February 20th, 2010

Easter Island

If you are after a set of surreal surprises, this might be your first choice. Think of Hawaii mixed with Chile. Where there would be a family having a luau in Hawaii, there will be a family having a luau but singing Polynesian songs in Spanish. Weird right? Another thing, I thought this place would be full of locals who loath tourists, as Hawaii is typically subject to, but the locals here couldn’t be much nicer. They are happy to see you. Even in the water.

I went for a walk to get my bearings and happened upon a surf spot. Excited to see the familiar formations, I ran down to the water. Awwwww, it sure would be nice, I thought. But I don’t have a board or fins. As it so happens, there was an enterprising young man who had all the equipment I needed. Board, fins, fin socks and even a rash guard. But I don’t even have any sun screen for my face (this was so spontaneous.) Of course, he gave me some of his own.

I paddled out in the turquoise blue water, temperature 80 degrees. The surf was 4-5 feet, peeling both left and right. The bottom, volcanic and dotted with the occasional turtle. The spot was equally lined with bodyboarders and surfers. I chatted with a 15 year old kid who was bodyboarding. He said that both sports were equally popular and respected on the island (what a thought, equality in the sea. Something we haven’t ever really had in America.) Hajive had only been bodyboarding for one year and he was already great. I blamed it on his location of perfect playful surf year round. I also met an Aussie who no lives in Poland. He is the third pilot I’ve met on my journey. He flies a falcon class private jet. Seats 8 and sleeps 6. With a 9 hour range, this little bird flies higher and faster than commercial jets and has Avionics that blow Commercial jets out of the water. His boss is on vacation with his family and they are flying all around the world. Today Easter Island, Tomorrow the Galapagos. The day after that, Miami. Pretty cool life to live. And he doesn’t have the normal setback of a corporate pilot (being on call for 3 weeks at a time) because the boss is Swiss and is extremely organized. He knows 8 weeks in advanced what his schedule will be which lends to a sustainable marriage and family.

One of my room mates is a jerk and he is from Italy. I though I’d mention him because he just got out of the shower (after spending 1.5 hours doing god knows what. Last night his alarm went off for 2 hours strait before he finally got up to turn it off.)

After a spontaneous surf session, I attempted to find my way back to my hostel. Something was about to catch up with me as I began to become lost. I had been traveling so casually for so long that I had become lazy. Who needs to remember the name of your hostel anyway? I found myself attempting to ask for directions to a hostel who’s name I didn’t bother to remember. How hard could it be? In broken Spanish, I said the following “Do you know where a hostel is that starts with a letter K in the first word and starts with the letter T in the second word of the name?” The problem was, I didn’t remember how to say “Letter” “Word” or “Starts” in Spanish.

Three hours later, I found myself speaking with some concerned neighbors who wanted to know exactly why I was wondering around in their back yard. But they didn’t meet me with American arms. They gave me the benefit of the doubt and attempted to send me on my way. Eventually I found an Internet café that I used to look up the name of my hostel. Four hours later, I was home, with a laugh. In case you wondered, the answer is yes, there is only one town in Easter Island, and it’s pretty damn small.

The next day I thought I’d have a hike to the top of the local volcano. I went in the afternoon when the island would be a bit cooler. Much to my delight, I didn’t see a single tour van, but I took the coast. I repeated my wander through people’s back yards strategy and got to see a ton of beautiful coast line that I am willing to bet most visitors don’t ever get to see.

It was a single journey, much the same as my trip as a whole. I was met with stunning electric blue that can only be found in the Pacific. In a sense, I was home. Who ever said this place was a barren waste land certainly hasn’t been here. “But all the trees are cut down. That’s the whole point of the island. The people destroyed the natural beauty in order to transport the statues to and from each site.” is what I could imagine hearing from some smarmy jerk at some future Christmas party. Some jerk who thinks he can get away with claiming to be cultured because he reads national geographic ever so often. And no one ever calls him out on it, because they pay attention the the international community even less. Well I’m here to say that the whole place ISN’T a waste land. It’s a lush paradise here. Tons of trees and greenery can be found in parts of the island. And it is a lot drier than you would think for an island in the Pacific. There aren’t any mosquitoes in the island and there tends to be a beautiful breeze that blows through it’s entirety during most hours of the day. It rains every day for about 30-45 seconds. And did I mention that the people are amazing?

As I made my way up the volcano, 3 car’s full of locals offered me rides. On the third, I was quite tired, so I accepted the offer. Expecting to pay this unmarked taxi, I reached into my pocket at the end of the ride, but the man took no interest in payment. I walked around the sacred grounds for the better part of 2 hours all alone. The golden sun swept across the fields of barley as I gazed across the vast expanse of the Pacific from 1500 feet above. There was an energy here that one must not attempt to explain or describe, only encourage others to experience. Here I was again, in one of, as far as I am concerned, the wonders of the world, with nothing else around, but me. This ME I had learnt to listen to over the past year of exploration. This me that was not just what fit into what I came from. This me who my previous world has yet to meet.

I turned around to make my way back into town as the sun was setting. Expecting a 3 hour twilight that I had received whilst as low as Antarctica, I figured that the two hour walk back into town was not going to be in total darkness. Of course, a Chilean family offered me a ride back into town. They were both teachers who Lived in Santiago. They looked for my hostel as I at pop rocks with their 4 year old daughter in the back seat. Eventually they found were I belonged and dropped me off. Not a bad day at all :)

This whole hitch hiking thing was growing to be a great way to get around, but the next day I shared a rental car with a few English kids and a Kiwi. We went all around the island to check out the Moai (the statues which make this place world famous). I’ve got to say that I’m not a big ruins person. I am not really into staring at some broken pottery and relishing it’s importance a thousand years ago. I look at beauties very literally. Wow, that wave is really blue. That fish is sleek. And so on. I like to say that most of the ruins I have seen are called ruins for a reason, they are ruined. But here is different. The Moai are incredibly aesthetic in their own right. If someone told me that a guy generated the design with a computer 3 years ago, I would still think they were really freaking cool. They just look so impressive.

Another thing that one might find impressive is the abundance of horses here. In packs that appear wild yet well kept, their rich brown color sticks out in high contrast with the electric shock of the pacific. At any point on the island, you can witness these majestic clusters galloping like it’s their job. Roads shut down during rush hour for these packs and it is well worth the wait.

If you are a horse guy (Bud), then you would love it here. You can easily get a ride on this island, and if you could speak Spanish proficiently (Bud), then you could probably easily negotiate a few one of a kind days with the local cowboys, herding these guys.

But I had something left to do before I could go. I had to get into this electric blue. I elected to go on a dive for the high price of $60. I chatted with one of the dive operators who asked me a few questions about my experience. I told him that I had been on 50 dives, which is almost true. When he asked me when my last dive was, I had to give a bold faced lie. “3 months ago was my last dive” , times by two and add a month for accuracy. “Do you need to see my certs?” “Nope, I believe you” in true Easter Island fashion.

We took a small boat out to the dive site which to my glee was the site I had gazed upon a few days before all alone at 1500 feet above the sea level. The dive master said that the visibility would be somewhere between 40 to 60 meters, 80 if we were lucky. “Eighty?!?!?!” That’s twice as clear as any thing I’ve ever been in. When you think about it, the water is so pure here because there isn’t anything around for the better part of 3000 miles to provide sediment. The ocean drops for thousands of meters in each direction once you get away from the island, so any sediment from the island itself is typically vanished into the depths of effectively infinity.

When I dropped my face into the water I was greeted with a color just past blue. It was so deep and rich that my brain had trouble classifying what exactly it was. I thought back to when I was a kid trying to pick out a color for my font on the computer. It was almost as rich as purple. I’ve settled on violet as the color, but I guess you will just have to take my word on it. Swimming in the sea of Ultra Violet, I found myself ignoring the formations and fish, to stare off into the color.

Easter Island is the type of place which proves what type of a traveler you are. If you are interested in getting the proverbial pictures in front of the Moai, this place will keep your interest for only a day. If you know how to get excited about a place, then a week might seem like a rush.

4 Responses to “Easter Island”

  1. Nathaniel (w)Cook(f) says:

    Another nice post which I read to the end. I love Scooby Snacks. wf

  2. JOHN ANDERSON says:

    Great that you have been enjoying Rapa Nui. I loved the Polynesian/Spanish mixture – island-style dancing in the couple of late-night joints, empanadas at the street stall after island harmonies in the church. With cowboys riding down the main street – a strange mixture. Did you come across the Chilean navy thyere – a large contingent on the island usually.

    The holy village atop the volcano rim, with the cliff-fall on the outside and the caldera inside, was my best experience there. I had read Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki when I was young, so Easter Island and its stone figures had always had a fascination . Like you, I found it easy to fill up a whole week wandering round such a small island.

    And congrats on getting to Antarctica ! $4000 is a mere bagatelle for such an experience.

  3. alex says:

    Hey John,

    Good to hear from you. Glad that you had a similar experience. I didn’t see the Navy there much, but I think we shared the favourite place on the island!

  4. Nate says:

    LOL about getting lost (and about Matt’s impersonation of me). I just read this post. Very, very cool, especially your impression of the island as a whole as well as of the Moai. My favorite quote: “This me who my previous world has yet to meet.”