The secrets of Easter island
Saturday morning, the 20. August 2011. After a weary night at the airport of Santiago we crossed the security checkpoints and waited for liftoff at Gate 21, Flight#841, Santiago de Chile - Isla de Pascua. The boarding starts as expected and lift off is at 08:20 local time. The sunrise over Santiago creates a strange mood and we spend the time airborne by watching Fast5, Thor and Kung Fu Panda 2.
The landing is on time and Martin starts taking the first pictures. Right at the airport we discovered the first of 10 secrets to come: Very high prices. The entry for the two biggest attractions of the island is 50 USD. We did not pay this right then, which turned out to be the right decision. Friendly (as in: entrepreneurial) locals offered us many options for accommodation (as in: Hotels) Our plan, to walk one time around the island and camp along the way is seemingly illegal. Camping is only allowed in Hanga Roa, on the campground, for 4000 Pesos a person. This is the second secret.
Next to our starting point, the airport, we found the campground: Nice big grassy area, clean bathrooms, stocked kitchen, all very nice. We even bargained a better price and decided to stay. After pitching our tent we went out to explore the one and only town: Hanga Roa. The economic center of the island, even if it is on the west coast. All tours are started here, to the beaches, the Moai, the caves, all info, diving, restaurants...
We started on foot to have a look at the countryside, first down the main road with most of the restaurants and shops, later the coastline with the dive shops and several little beaches. The next secret appears to be: Either you have the money, or not. The restaurants are really, really expensive, crab for 50€ is not our budget. But we did know this and bought a lot in Santiago and brought it with us, so we don't need these fancy restaurants.
The road along the coast leads us further south, along a cave filled with old pictures, made by the original inhabitants of the island. Sadly you can barely recognize any of them. Shortly after this we discover a little trail, that lead up the hills. Small signs report archeological sights, but even these are hard to make out. Mostly it was forest and that's it. At sunset we reach the top, a volcanic crater filled with rainwater, forming a perfect circular lake. The freshwater helps locals trees and beautiful flowers to grow here.
But that is not yet the end of the trail. We continue on to the village of Orogo, an old ceremonial village. Because of the late hour it was closed, but we still managed to sneak in. Carefully walking past a aggressive looking cow, we entered the village and enjoyed the panorama. The sunset created good light for pictures, the rock art seemed to glow.
After a long night of rest we started full of energy, after a healthy oatmeal breakfast. Again we follow the road till the ocean, but this time we will head north. The west coast is full of archeological sights, easy to spot and well maintained. All the standing Moais look towards the sunrise. This is the fourth secret: All Moais aim at the sunrise or sunset at the equinoxes. The biggest star among them ist one Moai with hat and specially made eyes. Another secret: It's only his one left with these special properties. Another one has colorful "tattoos" on his back.
Further north we discover a sign guiding us to caves, so called magma chutes or tunnels. We enter carefully, but without light there is little to see. A picture I take shocks me: A weird creature seems to live in this cave, but then I realize it is only Martin. We had to leave the cave, but promised to be back with lamps the next time.
The heat is quite taxing on me. Used to the cool 10° climate in Santiago, the 25° degrees and strong sun is a big difference. Finally arriving at our destination, seven Moais on an "Ahu", a ceremonial platform. These seven statues represent the seven discoverers of Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua, Easter Island, however you want to call it. They were most likely the very first humans ever to set foot on the island.
After this we enter 3 more caves, all bigger and with more light. These were used in war times as safe shelter. They also filtered and stored water in these caves. At one of the caves a real banana forest grew because of the moist ground. Inside, the caves were of course empty. The way back to Hanga Roa was really easy, a jeep picked us up, full of southtiroler tourists and drove us to the town.
Day 3 + Day 4
The weather invites to chill and relax. I decide to make a rest day. I stroll along the coast, towards a little beach that is visited every day by several turtles. Easy to see in the shallow water, almost no waves and light sand that makes a nice contrast to the darker shells of the turtles. Martin did not rest this day, he continued the exploration of the island. He went to the so called "Fabric of Moais", the 15 Moias at Tongariki and the beach at Anakena in the north. He tells me of his endeavors in the evening, after returning to the campground. The next day is one of the rainy ones, no good lightning for photos, so more secrets have to wait.
This time I will do the round tour as well. Together we walk to the crossroads and wait for a car to stop. After only a few minutes a pick up stops. Two locals were on their way north. They unfortunately stopped at the next junction and had to turn left, so we continued on foot. While we wondered why they even took us with them, they came back, apparently they only did a small 5 minute detour and are now back on the main road. We get picked up again and this time make it to our destination, Tongariki.
The 15 Moais in Tongariki are different in size, different noses, eyes, facial expressions. This is the sixth secret: Every Moai is different, no two are the same. At the "Fabric of the Moai" we could see dozens of them, half finished, even the biggest Moai ever made, still partly encased in rock, half hidden in an artificial cave. All this we could see from the road, a 26x optical zoom did help as well. So our decision not to buy the ticket proved to be the right one. After we saw what we came to see, we left towards Anakena, the northern beach.
Halfway there we made a small rest. A funny looking small stone actually was designated as tourist site. Right there a car picked us up, even without us trying to hitchhike. Two Chileans take us to PapaVaka and Anakena. PakaVaka is a rock carving area, with animals and a giant kayak cut into the stone. While barely visible in the midday sun, it was still interesting to see, and something else then Moais.. again. The beach at Anakena looks beautiful. A bay with turquoise water, white sand, some rocks scattered in the water, palm trees and not many visitors.
The roundtrip was well worth it. The way back was as easy as it gets, again hitchhiking. So, it is clear: the seventh secret is that you don't need any rental cars or tours, everyone is so friendly to just take you where ever you go.
A day a was really looking for. Today we rented snorkeling equipment at the dive shop Mike Rapu. This is the first time that a even touch neoprene suit. Martin just grabs all the gear he needs and jumps on a boat that goes out with divers. I enter as well and enjoy the view of the island. At a certain point the boat stops and Martin barrelrolls into the ocean and snorkels down to 23m. There, a moai is awaiting and thanks to the captain, another secret is revealed to us: The moai has been sunken intentionally, for tourists... A note: The moai is a reconstruction made of concrete, no valuable antiques have been drowned for this.
After the boat tour we had to warm ourselves up a bit. While Martin stayed in the sun, slowly drying, I entered the 20° water, rather cold, even with the wetsuit. I start swimming towards the turtles... In the beginning the waves were rather calm, but later they increase in size. It was an awesome experience, really seeing the underwater world for the first time, with curious fishes and the big turtles nearby. One came really close, but when I tried to touch it it scurried away.
After this try at snorkeling we went back to camp, to eat and rest a bit. At 16 o'clock our next adventure started, we left by boat for a snorkeling trip. At the south tip of the island are three smaller ones, next to the Orogo village. There are no corals there, but swarms of fish and a rough rock scenery. The visibility was good, with only about 10m to the ocean floor beneath. One and a half hours later we are cold, but one experience richer.
The days before last... Relaxing, peace and armed visit of the magma chutes. A jeep filled with two french brought us to the caves. We exchanged our sunglasses for headlamps, and start into the deep... and... just after the 5 meters that were pitch black before, just around a corner, we see light again. The tunnel has two exits towards the ocean. If we went 5 meters further on our first visit we would have noticed that lamps are not necessary. Dough.
The view from the exits was spectacular, right out of the cliff face. We could see two islands, the waves rushing against the rocks and evil birds, known as seagull. Apart from birds there are surprisingly few native animals. Most of the animals are: Horses (about 4000) cows, chickens, dogs and cats and a few more exotic ones, like the turtles. The ninth secret: Many horses, little exotic.
We spend the day at the campground, because our flight was about to leave earlier then expected, at 1300. Tent and the rest of the equipment are packed professionally and carried on our (Martins) back. I will miss nice weather, the turtles, the oatmeal, and at last: Instant noodles with Sauerkraut flavor. We also discovered the tenth and last secret of the Isla de Pascua: July and August are the months with the most rain. 3 of 8 days with light rain and 6 of 8 nights with rain. Still, the stay was absolutely awesome and well worth the price. But a return to Easter Island is highly unlikely, unless we get showered in a rain of cash ;-)