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Man's Best Friend (Even Just for a Day)

Promptly at sunrise, we are awoken by the crowing of roosters but roll around in a sleepy daze until breakfast. The morning is clear and warm considering the strong winds overnight—we could hear the palm fronds battling each other until early morning.

We are the first ones to the breakfast area, which has rustic wood walls and large windows facing out to the ocean. Each table is set with an orange-strawberry smoothie, meat and cheese slices, a bowl of fruit in a sweet sauce, rolls, and hot pancakes. One by one, couples trickle in, greeting us in their native tongue as they walk past us.

When we've had our fill, we return to the cabin to get ready for the day. The forecast is calling for rain so we plan to just walk around Hanga Roa to buy souvenirs. As we get dressed, little Senor Gato comes into our cabin and lays down next to me on the bed, licking his paws and meowing at me. After he departs, another Mana Nui cat that I have named Socks comes in and rubs his face against our legs for a few minutes before leaving.

Pretty much as soon as we walk the 5 minutes to Hanga Roa, the rain hits with a vengeance. We duck into an artisans' market where locals are selling island jewelry, wall hangings, and mini moai carved out of wood, marble and volcanic rock. We browse for awhile, but the rain shows no sign of letting up so we put on our Gor-Tex and head back out into the rain to find a place for lunch.

A restaurant on the end of a breakwater at the harbor has good views and a tasty-looking menu, so we grab a seat on the wood patio that faces the crashing waves. I order a fettuccine carbonara and Matt orders grilled fish with a salad, and we watch the huge turquoise waves break on the rocks and a family of stray dogs—Mom, Dad and two puppies—dig holes and frolic in the sand.

Our pants are soaked through from the hard rain and chill us enough that we order hot cappuccinos before heading back to Mana Nui to wait out the rain. Thankfully, on the walk back, the rain stops and the air warms enough that we instead decide to hike to a nearby dormant volcano, Rano Kau. We quickly change our clothes and head back south through Hanga Roa toward the southwestern point of the island, where the volcano and the ancient settlement of Orongo (where the people of the birdman cult lived) is.

The walk from Mana Nui to Rano Kau is a total of 5.5 miles one way, much of which is a steep incline. By the time we walk the coastal road along a bluff, past a harbor of Chilean coast guard boats and fishing vessels, and behind the airstrip to the base of the volcano, we are already tired and hot. The trail itself leads through a farm of some sort, where cows graze among the trees on either side of the path, then sharply upward toward the lip of the mouth of the volcano. We stop several times along the way to rest our burning legs and take in the beautiful views of Hanga Roa and the western shore of the island. For some reason we both feel extremely out of shape on this hike and are panting with every step, maybe because of the humidity or the heat from the sun.

But the beauty of the hike and the scenic vistas of town don't escape us. North of us, the island is getting some mist, which adds dimension and drama to our views. By the time we reach the summit, we gasp in awe; the crater is surprisingly wide and deep, with water and vegetation forming a sort of marsh at the bottom. The sides are steep with huge rocks rising like the flat side of Half Dome from the southern lip. Beyond the crater is the ocean, with Orongo perched around the edge of the crater from where we stand and accessed by a worn dirt trail along the ridge.


Though we want to follow the other people who make the walk up the ridge to Orongo, we decide against it because clouds have moved in over the volcano, severely reducing visibility and chilling the air. We also realize that many of those who are hiking that extra distance actually drove to the Rano Kau mirador via a dirt road, which drops vans of tourists off just steps from the crater so they can take pictures. Many of these people didn't hike the miles and miles uphill to get here, and won't have to worry about the long trek back down and into town. So, with hunger setting in and our legs yearning for a hot shower, we forgo the extra hike along the ridge and make our way back down the volcano face toward town.

Along the way, we notice a stray German Shepherd bashfully following us, staying a little distance behind us and, when we turn around, stopping and sitting to watch us. We joke that maybe we are his prey and he is just stalking us for dinner, but he becomes more and more friendly as we walk and at one point lays down next to us when we sit to rest our legs. He watches as other hikers walk past but stays at our side. When we emerge back onto the main roads, he follows dutifully, laying down to close his eyes when we stop to take pictures, staying close behind when we're moving. I name him El Capitan after the monolith in Yosemite Valley. After a day of hiking, it seems appropriate.


The three of us make a detour along the cliffs, where brilliant blue waves smash into a rocky beach with such power that, over the years, they have sculpted a huge cave formation where ancient peoples painted their way of life on the wall—which can still be seen today. A rough twisting stairway leads down the side of the cliff to the cave entrance, where the waves send salty mist flying onto us with every crash into the rocks. We truly cannot believe the clean blueness of the water; it almost looks Photoshopped, but no amount of retouching could give these waves the same tropical blue that we see here. While we take pictures down in the rocky shore of the cave, El Capitan, despite my orders to stay at the top of the cliffs, follows us down the steps and lays down at the top of the final landing, peeking down at me every now and again.


We spend two hours like this, with our adopted dog in tow, stopping to pat his head when he licks our hands fondly. When we make it into town, we sit down for dinner at a cafe that has outdoor seating and order white wine and pork with rice for Matt, and a pisco sour with a salami and cheese panini for me. El Capitan lays down just beyond our table, opening his eyes every once in awhile to look at me before going back to sleep. I start to get really sad when I realize that I cannot take El Capitan back to Mana Nui with me, so if he doesn't leave us on his own, I will have to break his little heart and shoo him away.

Despite the risk of really getting him attached to me, I walk out to the sidewalk and discretely feed him half of my Clif Bar that was left over from our hike. He gobbles it up hungrily and licks my hand as if in gratitude. Unfortunately, some nearby dogs see El Capitan eating something and run up to us, surrounding me in a begging, sad-puppy-eyes mass. Not sure what to do, I return to my seat at the cafe and pretend like I had nothing to do with the four dogs now sitting among the tables. The owner of the cafe runs out and shoos the dogs away, only to have to do the same thing a minute later when the dogs all return. Defeated, the dogs all turn and scatter down the sidewalk, including El Capitan. He sits on the opposite side of the street, watching me for a few minutes before walking slowly toward the center of town. I'm sad to see my new dog friend leaving, but I'm also relieved. I don't want to be the one to tell him to go away after we've bonded today.

Matt mocks me a little bit for being so attached to El Capitan, but on the road just outside Mana Nui a little German shepherd puppy clumsily runs up to us and flops down on his back, asking for a belly rub. Just like that, Matt melts into the sap that I've been all day, and rubs the puppy's tummy while baby-talking him. We both agree that, if we were back in the States and encountered these two dogs, we'd have two new members of our household.

The night is calm, the wind still and cool. After hot showers, we are more than ready to turn off the lights and get some sleep, having gotten our fill of our two favorite things: hiking and dogs.

Posted by GoWander 21:28 Archived in Chile

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