11.13.2012 - 11.13.2012 74 °F
We wake up at 8 and head to the breakfast room for cereal, meats and cheeses, rolls, kiwi and papaya. We sit next to Jenny and Martin, who say that they are going to try a diving tour since yesterday was too rough to be out on the water. The idea of diving and snorkeling appeals to us for a moment, but we decide to hike along the coast and avoid the frigid Pacific water.
We head out on our hike shortly after 9 and head north, following a rugged dirt road that twists and dips along the cliffs. Just past Ahu Tahai where we enjoyed the sunset the first night on the island, we see another moai on an ahu and stop for a few photos. We've noticed during our time here that many of the moai are quite different from each other; some are short-bodied and wide, others are tall and thin. Some have topknots, others don't. This makes sense since it's believed that the moai were sculpted to represent actual people who lived on the island, but the sharp differences between them when you see them in person are still very striking.
As we are taking photos of the moai, we look out at the ocean and see rain quickly approaching the island, forming a dark gray curtain that sweeps down across the water. Not too long after, it starts to mist and, with no shelter around us, we run along the coast looking for any kind of cave or shelter in the rocks. I find an easily accessible sea cave near the rocky tide pools of the shoreline, and luckily it is low tide so we both are able to climb in under the rock outcrop and shield ourselves from the rain. We laugh at our great idea as the rain pelts the shore outside.
A short time later, the rain stops and the sun reappears to warm the damp earth. We continue our walk north along the coast, which gradually transforms from grassy to rocky, with volcanic chunks of all sizes covering the coastline. Horses graze among the rocks, sometimes in the road, giving us no more than a sideways glance as we pass. A black bull with horns (one horn pointed oddly right at us) stares at us as we approach, and we decide to play it safe and give him a safe distance by veering off the road for a short while.
We walk for awhile in the burgeoning heat, feeling our skin start to crisp and itch. After awhile we come across a detour off the road that leads us down near the grassy bluffs and, then almost appearing out of nowhere, is the mouth of a cave. When I say cave, I don't mean the large ones that you see in movies. This cave is so narrow that I wonder if a human being can actually fit through it. No sooner did that thought cross my mind did a man appear and shimmy his way through the mouth and back out onto the grass above, followed by his hiking companion. They tell us that it's very possible to get into the cave and make it all the way to the end, as long as we have flashlights and aren't afraid of the dark. They offer to let us use one of theirs, but we insist that the flashlight app on our iPhones will work just fine.
I follow Matt down into the cave entrance, squatting down and realizing that we would have to leave our hiking packs at the opening because there is no way we can crawl through with them on our backs. We set them on the cave floor and continue, using our phones to alternate illuminating the cave floor as well as the ceiling so we don't hit our heads. Without the lights, it is pitch black. Terrifyingly black. Matt has us turn off our lights for a moment just to see what its like, and we immediately turn them back on.
Eventually the cave opens up enough that we can stand comfortably, and we walk to the end of the cave at an opening that looks out of the side of the cliffs to the crashing waves below. It is absolutely breathtaking, being up on this little perch on the side of an enormous, ancient cliff, looking down at the deep blue water pounding on the rocks below. I wonder if ancient peoples ever lived in this cave or used it for any purpose.
Matt stays back in the cave to take some photos and I decide to head back to the surface so I can keep an eye on our packs. I head back toward the black nothingness in front of me, knowing that what feels like a big dark room now will increasingly constrict and squeeze. At this moment, my little flashlight on my iPhone, always seeming too bright and obnoxious anywhere else, feels much too dim. I can't see more than a few feet in front of me, the shadowy corners and crevices a perfect place for someone—or something—to hide and watch me. I try my hardest not to think of the movie “The Descent,” where a group of cave explorers encounter scary man-eating cave creatures that stalk them and kill them. Obviously, those weird little Gollum-looking things are not in this cave, my mind says. But my pounding heart won't listen.
I make it to the opening of the cave and our packs, safe and sound. Two Asian guys are standing at the surface, looking down at me as I crawl out. They say that they tried to enter the cave but got scared because it's so dark, so I suggest they use their phones and tell them that the sea view from the inside is very worth the effort crawling in there. They pull out their phones and make their way into the cave, hesitating just a moment before plunging into the darkness.
Matt and I continue our journey up the coast into a landscape of not much more than rocky bluffs, rock piles, rock fences, and rocky grazing land for horses and cows. We see another bout of rain quickly approaching land, literally just a couple minutes from us. We scramble among the rocks, looking for a cave to hide in again but all we see are piles and piles of rocks. Unfortunately, although we have our Gor-Tex jackets with us, our shoes are not waterproof and would make for a long, soggy walk back to Mana Nui.
But I get a great idea right at the last second. I tell Matt to find an opening in the rock piles just big enough to either block the blowing rain or, even better, to stick our legs into so at least our shoes would stay dry. We pull on our Gor-Tex jackets and rain pants and find a rock opening just big enough for me to sit on the edge and stick my feet in. Matt runs to a nearby big rock pile and, when he hunkers down as the rain comes, I no longer see him. We're about 30 yards from each other out of sight, and in our own little protective barriers.
Just as we are in position, the rain hits. I curl my body against the rock opening as the rain spits at my covered head and back. I laugh to myself, victorious and, most importantly, dry. The rain stops several minutes later, and we peek our heads up from our rocks and smile triumphantly at each other.
With blue skies overhead again, we keep walking until we see, off the road near the bluffs, a hiking pack hanging from a lone tree. We walk over, and our assumption is correct—it's another cave. However, when we ask a man who crawls out of the cave where it goes, he explains that it comes up above ground just a short ways away. No pounding waves or rock ledges in this cave. We decide to just sit in the shade under the tree and eat our snacks, which for me is a Clif Bar and for Matt is beef jerky, dried fruit, and nuts.
We keep walking until the coastal road we have been following turns right toward the inland mountains, then turn back toward Hanga Roa. The walk back is exhausting. My feet hurt with every step and Matt's hips hurt as well. Not to mention that we are both sunburned on all exposed skin. By the time we reach town, we'd been hiking for 5 hours straight. I'm so tired that I walk about half my normal speed, trudging slowly over the dirt road.
We stop for a late lunch at a place right near Mana Nui called Miro, a cute outdoor restaurant in perfect view of the ocean and the nearby moai. I order a pizza with spicy sausage, caramelized onions, peppers, and a mango sour on the side (delicious!), while Matt has a spicy shrimp and cilantro soup with a side of rice, which he dumps into the soup. He also has two fresh mojitos. After walking so far and going without a real meal since breakfast, we eat happily and admire our beautiful view.
Even though we just want to go back to Mana Nui and take a nap, we instead decide to walk into town to buy a few souvenirs because we aren't sure that we will have time the rest of our stay on the island. We buy a few items from the artists' market and stop at the ocean's edge, watching surfers and stand-up paddleboarders riding the swells just offshore.
We relax at our cabin for a couple hours, then head out for dinner at a restaurant right on the harbor, La Taverne du Pescheur. The place is lively, even at 9:30. Matt orders baked fish with vegetables, sweet potatoes and plantains, while I just have a mixed salad with onions, tomatoes, and avocado. After dinner we walk over to the moai that are located near Mana Nui to take some pictures of them at night.
With our flashlights illuminating the ground in front of us, we venture out into the inky blackness away from town, away from Mana Nui toward the moai. The sound of our footsteps punctuate the melodic churning of the waves beyond the cliffs. The moai appear out of the blackness and I am startled, as if I just swam upon a shipwreck that suddenly appeared out of the murk. We turn off our flashlights, settle down into the grass and wait for our eyes to adjust to the sudden dark. The stars glow like diamonds on velvet, forming shapes, patterns, glowing smears of light. For this—the unadulterated view of the stars without the chalky blur of light pollution—the journey to this tiny island is entirely worth it. We set up our cameras on tripods, pointing up at the midnight sky. The shutters open to collect these pinpricks of light. Click. Click.
A couple other photographers walk over and set up their tripods alongside Matt's, and we all alternate between setting up the frame, waiting 30 seconds, then examining the results. We end up with some beautiful photographs of the night sky behind the moai, which we will treasure for years to come.
Tired, sore, and happy with our day, we settle down for sleep before another long day on Easter Island.