May 2nd 2015
Easter Island. How to begin? It wasn’t in the plans for the trip. Not at all really. It’s remote. Expensive to get to. And I foolishly thought there wasn’t much to make it worth it, just some old heads. I was perfectly content to skip the island as the big 6 of South America can be pretty expensive if you do them all. (Iguazu Falls, Machu Picchu, Galapagos Islands, Easter Island, Patagonia, and Angel Falls) Yeah, I had it all decided. Let’s just say this. I’m glad I never make unchangeable plans.
I was talking to a friendly guy from Macau back in my Santiago hostel who was planning to go and had bought his flights for what he claimed was a great deal of 600 USD. I, suddenly interested in getting back to the ocean and a snorkelling place, decided I’d have a look online and quickly found return flights for 175,000 CLP (310 USD) the departure date just 3 days away. Quite a deal.
I went with my gut and booked the flights then and there, locking in to a week on Easter Island, and now, looking back my only regret is I didn’t decide to stay longer, because 7 full days in this tropical paradise proved to be nowhere near enough.
I arrive on the Island around 11 Pm after an almost 6 hour flight with LAN on a surprisingly huge plane. LAN is the only airline that currently serves Easter Island from South America, with two daily flights from Santiago to the Island, which is one of the most remote constantly populated islands in the entire world. If booking do yourself a favour and access the Chilean Lan site, not the American one. I’m told the prices are quite different.
Heading into the baggage claim I am warmly welcomed by Camping Tipanie staff who have come to pick up their guests. One of the friendly local Rapa Nui women places a lay of fresh flowers around my neck, and once my backpack emerges onto the single luggage Carousel we’re off for the short drive to the campground, where I’m shown to my tent complete with sleeping bag and mattress pad. The friendly staff then shows me to the kitchen and bathrooms both clean and well equipped before letting me pass out for the night.
One piece of advice for those headed to the Island, I booked my first few nights online for 11.000 CLP at Booking.com, but when I extended my stay the rate I was charged was only 4,200 CLP, a pretty huge difference. So booking online except during their february festival time is probably not needed at least not past your first night.
There is also another campground called Camping Mihinoa just in front of town with a better location right on the ocean, but I am told they don’t always have toilet paper or soap. Still it’s a viable option at 7,000 including tent rental or you can stay indoors at the hostel next door for around 10,000 CLP for a dorm room. Prices online are higher and they seem to charge for just about every service that came free where I stayed, but it is nice to fall asleep to the waves I’m told by friends.
The next morning, I wake up just after the very late sunrise (between 830 and 9) and head down into town for my first real taste of Easter Island. The plan is to take things slow as I’m tired from a long flight and have been told 7 days is more than you need here.
After wandering around the main street for a short time I start checking on prices of groceries. (expensive but nowhere near as bad as I expected, definitely lower than airport prices but you can expect about a 50 to 75 percent mark up on normal chilean prices here’s a little breakdown)
- Sleeve of Coconut cream cookies: 750 CLP 1.50 CAD
- 1.5 Litres of Coca-cola- 1800 CLP 3.50 CAD
- 8 Slices of Cheese – 1800 CLP 3.50 CAD
- Giant Empanada by the Soccer Field 3000 CLP 6.00 CAD (I lived off these)
- Chocolate Bar Various Varieties: 900-1000 CLP 2 CAD dollars
- Sleeve of Chocolate Chip Cookies 1200 CLP 2.50 CAD
- Juice Crystals: 250 CLP 0.50 CAD
- 1.5 Litres of Bottled Water 1500 CLP 3.00 CAD (The tap water is entirely safe to drink though and with juice crystals you don’t notice the slight funny taste.)
From the main street I head down towards the ocean and take in a beautiful palm fringed harbour, huge waves rolling in and surfers out in force fully enjoying them. My eyes go wide, the beauty already exceeding my expectations for this place. Just opposite the soccer field is where I find my very first Moai, the statues which make Easter Island so famous. Basically huge human like beings were carved from naturally compressed volcanic ash and somehow moved to all sorts of coastal regions on the island, where they stood for hundreds of years looking in at the island majestically. Most of them were built between 500 and 750 years ago and almost all were then torn down by the local Rapa Nui people between 300 and 150 years ago. Historians aren’t entirely sure why but it seems likely the once thriving society on the island dissolved into tribal warfare. To read more about the incredible history of Easter Island and it’s most famous citizens check out this link and the always trustworthy wikipedia.
This first Moai is impressive but it’s just one of a long line of impressive sights today, not least of which is the wild and raging Pacific Ocean. I head off for what I think is going to be a short stroll heading to the right when facing the ocean and meandering through town streets before cutting across to the coast at the first sign of more Moai and some other crazy looking statues and Petroglyphs.
I stroll along the rough and wild coast line enjoying the contrast of the incredible sapphire blue waters crashing against the deep black and red volcanic rock that makes up the base of the island. The surf is crashing in with enviable violence and it helps me fall into the vibe of this magical place, finding peace and excitement in all that energy.
I walk past a small swimming inlet surrounded by more beautiful palm trees but keep moving, feeling anxious to find more Moai which are visible but somewhat distant along the coast line, lonely stone monoliths standing bravely against the elements and time itself to remain gazing inwards towards the heart of the island.
Eventually I reach a place called Tahai home to about 7 different Moai in various states of repair, one still with it’s haunting eyes intact (reconstructed but still pretty damn cool). Here I stop to spend some time wandering around the all but deserted statues and basking in their strange beauty and power. I’m not religious, and not all that spiritual, but kind of like Varanasi in India there is an undeniable special energy in the presence of these Moai. A few tourists come and go as I spend almost an hour exploring the area.
The rules are clearly illustrated by signs warning tourists not to climb up on the platforms (called Ahu’s) or touch the Moai’s themselves, of course eventually some people break the rule and pose for pictures up on the platforms, though they are quickly told off by whistling locals who seem very committed to protecting their history and culture, though they keep smiles on their faces while doing it. The local people in fact are one of Easter Island’s greatest attractions.
Another Tangental paragraph here but I came to the Island and did not have to pay the 60 or 70 Dollar entry fee because right now the local people are protesting the Chilean government and have taken control of the sites. In the past all the money from this fee has gone straight back to the central Government in Santiago and the Rapa Nui people understandably feel as if they should receive something for all the gawking tourists who travel great distances to come marvel at their people’s history. I hope that when a resolution is reached something more equitable is established and would implore the Chilean government to work with the local people to find a solution soon. Anyway, back to my day on the Island.
Eventually I head down to a small rocky inlet and climb around behind the statues, being sure to keep a respectful distance from this historical and religious symbols. I emerge on the other side and after several more photos of these massive surreal statues (the cameras don’t capture just how big they are) before continuing further along the coast, climbing up higher onto some more significant cliffs, the roaring ocean a constant soundtrack to what has now turned into something of a hike. I pick up a few new friends in the form of street dogs who are plentiful and seemingly always friendly on the island.
At the top of the first hilltop I take a seat before eventually feeling the need to get closer to the rolling waves breaking below me on the jagged rocks. Now, Volcanic rock climbing has advantages and disadvantages. All the rough and jagged rocks almost never lack for grip and traction, making it harder to fall, but their jagged nature makes sure that if you do fall you are going to hurt. The uneven rocks also has a tendency to shred shoes, mine are now waiting for a 5th repair. Still I make it down to the very edge of the outcropping rocks and almost get drenched by several waves before eventually retreating and taking a perch much higher up on the rocks, looking back towards the Moai and the town into the violent wind watching huge white salty explosions… of water as the massive waves crash into the rocks and the tide slowly slides out.
Eventually I shoulder my bag and keep going further from town climbing higher and higher onto more and more impressive cliffs. I keep setting landmarks that will be the end of my walk and then keep getting drawn onwards by more interesting geographic features looming ahead of me in the clear blue air. Eventually I reach my limit stopping to sit again and watch the ocean from up high alongside a narrow out jutting strip of land and a tiny islet right nearby. After snapping a few more photos I start my long trek back to town, walking for a solid three hours.
I stop again at Tahai before returning to the small swimming area surrounded by palm trees and capping the day with a quick dip in the refreshingly cool waters. I have my goggles and glimpse some beautiful fish in the shallow and sheltered pool but I’ve sadly left my snorkel in the tent so further explorations in the rougher waters doesn’t seem with the effort.
Refreshed and cleaned of my thick sheen of sweat I end up walking back along the main road for the final stretch in order to take in the local cemetery on my way back to town.
By this point I’m starving having only eaten some coconut cookies all day so I stop into one of the small restaurants adjacent to the soccer field watching some local teens play a game as the sun slowly and majestically fades behind the rough ocean, my taste buds delighted by a truly delicious local specialty: A tuna and cheese fried Empanada. I end up ordering a second but can’t even manage to finish it.
With the sun all but gone from the magical easter island skies I walk back to my home for the week and spend a few moments gazing at the incredibly bright and clear night sky above the island where there is so little pollution to obscure the natural lights. Before bed I meet a group of french families with lots of young children who are exuberant and always full of energy and spend quite a bit of time talking to me over the next week. It turns out putting a bunch of animal and stickers on your laptop makes you more approachable to kids, something I’d not even thought of. I just love stickers.
At any rate day 1 was just a warm up, stay tuned for lots more Easter Island entries coming soon.