11.11.2012 - 11.11.2012 74 °F
We wake up to a sunny morning after a sound night's sleep, and go downstairs for breakfast. Because our flight to Easter Island (or Isla de Pascua) is at 1:35 p.m., we don't really have time to do any more sightseeing this morning and instead spend a couple hours repacking our bags. We get a good laugh when we realize that the pants we wore yesterday to the Mercado Central smell distinctly of fish and decide that we better not wear those on the plane.
Our taxi driver picks us up at 11 a.m. and drops us off at the airport with two hours to spare, but we realize once we get inside the airport to check-in that this will be a long, tedious endeavor. We are directed to LAN's international queue, which snakes out far past the ropes and twists all around the enormous room. It's a total cluster. For awhile we aren't even sure if the gargantuan line would actually end up where we thought it would end up, nor were we sure why Isla de Pascua is considered an international flight since it is part of Chile.
After a grumpy hour-long wait in the slowest, sweatiest line in the world, I proclaim to Matt, “I will never, EVER complain about American airports again!” Once we are finally able to check in, however, the rest of the process is very quick; security is efficient, probably because no one has to remove their shoes, separate their liquids or pull their laptops out of their bags.
We board our plane and are taken aback by the size of this aircraft. I had imagined a small, 1 seat-aisle-2 seats type of plane, but this one is a 2 seats-3 seats-2 seats, 45 rows deep, luxurious headroom, high-tech TV screens at each seat. Matt and I aren't sitting together but we are just across the aisle from each other. His neighbor is a jolly, very giggly German woman while I sit with a quiet French couple who holds hands during the flight. And we are very excited indeed when we see that, with our in-flight meal, LAN gives complimentary glasses (emphasis on the plural) of wine! My disgruntled impatience from the insanity at the check-in line quickly vanishes with my wine and selection of new movies.
Isla de Pascua is 5 hours west of Santiago in the middle of the Pacific and is the most remote inhabited place on Earth. There is a lot of debate about Easter Island's story (how people actually got there in the first place, what the purpose of the moai were, how they were moved and set into place, etc), though there are plenty of theories. For a long time, people believed Thor Heyerdahl's theory that the native islanders had cut down all the island's trees to use as rollers for moving the moai on their backs to their final resting locations—thereby depleting the island of most of its trees, a classic lesson on over consumption. But new theories say that the moai “walked” to their final locations, in which people would attach ropes to the moai and rock it to propel it forward. The trees died for separate reasons, a type of insect that killed the trees or a rat population or something of that sort. But again, no one really knows.
The stoic, mysterious moai are what draw travelers to Easter Island nowadays. Everyone on the plane seems just as eager to see these iconic world landmarks as we are. As the plane approaches the island, people start craning their necks to look out the windows, people in the middle section standing to peer over those with window seats. Finally, the wave-battered cliffs and grassy plains come into view, and there are the moai, though so large in real life, looking small from the air.
We exit the plane directly onto the tarmac, and feel the warm sunshine that you would expect to accompany the swaying palm trees dotting the coast. We collect our bags at baggage claim and are greeted by a young driver for our hotel, who slips homemade fuchsia flower leis over our heads in welcome. He collects the rest of the people from the flight staying at Mana Nui (three French couples) before driving us back to our hotel.
Mana Nui is located just northeast of the only town on the island, Hanga Roa. It has regular rooms as well as a couple cabinas with a prime view of the ocean and a variety of colorful plants and flowers along the paths. We are led to our cabina, which is set apart from a lot of the other rooms and cabins, and tiredly drop our heavy bags on the floor. The cabin has two rooms, one with queen bed and TV, the other with a kitchen, bathroom, dining set and smaller bed. A wood porch wraps around the front of the cabin, as do sliding glass doors that let in the Pacific breeze.
Bicky, one of the owners of Mana Nui, checks us in and tries to explain the different sights on the island, but she doesn't speak English and we don't speak Spanish. We get a couple words here and there, at least enough to basically understand what she is saying, but boy, do I wish I did Rosetta Stone before this trip!
We walk five minutes into town, passing some moai along the coast as well as some locals grilling on the beach near the small Hanga Roa harbor. Friendly stray dogs trot alongside us, play-fight with each other, and dig and roll in the sand. Children swim in what I imagine is frigid water, since it is technically spring here. Men play a game of soccer on a worn grass field in the center of town. This is a community just like any other; they play sports, teenagers show an almost inappropriate amount of PDA, the cars that drive by have Adele remixes blaring on the speakers. This feels like a community that could be anywhere, perhaps in Hawaii or even the outskirts of Santiago.
We stop at a cafe called Club Sandwich for a quick dinner at one of their outdoor tables. I order a dish called “Papa's Club,” having no idea what it is. It ends up being French fries and sweet potato fries topped with steak strips and a cheesy queso sauce—it's very rich and tasty. Matt has a fajita filled with steak, peppers and mushrooms, topped with a spicy salsa-type of sauce.
After dinner, we walk back to the hotel to grab jackets before heading back out to watch the sunset. On our way out of the hotel grounds we meet a friendly, young Scottish couple--Jenny and Martin--and excitedly tell them about our adventures in their beautiful country. We hope to see them again at breakfast in the morning so we can not only talk to them about how much we liked Edinburgh but also because we haven't found many English-speaking people to make conversation with!
We walk to Ahu Tahai, which is located at a bluff that is very close to Mana Nui and has a row of ancient moai resting on an ahu (a sacred platform) as well as a couple lone-standing ones. There are handfuls of visitors here, sitting on the grass and walking around taking photos. The moai themselves are huge and absolutely beautiful, silhouetted against the bright oranges and yellows of the sunset. A little ways away from the row of moai is one of the more unique of the island, with white coral eyes and a deep red stone topknot.
We take photos of the sunset and then just sit in silence in the grass, watching the moai and not quite believing that we are here at a place that we have dreamed about for years. I am almost brought to tears at the sight of the painted sky behind these ancient structures.
When we return to our cabin, we open our sliding doors to cool down our room and are surprised when the resident outdoor cat comes trotting in and sits down, meowing at us. We decide to name him Senor Gato. This little guy has liked us from the beginning; whenever we'd walk through the garden pathways, he'd come running up to us and rub against our legs. Now, he explores our room, jumps into the sink, sniffs our bags, and then departs shortly later, probably looking for some food.
The song of insects mixes with the sound of the wind in the trees and, somewhere, Polynesian-style music probably from a nearby house. This tiny thumbprint of an island in the navel of the Pacific Ocean feels so isolated, and tomorrow, we will get to explore it.