Published: March 26th 2011March 26th 2011
I left Iguassu and the jungle sounds of the lodge after one night for the dry plains of Mendoza province. A delayed taxi driver who had the gumption to ask an extra 20 pesos to stop at an ATM en route completed my time in the tropical tourist capital, which was overshadowed by a kind gesture from a fellow passenger on the Aerolineas flight that got me to the bus station for free. With under an hour to spare I made for the supermarket for essential supplies and managed to get an early bus to Uspallata in time, 3 shopping bags and my luggage in tow! Now that is how I keep so fit, my eyes are bigger than my stomach. Some came over from Chile, without anything (produce is prohibited) expecting a restaurant to be at the hostel, which it was not. BYO everything basically.
Uspallata is 100km from Mendoza city, a sprawling metropolis surrounded by plains of vineyards, and came highly recommended from Argentinean people met in Ecuador. The hostel was 6km from town, beside the highway and the Rio Mendoza weaving it’s way towards the dry red Andean pass to Chile. This made for a fantastic 3
day stop, having time to explore the Aconcagua national park at Horcones (near Puerto Inca), hiring a mountain bike to explore at my own pace, meeting other travelers who had come to see the full moon being closest to the Earth, and just mellowing out in a brilliantly scenic and ancient landscape. The mountain of Aconcagua is the tallest in the Western hemisphere outside the Himalayas, and greeting the south face in intense afternoon light was a grand experience (altitude 6962m, at Horcones itself is about 2750m). The Magnani visitors centre is staffed by multi-lingual people and with a modest 10 peso entry fee, had a ball exploring for the afternoon with a Swiss guy met on the bus. One word of caution, even though this was still Argentina I was glad to have taken my valuables as passports were checked on the return leg to Uspallata.
The crossing to Chile occupied the next day, passing in an identical direction towards Puenta del Inca, climbing higher into the dry deserted Andes. This time was by mini-van, packed with Spanish speaking retirees, except for a young couple that convinced me that Chilean wines are far better than the highly promoted
Mendoza varieties. Phew, more time to taste I thought! Border crossing formalities were drawn out and typical of any airport passage by sniffer dogs sniffing out our van, long queues to get our stamp and right to enter. It would not be complete without form filling either. 2 hours later we careered down at least 20 switchbacks into a valley, at the bottom of which was the quaint town of Los Andes and a cold drink.
Finally entering the limits of Santiago about 6pm we landed at the central terminus in hot sun, and I made for the Barrio Brasil enclave, a quieter version of my last time in this sprawling European styled city. The hostel was quirky, and with some apparent emergency I was relocated 3 blocks away at a noisy apartment above Plaza Brazil watching the sun set and hipsters having their rendezvous’ in the park. The next day was spent wandering the streets, finding LAN offices and my flight changes (again!), plus tasting some fantastic wines at Concha y Toro vineyards in southern Santiago. 7000 pesos later and my own public transport there made a cheap alternative to the 145USD full day options. Then the resistance
training of carting supplies and my luggage for Easter Island (Isla Pascua) to the airport hotel began…………needless to say, replacing my stolen food at a small supermarket on the way to Los Heroes station caused humour, especially me dumping a wine glass in bag with the security man and gesturing vino with hand to mouth. I did eventually get that luxury night at great cost but very worthwhile with an early flight to Isla Pascua the next day. And they had a gym, pool, sauna, spa, ice machine, wifi….could I be happier!!
That luxury over, I took a flight to Isla Pascua the following day, arriving on the 23rd to 30C, seabreeze, a warm welcome from Alvaro at Inakuhi cabanas, the obligatory lei of flowers, and a Maori challenge…..what! Of course, the 2nd language to Espanol here is Rapa Nui, extremely similar to Cook Island or Maori it seemed with the welcome ‘Iorana’ alternative to ‘Hola’. I felt immediately at home, had that emotion stirred so profound as though I had arrived back in NZ, and made comfortable my home for the next week at a good price. The hospitality of the family that run this place was low
key and concerned, in no way hyped or promoting by saying ‘buy this tour or do that option’, and genuine for the length of stay. I made for the Moai smartly, and met most of the town statues, recent and ancient, within a half hour stroll. Realising this was still Spanish culturally, siesta closed the shops mid-day which opened about 4 and closing again at 8pm. There were even discos or clubs should you be tired of ancient history and need some liquid fortification.
But the average tourist here of 30 to 45 years of age according to our hostelier is not visiting the island for this, which gives it a very special feel. The following day, I got up with a late sunrise at 8am and bought some local fish at the Mercado, about 2000 – 3000 pesos a fish. After running the gloriously simple waterfront and without mucking about, it was time for the start of the tour at 10am. This took myself, 2 Chilenos and 2 Aussies on a grandissimo voyage of the highlights of this small paradise in the hostelier’s van. First up was Ana Kai Tangata, a seaside cave with rock-art, and point of
casting off for ancient waka that went exploring. Secondly we headed to Orongo, a short hike south of Hanga Roa town to pay the 30,000 peso park fee and visit the Ranu Kau volcanic crater with ancient (who knows how ancient?) forts and evidence of housing present. Views of the azure Pacific ocean were incredible, and the local gods no doubt angry casting up a furious wind. Wellington eat your heart out!
Hot and enlightened at the 5 sacrificial stones at the top, it was time to move onwards to more ancient landscapes, the sugestede age of this volcanic island being 150 to 180 million years and volcanic in origin. Contested, subject to many theories and at times speculative, you cannot deny the people were up to something with the many seaside forts, Moai with intact or detached topknots, sites of burial or sacrifice, and orientations in line with sun movements to name a few. The site of Rano Raraku was what many tourists see or hear of, the island being the largest open air museum on the world. This is where Moai were constructed, and moved down the volcanic cone to distances short of far away, no doubt
with much hassle, man-power and ambition. Some did not succeed though, and remain in a quarter half or fully reclined state, in various states of detachment from the rest of their bodies (some of which stay buried in the volcano). The protection was so low key at all the sites it was entrusting of our good nature, and may it stay that way as it has since 1995 when it was declared a UNESCO site. But for few criminal foreigners it has remained mostly unscathed.
The next site was Tongariki, the15 statues of mixed sizes placed back to a rugged coastline and windswept ocean just made for postcards. Spending time there to wander the enclave, gaze at petroglyphs of turtles and bird-men engraved into the ground rock or stare at the volcanic cliffs above us was simply amazing you could not help but take photos. Following our path northwest we rounded a round rock with many holes in it for public masturbation practice (no-one guessed the use of this tool), the rough Ovahe beach, the smoothest rock ever at the centre of the world where wishes may come true if rubbed the right way, and finally the part we had all been waiting for, Anakena beach. The mercury climbed still at 6pm and after brief appreciation of the first Moai erected, and several figures behind this, it was time for vamoos la playa por nadar! Crystal blue water, white sand, gentle swells and about 20 people all up came to this paradise where no accommodations can get established. Returning that night to get help filleting my first island fish, much practice of Spanish with other visitors and getting to know each other, it was time for the R n R part of the holiday. Sunset is late at about 9.30pm but who cares when you are on island time.
But R n R was not on the agenda first thing at sunrise each subsequent day which is a late 7.30am or so. Hauling oneself out of a comfy bed is not tough when you can fill a day with hiking, cycling, beaching, moai stalking, cave hunting, eating at one of the inexpensive restaurants (isolation is relative to prices), talking with locals when buying produce, fish, roadside BBQ (asados) or back of truck sales of anything rural or remote. It is tiring business this holidaying (!!), but with 4 days remaining after the tour on the 24th I ascended Orongo on foot for incredible views over this tiny island again, cycled back to Rano-Raraku for a second look at the crater and moai ‘cemetery’, stood speechless watching the Pacific ocean crashing against rugged rocks and nearby fisherman hauling up a catch, or bypassing that symbolic stone with so many holes in it again that we could not guess it’s phallic function. I hope it is not still in use. Without activity it was easy to fill time, with mid-afternoon siestas, lazy meals and random chatter, music to listen to across the road, wind in banana trees above our quarters, rain on the tin roof, and a rockpool to swim in 5 minutes away and surfers to spot on the nearby reef. I also got to know the carabineros (beige brigade) giving me directions for a hike and in passing the many present in town – the island has a jail, so there must be some bad boys (and girls?) there for mainly drug related offences I’m told.
So now I get a wee nostalgic as the end is near, and wonder at the many things I have seen and done since mid-December 2010. It really has been all too beautiful, except for the rubbish in many places of Bolivia and Brazil. And so the highlights would have to be the place and people of Easter island, the wildlife and snorkeling in the remote areas of Galapagos, eating several lucuma fruit in Arequipa (Peru), the vastness of Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia, Antarctica for the sheer nuts value, the volcanoes and highlands of Ecuador (Quilitoa), and western Mendoza province (Aconcagua national park) nestled against the towering Andes which are impressive anywhere along it's great spine.
A few places more to return to perhaps, but as to when ...............that is another great question for the smoothest worshipped rock on Easter island.