Easter Island, Chile (a.k.a. Isla de Pascua, a.k.a Rapa Nui)

We arranged an early taxi (18k CHP) from La Casona Hostel to the Santiago airport for our flight to Easter Island. Late in arranging our plans, we had to book in business class on a Dreamliner plane for the flight out. The only problem was the check-in for LATAM in Santiago was on the second floor behind the La Pausa restaurant but the security (which took 45 minutes to get through and there were still a lot of people in line) was two floors below and the gate was in another dimension. It was so confusing; we were glad we’d gotten there over 2 hours early. The plane still left almost an hour late. Business class, however was great and it was not as pricey as US business class (only about double the normal fare). Unfortunately with large, electronically adjustable (almost fully reclinable) leather seats, a fancy bottle of water, breakfast, and excellent service, we dreaded the thought of the 5 hour economy class flight back.

The Easter Island airport receives only a couple planes a day – probably because it takes them so long to move luggage from the plane, which parks within spitting distance of the terminal, to the terminal. After over 30 minutes of waiting, our luggage made it to the carousel. We walked outside where we got “lai-ed” by our hosts of Cabañas Hare Henua. We piled into their pickup truck and they took us for a short tour around the town which helped us orient and saved them the embarrassment of driving us 30 seconds to their Bed and Breakfast hotel (it is literally a 4 minute walk, with luggage, from the airport). We had a spacious corner room which had a wardrobe, end tables, cable TV and a decent bathroom with toiletries and towels. The large grocery store across the street was closed since it was Sunday, so we made the mistake of shopping at a small place down left then the first left, with no prices posted, that charged us 3 times (4500 instead 1700) of the normal price for a liter of milk. 

View from Pea restaurant outdoor area

Making our way down the main street, Atamu Tekena, we planned to arrange a one day tour, scope out scooter rentals and dive shops. After visiting a tour office quoting 40k CHP per person for a day tour and doing some research, we realized it’s a small island and there wasn’t a whole lot to know.

Tahai at sunset

As Warren put it “they carved these Moai from the volcanoes, most were erected to “protect” the villages, then most were knocked down in tribal wars”, so we decided to skip a guided tour and do a self guided one. (Of course there is more to the history than that, so if you’re really interested, visit https://www.history.com/topics/south-america/easter-island) We discovered a motorcycle license was required to rent a scooter in Chile, so our only options were a quad runner or car.  A quad was ranging from 50-55k (about $75 USD) a day. Dives were 35k to 40k. Pea restaurant (the most reasonably priced on the downtown water front), still cost $20 USD for a dry tuna sandwich, a glass of wine and a beer. This day gave us an idea of how expensive one of the most remotely inhabited places on the planet would be. To round out the day we walked to the Moai site, Tahai, to watch the sunset through the statues.

The next day, as Warren inspected a 300cc quad runner on the main street at O’nei (which had not been open on Sunday and his price was cheapest at 45k), I walked a short distance down the road to buy the park tickets. The tickets are good for 10 days and you can visit each site more than once except Rano’a Raraku (the factory) and Orongo (the crater). Warren noticed a nail in one of the tires, so we got another one, which after inspecting it and taking many pictures, we were off. We had 24 hours so with our contract time of 11 am, we figured we could split the tour over 2 days; being only 63 square miles, it was definitely doable. The only things you have to watch out for are herds of wild horses, stampeding cows, packs of dogs, blinding dust clouds and potholes. Piece of cake.

Our first day, we followed the coastal road (which didn’t look like a real road on the map, but the guy at O’Nei assured us it was fine) and visited:

Vinapu

Vinapu: We wanted to stop here because the platform they constructed with huge blocks of stone, rivals the craftsmanship of the Aztec temple work. The joints are perfectly flush with each stone. There were a couple of toppled moai and some topknots to be seen.

One of the many herds of wild horses

Ahu Akahana: After avoiding a herd of cows stampeding down the road, (weirdly shepherded by a motorcycle – there are, like, a million horses on the island and he’s using a motorcycle?) we made it to Akahana. This site had one of the best preserved ancient villages and of course some moai, also face planted into the ground (result of the tribal wars of the 1800s, it quickly became a theme). The ones standing were restored to their original positions recently.

Rano’a Raraku: After a stop at a secluded beach for a quick lunch (thank goodness for wet wipes – we at least were able to get most of the layer of road dust off of our hands before eating) we made it to the moai quarry (factory); probably the most interesting stop of the day. This is one of the three volcanos  that formed the island and is where they carved the statues. It was amazing to see them littered all over the landscape. They ranged from ones that were obviously being transported away to some destination to others that were just emerging out of the volcano. We also got to see the only moai that is not buried; it has its full body above ground: a kneeling figure looking up towards the sky. After a full circuit of the quarry, we climbed the trail heading left from the entrance to the top of the crater. This crater and Orongo are the only ones that you can view inside. The crater contained a lagoon filled with reeds and some wild horses roaming around.

Tongariki: (the ng is represented as one weird letter on the sign) This is the famous site where 15 moai, restored to their original positions with their backs to the sea, give visitors an amazing sunrise experience. Not being morning people, we never experienced it, but visiting in the afternoon, it was still amazing. You really get an idea of the size of the statues and an admiration for the people that carved, transported and stood up these monoliths.

Te Pito Kura: We stopped here to see the largest moai on the island. On the way we had to carefully navigate through a herd of horses in the road without spooking them. Te Pito Kura was 10 meters tall and weighed 80 tons…and toppled over, which required your imagination to make it look impressive or imposing.

Anakena: Hot, dusty and tired, we drove the quadrunner to the Anakena site – the nicest beach on the island. Our ticket inspected and stamped, we headed to an open air tiki hut cafe and had a very refreshing cold drink (or 2) before walking down to the beach. The lovely pink sand beach afforded the opportunity to wade in and attempt to rinse off the road dust. After rinsing, scrubbing with sand, rinsing and scrubbing again, I gave up. We walked the length of the beach then wandered over to check out the moai overlooking the beach. Seven statues were there: four with topknots, one without and two partial moais. We hopped back on the quad and drove back to our hotel for a bit of a rest out of the heat of the afternoon.

Ana Kakenga lava tubes cave entrance

After replenishing our water supply and grabbing head lamps, we set out to visit the lava tubes. Ana Kakenga was closed to visitors as being too dangerous, but you can visit at your own risk. Following the road passed the Tahai moai, it became packed dirt and ended at a checkpoint and barricade. It was about 6:30pm and there was no one in the hut. We parked and walked passed the hut, following the trail. After 15 minutes I began to despair. As the trail road made a sharp turn inland, we followed a horse path, keeping the ocean to our left. A few minutes later we met up with the road again as Warren spotted a shelter in the distance. After 20 minutes of walking, we actually found it (would have probably been about 25 minutes if we’d followed the road the whole way). The opening was a small hole in the ground. We donned our headlamps and put on our quad runner helmets – which was a good thing, since I must have hit my head 6 times. Once we wiggled through the small opening, the cave opened up and we could stand upright. There were two openings (“windows”) to the sea where the lava had poured out. It was really cool to get close and look out of them – we were quite a ways up from the sea. Back outside we walked a bit toward the water to see if we could see the openings. By craning our necks, we did manage to see one…and were glad we hadn’t ventured any closer to the edge of the windows – the drop to the rock lined ocean would have ended badly.

One of the 2 lava tubes

No other vehicle was in the lot where we left the quad so it was lucky for the 4 people on the side of the road that flagged us down that we were still there. They had been out for a run and Hanna had twisted her ankle on the rocky terrain.  I had Hanna sit on the seat behind Warren and I sat on the back grill: NOT recommended on extremely bumpy dirt roads and in “hind”sight, maybe I should have walked. The other 3 Swedes continued their run behind us – they kept up until we hit the paved road and impressively, ran in not too long after we arrived at the docks. We cheered each of them in as if it were a race. The 2 guys had their family sail boat anchored off Easter Island for almost 3 months and the girls had flown in a month ago. They were planning to stay a little longer and then sail to Pitcairn – about 1000 miles away with 50 inhabitants, one said, but the other girl corrected it to 46 – wow, did 4 people just die? Warren later looked up the history – and quite a history it is – you should look it up. They had to get Hanna back to the boat so we said our goodbyes and drove off.

The next morning, after the B&Bs nice continental breakfast, we finished the quad tour with a drive up to Orongo crater. There were several places to pull over and view the town from above but we decided to wait until we’d seen the crater since we were on the clock. After checking in at the park building, the enthusiastic ranger sped through some information in Spanish which, thankfully another couple was diligently listening to so we edged away and out the back door to the crater trail. The trail is a lollipop and signs point you to the right along the ocean side  but we wanted to be sure to see the crater so we went left. The crater unfolding before us was a Wow factor – it is huge! There is a lake inside it with reeds that are the same kind as those at Lake Titicaca that they use for the floating islands, confirming there was contact with Peru. In 1862, Peru  took most of the islanders as slaves which nearly wiped out the entire population.After dropping off the quad we walked back to the hotel, stopping first at the supermercado across the street. We learned you have to get any loose rolls, fruits and vegetables weighed and priced at the bakery counter and that non-carbonated water is NOT the one with the blue cap (bleh!).

The spacious hotel kitchen was open for guest use and they had a large refrigerator just for guests as well. We cooked lunch, relaxed then walked the 1.5km to town where we put a deposit down at Rapa Nui Dive Center for diving. We then continued on to the minuscule parcel of sand that they affectionately call a beach.

Vying for the tiki umbrella shade with 4 dogs, we were lucky to secure a patch in the shade. We watched the surfers and the swimmers for some time before heading back. On the way, we stopped at Club Sandwich, an inexpensive, open air sandwich spot on the main street for dinner. Warren wanted a hamburger but they didn’t have the ground meat so he ordered a sliced beef sandwich instead and I had a fajita (really what in the USA is known as a quesadilla). The portions were huge – we should have shared a meal. We also had cold beer and cold wine; both of which, especially the white wine, were sometimes hard to find on the island. During our stay, this place was the best value we found for food and drink. 

The next day was diving. Unlike the other dive shops, Rapa Nui Dive Center had an 11 am dive to the Moai site; morning people we are not, so this time suited us just fine. The dive features an underwater moai, which is actually a movie prop:  “The empty shell of the statue was first made for the 1990’s Chilean television show Iorana. Rapa Nui diver Mike Rapu later filled the statue with cement and sunk it to the bottom of the ocean in memory of his grandfather, who had taught him about the ocean.”  The max depth is supposedly 24.5 meters, and although it surpassed my Open Water certification, I wanted to do it anyway. The dive was more beautiful than expected: lots of fish, muted pastel colored coral and remnants of ship chains and an anchor. Unfortunately, the dive shop did not provide us depth gauges, only air pressure gauges. It wouldn’t have mattered – I would have gone down as far as I did anyway. With a doctor’s warning now ringing in my damaged ear, I learned never to put hydrogen peroxide in a bloody ear – and if you do, be prepared to scream your head off as you drain it right back out into the hotel sink. We also killed our underwater camera (well, for 3 days) – it too was not rated for the depth.

Back at the B&B, we had a good laugh over one of the dog’s sitting in a wing-backed armchair in a crazy position. We also had an overly friendly and vocal black cat that liked to waltz into our room when we left the door open and jump up on Warren’s lap when we sat outside our room at the small round table and 2 chairs provided.

For dinner, we took a different route and walked on the road toward the crater and then took a right toward the ocean. This road included a washed up boat that a shark mural had been painted on, a hotel complex with a ton of black flags and signs protesting that it had been built on an indigenous burial site, and some interesting rocky shoreline. At some point along the route, we stopped for a drink at Mahia: an open air restaurant overlooking the water. The guy was waiter and chef and quite funny (he returned with a chef hat on to demonstrate his multiple roles). We decided to stay for a $13,000 CHP grilled fish and jasmine rice dinner with what appeared to be some homemade potato sticks. The fish was still a tiny bit dry but the best, most sophisticated, value-for-the-money dish we’d had so far.

The next day was Warren’s birthday so we asked about the beers that the guy at the hotel brews. Attempting to communicate with the woman who serves breakfast, we finally understood there were 4 different types at 3000 CHP each. She asked if we wanted them now. Uhm, 9:30 AM is a bit early, even for us, so we managed to get across that if she could put one of each near our bag in the frig, that would be great.

Walking along the main street, we saw a guy using a strange tool to hack at the small pineapples they grow on the island, cutting off the “skin” and then handing the “frond” section to eat it like a popsicle.  Our destination was the road toward Taihai to check out the restaurants for lunch. We finally decided on Sonia restaurant. You had to pay in cash, but we got a window seat, 2 empañadas, a beer and a glass of wine for 14k. Not cheap but cheaper than the others along the way.

Walking along the shore line, Warren was collecting the porous lava rocks for a friend, which he put in the small backpack I always carry, I protested saying I didn’t think you were allowed to take anything from the island, to which he replied that it was an island full of rocks and what’s a few rocks lost to tourists each year? (this will be important later).  Back at the docks, we saw a couple turtles in the water and a foal and mom horse outside Pea restaurant enjoying a grassy lunch.

Later, undecided about a dinner spot, we sat on the top deck of Diana Rapu Tepano. It was really expensive, but given it was Warren’s birthday and Pea (with the best views of the water) was closed, we went for it for the views. We concluded the day with dinner at Club Sandwich and the cold beers waiting for us in the frig at the hotel.

Line outside the airport

The next morning we walked the 4 minutes to the airport and got in the line for the flight to Santiago; it was outside the building already. As we shuffled along and finally entered the building toward the security check, there were clear signs of what you cannot take off the island. By this time I’d forgotten about the rocks in my carry on and the only reason why Warren still a has all his limbs intact is that he did not; they wound up, sadly, in the trash, but we weren’t about to let that spoil an amazing trip to Easter Island. 


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