Chile - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 390 (200)

Easter Island

Saturday 2nd April (2005)

We both had an extremely restless night. The guidebook already warned us of the island’s problem of noisy dogs but I was unprepared for just how persistent they are. I can usually tolerate noise pretty well whilst I sleep but these dogs just would not stop barking all through the entire frigging night. There was one very large and very loud dog in particular tied up in a pen just across the street that seemed to start barking every few minutes or so (or rather, seemed to only stop barking for a few seconds every hour or so). Each time it sounded off, the entire neighbourhood of a dozen or more dogs would join in like an involuntary chain reaction and the resulting cacophony of howling would continue for five to ten minutes at a time. I can’t for the life of me figure out just why the dog’s owners allow this incessant barking to continue hour after hour all through the night. Adding to the near constant shrill of the dogs barking was the ritual singing of all the town’s roosters every hour on the hour. Colonel Sanders needs to get his ass over here pronto. It isn’t just the neighbourhood animals that are to blame. No, all the discothèques start getting into full swing from about one or two o’clock and continue all through the night. I could clearly hear the din thumping out over the town each time the wind blew in our direction. At one point, I opened up the laptop to see what time it was and was amazed that the loud music was still pumping away at four in the morning. Throw in a lot of rustling from all the vegetation that is overgrowing the house whenever the wind blows, along with all the wind chimes that the owners here seem to love, and the inescapable symphony is complete. I probably would have slept better if there were a pneumatic drill stuck in high gear right next to the bed to drown out all the noise.

Breakfast this morning, what there was of it, was laid out on the table in the dining room cum living room. I managed the banana and the glass of juice but that was about it. Without any cereals or anything at all warm, there was nothing there that took my fancy. Sandy contented herself with just a banana. Food continues to remain our Achilles’ heel during our travels.

We took the bottles of water that I picked up from the petrol station yesterday and we set out with cameras and a map of the island in hand to explore what there is to explore. The one place on the island that Sandy particularly wanted to see was the volcano where the Moai statues are apparently harvested from, so we headed for the northeast corner of the island. The roads on the island and the roads depicted on our map agree with each other for the most part but there are some glaring inaccuracies. In fact, no two maps that we’ve seen agree totally on which roads exist, where they meet up and in which direction they go when they do exist. You’d think that for a landmass this small and with literally just a handful of roads to contend with, creating an accurate map would not be difficult. It for some reason remains to this day, however, a challenge that is beyond even the most capable of mapmakers. Perhaps the mapmakers came but were driven away prematurely by the noise of the dogs and thus had to subsequently make things up to get the job done. It’s as likely a reason as any I can come up with.

There are just a couple of paved roads leading away from Hanga Roa and we followed one of these along the southeast coastline. That is, after we first spent half an hour trying to find the paved road from the dirt tracks that we had found our way onto for having tried to follow the map. Still, at least I was finally able to figure out how to operate the four-wheel drive mechanism in the process. The driving on the paved roads has been so much more comfortable now that I’ve figured out how to disengage the four-wheel drive.

There are lots of Moai statues all along the southeast coastline but pretty much all of them have been toppled and the carved lava stone rocks are all lying on the ground, face down – casualties of history and past embattlements. We past several spots where tour groups were being led around by tour guides. For some bizarre reason, all the tour groups depart at the same time, follow the same route around the island and travel generally at the same pace as each other. The net result of this is that all the tour groups pile up at all the stops along the way at the same time. This is yet another one of those pure Easter Island oddities. It seems like an insane tactic to follow but perhaps insanity here is one of the by-products of the sleep deprivation from all the nocturnal dogs. Whatever the reason, we did our best to avoid them where possible. The magical qualities of this place are somewhat displaced when a group of rowdy Germans come trampling through at high-speed and all armed with camcorders.

The volcano we sought was not hard to find. This entire island is essentially formed from the lava flows from several volcanoes and they can all be readily identified on the horizon. We parked the Jeep as close as we could and started to walk up the grassy slopes of the volcano’s outer cone. Dotted around the cone are numerous standing Moai and higher up, there is a section known as the nursery, where a number of Moai can still be found where they were left, in various stages of being carved and excavated from the rock face. The Moai range in size from just a few metres at the small end to the largest at over twenty metres in length. They are carved right out of the porous lava rock from the side of the volcano. We scaled the outer cone to the lowest point of its rim to find a swamp on the inside with yet more Moai statues standing majestically on the inside of the cone. There are apparently lots more on both the inside and out that are toppled and in varying stages of overgrowth from the surrounding shrub and grassland. All the climbing was taking its toll on Sandy so she sat and rested on the rim’s lowest point but I couldn’t resist seeing what the surrounding vistas were like from the highest point. Ten minutes later, I was looking out over the entire island with clear and near unobstructed views to the sea in all directions – simply magical. Visiting the Moai nursery to see where they originated was a fascinating experience and we can now say that we’ve climbed to the top of a volcano on the world’s remotest landmass. Brilliant!

Just a short distance from the nursery, and well within sight of the volcano’s rim, is the sight of an ahu (platform) that has no less than fifteen Moai standing on it. These are just some of the Moai that have been re-erected in recent history. One of these standing Moai has its topknot or headpiece sitting on top of it. Many of the Moai have this red lava rock headpiece in place and it is thought that this might be a reflection of the hairstyle of the men or deities that the Moai represent. Getting a Moai statue weighing many tons carved from the rock, moved into place and erected is a feat of incredible engineering given that it all took place thousands of years ago. Getting this separate piece of very heavy rock subsequently balanced on top is even more of a mystery.

With all the bumping around in the four by four and all the climbing of the volcano, we were now both quite tired. Sandy has tolerated it all extremely well given the circumstances. We can never be more than fifteen Kilometres from Hanga Roa regardless of where we are on the island so a quick ride back into town to grab lunch and, perhaps, a nap seemed like a very good idea, so that’s exactly what we did. I swung by the town’s ATM to withdraw some local currency. This should save us some money since the rate to the US Dollar offered by local businesses is quite poor compared to the bank’s rate. I withdrew CLP100,000 (€137) and this will come in handy for the two days we will spend in Santiago if we don’t spend it all here on Easter Island first.

Naturally, all the shops were closed for the afternoon to allow everyone to take in their midday siesta but we did manage to find one small supermarket-cum-convenience store from which to buy a few bread rolls, some eggs and a tub of margarine. Back at the house, we converted these into boiled egg sandwiches for our lunch. Sandy then went off for her afternoon nap and I did my best to sit at the laptop in the dining room to try to catch up on my journal updates that I felt were starting to get a bit too far behind. I did this for as long as I could but those bloody dogs just kept at it nonstop again until I could simply tolerate it no more. They were steadily driving me to distraction to the point that I couldn’t concentrate any more. That was the last straw. I whipped out the guidebook, located all the places to stay on the exact opposite side of town and set off in the Jeep to go and see if they had any rooms. It was clear that we were to get no real sleep whilst we were staying at this location and it’s hard to appreciate any place when you are sleep deprived.

I followed the guidebook’s map as best I could but not only does the guidebook’s map not reflect the roads on the other side of town very accurately (or indeed this side of town), but the actual road on which the place I was looking for was located was not on the map at all. After stopping to ask for directions a few times, I finally found the place I was looking for and was extremely pleased to see that the owner spoke very good English. At US$50 (€38,46) per night, it is slightly more expensive for what is essentially the same quality of room but it is a much quieter environment and I received a wealth of first class information from the woman there about the island and its hidden treasures. The new pension owner also confirmed what we already knew about the place we ate at last night being one of the worst on the island. As an added bonus, there are several important Moai down by the shore just a few minutes' walk from the new pension where the very best Easter Island sunset can be seen. For the added comfort of having someone around with which we can actually communicate, I think the additional cost will be more than worth it in the long run. She even wrote me a note in Spanish that I can give to our current pension owner that explains that we need to check out tomorrow morning. I drove back to our pension and excitedly told Sandy about this new place that I’d found with a very helpful proprietor. Since it was late in the day, we’d still have to remain here in this noisy hellhole for tonight but at least we have better digs to look forward to from tomorrow.

The sun still hadn’t set so we went back out to do a bit more exploring. We went, in fact, to that sunset location that the new pension owner told us about and it was, indeed, quite a picturesque setting for sunset photography. We also spent some time near the local beach, where the now fading sunset also made for some very scenic pictures. We ended up eating at one of the restaurants there that was recommended by the guidebook. It was a nice enough meal, if a little sparse and basic, but we received an interesting look from the water after we paid the bill. It hit us afterwards that we had miscalculated the tip and left only about 3% instead of the customary 10%. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

Back at the hostel, the owner was not around but a man that I presumed to be her husband was. He also spoke no English but I handed him Spanish written note I’d gotten from the new pension owner. He read it aloud, smiled and said no problem. I guess that means we’re off the hook. I’m so glad we haven’t yet paid for the room.