When I started this trip and believed I had all the time in the world, I was going to learn Spanish. That hasn't happened in the slightest. Hopefully I'll be able to blag this for the next week and a bit. Gonna have to do something before heading back in July.
When I grew up I thought there were 5 continents. I guess this was down to the number of Olympic rings and presumably counting a single American continent. 7 now appears to be the agreed number, which is still confusing. Australia is frequently called a continent, so add on Europe, Asia, Antarctica, Africa, North and South America and there's still a lot of oddities just in places I've been. What do New Zealand, Easter Island and Cuba count as? Central America too. Does Oceania exist? Is that 8? Tricky, innit? Anyway, if we go with 7, reaching South America yesterday got me to 6 (at well as 42 Stanford countries-first new one in nearly 6 months making 50 pretty close. I look forward to raising my bat.) that just leaves Antarctica. Here's another good one-is Antarctica the only continent without a country? Is it the only land without national affiliations? (There are some, but they're limited.
Funny in a way that the luxury has been saved here for the end of my trip's first leg. I spent 70 quid for 2 nights in hotels in Santiago-that's an absolute fortune, about 8 or 9 days usual accomodation. Easter Island is the business class flight, which feels very odd. Will my fellow backpackers shun me after seeing me up front? It's also odd being in this departure lounge-it's the first time I've ever looked round at my fellow travellers thinking I'll be seeing a lot of these guys, as there's nowhere else for them to go when we arrive.
I'd had a slightly crazy notion that the flight from Auckland might develop mechanical difficulties forcing us into an emergency landing at Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Assuming we didn't die that would have been quite convenient since it was nearly 11 hours to Santiago and it's over FIVE back to Rapa today. It's phenomenonally remote. Yesterday's flight was almost entirely over vast oceans nowhere near land. Any turbulence makes you regret watching those early episodes of Lost. I looked at the sky map a few times, as we were flying in the dark all you could see was a screen of black blue. There weren't any places to label and I used to think they were struggling to find towns to mark when you cross the Atlantic.
I'll put my pre-flight reservations about LAN Chile down to pre-programmed European (colonial?) prejudice. I have to say they were very good. First time I've flown and they've had that funky entertainment system where you start films and stuff when you want-like having your own DVD player without having to muck about with the disks. You can even pause it when you go to the toilet, where there's no queue since the entire flight is no longer on the same timetable. As I'd already read the Rapa section in the Lonely Planet, the flight turned into a 4 movie fest. And I have a nice new eye mask.
Essentially Friday was a 40 hour day, since it was 30 hours old when I reached my hotel room and the main bed was huge, any plans of doing stuff were limited. By a long way, this is the closest I've come to dropping out for a day. Since Santiago doesn't sound like a highlight of Chile and I'll be back next week and in August or September, it doesn't seem too criminal.
Still I had to have a bit of a look round. Ambitiously I just wandered off without a map, so had no idea what I was looking at. There were plenty of nice, large colonial/classical style buildings. It also looked as if some 60s/70s Soviet architects of concrete had been employed for quite some time. These were freely interspersed and brought the contrasting ages and styles of buildings in London to mind-of course that was a result of the blitz, I'm not sure what caused it in Santiago. Plenty of nice stuff to investigate on my return.
There were lots of military about, but they seemed very friendly and pleasant, so I didn't find that as sinister as I usually would. Maybe they're on the streets as there's plenty to see on Santiago's streets. In my brief tour I joined crowds watching a hoist moving around 12 storeys up (for no discernable reason) and the group of old boys-the tap dancer with the boater and the band with brass instruments. It was very agreeable to walk round: it didn't bother me that there didn't appear to be any other tourists about and I was very conspicuously not from Chile. My looks were one thing, but my purple shirt was a marked contrast to the sober colours of Chilean fashion.
Still, I should have spent more time in bed-feeling this morning's 6 a.m. pick up. I think 3 time zones in 2 days is a record (excluding in transit stops).Statue Heaven
I felt so self-conscious going through the priority boarding queue that I almost stood in the long queue. Of course, putting on my plane socks, I felt even more self-conscious when my middle aged neighbour stared at my big toes poking out of my regular socks. Seats seem to have a lot more buttons than the last time I flew business, but the best thing was that they had 24 on demand. Can't beat a bit of Jack Bauer.
I'm going with Rapa being the most isolated place on earth. Pitcairn is the nearest place (1500 miles away) and there's not much there; you leave by boat, or fly to Santiago (3,720 kms) or Tahiti (4,050 kms). The people who found it were smart-reckon I'd struggle to get it with GoogleEarth.Saturday
I had half a day after arriving, so ran round getting the lay of the land, some food and seeing my first Moai.Sunday
Having now been on an excellent day trip with Christopher, I am overflowing with information and could write reams on the Moai. As this handheld PC gives me hand cramp, I'll stick to an over simplified summary of the human history and Moai construction and installation.
1. About 400 A.D. the island is colonised by Polynesian settlers.
2. The population increases and society develops so that there is the desire to produce massive statues to recognise deceased chiefs, as well as the economy to support this effort.
3. The population increases further so that the Island can no longer support its inhabitants. Moai production ceases, war starts.
4. Victors in war pull down the Moai of the conquered. Moai look over the chief's village (not the sea) and are believed to channel the magic of the dead chief onto the village.
5. Peruvian slave traders take large numbers of the natives-many die in transit and in the mines they are taken to. When the Peruvians are compelled to return them, many more die in transit. The few that make it back to Rapa bring smallpox with them, killing many of those who'd been left on the island all along. Thus is lost Rapa's written language, history and knowledge of Moai carving, transport and installation.
6. 1888 Chile annexes the island.
7. But they rent it to the British for commercial exploitation. The locals are rounded up and confined to Hanga Roa. 50,000 sheep are put on the island for about 50 years. Honestly. Oh and we 'bought' a Moai for the British Museum. And some petroglyphs. Look lovely next to the Elgin marbles, I'm sure.
Sadly this history seems a microcosm of the human condition. Many of man's better qualities and achievements are on show-exploration, determination, civilisation, community, creation and ingenuity. Ultimately the negative wins out-over population, environmental exploitation (every tree was cut down), war, fanaticism, envy and above all destruction. By the mid-nineteenth century, no Moai was left standing. The 30 plus that are erect today are all the product of archaeological restoration.
Different stages in the construction are the work of different tribes.
1. The Moai is carved in the quarry at Rano Raraku: the carving begins and reaches a fairly advanced stage before the statue is separated from the main body of rock.
2. Later Moai have Pukao, or top knots. These are from a red stone and come from a separate quarry at Puna Pau.
3. When complete a 'small' Moai weighs about 30 tonnes. This needs to be moved to its resting place which may be 10+ km away. There are a number of theories, many of which have been tested, but no one knows how this was done.
4. An Ahu needs to be built on which the Moai will stand. The chief's body is buried under or behind the Ahu.
5. The Moai is placed on the Ahu. No one knows how (the Ahu is raised up, like a platform, to make installing a heavy statue several metres high a bit more challenging.)
6. The Pukao may be placed on top now, or may have been tethered to the Moai during its installation. You guessed it, no one knows.
This is no casual undertaking. Only Easter Island has Moai of this kind. Culturally, statue building and funerary monuments to chief are common in Polynesian tribes. The difference here appears to be that they had the stone and economy to allow them to go gargantuan.
At it's height estimates reckon there were 12-20,000 people on the island. 1,000 were supposed to be in the quarry-separate tribes transported and erected the stones. Then it all had to be paid for. I'm struggling to see how the economy managed to feed everyone and support the Moai industry. There is a theory about extra-terrestrials being involved-I'm not totally convinced there's not something in that.
Everything about Rapa is so unlikely, often due to its remoteness: finding it, colonising it, surviving on it, staying on it, flourishing on it, building transporting and installing Moai on it. Even today, the remoteness prompts a barrage of questions-where's the power come from, how often does the supply ship come, how do you buy a new car, when was the telephone hooked up, is there a long cable across the sea to Chile.
Christopher's tour was excellent, we started at Ahu Vaihu, where the Moai remain where they toppled.
A similar scene greeted us (me and the Aussie girl from my hostel) at Ahu Akahanga.
Then it was onto Rano Raraku and Tongariki-either one of which is an obvious world heritage site and contender for membership of the 7 wonders of the world. Juxtaposed, they're mind blowing.
Raraku is the quarry, this is what you see on the approach.
And that's something of a close up, due to the limitations of photography. Here are over 300 of the island's 900 or so Moai-some are still being worked on,
some seem to await transportation
and some genuinely have the feel of shop window
get your Moai here. Still open mouthed at this Moai nursery, you round a corner and get your first glimpse of Tongariki for which I was totally (and joyously) unprepared.
Raraku carries on
and we climbed to the top for the views of the area. I don't remember much of that-my head was spinning. One of the under construction statues was to be 21m high. Experts say it would have been impossible to transport-a bold call when you don't know how they moved them.
After lunch we drove the short distance to Tongariki, the biggest and most spectacular restoration.
More than ever, you don't need me to say anything.
On the other side of the Poike Peninsula, how's this for freaky?
To me that's a Moai sleeping in a hill. Ahu Te Pito Kura has the largest Moai ever installed at just under 10m.
Then for a big finish, the beach at Anakena
This was for royalty only: it's one of only 2 natural beaches on the island-the other is so small it might struggle to host a meeting of the Gary Glitter fan club. Anakena is also the site of the Moai erected by Thor Heyerdahl and friends-13 men, 20 days, some damage to Moai.
Moai-wise, these sites are the pick, but there's much more to explore. This is an extraordinary place. Quite literally.
I went out with the Aussie girl and Stephanie-Jersey girl who likes to think she's from New York. They were catching the evening flight to Tahiti. I was just settling down in the empty hostel to write about today's trip, when Steph returned. Turned out her e ticket didn't really exist. Should have some good company for the next 3 days.Monday
I'd worked out a good walking tour for today that would take me round a lot of places I'd not seen. Rather than walk on the road, I plumped for a more cross country coastal route. This was tough going-the grass was long and covered the uneven rocky ground beneath. The map said it should take me an hour by road to reach Ahu Te Peu-my way took 3 hours.
I bumped into Steph on a horse as I was preparing my torch to investigate a cave I hoped was Ana Kakenga, my first planned stop. I'd managed to miss it. This coastal route could have worked out better.
I'd had one dog following me since I left Hanga Roa, then at the ruin of Ahu Te Peu 2 more joined me to give proceedings a pied piper feel. The number of strays is a feature of the island. Walking wasn't always easy-in places, the groundsman needs to work on the drainage
My next stop was Ana Te Pahu, a crazy and sprawling cave that offered substantial accommodation and a built in garden.
The dogs followed me in and around the cave. By now, two of them were chewing on horses' hooves. I wondered if they had plans for me.
The day's un doubted highlight was Ahu Akivi.
This is the only place where Moai look towards the sea-it's quite a way inland.
Then I made a final stop at Puna Pau, the red stone quarry where the topknots were made. Weary, I trekked back the final few kms to Hanga Roa-still with my trusty friends.
I'd barely got back and collapsed after 7 and a half hours almost constant walking, when Steph chivvied me out the door again as sunset was kicking off. Cracking day.Tuesday
Well I've done some ridiculous things in my time, but this morning was right up there. Stephanie and I have hired Christopher's 4WD for the day and the initial plan was to go out for sunrise. Late night last night, but since Rapa isn't in its natural time zone (to make business and communication with mainland Chile easier), it wasn't too early a start.
May is the wettest month here and there's been rain everyday, with the heavier stuff overnight. It started later last night, but went at monsoon levels to make up for it. With it still raining when it was time to leave, Stephanie decided to skip it. Inevitably, I ploughed on, despite knowing it was idiotic and likely to be pointless. Perhaps because of those very things.
Parts of the road were now rivers, others just lakes. We'd discussed various options last night and I decided to try Vinapu, which was the closest although it wasn't clear if you could reach it by road. You couldn't. I ended up at what I think is the NASA bit (Rapa is an emergency space shuttle landing site).
I gingerly did a 5 point turn-no prizes for getting the car stuck on the verge and headed back. Visibility was appalling-aside from the rain it was utterly pitch black dark. That's my excuse for getting lost anyway. I later found the road has 2 branches at a very acute angle, I went straight on, only seeing one branch-the wrong one.
So I headed off down the coast road; after half an hour I could see the sea, but I was right on top of Tongariki before I saw it. I got my first decent pic with night mode
and although there wasn't really a sunrise to watch, the vegetation, mist and rain were very atmospheric as it got lighter.
The rain's getting harder as I eat breakfast-not sure what we'll do!
We'd planned to hike up Maunga Pukatikei-the high point of the far peninsula. We spent time at Anakena, Playa Ovahe, Te Pito Kura and Rano Raraku. Since the cloud lifted off Maunga Pukatikei for about 5 mins, we canned the hiking plan. This is definitely one of those places where a single visit to the sights is insufficient, so going back was something we both enjoyed.
We found the out of the way Vinapu site (not too far from where I'd been lost this morning). This was an unrestored site, but didn't feel a ruin like Ahu Te Peu. I find the fallen statues poignant
This was also where we found the lady Moai and a number of severed heads.
Steph wanted to show me Ana Kakenga, the 2 windows cave I'd walked past yesterday. We decided to go via Ahu Akivi, which turned out to be a mistake as the road between the two was so bad that we got stuck in liquid mud. After about 10 mins, a german guy came to 'see what the road was like'. Since we'd done that job for him, he got behind the wheel, we pushed and the car came free. We just had time to tear round the other side and join the sunset crowd.
We were delayed a touch by the dog that was weaving and running in front of the car trying to bite the tyres. This freaked me out. Steph just told me to drive faster: she thought he was smart enough to get out the way. I felt his actions indicated otherwise.
We also made a great new friend at the sunrise. It was hard to stifle our giggles as one local rode past on his horse. My hair wouldn´t be that long if I grew it for 10 years-he had the most arse wipingly long hair I have ever seen on a man. He first rode past with a guitar strapped to his back, but we weren´t at all surprised when he rode back hands free, playing his guitar. The surprise was that he didn´t have a rose clamped between his teeth. Hard to believe, but he wasn´t taking the piss or preparing for a role in the next Will Ferrell movie. We couldn´t help but stare and the moment I averted my eyes (to wipe away the tears), he stuck his tongue out at Steph. Mmm sexy.
And how I haven´t got a photo is a mystery. I described him to Christopher, who said he could be any one of 20 guys on the island. We found him again a few nights later with 3 ladies of a certain age, who hung on his every word, despite the absence of horse and guitar. Seriously ladies, he´ll only ever love one person-himself, the best they were looking at was coming third behind the horse.
We went to see Rapa Nui in the evening: this is a pretty terrible Hollywood film from the early 90s. It bombed on release, but packs them into one of the hotel's in Hanga Roa. It's not good and I suspect totally incomprehensible if you don't know the island's history; if you do, then it's just a mess of inaccuracy and ludicrous action and romance.Wednesday
This seemed more like it. It was a glorious day and seemed reward from the gods for our discomfort the previous day. Tanya from Denmark joined Steph and me for a hike up Rano Kau to the volcano crater and ancient village of Orongo. Tanya was the only one to bring her waterproof out in the sunshine. I guess the alarm bells should have rung when the woman at the bakery laughed at our plan and said rain. We carried on.
Our first stop at Ana Kai Tangata we recognised as one of the film's key locations-you can see why they chose it, it has cave paintings and is spectacular.
Then it started to rain, but not too hard. We sheltered under some trees in the restored garden at the foot of the hill. Much food was cultivated
We were starting to get pretty wet passing through the bushes and plants on the way up the volcano. Then it threw it down; like Stewart Island I was as wet as when Radiohead played Oxford. The view from the crater edge
was quite something.
I was a little lucky to get this shot of the outlying islets.
The mist and cloud swallowed them minutes later. My camera was already broken-it's going straight to full zoom when turned on and won't be persuaded otherwise.
Here I am before someone threw a bucket of water on me.
We toured the village, planning on returning to Hanga Roa by taxi. Nice idea, shame there was no mobile signal and the ranger's office had no phone.
So with the water flowing round my feet inside my boots, we headed back down through the cloud and rain. When we reached the bottom we looked back up the volcano to see the blue sky and sun now bathing it. Bugger.
As we waited for Steph to go for her plane, it became abundantly clear we had spent way too much time together. Firstly, she said tomato: and shocked even herself by pronouncing it properly (you know the song). I was giddy with the glory of the old country. Unforgivably, I almost immediately handed back this great victory for the English language: I said pants when talking of trousers. I have no idea what possessed me, I am so ashamed I think I may be Catholic. Naturally, when I next have a free day, I shall hang myself. With a pair of trousers.Thursday
It's been raining all day, so I've been writing this and putting off my speech for Tim's wedding. I can't see any way I'm going to see the northwest corner now-there's no car access at any time, bike access isn't happening in this weather and the available horses are a little wild for my skills. So the only option is an all day walk through rivers of mud in my sodden boots while the heavens empty on me. I can do that at Glastonbury.
Still, I'm not too disappointed. I wanted to make sure I had enough time and I have seen basically everything. When there's a little break in the weather I'll visit the church and museum and see if I can find some appealing tourist tat. If there's a good break in the weather, I'll haul arse back to Orongo for the view over Rano Kau. Basically, I'm satisfied.
I should also point out that although May is the wettest month, Lonely Planet's climate chart indicates it's only about 50% wetter than the dryest month. It depicts a fairly even year round rain and temperature situation. Yeah right, Lonely Planet.
The museum doesn't contain many artefacts, which shouldn't have surprised me as the whole island is one massive open air museum. It is overflowing with information, much of which was familiar. I essentially read for an hour and got a comprehensive picture of what is known of the island's history. I walked for a while, checked e-mail (house is almost rented, hurrah) and picked up supplies. Raining again.Friday
It's my last afternoon in Easter Island and I'm feeling a touch melancholy, as in some ways this is the last afternoon of this leg of my trip. I left England 7 months and 11 days ago. I've not been in the Northern Hemisphere since (still not checked the water going down the plughole). Although I'm only back temporarily, I find the idea strange-it seems a long time and I've had so little contact with so many people. It must be a long time-the Zodiac closed,I hadn't realised they'd miss my cash that much. I fly to Santiago tomorrow, arriving in the evening. I do have most of Sunday in Santiago, but my heart's not in it-I'll be back and I'm so tired. Then it's Santiago-Toronto, Toronto-Heathrow. Luverly.
Anyway I'm finally doing what I thought I'd do a lot of-chilling by some Moai. I'm effectively still in Hanga Roa, but there's not a soul to be seen. I haven't even been adopted by a dog. There's something very reassuring about the Moai-I'm gonna miss these big guys.
At first light I cadged a lift with Tanya and the others in John's rented car. They were off to Ana Kakenga, the 2 windows cave, which I'd felt fated not to see. I instantly forgave myself for missing it first time round-it was a long way back from the cliff edge, wasn't signposted and the entrance was so tight I doubt I'd have gone in without someone to tell me it was the right place. You crawl through a dark nasty bit, then it opens out and forks to two large openings, which give out onto the sea.
It rained solidly for about 12 hours from 5 yesterday afternoon, but when we got back for breakfast it was starting to look like the sky was all cried out. It's been the most beautiful day. Tanya and I had already decided we'd revisit Orongo in the event of fine weather and John and Shirley joined us. Aside from going to the cave on the way bavk, we did the exact same route, chatting to the same ranger. It was well worth it. The views were superb in every direction: you could see across the entire island, which emphasised how small it is. This is the only place I've been where I've looked out to see and on the horizon noticed the curvature of the earth. I can thank Steph for pointing that out. When you think about, an Ocean the size of the Pacific has to curve, but I'd have thought of water finding its level and the sea being flat. Sorry Galileo. Accordingly, the pictures were brighter and clearer.
Back down the volcano, we spent some time in the cave just watching the waves crashing.
And so the sun sets on Easter Island