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Published: September 10th 2006
How do you make a holiday encompassing many things you've always wanted to do yet never expected to do even better...? Do another one!
Persuaded by the author of the Footprints Chile book that we really shouldn't miss out on it, and that a good offer could be found at Lan Chile, we decided to go for it and head back across 4000km of Pacific Ocean to Easter Island (Isla de Pascua as the Chileans know it). I hadn't even realised it was Chilean territory until recently.
As a place to visit, this is a pretty remote one...the nearest neighbour is the Pitcairn Islands at some 2000km away...how the Polynesian or European explorers ever found the place (never mind made their way back home again) is beyond my comprehension.
Ever since I was a child, I'd imagined seeing this place one day, though never really expected I'd get the chance. Actually standing outside the airport seeing the first Moai statue (the ones with the big heads the place is famous for) didn't make it all any more real. At least it wasn't raining.
Not having taken time to really plan this, we were at the mercy of the array of islanders offering accommodation at the airport, and we managed to pick the wrong one. A sweet old lady was offering double room with private bathroom for a decent price, but when we arrived at her place - what a surprise - all the rooms matching the description 'were taken until tomorrow'...Hmmm. The substitute room with the chickens and the use of the family bathroom didn't cut the mustard, so we picked up our heavy bags and left a very disgruntled liar alone at home. Luckily, a nice taxi driver (no doubt in need of the tip from the lady who was able to offer us what we wanted) spotted us and sorted us out. All good.
We were staying in the main town of Hangeroa (everyone stays in Hangeroa...the only town) about 15mins walk from the airport and 5 to the shore, so after a shower we wandered along to the pier to check out the town, and our first encounter with the local tourist attractions - the Moai.
Within easy walking distance of the town, there are quite a number of impressive Moai just above the rocks being battered by the Pacific Ocean, all of which face inwards to the centre of the spectacular volcanic island that this is. Variously intact or battered by human or even tsunami intervention over the years, the Moai give the place a very mysterious feel. God knows what the first European explorers must have made of the place having stumbled on the place.
The next day, we got organised and hired a jeep to go see the rest of the island. At 20km or so long, this shouldn't be too long a day, and the sun was shining on us for most of it...guess who didn't use enough suncream?? Following the coast from the airport, we were glad of the 4x4 - as with most things here, even tarmac needs to be shipped in, and there appeared not to have been a boat in town for a few years. Driving, I was fine, having the wheel to hang onto; Laura got the worst of the bumps and a few bruises for her troubles.
We probably missed a number of ruined Moai along the first bit of the route - the local tourist maps are somewhat innacurate and the signage along the way makes Australia look good. However, we were treated to some very special memories, in particular the quarry where it's reckoned most of the Moai were sculpted and from where they were, incredibly, transported across the island. Here, you can find a few hundred Moai in various states of transportation, construction or burial (heads sticking out of the ground, etc). As the place where the statues were 'born', there is something of the graveyard about the place...suspended animation even. Historians reckon that a lack of money or a local dispute of some sort caused a sudden suspension of these ancient operations practically overnight.
The other site of note was the famous row of 15 giant Moai on their platform by the sea. This place was very special and spectacular, and I was glad of the wide-angle lens to enable a single photo to capture them all. All I can say is that this is the kind of place you just go to and stand in awe of.
A bit further along the road we came across one of the two beaches (and thankfully one public toilet) on the island, where there stand another set of Moai which had been buried by the sands for years until they were rediscovered. These sit perfectly alongside the nearby palm trees, and would make a great photo were it not for the continued flow of sand up from the beach and over their base. Small wonder they were buried when noone was looking out for them!
On our third day, the sun stopped shining and the rain started raining. What a different trip this could have been. When it rains, Easter Island is a bleak place to be. Thankfully, the local museum 'curator' was kind enough to turf us out into the rain 20mins after we'd paid to go into the actually very interesting museum. It would have been nice to have been told the place was closing for a 2hr lunch before we went in. The 20min walk back to town was a wet and miserable one. We were even more miserable when we got to town to discover that everywhere else in this tourist Mecca appeared to close for lunch - even the lunch places, and especially and inexplicably the coffee places.
Sorry for the rant, but really...
Blessed with a final sunny day, we marched all the way up the road ascending the volcano just outside town, trailed by a local alsation which had adopted us for the morning. We'd heard that the crater at the top was part of a national park, with a USD15 entry fee, but could see no sign of a ticket office on the way up. At the top, we got some great views across the tremendous crater to the ocean. At 1km in diameter, I'd never seen anything like it, and was glad we'd made the hike up. Finding the short, direct path back down made it even sweeter. Back in time for the cafe's to be shut again and a quick sleep before sunset by the Moai and a slap-up dinner at a local fish restaurant.
Well worth the visit - but they really need to do something about the customer service at that museum...and Nescafe....vomit!
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