see the last unexplored corner of the island, the next day me and Lucille went with a guide to hike this area and to another cave which we definitely wouldn't have found on our own - you had to literally start climbing down the side of the cliff face and even then it wasn't obvious as you had to get on your hands and knees to get into the entrance. Our guide, Moi, was a local guy with a lot of history and knowledge which was perfect, and entertained us the whole way.
The cave we went to was the "Virgin cave" where girls went every day between the age of 10 and 20, to stay out of the light and make their skin white, which apparently was more desirable, and to prepare themselves for woman hood by stretching their female organs... what a life!
Moi took a little bit of a shine to me and Lucile and we ended the tour with an offer for us both to stay on the island for 6 months - Lucile to write the history of the island for her thesis, and me to teach Moi English and he would teach me Rapa Nui (the local language) in return. Now that's an offer to think about!!!
My last day came around far too quickly and I took the time to look around the souvenir shops in town, eat a final empanada from the best empanada shop in town (where by now me and Lucile were regulars and when we said it was our last day on the island the owner gave us a pair of earrings each to thank us for our custom and tips!)
and take a final walk along the coast where I picked up yet another local stray pup who then decided he would spend the rest of the day and night with me, sleeping outside my room and following me everywhere I went - it was so tempting to bring him back on the plane and continue my tour of South America with the pup in tow! Before I knew it the week had flown by and I was back at the airport waiting for my flight to Santiago.....
Who could not love a country where they eat cake for breakfast??? I'm serious... cheesecake, tiramisu, cream filled 3 layered cake, nutella and apricot flan..... Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) was off to a great start :o)