The Middle of Nowhere

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September 24th 2019
Published: December 15th 2019
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Our next destination was what bucket lists were made of. We were excitedly waiting to depart at the Santiago International Airport. We checked in and dumped our food supply box at about 0300 that morning before going through security. Our flight left a few hours later, on board a 787 Dreamliner, operated by Latam Airlines, who had a monopoly on this route. For five hours we flew east, as I tried watching some movies. Our journey took us to the enigmatic island of Rapa Nui, or more famously known to the outside world as Easter Island. The island is tiny with a land mass of only 163 square kilometers. It is considered the most isolated inhabited island in the world, basically making it the middle of nowhere. It is estimated that around 1200 AD, Polynesian settlers first arrived here and created a thriving society. Over the next few hundred years the culture developed, and numerous Moai, the giant stone statues representing the populations ancestors, were erected throughout the island. The first European contact to the island happened in 1722, on Easter Sunday, hence the name Easter Island. It is said that the population soon decreased due to disease, deforestation, rodent infestations, slave raiding and emigration to Tahiti. By 1877 only 111 inhabitants were recorded. Chile annexed the island in 1888, therefore making the island part of Chilean territory and thus explaining why apart from the once a week flight from Tahiti, it is only possible to reach the island from mainland Chile, as we had done. Luckily we had found a steal for flight tickets, which are typically very expensive, several months earlier which allowed us to travel here without breaking the bank.

Our flight touched down in Hanga Roa, the only town on the island. The island itself has a population 7750 people, most of which live in town. Of course many tourists come to visit but in recent years the government has been trying to set controls on how many people can visit as well as the number of Chilean's allowed to live here, due to concerns over sustaining the island's environment. The weather was fairly sunny, with a temperature of about 20 degrees Celsius. We paid for our park pass immediately at the airport. Unesco named the entire island a world heritage site, and most of the island is protected under Rapa Nui National Park. Rene picked us up from the airport and drove us over to the nearby Camping Mihinoa. This place was situated in a beautiful spot right by the water. It had different lodging options but we chose to camp using their equipment, because it was the cheapest option but also because camping is awesome! By the early afternoon we began exploring some of Hanga Roa. I thought it was a cute, sleepy town with plenty of potholed streets and loads of dogs running around. We found the small main street and bought a few things at a grocery store before heading back to our camp spot. As our site faced the west, we got to enjoy a sunset right there! We had a beautiful cooking and dining area to use and a locker to keep all our supplies. We broke out the box we had brought along full of foodstuff from the mainland that would have been way more expensive or impossible to find here.

Overnight we had quite a bit of rain. Our tent leaked a bit with Bev getting some drops on her as she slept. As the weather cleared, we had a lazy morning and made breakfast consisting of eggs, yogurt, bread, coffee/tea. We had a total of eight days to explore and decided to begin by hiking up to a nearby Caldera called Orongo. We walked for several hours and the environment changed gradually the higher up we went. The caldera was impressive to see and nearby lay an ancient village that had served for rituals by the Rapa Nui people. That night we cooked rice and sausages for dinner and witnessed an amazing sunset.

The next day we spent many hours walking around town and I was in a bad mood for most of it, mainly due to issues regarding potential difficulties in renting a vehicle to visit some of the more far flung areas of the island. Stupidly both of us had forgotten to bring along our driver's licenses and this could make renting a car difficult. I was annoyed because we had made it all the way out here to the ends of the earth and we wanted to at least explore as much of the island as possible. Today was Chilean National Independence Day, so many stores and services in town were closed. There were a few places open and I bought a deck of cool Easter Island playing cards. We walked over to Tahai, a site with several Moai's that are said to be the best place for sunset. We weren't disappointed. We got back to the campsite late and cooked fish and rice for dinner.

We had beautiful blue skies the next day. We hired a pair of bikes from the hotel next door and then began cycling past the airport, reaching an area where we saw a Latam aircraft take off and fly right over us! Then we headed to the nearby site of Vinapu to see some ancient ruins. We then went back to Hanga Roa and stopped at our favourite bakery to get some bread and empanadas for lunch before carrying on north along the western coast. The road quickly turned to dirt and became steep, suitable for our mountain bikes. The scenery was spectacular! We stopped often to take in the vistas and saw many wild horses. Our next stop was Ana Kakenga. The road became a lot rockier and at times we just walked the bikes. We explored caves that were former lava tubes. I went in first. Bev, who doesn't like narrow spaces, followed me once I explained that the caves weren't that narrow. At one time the people had used these as escape and refuge during tumultuous times. Continuing on, we eventually reached another area called Ana Te Pahu, but we didn't spend too much time there. Then we passed some grazing cows and arrived at Ahu Akivi. An Ahu is a platform where several Moai's are placed atop. This group of Maoi's was gazing towards the ocean. We spent some time here before cycling downhill and making a stop at Puna Pau, the site where the Pukao, or Maoi "top hats" were fabricated. Then we did some more awesome downhill all the way back to Hanga Roa. I witnessed the best sunset yet that night.

I woke early and walked over to Mike Rapu Dive Center. Diving is an activity I really enjoy but rarely partake in. I do so whenever I travel to a tropical or island location and because I do this so infrequently, often I have to take a refresher course. I was paired up with another seldom diver and together with an instructor we descended to about 12m and went through a variety of exercises. The first few seconds is always a shock to the system until you realize that yes, with a regulator you can indeed breathe under water. All the skills usually come back very quickly at that point. Our second dive a little later consisted of a descent to 24m and we got to see a submerged (fake) Moai used for the movie Rapa Nui. Or at least that's what I was told. Coral was growing all over it, but there was no mistaking the shape. This time I used an extra wet suit for the cold and more weight to control my buoyancy. The visibility was very clear, and I saw a few tropical fish and more coral but otherwise nothing that really blew my mind. It was fun to finally dive again after about a year and a half though. We were done for the day by noon. Bev met me at the dive shop. She had wanted to snorkel that afternoon, but since there wasn't enough participants, it was cancelled. We then had to come up with an afternoon plan and since it was so hot and beautiful out, I suggested we organize a transfer ride to the northern part of the island. And that is exactly what we did after eating some empanadas for lunch. Anakena Beach is the only sandy beach on the entire island and has a row of Moia's facing inland from the top. It was as good a beach day as any so we spent a few hours walking around and sitting on the sand. We made a canine friend there (as we always seem to do), and named him Beach Bud. The woman driving us back could be described as insane and we returned in record time. Back at the campsite we took showers and then walked into town to see a cultural show called Kari Kari, depicting traditional song, dance, and instrumental sounds of the Rapa Nui people. Much of their culture was feared to be lost in recent times, but many people are working hard to preserve and revive the pride of their people.

It was a lazy morning until about 1300h when we picked up the keys to our Suzuki Jimny. We had it for the next 24 hours and needed it to get to some of the more far flung parts of the island within a manageable time frame. We didn't physically have our licenses with us so Bev had to create a ruse to secure the car by showing her a copy of it on her phone, and stating the original was back at the campsite. We first drove to the base of Ahu Akivi, and took the hiking trail to the top of Maunga Terevaka, an old volcano and the highest point on the island. The trail rose gradually and was very easy. Standing here really gives you a scope of how tiny the island really is, as you can look out to every corner. As we descended, gray clouds started to roll in. About an hour later when we reached the trailhead, light rain began falling. We made our way back to one of the main roads and headed east towards the last corner we hadn't yet reached. About 25 minutes later, over potholed roads, we reached Tongariki. Fifteen Moai stand in this location, the largest row of Moai to be found in Rapa Nui. We had some nice afternoon light to take pictures. Surprisingly we ran into our canine friend, Beach Bud! He must have been quite the adventurous dog to make his way from Anakena the day before to here. He started barking at some nearby cows who were trying to use a watering hole, and a standoff occurred. By this point Bev was carrying around dog and cat food for all the strays we encountered, so Beach Bud got to eat. We made some quick stops on the way back as more and more heavy clouds rolled in. We ate pasta, salad and sausages for dinner. It was a very rainy night.

We awoke when it was still dark out. The rain continued. Bev and I had hadn't slept too well, with rainwater collecting on her side of the tent. We still had the car so our initial plan was to go back to Tongariki for the sunrise. Not that I was expecting any sunrise at this point but we figured how often are you in Easter Island? We would try nonetheless, as you never know when you can be surprised. It was still drizzling along the potholed southern road as we approached, but luckily the rain was ebbing. The cloud covered filtered light made the Moai look really cool. Beach Bud and some other dogs were there, running around and playing. After that, we went to the nearby "factory" named Rano Raraku. This is where the Rapa Nui people had created the Moai, carved out from the mountainside. Impressively they were able to somehow transport these heavy structures to almost all corners of the island. Dozens of Moai could be seen in different positions and at different stages of completion. We spent a lot of time here, and this may have been one of my favourite sites on the island. Eventually we drove on towards the north of the island, stopping along rugged coastlines with crashing waves. We passed by Anakena and then back to Hanga Roa to return the car. In the afternoon, we walked around town, running a few errands and getting groceries. We got caught in a big rainfall as we walked back to camp and got decently wet. We made an awesome lunch and then had a lazy evening as the rain continued and the wind was fierce. By this point we had visited all the major areas we had wanted to see, although undoubtedly there were countless more things we could have done. The rain eventually stopped but the wind continued through the night.

By late morning it was time to say goodbye to Camping Mihinoa. I thoroughly enjoyed our seven night stay here. Easter Island had grown on my immeasurably and I found the scenery breathtaking, the sites enigmatic, and the culture fascinating. All in all Rapa Nui was much more than I could have anticipated. I had a sad feeling as we walked to the nearby airport, as I often do when I begin getting attached to a place, but I was happy to have ventured out here at least once in this short lifetime.

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