Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Isla de Pascua) – December 2009

On the morning of December 18th, Sarah, Alissa, and I boarded LAN flight 841 headed to Easter Island. It was the most sophisticated flight I have ever been on (I have never flown Virgin). With the ultimate individualized entertainment system at my fingertips , ample leg room, and multi-lingual and attractive flight attendants at my beck and call (ok, not really), it seemed that my journey was stacked up to be awesome. However, the minor swelling I had in my legs the night before worsened during the flight. By the time we touched down in Rapa Nui, I had feet, ankles, and calves so bloated that my boots hardly fit. Not cool.

The combination of knowing I was in one of the most remote and rural places in the world and not knowing the cause of the swelling led to some heightened anxiety (actually, I was terrified). My two amigas took pity on me and accompanied me to the hospital. Despite the modest size and the seemingly relaxed hygienic standards of the facility, I was seen by a doctor who prescribed me just what I needed – a night of rest with my feet up and a strong diarrhetic. Check me out resting my feet (exciting isn’t it?) and the little blue hospital.

Megan's swollen feetHospital in Rapa Nui

By the time I woke up the next morning, the swelling was gone and I was good to go. Yay! Sarah, Alissa, and I began our first morning on the island with a quick, cheap, and delicious meal from a food stand located south of Ahu Tahai around playa Pea in Honga Roa. Two empanadas de atun for me and Alissa and one empanada de carne for Sarah (details, details). I can give myself a little pat on the back for ordering the jugo de piƱa, because it was a super fresh and blended to perfection! I was already in love with Rapa Nui. And yes, it doesn’t take much.

Walking towards Playa Pea in Hongyu RoaAhu Tahai

We rented a 4WD vehicle and began our journey northeastwards along the coastal dirt road, stopping along the way to snap pictures of various ahu (ceremonial platforms). With only horses and a few other cars around, we were able to spend some quality time with the moai in a relaxed and peaceful setting. A site of particular interest on our journey was Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater used as a quarry to supply the stone for 95% of the island’s moai. Alissa captured the moment with a black and white image of the moai on the outside of the quarry, some buried up to their shoulders.

Horses along our journey to Rana RarakuRano Raraku

We continued north on the red dirt road past Poike volcano. Our next stop was at Ahu Tongariki, the largest ahu on the island. The moai here were toppled during the island’s civil war and in the twentieth century the ahu was swept inland. The restored collection contains 15 moai including the heaviest on the island. In the background is Poike volcano.

Ahu Tongariki

We arrived at playa Anakena, the island’s famous white sand beach and decided it was time for an afternoon snack. Not having quite beaten my caffeine addition (thank you Starbucks), I ordered a Nescafe, which was a popular choice both on the island and back in Santiago. Alissa was more adventurous and ordered up her very own Rapa Nui coconut. The three of us relaxed at a picnic table long enough for Alissa to drink the coconut water and have the coconut shattered by a cute boy working at the stand. Not to worry though, this was so we could eat the fruit. After concluding our snack, we headed out for a swim.

Megan and Alissa's broken coconutAlissa at Playa AnakenaAhu Nau Nau at Anakena beach

Our daytime excursion concluded with a lazy drive southwest on the road that goes through the center of the island back towards Honga Roa. We drove through the restoration and research areas of Vatiea, where the land is filled with trees and plantations, a nice contrast with the bare and deforested areas we saw earlier that day.

Our evening began with a dinner consisting of a variety of appetizers and a few strong cocktails. I found the food on Rapa Nui to be fantastic, albeit fairly expensive. Menus on the island mostly list seafood dishes, but there is plenty of International food on the island, including sushi and pizza. After dinner we made a quick stop at our guest house, Mana Nui , and then scoped out a nearby disco. We left after consuming a few cheap beers and settled on a bar close to the airport. This disco was full of what I assume to be Rapa Nui natives. Plenty of dancing and drinking was had by all before we walked back to playa Pea for some star gazing. We went to sleep at sunrise and each awoke to a nasty hangover.

After literally picking Sarah off the street the next morning (it’s not nearly as bad as it sounds… actually yea it is), we finagled a rental car. Getting a car in Rapa Nui on a Sunday is not a simple task. With a combination of luck, broken Spanish, and the patience of our Rapa Nui hosts, we procured a vehicle and began our journey through some challenging terrain north of Honga Roa.

Sarah on the street in Honga RoaMuddy roads north of Honga Roa

The drive northwards to Ahu Akivi was remarkable. It was a crystal clear day, with bright blue skies and fluffy clouds. Surrounded by a dark green and black volcanic landscape, we drove along the muddy and rocky road passing by hundreds of caballos salvajes. We came across a young horse that seemed to be posing for us and also a mama cow with a baby. It took some convincing to get Sarah to drive by mama cow, as she was certain our car would be attacked (to Sarah’s credit, I abandoned my driving duties just minutes after beginning the journey). Also to Alissa’s great pleasure, we witnessed some intense bird copulation.

Baby horseThe cow Sarah was afraid ofLook at his penis!  Look at his f$5(

After our Rapa Nui safari we arrived at the ceremonial center of Ahu Akivi. Ahu Akivi is a unique collection of moai situated further inland than any of the others. Unlike other moai, these seven figures face the ocean. One theory suggests that these seven moai represent young explorers. Other theories suggest they were positioned to look over a village or burial ground as protectors.

Sarah and Megan at Ahu Akivi

Our next stop was Puna Pau – a small quarry containing pukao (topknots for important moai). It is the sole source of red scoria on the island. From this small crater we had a nice view of Honga Roa and the sparkling Pacific Ocean. Puna Pau made me very happy, as you can see in the following photo.

Megan at Puna PauPukao at Puna Pau

Our final destination of the day was the Rano Kau volcano, the oldest of the three volcanoes on the island. Late in the afternoon on this sunny day, we drove southwest on the coastal road from Honga Roa, passing by local residences, docking areas, and rocky coastlines, stopping along the way to snap a few pictures.

Residence along coastal roadHonga Roa dockRocky coast

Although we had heard that this was the most impressive site on the island, we weren’t expecting much as we drove up the mostly mundane road to the massive crater. To our surprise we arrived at Rano Kau and were quite taken with the beautiful and extinct volcano. The crater is a mile in diameter and contains a freshwater lake covered with a patchwork of grassy felt-like covering and sky-blue water.

Sarah at Rano KauGrassy patchwork at Rano Kau

We then spent some time walking around the stone village of Orongo. Orongo was the ceremonial center for the birdman cult. Below you can see parts of the village, some petroglyphs, and the islet of Motu Nui (the small island that aspiring cult leaders would swim to to obtain the bird egg).

Orongo villageOrongo villagePetroglyphs at OrongoAlissa in Orongo looking towards the crater of Rano KauMotu Nui with the smaller Motu Iti

That evening we had dinner at Cesar’s house. Cesar was our new friend whom we met during our second night in Rapa Nui. Cesar was born in Santiago and living in Honga Roa for the purpose of studying the local gastronomy. He put us to work chopping vegetables while he created a yummy chicken and vegetable stir-fry for us. Dinner at Cesar’s was delicious and wholesome and a nice change of pace from the overpriced restaurants on the island. Thank you Cesar for making our last night in Rapa Nui a special one! Maybe next time we’ll get a chance to touch you in the cemetery ;).

Cesar, Megan, and Sarah preparing dinner

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