Day 114 -117: 21.4. - 24.4.2009
Isla de Pascua – Easter Island

OK, here comes the short version of my Easter Island review: It is expensive, a tourist trap, a rip off and it is worth it!

The longer version:

Cowboy town 1

That was close. This guy would have almost knocked me out. He came into my direction on the pedestrian walkway in the dark. And he was fast and not alone. He was sitting on his horse. I only realized this because of the noise, I didn’t see him because it was too dark. And I am sure neither did he see me. He seems to fully rely on his horse´s ability to find its way around tourists even in the dark. It took me a while to react when they were coming my way. To my excuse, I assume that this was because the sound of galloping horse hoofs on the pedestrian walkway is not exactly on top of my every day experience list and hence I couldn’t make a lot of sense out of it straight away. Anyway, I jumped out of the way just in time to survive without damage. The horse as a means of transportation is still very common here. In fact this is one of the biggest contrasts I observe on this island. On the one hand I see modern cars and motorbikes (enduros) everywhere. On the other hand people are riding their horses through town and into the internet café, “park” next to the motorbikes and cars and ride back home later. Today I saw a guy on a horse overtaking the pizza service guy in the car in a flying gallop. Now that is a contrast, hard to believe, almost like in a movie that is taking the shit out of a modern society. During my bike loop of the island today I must have seen hundreds of horses grazing freely in the green hills. And I already heard before my first encounter today that the horse riders sometimes behave like real cowboys in town. Today I got the first proof.

Some facts

The island itself is a blast. It is nice and warm here day and night. The temperature is steady between 20 and 28 degrees C. It is relatively humid but not all that bad. I got used to it within one day. The island is small. Not much more than 20 kilometers long and 15-20 kilometers wide. Exactly right to explore it by bike, which I do today. It is my second day here and the first day with rain. The rain is light and warm though and hence I still set off for my bike ride, hoping that the rain won’t last all day. Well, hopes are hopes. The rain gets stronger during the morning and I end up being soaking wet after 20 km (I have no raingear with me, left it in my bags in Santiago because I wanted to travel light to Easter Island, just a small backpack). Unfortunately I am at the low point of my passion when I arrive at the biggest Maori Figure site. 15 of these stone statues are lined up there at the coastline. The biggest is almost 15 meters high. Some have a “sombrero” (hat) on their head, others don’t. This is an impressive sight. Especially after I have seen a movie about how they have carved these figures out of solid rock and transported them to the beach in a tremendous human effort. All of them face away from the water. They have been made for their kings/tribal leaders as a kind of religious act. After all of them have been toppled over either by rivaling clans (19th century) or later by a tsunami (1960s) they have been restored and re-erected in the last few decades to conserve them as a cultural heritage. I would like to have one in my garden really. They are wonderful. So simplistic and full of expression at the same time. Due to logistics restrictions a small indoor version for my home will have to do.

The island does also have wonderful small remote beaches to offer. I get to see two of those today. Fortunately by the time I arrive the rain has stopped. Those two sandy white beaches with crystal clear, warm water are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The snorkeling equipment I have rented for the day helps to enjoy the moments. I am looking forward to the next level of this tomorrow. Then I have booked a diving excursion. I can’t wait for it to happen.

The indigenous people

An interesting thing I have learned about the islanders from the local people is that the women are the workhorses here. The men in comparison are supposed to be a bit lazy. My own impressions confirm that view (that I got from a woman of course). The men I see mostly surfing and hanging out while I see the women working, at least in the jobs that I see (gastronomy, tourist services etc.). These might be more women-type of jobs but there is no real other work-segment on this island that could employ all the men. I could also see the men’s low pace at work first hand when my driver (a local) picked me up from the airport. He was driving the car almost in slow motion. When turning out of the airport parking lot into the road I actually thought he would never get going. And after he finally made it onto the road he was barely driving faster than a bike. Not that I was in big hurry but I was about to ask if I could rather walk. His explanation during the ride was that the locals do all drive very slowly and carefully to not risk any accidents and keep calm in the town. OK, but that is different to not getting going at all. And the guy on the horse who almost killed me has never heard about that rule at all yet. Maybe it only applies to cars. In fact that kind of lazy slow motion life of the (male) islanders is the food for another contrast I find. The mix of busy and energetic tourists, mainly white, with the slow moving and super calm, dark skinned local people is strange to observe as well. Those two groups of people behave completely differently. I learned from a local that tourism on the island is a win-win situation though, that people here are actually happy to have the tourists, hence I won’t comment any further.

Breakfast entertainment

Over breakfast one of the local men demonstrates his comfort and skill in dealing with wildlife. A cock has hidden itself in a palm tree close to the breakfast area. He is so loud with his constant shouting that one of the hotel people decides to shut it up with a water hose. The effect is unexpected. The cock flies out of the tree, makes a big loop and then comes down and lands right in the middle of the breakfast area. One or two of the guests almost panic on their tables. The local guy has a way to capture the cock quickly though. He drives him into one corner and catches him. All with his bare hands and within seconds but still in a calm and relaxed way. I didn’t only learn from that incident how to catch a cock (which is very useful should I ever be in the situation to have the need to do so) but also that they can fly. That was a surprise for me in the first place. City boy as I am I didn’t know that. Embarrassing.

Scuba diving

This is just a different world under water. Once I have gone under the surface all I realize is this complete silence and slow motion in everything. This diving activity turns out to be one of the best things I have done on my entire trip. I remember that I did one week of scuba diving when I was fifteen or so but that is so long ago now that I could not recall the impressions or feelings I had back then. The feeling I have today is simply overwhelming. I dive in a depth of ten meters with an instructor close to me. As our diving spot is not far from the coast I can still feel the waves moving the whole water around me back and forth, including me of course. First I find this rather disturbing and need to hold on tight to a bigger rock or coral as if I was standing on a bus in Buenos Aires. Soon I get used to it though and can enjoy the gentle movements in the water. The richness and diversity of the fish grounds down here are truly impressive. I can hardly believe that I am just ten meters under water and a few hundred meters away from the coast. In this coral reef I see so many different species of fish and sea life that I stop counting after the first minute. Among many very colorful fishes I also see a few camouflage experts: moraines and a stone fish. The instructor leads me through canyons and tunnels in the reef. It is just so unreal. It feels like flying. I feel bad when we have to surface again after almost 40 minutes of diving. I could have stayed down there much longer. And I can now understand how scuba diving can become a real passion. If my list of planned activities wasn´t so long it could even be an idea for me.

Hotel cleanliness

“ Oh, yes, one information for you. We have fumigated the whole hotel complex today at eleven am. This might have shaken up some cockroaches that might appear in your room now. Don´t worry about it though. They will go and hide again.” Interesting. I am not in a cheap hotel. I think this is one of the middle class hotels on the island. Nevertheless, regular fumigation seems to be a must here. I don´t have anything against that though as it is also in my own best interest. And at least I have hot water. My room neighbor told me that he met an American woman on his tour yesterday who stayed in a hotel for 165 USD per night but does not have warm water. What a great deal I have here in my hotel!

Cowboy town 2

This one now was even closer than the first encounter with that wild nighttime cowboy in town yesterday. This time I am not walking but riding a rented bicycle. On my way back from some wonderful cliffs on the western edge of the island I ride by a herd of horses that have just been transferred into another feeding ground by their caretaker. He is on horseback and seems to be done with his work. He gallops after me shortly after I have passed the horses, seems to have the same way home as me. My intention is to leave the dirt road soon to turn right into a small footpath. I want to take a shortcut from the road and be on a more challenging mountain bike trail. Obviously the cowboy has the same idea as he is approaching me from the back in a full gallop, overtakes and dashes right into the narrow path exactly at the same time when I would have done it. We are basically at the narrow trail entrance together. He must have simply assumed that I would stay on the road with my bike. And I am glad I did exactly this. Had I not drawn back and stayed in the road... there were literally only centimeters that separated the horse and myself..had I stuck to my original intention I would have “met” the horse first thing in the single trail. I am sure I would have suffered a defeat there.

The cliffs

Am I simply getting old? Do I act more responsibly now? Or am I simply easier to scare? Do I take less risks than I used to do? Am I becoming a pansy with age? Interesting questions. I am up here on these spectacular cliffs, harsh and high up. They are steep and the sea is going wild down there, with big waves coming in regularly, smashing themselves at the rocks and water and foam flying high. A few years (or rather decades?) ago I would have simply stepped to the very edge of the cliffs, looked down and probably have thought about how far I could throw a stone into the sea. Today my approach is much less rapid, I check the edges of the cliff for signs of stability or instability before going too close to the edge and I ask myself questions like: “What happens if this edge breaks off now? Could I still jump back into safety?” I am not sure where the reason for the behavior change lies; maybe it is a combination of all of my above proposals. What I know though is that I think about risks much more than I used to. And I am not unhappy with that development. I have a long life to live ahead of me and want to enjoy every day of it. In good health conditions of course. Hence controlling risks seems like a clever idea. That might be not cool or all that wild at times but still seems like a good choice to me. I can still have loads of fun in life without killing myself too early. No change needed.

The farewell visit

I was unhappy about me being so dispassionate about the 15 standing Maoi figures when I visited them the day before yesterday. That was when I was soaking wet after 2 hours on the rain (biking), with no rain gear and nothing, hence literally soaking wet. When I came to the figures and it was still raining I didn’t even take a picture. This gap in my Easter island experience didn’t let me sleep really. Hence today I do the only thing that can clean my conscience. I get up at 6.30 am, get on a rented bike in the dark and cycle to the figures again, to see them in the sunrise or morning sun. During the first half I can barely see because darkness without a moon prevails. I simply try to sit very flexibly on my bike, especially in my arms, just in case I hit a deep pothole so that I can flex it off with my arms and don’t end up flying off my bike big time. The second half of my approach is better, the day is dawning, I do actually begin to see something. Now there are some excellent early morning views I get on this windy coastal road. It makes the whole ride very scenic. Finally at the Maois - after about an hour - I am surprised to see 5 cars being there already. So there are some more early birds. They might be on the same 12.50 pm flight as I am today and might have also decided for a last attraction visit before their leave for the airport. They decided for the motorized version though. I enjoy the view of the figures lined up at the sea front, being half struck by the morning sun, colorful sky in the background. This was definitely a great idea to come here again. I feel very good about it. Finally I do also have some nice pictures of the biggest Maoi site ready to bring back home. Back at the hotel I have enough time to jump into the pool (I found out that in a hot climate this is the best thing to do to start the day!), enjoy a proper breakfast and then check out to get to the airport. Bye bye, Rapa Nui, I hope you will remain original and with as little “negative” change as a result of tourism for as long as possible. Keep your culture and people!