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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rapa Nui Bliss

Tell anyone you're going to Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island, and the response usually begins with an exclamation ("How cool! Bakan! I've never been!") followed immediately by a piece of advice ("Go to this restaurant. Visit this place at this time. Watch out for the moai at night."). The night before my flight from Santiago to Rapa Nui, I was lingering outside my hostel and got to talking with a random passer-by. The conversation of course led to Rapa Nui (all conversations end in Rapa Nui), and when the Advice Portion of the conversation rolled around, this is what he said first:

"Oye, chica, los pascuenses te van a comer." (Hey, girl, the Rapa Nui men are going to eat you.")


I'm proud to report, post-Rapa Nui, that I was never eaten by the rabid Rapa Nui men, nor was I molested in the night by the moai. I was, however, fully and completely satisfied by my trip in every possible way.

Let's start the Rapa Nui Review with some stats.

Number of empanadas consumed: 2. One was tuna and cheese on the beach for my birthday, the second was shrimp and cheese. Both were mouth-wateringly fresh because, well, fishing is pretty much the only option for fresh food round those parts.

Number of volcanoes climbed and conquered: 2. I climbed Rano Kau via a pedestrian trail, then continued on to a ceremonial village higher up named Orongo (long, hot, sweaty, lovely hike, accompanied by a totally unexpected but perfectly matched stray dog, whose tale I will relate another time); also ascended Rano Raraku on foot, which was a far less impressive feat but still beautiful and useful in my stats nonetheless.

Number of moai visited, spotted, witnessed and otherwise enjoyed: Upwards of 40, easily. It was hard to keep track of them all. Forget naming them, too. I thought that was a good idea in the beginning (wrong).

Time spent lingering, wandering, oogling and otherwise admiring the shit out of the island: innumerable hours.

Shades of tan acquired from sunbathing, hiking or just standing on the corner for too long in mid-day sun: 4

Amount of money spent on the island: [this information is currently not available nor will it ever be analyzed]

Number of caves spelunked: 1, La Caverna de Las Dos Ventanas. This number should have been higher. Next time, Rapa Nui. Next time.

Number of 4-wheeler breakdowns: 2. One of them occurred just as a policeman was signaling me to stop so he could check my driver's license. Little did he know I was in panic mode and desperate for someone to explain what was happening with the gears and why it would no longer shift out of 4th gear. We never got around to checking my license.

Average cost of a meal in any restaurant on the island: About $20, conservatively, not including drinks, appetizers, desserts, or anything.

People told me, prior to my trip, that 6 days was too long there. "Baaah, you can do it all in three days! Four, tops!" As an official Rapa Nui Veteran now, I can say with a firm word and soft heart that 4 days is an injustice, 6 days is a tease, and three weeks is ideal.

However, in fiscally responsible terms, 4 days is sufficient, 6 days is stretching your budget, and three weeks will leave you penniless and scouring the earth for extra income. Although I am still a "budget traveler" even when I splurge, Easter Island hit me way harder than I thought. I sort of knew this in advance - being the most remote island on the planet, one can't expect them to have cheap amenities. Everything, save the seafood and the moai, must be shipped in from Elsewhere. Farming is hard on the island due to rain and crop loss. Deforestation has altered the landscape, wildlife diversity is limited, and there's a history of cannibalism when protein sources dwindled. In other words, shit is expensive there.

My splurging consisted of the following: one meal out per day, usually with an adult beverage or two, a 4-wheeler for 24 hours, my own private room in some cabanas away from the city center, and the entrance ticket to the two main parks. The rest of the expenditures consisted of food for me to eat at the cabana, an occasional taxi and internet use, and the inexplicable disappearance of pesos when one is on Rapa Nui. (Most likely the moai in the night.)

However, let me make one thing clear: every last peso was incredibly well spent. Was I paying double or sometimes triple the price compared to anywhere else in the world? Yes. Was I still shocked and dismayed even coming off the tail en of a stint in Puerto Varas, one of the more expensive cities in Chile? Quite. Was it irrefutably worth it and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat and if I'd had more money I would have stayed for two more weeks? YES. YES. YES.

Sunset on Rapa Nui, my first night there.

Fun and festive cemetery. 

On the north-eastern part of the island,
during my four-wheeler adventures. See the moai
on the hillside?

I was the girl zipping around in the chic
black helmet with dreads flying in the wind.

At Ranu Raraku. The site of the quarry,
where the moai were carved.

Hiking along a twisting dirt path, rocky and impassable
for cars, with the vague idea that a cave was somewhere along
the way after about an hour or so of walking. 
I found it, eventually. But only after a few piercing moments of doubt
where I mistook nearly everything for a sign to the cave entrance.

View from La Caverna de las Dos Ventanas.
Spelunking is funlunking.

In case you wondered,
this is what the face of spelunking actually
looks like in Spelunking magazines. 

A bit of a funky shot from Anakena Beach,
where I spent my birthday reading, writing, sunbathing,
and reveling in that tuna empanada.

One of my favorite shots.
Tongariki, the day of my 4-wheeler excursion.
The day was too gorgeous for words.
Tongariki sits on the sea (like the whole island, technically?)
and features 15 moai.

This shot looks like something from a video game to me.
This is Rano Raraku, the quarry.
The moai are essentially in various points of 
a tumble down the quarry hill. Their transport
was halted for unknown reasons and they were left 
abandoned. I like to call this shot
"Moai Rush Hour".

Hanging with 15 of my closest buds
(not all pictured here).

A shot from my hike to the cave on my last full day on the island.
The views were stunning, and the hike was hot but pleasant.
I passed maybe 4 people the entire way there then back. 
Quiet, peaceful, beautiful, and humid sea air.
That dirt road is among my favorite places in the world. 

I spent the majority of my time alone during the day, finding company in the moai and my journal. At night, I spent time with my fellow cabana mates; one Spaniard who had moved to the island trying to start a massage/holistic venture, a Chilean couple who came to get married and then spend their Honeymoon there, and a Chilean journalist who was one of the most educated and well-spoken people I've ever met. The owner of the cabanas, Carmen, was pure Rapa Nui and she and I spent a few nights talking about life, culture, the real reason behind the moai, and yoga. All in all, I spent my time expressing myself on paper in English and verbally in Spanish, which is why upon my return to Santiago where I met Amanda, we noticed that my English skills had...slipped, to say the least.

Traveling alone to Rapa Nui was one of the best decisions I've ever made. Plenty of people commented negatively about this decision ("You're traveling alone? How boring. And for your birthday no less? Why would you do that?") but for me, it was a liberation that I didn't know I'd been craving. Everyday I woke up and asked myself, Hey, Shannon. What do you want to do? Feel like going to the beach? Maybe you want to meander slowly to the coffee shop and write for few hours? What about a hike to the summit of this volcano over here? Caves? Maybe caves? What about a FOUR-WHEELER. Well, at any rate, do some yoga, eat that fruit and nuts, take your time because no time schedule exists and you can do anything you want to do however fast or slow you want to, and then I'm sure there will be moai somewhere along the way. Just make sure you get really sweaty throughout the course of the day and take a thousand pictures. And also make sure the Rapa Nui don't eat you today.

I really like to be alone, though I'm not a perpetual introvert. I need a healthy dose of socialization. However, this trip came at just the right time. It was a nice (and needed) break from the rhythm of Puerto Varas. And far more physically taxing than what life has been for me in the south so far. I'm not sure how many miles I hiked/walked during my stay there, but it was far more than anything my body is used to. 

Furthermore, one of the reasons that I think extra time is not only a plus but a necessity for travelers like me (who find that delicate balance between budget and personal satisfaction) is that 'conquering' Rapa Nui is technically feasible in a day, if you rent a car and whiz between sites or, worse yet, come in a group package that ushers you blindly from one thing to the next. That doesn't allow for the quiet wonder and wander, the light sea breezes that caress your bright red boiling cheek in the middle of a hike where the trail end seems to be more of a fantasy than fact. Nor does it allow for the unexpected entrance of stray pets into your life (like I said, story pending), nor the discovery of caves, moai sites off the beaten trail, and more. I think Carmen, the cabanas owner, thought I was a bit of a rogue - some mornings I showed up at her cabana asking roughly how to do one thing or another, she would show me on the map, and then I'd go do it. Planning was at an all-time low on this trip, even by my standards.

This approach saves money, sure, but more than that I feel like I really connected with the island. With so much time spent knee-deep in it's hills and crevices, but yet with so much left to explore, I've got a good start on the journey to really know and appreciate this ridiculously remote gem of an island.

Also, please, can someone, anyone, give me a truly feasible answer for how anyone found the dang island in the first place? 

1 comment:

  1. Great writing! Sounds like you had an amazing time, and you got to see some of the bits we missed too. The time and travelling alone obviously paid off! And quads - wooo! :)

    Any pictures of Orongo village? We only got as far as the volcano, our complete lack of research on our first day failing to inform us that there was more beyond.