A long day travelling

5 02 2010

(First of all apologies to any faithful readers of my blog who may be a bit disappointed with the 2-week delay between my postings and reality. This isn’t because I’m now measuring my time zone difference in weeks instead of hours but is due to a combination of no Internet connections, a laptop that sometimes only has a 2-hour battery life and being too busy having fun. I promise I will catch up eventually!)

I had to leave for the airport around 12 o’clock so there didn’t seem to be much point in doing anything in the morning (not that I had any real idea of what to do): I finally managed a leisurely breakfast. After my usual drawn-out packing – I  really think I should have brought a second bag – I headed to reception to pay my bill. Before I left the owner put a wooden moai pendant around my neck which I thought was a lovely gesture – unfortunately I lost it somewhere in my hotel room once I got to Buenos Aires. At breakfast I’d arranged to share a taxi to the airport with a Chilean woman staying there and after much confusion in the taxi as to how much I owed for the taxi (I really need to learn Spanish numbers if nothing else!) we got to Easter Island airport.

After a very quick check-in, I found Kevin (he’d walked the short distance from town) and we had a (soft) drink together before heading through the gate. The flight was pretty uneventful: I managed to watch the end of The Invention of Lying and I stuck to my original assessment that the idea was better than the implementation. I also started watching Paper Heart which was a documentary style film about a young comedienne (who wasn’t very funny in the excerpts of her stand-up) who didn’t believe in love, travelling around America talking to people about their experiences. I got quite bored of it and wasn’t at all bothered when they switched off the inflight entertainment having only watched half the film.

We arrived at Santiago later than expected and my connection time there was already extremely tight. After a hurried farewell from Kevin at the baggage carousel (I was so glad I’d checked my luggage all the way through to Buenos Aires) I headed out of the airport and back in again so that I could get to International departures. The queue here was huge: everyone had to hand in their exit card and get their passport stamped before they left the country. Although a lot of people in the queue seemed to have boarding times on their boarding pass around the same as mine; I think their flights were intercontinental so there was a longer time before they actually flew. Eventually with just 15 minutes before the flight was due to leave, I jumped the queue and went straight to the front. After another small queue at security, I started running for my gate – my belt and jacket still in my hands since I only had 10 minutes to go. As always in these cases, the gate was miles away from security and I was quite out-of-breath by the time I got there.

After I boarded we spent ages on the tarmac before we set off to Buenos Aires which made me wonder why I’d bothered sprinting across Santiago airport. The flight was empty and the inflight entertainment wasn’t individual like the other Lan flight so I spent most of the flight snoozing and listening to my iPod. The flight information screen on the television implied that there was a time difference between Chile and Argentina but I think this only happens in the (southern hemisphere) winter although it still made me set my watch incorrectly and think that my flight was an hour and a half late arriving before I saw some other time sources.

Regardless of what the real time actually was, my luggage and I arrived safely in Buenos Aires – despite the raging storm going on outside the plane; causing some turbulence that would have made my friend Heather ashen-white and creating some rather awesome indigo lightning bolts sparking around the wings. I was now in my second South American country: Argentina.

Bird men and red hats

4 02 2010

My mobile phone failed to wake me up in the morning; apparently the one blob charge that it had left was not enough to bring it back to life long enough to wake me up. Fortunately the girls had accidentally slammed their door when they left their room which woke me up before I became catastrophically late. So once again I had a hurried breakfast. We set off to Kevin’s hostel – this time with Lucille behind the wheel. Once again the girls were complaining of hangovers.

The plan today was to head to the Rano Kau volcano in the far South-west. We walked up the crater wall, looking down at the submerged, reed-filled caldera and headed on to the Orongo ceremonial village. The people here were part of a bird-cult and the warriors of the village would swim out to the nearby motu (islets) to retrieve a bird’s egg. They then had to climb up the steep cliffs with the egg and whoever made it first to the top with the egg still intact was chief for the next term of office. The challenge was made even more difficult by the fact that competing warriors could try to smash your egg.

Motu that warriors swam to to get the egg

We wandered around the village and looked at the petroglyphs depicting Tangata Manu (the bird-man) and Make Make (their god). Once again the etchings were quite indecipherable and the guide in front of us took an inordinate amount of time on the “5-people-only” platform looking at them; so that by the time we left there was quite a sizable queue behind us. We’d timed our trip quit well. It was gone 11:30 by the time we finished and the car had to be back by midday but we decided that we had to visit the other quarry of Puna Pau. This is where the Long and Short Ear tribes had excavated the red stones used for the pukao or topknot/hats of the moai. This wasn’t exactly en route but we’d missed it out the previous day on the way back into town. After this we headed back but our chances of reaching the car rental place by midday (which were already highly improbable) were thrown completely out of the window when we got stopped by the police.

Pukao topknots

Luckily it was just a routine check and not because of Lucille’s aggressive driving (tee-hee!) so after a very difficult conversation (the level of collective Spanish inside the car would have a 3-year-old kid from Madrid put into remedial classes) we were free to go. When we got back to the car rental the guy almost forgot to check the car for any new scrapes but didn’t seem that worried by the fact we were a bit late back.

We then decided to head off for a spot of lunch – apparently I had to choose so I randomly picked a restaurant along the main harbour. They had a great range of fish and seafood spaguetti [sic] dishes which were absolutely delicious – although if it was supposed to be spaghetti it was actually closer to tagliatelle – mine was with a mildly curried king crab. Sated by our lunch, we headed back towards the centre to find the museum. Lucille and Carole wanted a coffee first but since the cafe already had a happy hour on, Kevin and I indulged in a cocktail each.

Finally we headed off towards the museum which was a lot further out of the town than the signs would have led us to imagine. The museum was really interesting, filled with great exhibits and stories about the moai and the bird-man cult and, luckily, English and French transcripts of all the text in the museum so that we could follow it all.

After the museum we headed West to the seashore and so that the others could see the moai that I’d seen on my first day on Easter Island. After wandering around there for a while, we headed back to our lodgings to get ready for the evening. Lucille and Carole wanted to meet some friends of their’s by the main stage so we headed down there again. Their friends weren’t around so we sat down at one of the bars again for a few Escudos and a mixed grill kebab. Eventually their friends turned up – they were a bit late; as most parents seem to be when trying to get kids ready to go out and they didn’t actually stay around long enough to have a drink with us.

The girls had to go diving quite early in the morning and were quite nervous about drinking a lot so we called it a night a bit after 12 (once again we paid almost no attention to the festival going on behind us). Kevin said his final goodbye to the girls and then we went on to Ana Rapu. There I also said my final goodbyes (although I did see the girls briefly the next morning) and I went to sleep for the last time on Easter Island.

Moai, moai and more moai

3 02 2010

I got up a bit late, so my breakfast wasn’t as leisurely as I’d planned. I saw the French girls again; they hadn’t made it to the festival the night before but had crashed after their afternoon drinks and not made it back out. I also chatted to a few of the other guests and then had to make a run for it to so I’d be on time for meeting Kevin.

Whilst picking up my stuff from my room I had another chat with the French. They were thinking of renting a car and wondered if I wanted to come along and split the costs. I said that I had to meet my friend and it depended on what he had planned. When I left them they were going to ask the Finnish girl to see if she wanted to go – although none of us had seen her at breakfast.

I got to the meeting point with Kevin a bit late but he was even later so it was all good. Neither of us had really learned anything useful about what to do. We had both thought about renting bikes and cycling around to see the sights but the idea of renting a car appealed so we headed back to the Ana Rapu to see if Lucille and Carole had found anyone else to share the car with.

Fortunately enough they hadn’t, so we headed off into town to see if we could find some wheels. My reconnaissance trip around town the day before paid off because I actually knew where one of the car rental places was – unfortunately there were no cars available until noon so we went around one of the artisan centres and then grabbed a coffee.

Finally, at a bit past midday, with Carole behind the wheel we headed off towards Rano Raraku, the main quarry for the building of the moai. Along the way we stopped off a lot. Carole and Kevin were quite fanatical about looking for picture opportunities and every interesting new statue; herd of horses or dramatic coastline warranted a photo stop. This suited me fine since I was also keen to try to capture this rugged, ethereal landscape on SD card and we had a lot of hours until sundown.

We had lunch at the picnic area of Rano Raraku and then set off to look at all the moai on the hillside. None of these were on an ahu (altar) and whether they’d been left here ready for transportation to their final location; deemed unworthy of exultation or put there as more informal monuments isn’t really known. One of the moai was still laying down carved into the hill.

At one point, Lucille and Carole suddenly started kissing some random children which Kevin and I thought was a bit odd (and potentially an arrest-able offence) until they did the same with the parents and we realised that these were some French people that they knew. Actually this happened a lot – sometimes it seemed that the entire French Tahitian community had decamped on Rapa Nui. About halfway around the volcano, it suddenly started raining but luckily Kevin managed to find a rocky overhang that we could all huddle under until the downpour stopped.

After we’d explored the outside of the volcano we then took the route that meandered around the inner caldera. The crater was full of water and more wild horses grazed on the grassy inner walls. Here too, the occasional moai stared back at us and the girls nearly got in trouble with some of the wardens when they took some photos pretending to kiss the statues. Apparently we weren’t supposed to get that close – although the signs had only said not to touch them or step on the ahu.

After the volcano we then continued to follow the road to the very impressive Ahu Tongariki: 15 restored moais all in row. There were some petroglyphs nearby too but as with all the engravings on the island they were heavily eroded and I had to use a lot of imagination to discern the original design. After that we continued to drive North; stopping off at various statues along the way but Ahu Te Pito Kura, the largest moai on the island, was quite disappointing because it had not been restored to its upright position so just lay facedown in the grass. Eventually we reached the beach of Anakena but since it wasn’t that sunny and none of us had brought our swimwear with us so we didn’t really stop off for long.

The moai of Ahu Tongariki with Lucille in front

We then returned our car to the hotel and headed into town for a few cocktails. The cocktails were absolutely massive and by the time we made it down to main stage where the festival was being held for an empanada each the girls decided to drink water. Kevin and I, being hardened British Islanders instead of French lightweights, of course continued to drink beer. We didn’t really pay any attention to the festival whilst we were there and eventually headed off back home so that we could get up early in the morning to continue our car journey round the island.

Easter Island

2 02 2010

I slept a lot on the flight to Easter Island although I did wake up for a bit to watch the first half of the Ricky Gervais film, The Invention of Lying. I think I liked the concept (a world where nobody lied or could even understand the idea of telling an untruth) more than the execution. Although there were a few bits that had me laughing out loud (no doubt to the chagrin of my fellow passengers) and I was looking forward to seeing the rest of it on my return flight.

When we got to the airport Kevin and I exchanged phone numbers, since we were staying at different places, although it looked like his provider didn’t have a roaming agreement with Entel (a Vodafone affiliate) which was apparently the only provider on the island. After a long wait for our luggage I found the counter for my lodgings and we headed off.

Also on the transfer with me were two French girls living in Tahiti, Lucille and Carole; a Finn, Maria; and a Japanese girl. The Ana Rapu guest house was quite basic and grubby (I made the mistake of dropping my T-shirt on the floor and when I picked it up it was covered in dust) but I had a private room with a shower which was nice. I also had 3 single beds so if I was feeling particularly decadent I could have used one a day.

After a much-needed shower (it had been a long night!) I decided to head off into the town and was pleasantly surprised to see that moais were everywhere. And the scenery was staggering: bright blue clear seas; verdant volcanoes stabbing at the sky; surf crashing in the rocky bays, and wild horses grazing among the statues. On rounding each hill, I saw with a wonderful new vista to capture on my camera. It was a shame that it was overcast that day and I didn’t really have the blue skies that I would have liked. I kept heading North until Ahu Tepeu, the last statue on the West coast of the island.

The moai at Ahu Ko Te Riku

I was feeling fatigued from the humid weather so I was quite happy heading back to the town of Hanga Roa. Having realised that it actually extended back from the coastal road I explored the town a bit to get a feel for where everything was. I didn’t see Kevin’s hostel so if his phone didn’t work then I had no idea how we’d meet up. I did speak to one of the tour agents but their prices seemed extortionate – $70 for a half-day trip to the caves of Poike and $120 for a full-day island tour. Eventually I headed back towards the Ana Rapu where I collapsed on the bed and had an hour’s siesta. When I woke up the two French girls were around. They were a lot more chatty than they’d been during the transfer: apparently drinking a pisco sour and daiquiri each had lubricated their vocal chords. They had found a programme for the island festival – although since it was in Spanish with a sprinkling of the local lingo it was pretty incomprehensible. In any event the festivities started that evening at quarter to ten so I decided to head into the town again and see if I could grab some food. By the main stage there were a series of bars, so I sat myself down at one and ordered an Escudo (a can this time – no $3 for a litre bottle on Easter Island) and a beef empanada.

After broadening my Spanish knowledge by learning what algo más meant, I had a few more Escudos and was about to settle my bill and head over to the viewing area when the heavens opened dramatically. I moved further inside the bar; cowering under the tarpaulin and ordered another beer. Once the rain finally abated I headed over towards the stage to watch the show. I managed to snap a few pictures but they didn’t come out very well.

Whilst standing there, I bumped into Kevin. Neither of us were sure what to do the next day but we both agreed to ask around at our respective lodgings and meet up at the information office on the main coastal road the next day with a plan. The dancing on stage was then replaced with a string ritual where a girl would make an unusual pattern with some string (like a cat’s-cradle) and then use it to tell a story. What that stories were, I have no idea since the narrative was all in the local language. It sounded very much like the New Zealand rugby songs when they were chanting. Kevin went back to his hostel after the first one, I made it till the fourth and final one and then decided I’d also get an early night rather than watching the remaining dances.

Even though my room was a good fifteen minute walk from the stage, you could still hear the music clearly from there and I fell asleep lulled by the strange sounds of the band and singing.