Living Like the Locals

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Flag of Chile  ,
Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yesterday turned out to be incredible, one of those days that reminds me why I travel.

In the morning, we decided against a fishing excursion that we'd considered the night before. Some girls from the campground were hiring a tour boat to take them fishing, then coming back to grill their catch.  The excursion cost $70 USD and we'd all gotten a lot of sun in the two previous, so we said no. 

We were also swayed by the fact that the person running the tour was the feather crown guy. "FCG" was a Rapa Nui tour guide who had offered us a tour on our first day on the island. Ultimately, we had to turn him down because he didn't speak English, and both Shelley and I would've been really lost.  Of course, since it's a small island, we ran into FCG repeatedly the next day while we were touring with Christoph.  Boy, did he give us the evil eye.  Not only had we turned down his tour, but we'd gone with an import.  (Christoph has only lived on the island for five years.)  Awkward.

Anyway, we started our morning at the local produce market across from the pharmacy.  The market runs from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day, and since we'd always been sightseeing during that time, this was our first chance to go.  We were desperate for some cheap produce, since the tomatoes, bananas and avocados we'd bought in the tiny supermarkets were shockingly expensive (like $3 per piece).  The produce market turned out to be disappointing.  There were huge watermelons that we couldn't carry the mile or so back to the campsite, where we also didn't have a knife big enough to cut one, as well as some papayas, which none of us are crazy about.  There were mangoes the size of clementines and some unripe yet bruised bananas.  A vendor told us that they usually had good pineapples, but that there weren't any ripe ones that day.  Sigh.  So much for enjoying fabulous tropical fruit on our fabulous tropical island.

Outside the produce market, there was a protest in the street.  A Chilean police officer set up some orange cones so the protesters could safely stand in the road (oh, the irony), and the protest began.  Maybe fifty or sixty people waved Rapa Nui flags and shouted about how much they hated the Chilean police. 

On the one hand, I can see why a foreign police presence might be off-putting.  I say foreign because while Easter Island is curently owned by Chile, the Rapa Nui people are Rapa Nui through and through.  Chilean culture means very little to them. 

On the other hand, the Chilean police officers basically stand around on random streets all day, same as they do in Chile, not bothering anyone.  They always saying hi to us and even gave Patti and Shelley a ride home in their pickup one day when they were all going the same way.  I know they turn a blind eye to the frequent pot smoking on the island, because I smell it all the time and people only halfheartedly hide it. 

There have to be police around, so I guess it's a tricky situation.  Someone on the sidewalk said the real issue was that the Rapa Nui don't want the Chilean police to carry guns.  "We don't have guns, so why should they?" was the exact comment.  I thought it was a good point. 

Rumors told of good local fish for sale at the market, but the only fish we could find was sitting outside on a card table on the sidewalk.  The woman selling the fish said she'd be there for awhile, and promised to save us a few so we could souvenir shop without a bag of fish in tow.

After twenty minutes of shopping, we came back.  She was gone.  No one standing nearby knew where she'd gone or if she was coming back.

A local Rapa Nui guy passing by overheard us asking about her and said, "I'll take you fishing.  That's what the women do here when they get hungry," or something to that effect. 

The girls said alright and we set off with him before anyone translated anything for me, so as we walked along, I asked where we were going.  Patti answered, "We're going fishing."  I asked, "With him?  Was he going anyway?"  She said, "I don't think so."  Oookay...

I thought it through and decided that on a small island of 4,000 people where everyone knows each other, any axe murderers or sociopaths would probably have been discovered by now.

Lots of people waved to the guy as we followed him through town, so I figured that either they were all in on his murder plot, or he was ok.  Plus, I could always jump out of the boat and swim for it.

Before too long, we learned that our new friend was named Io, and that he was not an axe murder.  He'd lived on Rapa Nui all his life, except when he went to Valparaiso (Chile) to study electromagnetic engineering.  He came back to the island where he now works as a musician, a sculptor and a fisherman.  "That's the great thing about this island," Io said as we walked along, "No one cares about degrees here."
In the end, we didn't go out in a boat.  Io took us out to some cliffs where his uncle was already fishing.  The cliffs were made of sharp lava, but he just leaped across them in his bare feet. 

Io didn't use a pole to fish, just a plastic spool with a handle, fishing line and hook.  He taught us to cast by whipping the line around in a circle while holding our finger over the line wound around the spool, then letting go and holding the spool out so the hook could fly way out into the ocean.  For bait, he used raw chicken, which he bit off the bone with his teeth.  When I refused to participate in that part of the operation, he teased, "How are you going to survive here?"  I said, "Like this.  Hand me your fishing knife," and cut off a peice.


After a couple of hours, and trying a couple of spots, we still hadn't caught anything.  We could see the fish down in the water when they surfaced to eat the bits of bread we threw down as testers, and some of them even at the chicken off the hook, but luck wasn't with us. 

Io also showed us a cave where his family had spent their week of summer vacation.  In an intriguing coincidence, the entrance to the cave causes a shadow on the ground that looks exactly like the outline of the island. 

After fishing and caving, we went swimming in a shallow pool in the cliffs.  The sun was bright and the waves were dramatic.  It was absolutely perfect.  
Io said he was sorry we hadn't caught any fish, and invited us to eat "some meat" with him and his friends instead.  We said ok, figuring that meant hamburgers they had lying around or something.  It did not.  Io's friend, Tuti, got on his motorbike and went to the store, returning with ribs, beef and chicken, plus tons of veggies.  Over an open fire in their front yard, they crafted a stew out of all of this, in a corn, tomato and roasted pepper broth.

While the stew cooked, we sat out on their front porch and drank beer (Budweiser and Corona, if you're curious what they have there), watching the ocean glitter in the sunlight.  The house sat right on the main drag of town, so there was a lot to watch.  Seemingly wild horses that are actually privately owned wandered down the street into people's yards.  Kids rode by on bicycles and yelled hi to us and the guys.  At one point, Io left to play in a soccer game, but other people showed up.  Several neighbors wandered up for brief visits, probably wondering why there were three white chicks sitting on the porch.  


The conversation was totally in Spanish, since only one of the guys spoke a small amount of English.  Patti and Shelley kept up well, but I felt bad asking them to translate all the time, since it broke the flow of conversation.  Mostly, I kept silent and just tried to take it all in, cursing myself for missing out on the full experience because of my sub-par Spanish skills.

About halfway through the afternoon, I got sleepy and took an accidental nap in my chair.  The guys were so funny.  They kept offering me this canoe next to the bar where "everyone in the family naps," assuring me it wouldn't be weird at all.  I would've taken them up on it, but I was quite comfy in my chair, where two precious kittens were taking turns sleeping on my lap.
We hung out the whole day, only leaving to change our clothes before returning to attend Maori Tupuna, a traditional cultural show held at the bar adjacent to our new friends' house.  There are a few of these cultural shows on the island, but our campsite had called this one the best, so we were planning on going anyway.  It just worked out perfectly that a few of our new friends were the dancers. 

When we came into the theater/bar, our friends met us at the door, gave us a discount and set up a little VIP table so we'd have a good view.  One of the guys wasn't in the show, so he sat with us and narrated, since the dialogue was mostly in Rapa Nui.  He translated for Shelly in Spanish and she told me; then, I'd repeat it to Patti.  As he talked, he also passed around his enormous block of duty-free Toblerone.  A man after my own heart! 

The show was full of traditional dances and songs, plus some new "fusion" songs that blended modern music with the traditional.  The tribal costumes were striking and impressive.  My favorite costumes were the girls' fluffy white skirts made of chicken feathers and the guys' leg decorations, made of shredded banana tree bark. 

After the show, we sat around with the cast and their friends.  This time, the beverage lineup included a not-so-tasty Chilean beer called Escudo.  My little kitten friends came back to visit, and both fell asleep in my lap again.  The guys played tons of Bob Marley music because everyone loves reggae here.  To them, reggae means Bob Marley, and Marley is supreme.  They played some of his old songs that I'd never heard before, so that was interesting.  The only other genre played at the party was American country music.




We left around 12:30, much to the disappointment of the guys, who begged us to go to the disco with them.  We were all exhausted from three days in the sun; plus, we knew we couldn't sleep in the next day.  The greenhouse effect turned our tents into saunas by 9 a.m., so we had to get up early.

As we walked back to the campsite, the stars were enormous and bright, and I could see the Milky Way with stunning clarity.  I decided that I wanted to see a shooting star and I told the universe about this.  I said I wanted to see one by the count of five, and tried it.  No luck.  I decided it hadn't worked because I hadn't believed hard enough, so I tried again.  And it worked!

Whether you attribute that to visualization and manifestation, to an answered prayer, or to luck, seeing a shooting star on Easter Island was pure magic.
Our day was an amazing way to get to know the locals and their generosity just blew me away. They refused to accept any money for lunch or the time spent fishing with us, even though groceries are horrifyingly expensive on the island. 

This morning, Io met us at the airport to say goodbye and gave us each copies of his band's CD.  What amazing, kind and laid-back people.  I'll always remember them and hope that we meet again someday. 
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