Iorana means welcome in Rapa Nui, the local language for Isla de Pascua (Easter Is) and its people. Rap Nui is also the polynesian name for the Island.
The six hour flight was great, I had a lovely Chilean woman to chat to and the inflight entertainment included some options for spanish lessons! Rapa Nui was warm and sunny. My hostel Kona Tau was pretty average (but then at $45 per night I always knew it wasn’t going to be flash given the high prices of accommodation on the island). The upside was that I checked in with a French and a Danish solo traveller (Muriel from Toulouse and Kim from Copenhagen) who were keen to hook up to explore the island together….so explore we did.
The afternoon/evening was spent organising car hire, enjoying some local fish on the lovely waterfront of Hanga Roa and then celebrating our arrival to this enchanting island with a few cerveca.
We ventured off in our Suzuki Jimny the following morning. We made quite a team – me the only one with a licence, Muriel the only one with a guide book covering Rapa Nui and Kim the front seat passenger who was tasked with reminding me to drive on the other side of the road! He didn’t mind a smoke either so it got hairier and hairier as the day went on and his attention waned!
We were so focused on our driving route that we only glimpsed the first Moai (Ahu – statue) as we passed it but a bit more focus from us all had us at our first ruins, Hange Te’e, without too much trouble. The Moai was very deteriorated and the red top knots (hats) seemed to be just lying around with little care. Our spirits lifted when we reached our second stop, Akahanga, which included in the ruins the first Moai lifted during the Thor Heyerdahl expedition (memories of my book find at Grandad’s were renewed).
Our next stop was Rano Raraku, a volcano and the quarry for 95% of the Moai on the island. It was a truly amazing experience to walk among these giants constructed of volcanic rock. There was evidence of the start of some Moai carving which had appeared to have abruptly stopped – a mystery to this day; is the theory of the island’s inhabitants being attacked by invading cannibals possibly true?
We decided to venture up into the crater to see the reeds used to construct canoes by the legendary long and short ears of Rapa Nui. This is where Kim’s drug induced persona came to the fore! He noticed the scandinavian accent of another group who had arrived at the crater and so started chatting to them. It turned out they were Norwegian and they divulged to him they were here with their father, Thor Heyerdahl jnr, on a return visit after an expedition more than 50 years ago. I think Kim was quite shocked given I’d spoken quite a bit about the information contained in ‘this book’ and he quickly let them know that I had read Thor Hyerdahl’s Aku-Aku and had it with me. Of course this was such an amazing coincidence I decided I must meet Thor jnr, who had been written about in the book.
Once Thor jnr saw the vintage of my book he decided to share a very touching story with me about a series of events surrounding an accident that happened while he was on the expedition (knowing I would know part of it from the book.)…..tears all round – even from Thor jnr and his family! What an amazing thing to happen – Grandad travelling with me again.
Once we all got over that we moved to the Tongariki site. It is a very impressive arrangement of Moai despite the speculation that its restoration (by the Japanese under the supervision of a Chilean), after a tsunami in 1961, may not have landed it precisely in its original location and form.
A drive past Poike volcano and we arrived at Papa Vaka – the home of some petroglyphs found on the island (a form of rock art / hieroglyphs). Then it was on to the lovely bay of Anakena, where we found the group of Moai who all stood with red top knots at one time and the only with petroglyphs on their backs. It was easy to see why Thor Heyerdahl had chosen this beautiful location as the campsite for his expedition.
It was then back toward the township of Hanga Roa where we caught a look at Ahu Ahivi, the only group of Moai that look toward the sea – Briant and Leonel, two lovely young men from Valdivia, Chile, told me at the airport that these Moai represented the original seven natives who made the original expeditions to the Island and were erected so that the Moai could see the island from which they came. This may have also explained the unusual eyes of these Moai.
We were then done with Moai for the day but went onto some caves – who doesn’t like a good deep, dark cave??? Can’t say I was too fond of venturing too deep but it was interesting to find them with little a little oasis in the middle or with evidence of burial grounds; some had that Picnic at Hanging Rock feel – spooky!!! Then there were the ones we found on the side of cliffs jutting into the sea, which I was in no way interested in risking my life for the gander! Of course nothing was going to stop Kim!
Our last stop for the day was the old quarry of red rock used for the topknots; another great spot to capture the beauty of the island.
Sunrise at 8:30am and sunset at 8:30pm makes for a tourist’s paradise! So of course we (read as ‘I’, the oldie in the group) were exhausted after a few refreshing cerveca with dinner.
The rainy day that followed our day of exploration allowed us to chill out in the township and to get into the full swing of local custom with a siesta.
Departure day blessed me with sun and so with the other two amigos I headed for the rim of Rano Rau, a 1.6km diameter extinct volcano on which the ceremonial bird-man village of Orongo is perched. Real estate to die for but they could have done a little more with the architecture! Good thing it was only used a couple of weeks of the year to shelter the participants of the ‘first egg’ festival from wind and rain.
A delay of my flight by six hours offered an opportunity to explore more of this beautiful island of sprinkling rain and rainbows but the sun held so I managed to dip a toe in the beautiful clear blue Pacific. When boarding time finally came I had a chuckle as I walked across the tarmac and it started to sprinkle with rain; I almost looked up for the rainbow.
I was still hopeful of a view of the Island from the air given there was a couple of hours of sunlight left. My humour and hopes were short lived as we were seated and then immediately asked to leave the plane for two hours so some technical problems could be addressed. I knew it was now cutting it very fine to collect my extra baggage from the bed and breakfast in Santiago and make it back in time to clear immigration for my flight to Ushuaia via Buenos Aires for the start of my tour of Patagonia commencing that night. Take two onto the plane. What a small world it is – I offered to share my umbrella out to the plane with a guy only to find out he was from Brisbane; a New Farmer also until recently!
Touch-down! A quick trip back to my accommodation, half an hour to check-in, shower, repack and check-out…finished with an adios and good-luck kiss from Marilu. I sat at the airport rather weary but relieved to be checked into my flights to Ushuaia. My Aku-Aku was obviously looking after me today!
So this is what South America has in store for me…..bring it on!