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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ballad of Flank & Shan

Flanky and Shannon were partners
Oh lordy, how they could roam
Swore to be true to each other
Just as true as the moai around.
She was her dog, and they hiked for hours.
-original version of the classic song "Frankie and Johnny"

I was wandering around map-less on Easter Island in the blazing mid-day sun, walking down a long, deserted road thinking that maybe I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. My destination was Rano Kau, the biggest inactive volcano on the island which, at its summit, features the ceremonial site of Orongo. Being the guilty young traveler that I am, I feel often obligated to use legs as opposed to easier methods of transportation even though I usually want to take the easy option. So I thought yes, let's walk. 10km there then 10 km back. Cake. There was a pedestrian trail that began in some ambiguous spot near the coast, and as I wandered further my mental map grew fuzzier. A mother and her child whizzed by on bikes, took a left turn, and I decided I'd follow them.

Down the road which I later found out to be the wrong turn (note: do not just follow strangers. Their mere existence does not mean they have the same destination as you), I was almost bowled over by a friendly stray dog and his companion. Folks, meet Flank, the friendly stray who was my dog for a day on Easter Island.

Flank leading the way, friend in tow, at the beginning of the pedestrian trail.

"Come on, slow human. There are things to explore!"

I've had plenty of strays accompany me on various journeys. But never to this extent. In a way, I feel like Flank chose me. I didn't give him a name right away- I fully expected Flank to wander away after ten minutes or so. But he stayed true to me. He waited for me as I lingered like a silly bipedal humanoid wielding strange contraptions and pausing for amounts of time in various spots to snap photographs. He made sure I caught up when I struggled down narrow paths. And he sat with me whenever I chose to plop down in a field or along the path to take in the heavy silence of Rapa Nui Nature.

Not a bad view. Here we stopped to look at the scenery
and eat soda crackers. Please note the walking stick I
acquired somewhere along the way.

Flank and I finally reached the first stop of our two-tiered voyage above, the lookout over Rano Kau. This volcano crater, which looks like a giant scummy pond, provides the fresh water for the island. 

I named Flank "Flank" because I was staring at his flank the majority of the time. Also I think it's funny to pretend it's a bad mispronunciation of "Frank". Also, I found out that Flank was a female about halfway into our hike. By that point, we'd shared so much that I couldn't just up and change her name. We kept Flank despite the unladylike moniker. 

The Rapa Nui men used to compete for a coveted religious position
by swimming out to these rocks,
collecting some sort of seafood, then making it back to land alive.
Whoever made it back without being eaten by sharks or other
monsters of the sea then had the honor of spending
a year in a cave by themselves.

Along the trail up to Rano Kao.
That red face is a mixture of sunburn and exertion. 

Flank was so much "my dog" that day that she would come when I called her (I felt silly screaming "Flank" in front of other people but, hey, it's her name) and always reunited with me despite wandering off sometimes to go explore other things. When we finally reached the ceremonial site of Orongo, I was a bit panicky: what should I do? Would she wait for me outside while I went to look at the site? The answer was quickly clear: she was coming with. In fact, she led the way. Right through the visitor's center and all through Orongo. She was very friendly with the other tourists, and quite inquisitive as we see below. 

Flank, no! It says you can't go in there!

I had so much fun with Flank at Orongo. I was way more engrossed by the fact that I was wandering around an inactive volcano with my adopted dog-for-a-day (I mean, come on, who gets to go see ancient stuff with their pets??); so engrossed, in fact, that we breezed through the site and I think I missed all the exciting petroglyphs. Oops.

On our way back from the hike, Flank led me down a different
road than from where we started. I followed her, the dutiful
master that I am, and she brought me to this gem.
I am forever grateful to her.

Flank rests with me in the park. There were also
more moai here, so she gets a couple
tour guide points for this one.

Find the Flank! 

I thought she was being a silly and irresponsible Rapa Nui pup when she wandered off along the super steep coastline (depth not perceived well in the photo above), and when she began to descend closer to the cliff I even called to her to come back, anxious that she would slip and fall to her death. She ignored me, and instead sat on her haunches and watched the sea, unmoving, for almost ten minutes. We both enjoyed the view quietly, the sea breeze whipping our respective locks of fur/dreads. 

After the hike and surprise visit to the place above, I knew firmly and resolutely that she was the coolest dog I've ever met. I told her all about my dog back in my home country far, far away, how they would probably be really good friends; I told Flank that my dog could never be off-leash like she was, and that she was really lucky to have such a cool view like on Rapa Nui. Flank understood me. She also listened while I made up songs about the activities we were performing. 

After our hike, we meandered back into town. She waited for me as I stopped to buy groceries; she sat by my table as I rested with a coffee and to journal, even though the waitress tried to shoo her away and I said, "Please, she's with me." Flank paused as I lingered over souvenirs, waited patiently as I consistently was slower than her due to my two legged deficit. In fact, it was around this time that I knew she had to come back with me, whether or not the cabana owner Carmen liked it.

Just as we were about ten minutes from the cabanas, it started to rain. The precipitation up until that point was pretty sporadic- maybe it would sprinkle for five or so minutes, then it would clear up. Well, not this time. What started as a grey drizzle turned into a full-fledged monsoon. I wanted to take a taxi but knew that no Flanks were allowed in cars. So we walked. Step by step, through mud streams and up hills and along horse paths that had turned into miniature rivers. By the time we got back, every article of clothing was leaking water and I was completely soaked to the bone. But Flank was with me. 

And then, my beautiful Flank instantly plopped on the welcome mat in front of my door, as if she already knew it was my room.

Carmen came over a bit later and found Flank and I lounging outside during the freak rainstorm. She wasn't pleased. "What are you going to do with this dog? She can't stay here." I felt awful, like I was abandoning Flank, but what could I do? Feed her for a couple days, then just disappear from her life, never to return? It was a doomed situation and I knew it. She was Rapa Nui; I was beholden to the continent. I disappeared into my room for a time and when I next emerged, Flank was gone. I think Carmen's dogs scared her off.

This post is dedicated to the wonderful 6 or so hours that Flank and I spent together. I left for Orongo that day alone but returned with a new best friend. 

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