I went to Easter Island and all I got was the best place in the world

Anyone who talked to me in the six months or so before I left on my travels will know I was fanatically obsessed with the fact that I was going to Easter Island and that I spent a considerable amount of time going on about it – to the point that my father threatened to go before my July visit just to shut me up. When I’d begun the very early stages of planning for my trip back in July 2010, I considered the possibility of going to Easter Island for one hot second before telling myself to get real, thinking it was completely unfeasible. You can imagine my delight when Katie and I begun discussing my visting her in Chile and she mentioned her sister Amy would be visiting around the same time, was determined to go to Easter Island and that she had found a special promotional deal that I was welcome to join in on. My memory is a little unclear but I believe the response email to Katie´s casual question contained approximately 200 exclamation marks. Dramas with international money transfers aside, before I knew it I was opening an email with a flight confirmation for Santiago – Isla de Pascua for the 17th of July. Joy!

Despite organising this months in advance, the reality that I would physically be in Easter Island didn’t totally sink in until the night before. Exhausted from ferry trips, torrential rain and couchsurfing, we had a hectic day organising laundry, packing and money. With Katie having finished her lease at Yali´s house, we were effectively homeless but Yali very kindly let us camp out in her living room. It was also Emily’s last night in Chile and thus her despidida (leaving party). With our ‘room’ being the site of the party action and the party going into the wee hours of the night, combined with final organization and an early morning flight, we got about 3 hours of sleep in total. Didn’t matter, as we were on our way to EASTER ISLAND.

The turbulence on the way over was shocking and I will confess to pondering the fact that if the plane fell out of the sky we were pretty screwed, considering we were on our way to one of the most isolated places in the world and the airline route map showed only blue sea below us. Nevertheless, if the place had fallen at least it would have been a good story – “Rachel? She died on her way to Easter Island.” I spent the entire flight on tender hooks, so utterly excited – when Easter Island popped up on the route map, I may have quietly screeched in excitement. Coming into the island, we flew over the entirety of it and then circled back, at which point I was practically jumping up and down in glee. Walking down the ramp, I was so, so happy. Bright sunshine, island music playing and everyone so stoked to be there meant it was a great atmosphere. We got lai-d with fresh purple flower leis and drove to our campsite by the sea, complete with crashing waves and a gorgeous view.

It will do…

We spent our first afternoon wandering around Hanga Roa, enjoying the sensation of not wearing six layers of clothing and planning our stay. As I mentioned in my last blog, I’d gotten sick in Patagonia and my one night stay in the House of Smoke in Puerto Varas had compounded my illness. By the evening of our first day, I’d hit my lowest point, with a combination of nausea, a migrane-worthy headache, cough, scratchy throat and muscle aches. I sat through our dinner of spaghetti in a stupor and staggered off to my tent, desperately hoping I’d wake up feeling cured.

Not too sick to appreciate the view on our first night.

No such luck – I spent the night awake coughing my lungs out and woke up feeling even worse. I was so upset I was close to tears – I’d spent so many months looking forward to being in Easter Island and now my body was choosing the worst possible time to shut down. We’d signed up for a full day tour taking us around the South and East Coasts to visit the moai, ahus and rock art and I was obviously looking so terrible that Katie suggested I might need to give it a miss. Despite feeling about 2 steps away from death, there was no way I was going to spend one of my precious two full days in Easter Island faffing about at the campsite. As we got into the van, I very grimly pulled my tissues out, opened the window and said to Katie, “I´m going to enjoy this if it kills me.” Luckily, a few hours of walking around grassy slopes and breathing fresh sea air worked its magic and I felt halfway human by mid morning, despite my TB worthy cough and excess mucus.

Who cares how close you are to death when you´re looking out at something like this?

The tour was run by Green Island Tours, owned by a West Aucklander and his Rapa Nui wife. That´s right, I went to one of the most remote places in the world and ended up hanging out with a Westie who ended every sentence with ay bro and wore a Maori TV tshirt. They’ve just started up, but they’re both really nice and great guides – we hung out at sites until the other tour groups had moved on and spent ages discussing the cultural history of the island, with lots of time to absorb the sites. Bonus for me – Marc used a lot of Maori/Pakeha analogies when discussing Rapa Nui history, which was super interesting. Our route was designed so that we started off with ahus and fallen, basic moai and got better and better, culminating halfway through the day when we arrived at Ahu Tongariki, with 15 restored moais looking inwards next to the ocean. It was so absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking, I had to keep reminding it was real life. So so so awesome and my trillion or so photos reflect just how excited I was.

Just another normal day cavorting about with 15 moai in the background

Jazzing up the Ahu a bit

After many, many photo ops we moved onto the National Park. About fifty percent of the entire island is under the protection of the National Park. You pay an exorbitant fee for admission but it’s worth every penny. There are literally statues EVERYWHERE and as you walk around the paths you see them in various stages of being moved from the quarry to coastal areas to watch over ancient Easter Islanders. According to Marc, the statues took 1-2 years to carve out of the rock, and would painstakingly be moved down by lost in the mists of history ways, with heaps falling over on the way, wasting 1-2 years of work and meaning that the statues are just scattered up and down the slopes.

Moai? I can´t see any moai.

We hiked up and down to look at all the park had to offer – a 15 foot moai lying in the rock face, a kneeling moai and a half carved one still embedded in rock. We also visited the lake, where there were practically no tourists and chatted with a UCLA professor in charge of a large scale preservation project. It was pretty incredible; while the main, more touristy part of the park has moais guarded by rails, this more isolated part just has moai chilling out with no restrictions – I could have reached out and touched half a dozen.

Nothing says tropical island beach like a few moai in the background

Next on the itinerary was petroglyphs and then Anakena, the beach! Never say no to white sand, palm trees and some moai to top it all off. We paddled in the chilly water before heading back home. It was a long day but we saw so much and learned lots. I was very grateful my body’s plan to shut down faded enough so that I could enjoy it as much as I did. Finished the day watching the sunset over crashing waves and later on, listening to an insane Australian man corner our two Irish acquaintances to ramble on about Sept 11 theories, crackpot government conspiracies and use copious swear words. As I remarked to Amy, I didn’t know crazy people had the means to get to Easter Island. It was an early night in, because we had another big, reckless day ahead of us tomorrow.