Chile - Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 392 (202)

Easter Island

Monday 4th April (2005)

Our new location on the other side of the town proved sufficiently far enough away from the howling dogs closer to the airport as to allow us a peacefully quiet night. Any advantage afforded me by this was swiftly compensated for, however, when I started to develop a bit of an upset stomach half way through the night and was up and down to the toilet constantly from then on. I’d have to guess that whatever the bug was that I picked up, it must have come from the expensive French restaurant last night, although I could be wrong. By the time we got up this morning, I was feeling very tired from the lack of sleep and extremely groggy from the ill effects of my tummy bug. My muscles were aching all over, my skin felt hyper sensitive and I had a bit of a headache to boot. We’re carrying with us an exhaustive supply of different medications and have been fortunate so far on this trip to not need much of it but I decided to raid it this morning to find something to rapidly shut down my digestive system. I started to feel much better within ten minutes of taking the small pill, which turned out to last all day and night. Kai was suffering from the same and he was grateful for the instant relief too that the tablet we gave him provided. We still felt very tired and lethargic for the rest of the day but there are no toilets anywhere on the island outside of Hanga Roa and driving around in a four by four on bumpy roads was not going to be fun whilst trying to tackle traveller’s diarrhoea. Even if it does mean keeping the bug in your system for a bit longer, shutting down your entire digestive system is sometimes the best alternative. I’ll probably pop another one of those pills tomorrow too for the flight to Santiago.

All three of us set out in the Jeep again this morning. Our primary destination was to be the Ranu Kao volcano just to the other side of the airport. This is apparently where the majority of the islands petroglyphs can be found and is also the location of the dwellings from the birdman cult era. We took the Jeep up and around the rough road towards to rim of the crater and found a small car park with several signs in Spanish so we stopped there and started to explore the area on foot. The wind up towards the top of the volcano rim was extremely blustery and we were practically leaning into the wind at points just to stay on our feet. The view down into the volcano’s crater alone was certainly worth the effort to make it all the way up here. A swamp occupies the centre of the crater, some several hundred metres below us. Apparently, there is a species of grass growing down in the swamp that is only to be found in one other location on the earth – Lake Titicaca in Peru. This is one of a couple of clues on the island that seem to suggest a possible Peruvian influence from hundreds or even thousands of years ago. We were to visit the other clue later on in the day.

After enjoying the view, Sandy decided to relax a bit in the Jeep whilst Kai and I set off to explore a bit more on foot. We followed a trail around the tip of the rim for several hundred metres until we caught sight of a small building. It turned out that this was the building where we had to pay our park entrance fees so Kai walked on whilst I backtracked to collect Sandy and the Jeep. The park entrance fees were CLP5,000 (€6,85) or US$5,50 (€4,23) per person, depending on which currency you preferred to pay in, and was to cover all the sites around the entire island in addition to this one. What was strange about this was that this one remote location is the only place on the island where a park entrance fee could be made, so you could explore the entire island with the exception of this little enclave without having to pay the park fees if you so desired. Since we’d made it this far and it wasn’t a terribly high price to pay to explore the whole island, we handed over our last CLP10,000 (€13,70) note and went through to check out the old dwellings and petroglyphs. The birdman cult ruins are strange enough and the petroglyphs were very interesting but I think I was more impressed with the views into the volcano’s crater and out over the cliffs to the nearby small islands more than anything else.

The next site that we wanted to visit was located somewhere down by the coast at the far end of the long runway. Once again, our less than perfect maps were of little use to us and our progress was still further hampered by the worse than useless road signs dotted around the place. Not only are they difficult to understand when they can be found but also it turned out that one of them was pointing in the wrong direction altogether. It took some looking around but we eventually managed to find the ahu with toppled Moai down by the coast. There are dozens of toppled Moai all around the island and the ones here were certainly no more impressive than the others but the ahu on which they formerly stood are significant. The irregular shaped rocks that form the ahu base are cut and joined together with extremely fine precision with no gaps between the joins – just as is the case with the rock walls of Machu Picchu in Peru. This is the second of the islands two clues that possibly point to some sort of Peruvian influence from centuries ago.

In standing to admire this last ahu site, we had essentially completed our tour of Easter Island, having taking in just about all of the major sites. We now headed back into town to pick up some bread and, perhaps, do a bit of souvenir hunting. We were largely thwarted in the later by the fact that it was siesta time again and just about everywhere was closed. We did find one small supermarket that was open and Sandy picked out some bread rolls as well as a few postcards. We also found one of the town’s Internet cafés still open and all three of us spent thirty-minutes catching up on e-mail chores. We struck out on the souvenir hunting. Just a couple of small places were open but the posted prices made it seem like we weren’t getting the bargain we were looking for so we reluctantly decided to head for the artisan’s market tomorrow morning before catching our Chile bound flight. All three of us were now looking forward to a nap and a bit of a rest back at the pension.

In addition to the small jet that landed here the other day, another non-scheduled flight has arrived. A charter passenger airliner together with some two hundred passengers landed here. They are apparently on some sort of yearlong round the world expedition and are travelling en-mass. At the sunset point just a few minutes' walk from our accommodation this evening, there is to be an open-air music and dance performance put on for their benefit. We strolled down there to have a look for ourselves and what we saw turned out to be one of the highlights for our entire Easter Island stay. The area surrounding the standing Moai down by that part of the coast forms a sort or natural amphitheatre and there were hundreds of people sitting on the grass in a semi-circle around a cordoned off section where the artists were to perform their songs and dances. As the dusk settled into night, flame touches were lit all around the amphitheatre. Together with the bright stars overhead and the gentle breeze in the air, the whole atmosphere was magical. As an added bonus, many of the town’s market traders had set up their wares on tables or sheets on the ground in a nearby field. Everything was arranged for the benefit of the recently arrived charter flight and its passengers but, just like us, other visitors and islanders alike were wandering around enjoying the evening too. I particularly enjoyed walking around the market stalls and trying to haggle with the traders to buy a few souvenirs. It took me right back to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Both Sandy and I ended up picking up some really nice keepsakes to take away with us and we spent just about US$100 (€76,92) altogether on a few pieces of carved curios. This is just the sort of circumstance that makes me regret the fact that we are budget travellers. I could quite easily have spent much more money on many more souvenirs but we are constricted both by budget as well as weigh and bulk allowances. A pity.

The cultural display of song and dance started and lasted probably the better part of three quarters of an hour. The amplified music was superb and we enjoyed watching the performers in their grass skirts and mud-decorated skin wielding various ceremonial instruments of warfare and dancing around the arena. We had not anticipated the opportunity to get to see such a unique display of cultural excellence and I couldn’t think of a better way to complete our stay on this the most remote island on the planet. It was an unexpected yet extremely pleasant to the end of a very successful trip to Easter Island.

Since the souvenir purchases this evening represent the last of the expenditure here in Easter Island, let me reflect a bit on how much passing through here has cost us. As always, I’ll ignore the cost of the flights since they are all wrapped up into the total round the world flight package. Altogether, then, we spent exactly €499 during our four day visit. I had budgeted €120 per day for the two of us so we were just €19 over budget in the end. Had we not spent more on our second choice of accommodation, not eaten at the very expensive (relatively) restaurants, not purchased lots of souvenirs or not forked out on a four by four Jeep for the duration, we could quite easily have reduced this amount considerably. But that’s not the point. At the end of the day, we were here to experience Easter Island and to enjoy ourselves and that’s exactly what we’ve done – no regrets.