You’d have thought that after waiting a lifetime to visit Rapa Nui (the increasingly commonly used native name for Easter Island), an extra day of waiting wouldn’t matter all that much. But seeing as I only had three full days planned, being bumped from my flight by LAN meant missing a third of my time. And I was furious.
I’d heard before that flights to the island are often overbooked, so I reconfirmed my flight at a LAN office the day before, I chose my seat, and I arrived at the airport nice and early. All to no avail. They’d already decided I would be one of the ones not flying that day, so I ended with insulting compensation and an extra day kicking my heals in a sterile hotel in Santiago. To say I was unhappy was an understatement.
But, after a frustrating day of waiting, I finally made it to the island, to be greeted by glorious blue skies and a fantastically friendly welcome from Marta, owner of Camping Mihinoa. Considering I’d been warned that a stay on the island could be extremely costly, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice – at 7,000 pesos (roughly $14), it was a complete bargain, considering the next cheapest was almost double the cost. And cheap certainly didn’t mean nasty – for the price I got a lovely clean dorm room, a big kitchen & dining area, a big communal TV room, and best of all, probably the best location on the island, sitting right on the water’s edge on a rocky outcrop facing some of the most dramatic waves on the coast. Absolutely stunning, I can recommend it to anyone planning on visiting the island.
For my first evening and as an introduction to the island, I made the short stroll up the coastline to the other end of town, to see the sun set behind the most accessible collection of Moai (statues), which was quite an incredible sight. Despite having seen countless photos over the years, nothing could have prepared me for quite how impressive the giant statues are in real life.
The second day was much colder and windier, so I decided to postpone my plans to head out to see the other main Moai sites until the following day, and instead hiked up Ranu Kau, an extinct volcano sitting on the south-western corner of the island. It’s a pretty easy hike, and the views at the top down the steep-sided crater and across to the wild Pacific beyond are stunning.
The next day started out pretty clear, so I decided to set out for one of the biggest hikes the island has to offer – the 34km coastal hike from Anakena beach at one end of the island, all the way back to Hanga Roa via the major archaeological sights along the way. First stop was Ahu Nau Nau, an impressively restored collection of four Moai, all with their topknots reattached (unlike most other restored Moai). Unfortunately by the time my taxi dropped me off there, it had already started to cloud over, as the sight of the four Moai, surrounded by palm trees and overlooking a deserted beach, would have been ever more magical with the previous day’s skies.
Heading away from Anakena along the North-east coast, I really began to appreciate quite how remote I was. Rapa Nui is 3,500km from mainland Chile, and over 4,000m from Tahiti, the nearest major population centre in the other direction, making it one of the most isolated inhabited places in the world. Walking along the empty coastline, with not a single person in sight (all the inhabitants live on the other side of the island, and there were no tourists around), and the huge waves of the Pacific crashing onto the black volcanic coastline, was a strangely moving experience.
It took a few hours to reach the next main sight, probably the most famous image of the island – Ahu Tongariki, the biggest single collection of Moai on the islands. There are fifteen in total, all toppled from their Ahu (ceremonial platform) in the 18th century civil wars, damaged further by a tsunami, and finally re-erected with Japanese government help in the 90s. Sitting in a line with their backs to the swirling seas, and facing towards the volcano of Ranu Raraku, where they were made, they make a pretty impressive sight. It’s amazing to thing that such a small island culture could make (and move!) such massive statues at all, although famously the statue cult was to prove the society’s undoing, as the island simply didn’t have enough resources to support such endeavours.
A short walk from Ahu Tongariki sits the other major attraction of the island, the volcanic quarry of Ranu Raraku. The place is testament to quite how quickly and dramatically the social order collapsed, as the quarry is home to dozens of statues that are either complete and still waiting the move to their final home, or still in the process of being carved out of the rock face.
As I began to the long walk back along the south coast to Hanga Roa, the heavens suddenly opened, and I soon began to curse the islanders (for having chopped down all the island’s trees, thus denying me shelter) and LAN again (if I’d arrived a day earlier, I’d have had a day of sunshine and few clouds to complete my hike in). In no time, I was soaked to the skin, and contemplating a 17k walk back. Not an enticing prospect. Luckily, I soon spotted a car pulling out of a beach and managed to get myself a lift from the commander of the local naval base, who had been spending his day off fisghing on the empty souther coast line. All in all, a very lucky escape, considering quite how little passing traffic there is on the island.
Despite my anger with LAN for costing me a day on the island, the two and a bit days I stayed there were incredible, and a beautiful way to spend my last major stop in Latin America before the next leg of my trip began.
You can see all of my Rapa Nui / Easter Island photos here.