Friday, October 15, 2010

Rapa Nui Wrappa Uppi

Far from home!  From from everywhere!
The reason to come to Easter Island is to see the Moai statues, and they are definitely worth coming to see.  The island itself is also beautiful, and though the weather was cool at times (we came in the spring) the food was good, the people were nice, and the overall attitude was extremely laid-back.  In fact, it was only during our final day as we reflected over (yet another) tuna and cheese empanada on the beach that we realized that no one hassled, begged (except for the many, many stray dogs, and even then only very gently and respectfully), or tried to sell us tours or souvenirs during our 5 6 days (thanks to LAN delaying our flight by 12 hours) on the island.

Horses run free throughout the island
Not to worry though, we managed to buy, on our own accord, anything a tout worth his salt would have hawked: a) over-priced horseback rides, b) cultural dinner dances, c) “hand-carved” wooden Moai statues, and d) an all-day guided jeep tour.  But not having to continuously reject offers for these items made actually buying them much more pleasant (even if when negotiating vendors immediately accepted our first counter-offer, the clearest of all indicators of significant over-payment).

The natural result of many empanadas

We spent much of our time walking around the island – though taxis were only $3 USD – the little town of Hanga Roa was very walkable, and the extra exercise gave us a bit more freedom to experiment with extra empanadas and Papas Fritas Ahi Ahi (see photos below).  In addition to cars, dirtbikes, pickup trucks and scooters, many of the local Rapa Nuis ride horses throughout the town.  It was both funny, and cool, to see a guy in a Hawaiian shirt (Rapa Nui shirt?) come barreling down the main street at a full gallop, jump off and then hitch his horse, and go into the chain pharmacy on the island.  It was like, the old west meets island living meets suburbia. 

They also ride ATVs -- eeek!

Another “only in Rapa Nui” experience – while hiking through a remote part of the island, with no cars around for miles, we heard American pop music getting louder and louder.  Before long, two men on horseback, with a ghetto blaster (AKA a boombox) between them, came galloping through the field.

Fishing boats at sunset

Parting Thoughts & Recommendations

The place is so small that everyone knows all of the restaurants by name.  The island is VERY expensive, so be prepared.  We scoffed when everyone told us to bring our own food from mainland Chile, but we were really glad that we did (except immediately following our dinner of one whole salami, large chunk of gouda, and an entire sleeve of what turned out to be bran crackers – which made both of us, shall we say, uncomfortably more than regular).

Cemetary at sunset.
Perhaps a metaphor for our stomachs dying inside, following the above-referenced dinner
Coffee
Mikafe (by the dive shops).  Best (and only) actual coffee we found on the island.  It was good, as it well should have been since a cup cost over $5 USD.  The ice cream was cheaper than the coffee, and also really delicious (I mean, it was ice cream).

Restaurants

Kotaro (the only Japanese restaurant on the island) – delicious sushi, the cooked food looked & smelled even better.  And it was totally reasonably priced.  A huge plate cost less than it would in NYC.

New ¨Traveler Dave¨ sometimes agrees to forgo a chair
Taku Vave – this place was more reasonably priced than the spots on the main town and very good.  Just beware, their “fish with sautéed greens” actually means asian style stir-fry.  A surprising but tasty mistake.

Te Moana – The guidebooks say this is one of the best restaurants on the island.  Our fish dish was very tasty (and the mashed potatoes even better), but the $26-$30 entrees meant that we split one dish and one small water
The Empanada Stands (Carritos) – Near the beach are three empanada stands - blue, green, and yellow.  We obviously sampled the empanadas from each.  We liked the green one the best for the atun y queso (but all were delicious).  
Green


Blue

Yellow

We also made very quick work of the yellow’s papas fritas Ahi Ahi.  Very quick work.

Papas Fritas Ahi Ahi:
Fries, cheese sauce, and steak.

Elapsed time:  11 minutes.

Lodging

We stayed at Residencial Taniera, just outside of town proper.  The owner Cecilia was extremely nice and very helpful, and our included breakfasts featured cakes, jams and juices made from the fruits in her garden.  We also quickly won the loyalty of the resident dog with some salami scraps, and he guarded our door every night.  The room was nothing fancy (and the shower was really small) but everything was neat and clean and comfortable.

Our porch

Our guard perro

Activities

Moai Tour – We did a full day tour with Esteban, a mainland Chilean who used to work for the National Parks Service.  Esteban took us on a circuit of many of the main sights of the island. We started at Ahu Vaihu where we saw 8 toppled moai (because of their face-down position, scholars speculate that they were intentionally toppled during regime change, Dave speculates they were just extremely weary).
Other moai (like this guy) never made it all the way from the quarry to the coast

Next we went to Ahu Akahanga, where foundations of boat shaped houses mark the site of a village of about 100 people. Rano Raraku, the quarry, was really cool - hundreds of partially carved and partially buried moai sticking out of the ground on the slopes of a volcano, all in different stages of completion. The $60 US per person national park fee we had to pay here really hurt though.
Classic Easer Island shot.

The next most impressive site was at Ahu Tongariki, where 15 moai were restored (oddly, by a Japanese corporation) in the early 1990s.
Ahu Tongariki

Finally, we headed to Anakena, a small sandy beach with two ahus, one with one large moai and other with seven restored moai. It was here that researchers discovered that the moai throughout the island had coral eyeballs, since these were protected from erosion. According to the Rapa Nui, Anakena was the landing place of Hotu Matua (I think a god? king? whatever) and as such was a holy site forbidden to the commoners (clearly, we are not commoners).

Horseback Riding – We booked a half day trip up to the highest point on the island.  $60 pp. Our horses were both lazy and at the same time extremely competitive - they only liked to gallop when the other horse was getting slightly ahead.  It was a fun couple of hours.
Dave hates this picture, but I look nice.  And I´m the one picking the photos in this post.
Rano Kau Volcanic Crater and Orongo Ceremonial Village –  Free (but you have to walk many hours to get there…). After about 2 1/2 hours of uphill hiking we arrived at the edge of the Rano Kau caldera, which was very cool.

Another 10 minutes took us to Orongo village, the site of the ancient birdman cult. These 54 oval shaped houses were used only a few weeks a year when chiefs of different tribes competed to obtain the first egg of a bird that nested on one of the tiny offshore islands. The winner (or the chief he was competing for) was considered sacred for the whole next year.
We did not see anyone swimming.

On our way back down to Hanga Roa (the town) we stopped at Ana Kai Tangata, a large cave carved into the black cliffs along the coast. The crashing waves and ancient rock art made it a nice little detour until we were joined by a large and elderly tour group.



All in all, Rapa Nui/Isla de Pascua/Easter Island was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and an unforgettable way to kick off the GT!

2 comments:

  1. Glad you enjoyed Easter Island! Sounds like a very unique place. Question...is there a way for me to zoom in on these pictures?

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  2. We're still figuring that out. For some of the pictures, if you double click it will open bigger in a new window. For others that doesn't work. Not sure why yet but it's probably because we had to upload them in low resolution bc the Internet has been slow.. As soon as we have really good Internet, we'll upload picassa photo albums that will be full resolution.

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