Situated in the South Pacific, over 3000 kilometers from Chile, is a small island that is home to a number of statues carved out of rock. It’s one of the most isolated places on the planet to visit. The allure of traveling to Easter Island comes from trying to understand where the stone statues came from, and how they were moved to their current locations. Since childhood, I have wanted to visit Easter Island. There was something spooky and mysterious about an island full of face statues, and I wanted to be there.
When I first started planning this trip, I knew that I wanted to incorporate Easter Island into it somehow. This has been a dream in the making for over 30 years. Logistically, it’s a more difficult destination to get to. One must travel either from Santiago, Chile or Papeete, Tahiti. Only one airline services the island and that is LAN Airlines. Ticket prices are not cheap, and the fact that I was going during their Tapati festival makes it even that much more expensive. But hey – you only live once, and I didn’t want to go though my life not having visited one of the more interesting places on the planet.
When I finally arrived in Easter Island, I handed over the 60 US dollar park entrance fee and then was picked up by my hotel. Tekena Inn is a nice little Inn situated on the main road that cuts right through the center of Hanga Roa, the only town on the island. It’s quiet and the breakfast is solid. The internet is basically non-existent, but then again, you’re on the most remote place on the planet. There’s really no good internet anywhere. I dropped my gear and got my bearings by walking down to the area where most of the Scuba Dive shops are located. I was pleasantly surprised to find Peace Boat docked right off shore behind the Moai Te Ata Hero. A friend of mine had spent a number of months the prior year on Peace Boat. I stopped into Orca Dive Center and scheduled two dives for the upcoming Monday and Tuesday. That would give me 2 – 3 days prior to that to explore the archeological sites on the island. I later wandered around and ate dinner at Te Moana and later walked to Tahai, right outside of town where a couple of Moai stand with their backs to the ocean.
The next day, wanting to see more Moai, I rented a bike for 10,000 Chilean pesos and set out to explore the west side of the island. I first stopped in and visited the museum. Next, I made my way to Te Peu and slightly beyond. The road to Te Peu is a rocky dirt road, and as you go farther, it becomes a bit treacherous. It’s best to have a 4 wheeler or jeep to traverse this road, although at some point, visitors are not allowed to continue on in any vehicle as it must be done by foot. I returned to Tekena Inn later in the day sore and tired from my bike ride.
Not having seen many Moai the prior day, I set out the next day again on a bicycle with a plan to see as many Moai as possible. The guy at the bike rental advised me to take the paved road up through the center of the island and then come back along the coast. Honestly, I’m not sure why I decided to rent a bike again, as I was still a bit sore from the day before. With the bike seat reminding my ass that I obviously hate it, I set out on my adventure. After stumbling upon a small unlisted statue on my map, I accidentally arrived at another unlisted gem – Jardin Tau Kiani, a beautiful botanical garden. The garden reminded me a bit of a Japanese garden where oriental statues were replaced by small Moai replica’s surrounded by exotic plants indigenous to the island. A groundskeeper started offering me advice about the location of archeological sites of interest on the island and how to get there. I was struggling with my Spanish and unsure if I was understanding him much. The conversation quickly deteriorated into Spanglish intermixed with vague hand gestures and confused looks. I clumsily got back on my bicycle and headed out.
I finally arrived at A Kivi, confused and realizing that I had been going in the wrong direction. Thinking that I had botched my plans for the day, I continued onward and miraculously located the main highway again and finally arrived at the other end of the island, tired and sore. I started to curse myself for this fools errand. Having traveled close to 20 kilometers, I was not sure if I’d be able to walk properly the next day. But, that’s how I roll – unprepared and uncomfortable. I reminded myself that it was an adventure and that it would make a great story to tell my friends when I arrive back home.
I quickly located the beach at Anakena and dismounted my bike for awhile. I walked across the entrance and visited the two platforms supporting Moai overlooking the beach. What a spectacular view with palm trees, statue, sand, and ocean. I decided to get into my swim trunks and take in some relaxation on the beach. After an hour of some swimming and sun, it was time to continue my quest. Following the road to the east and south, I made my way around Maunga Puakatike to Tongariki and Rano Raraku (the Moai quarry). Many of the pictures you see in books are of the stone statues from Rano Raraku. It is one of the those places that leaves you in awe and feeling blessed to experience this place in the flesh. It was here that I met James Grant-Peterkin, a British native living on Easter Island and founder of Easter Island Spirit. He was at Rano Raraku helping a cameraman get pictures for a new documentary on Easter Island that was being produced. James was very personable and I enjoyed talking with him a bit. Before heading out, I found myself hungry and I knew that I would need some energy to make it back to Hanga Roa. So, I went to the cafeteria and ordered what became the best banana bread I had ever eaten. I spent the next hour riding back to Hanga Roa, alternating between a sitting and standing position as I was exhausted and sore. In fact, I was so sore that I spent the next day recovering from my 40km bike ride the previous day.
Monday, I awoke early for my dive. The dive site that day would be Hanga Roa (also named after the town) where there is a fake Moai placed at the bottom at about 15 – 20 meters deep. Arriving upon the site, everyone had their underwater camera’s, including me, ready for the photo-op. The water in Easter Island is really clear due to the low plankton levels and lack of pollution. You can sometimes see up to 200 feet underwater. But while the visibility is crystal clear, the sea life is not that exciting. I was fortunate enough to capture a sea turtle swimming not far from our group. At the surface, I was able to meet one of my dive partners that day, Vanessa, who comes from Chile. I would bump into her many times during the course of my trip. I spent the rest of the day relaxing and checking out the artisinal markets. The next day, my dive was at Motu Nui, a giant wall of coral. Our group went to 30 meters before returning to the surface. All around, I had a great time diving.
The next couple of days, I spent my time relaxing. I eventually rented a scooter and checked out the volcano at Rano Kau, the stone village at Orongo and Ahu Vinapu. During this time, I got a ride up to Cerro Pui where participants in the Tapati festivals, Haka Pei competition slide down the hill on sleds made from the trunk of banana trees.
Back in Hanga Roa, I often ate at a dive bar a block from the dive shops. It was here that I ran into Vanessa again. Between my bad Spanish and her bad English I came to learn that her Easter Island trip was a gift to herself because her Cancer had recently gone into remission. Again, I had the privilege to meet someone that was conquering life’s challenges and living their life to the fullest. If there was anything to take away from this trip, it would be the number of people with truly inspiring stories that I had continued to run into. Later, I was fortunate enough to watch Vanessa join other tourists alongside the community for a parade in which everyone paints their bodies and wears traditional celebratory garb to celebrate the heritage of Easter Island. And then, before returning back to the mainland, I would take my scooter up to Anakena for one last visit to the beach for some ocean and sun.
I spent my last night on Easter Island, again at Te Moana, outside, dining on grilled fish with coconut and pineapple sauce served with mashed potatoes. With a glass of Chilean Merlot in my hand, I gazed out at the ocean and enjoyed another spectacular sunset. I had done this. A journey that I had envisioned for years, it took a lot of sacrifices and changes on my part. But I was here and incredibly grateful for the fortitude, strength, and support of my friends to make it all happen. Topping off this gorgeous sunset, I ordered up a serving of their coconut helado. Taking a bite, I realized that I had reached my goal and was ready to head back to the mainland. To be honest, 9 days was a bit much and I was ready to go. I had mixed feelings. This was the start of the end of my trip, and I’d be making my way back to the United States in the next couple of days after returning to Chile. It’s been an incredible journey and I’m having trouble processing everything that I’ve experienced and understanding all the new feelings I’m having. The journey’s not over, but I think it will change a bit from here on out. Stay tuned for more posts where I hope to illuminate the fog a bit more.