My flight to Madrid (change there for the flight to Santiago) wasn’t due to leave Heathrow until 6.30pm. So I had plenty of time to do some last bits of work, make sure I hadn’t left any fresh food to evolve its own intelligence in the fridge during my absence, and then pack the car. I headed off just after 1pm, in some rather wet conditions, but I could myself up with the thought of the sunny weather to which I was heading.
The usual moment of trepidation as my check in bag was weighed—but I was two kilos under the max, even as I had thought when checking it out at home. This holiday, I’ve packed my best tripod, and I’ve sacrificed clothes in order to make room for it.
The flight from Madrid left midnight Spanish time (so 11pm British time). Somehow I knew from the start that this wasn’t going to be one of my more comfortable flights. I don’t know why. The plane wasn’t full, which meant there was a spare seat between me and the woman at the window (I had the aisle seat). And the food was edible, with metal cutlery rather than plastic. But I found it hard to sleep and by the end of the 13 hours in the air I was developing nose bleeds. But hey, no one forces me to take these holidays!
No photos from today.
Mainland Chile is three hours behind British time. We landed 10am Chilean time, so I was awake if somewhat groggy. I do wonder if it’s a deliberate ploy to make those of us in cattle class (aka economy) walk past those lovely bed seats offered to those who can afford business class.
I had booked a small hotel in the city centre. After reviewing the public transport options for getting to the hotel, I asked the owners to collect me. The cost for collection wasn’t cheap, but it was great to come through customs and find someone waiting for me.
The hotel looks to be a family run business. The chap who collected me was in great spirits. His daughter had just given birth to his second grandchild. When we arrived at the hotel, first grandchild and son-in-law were there. As soon as my bags were unloaded, they all went off to the hospital to meet the latest addition to the family. It’s for moments like these that I prefer to stay with local people than in some international hotel.
The hotel is fascinating. The owners told me it’s around 100 years old. The reception must be in what was once the butler’s office. The old bell panel is still there. I’ve seen this in English grand hotels. The lord or lady of the manor would press a button or pull a cord where ever they were, and the bell panel would advise the butler to which room a servant needed to be sent. I do wonder how the rich and titled do this nowadays. Maybe there’s an app for that?
I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and felt more human. My room is a basic double, with en-suite shower, toilet, and bidet. Just outside is a seating area, and beyond that is an enclosed patio. It’s late summer in Chile, so blue skies and sunshine, but fortunately not too hot.
I packed only compact camera and walked down to Parque Quinta Normal. Fascinating place. Children were enjoying an area of water fountains, which rose and fell as they dashed through them. Beyond was a lake which families explored in small pedalos. A number of people hauled around small ice boxes filled with ice creams which they were attempting to sell.
Then I heard the sound which always makes me smile. The chatter of parrots! I tried and failed to find them, although I could hear them all around me. I went into the National Museum of Natural History, and found a display which confirmed that there were wild parrots in Santiago. Later I saw three fly past. Monk parrots (or parakeets), which actually originated in Argentina and are most likely descended from escaped pets. I’ve seen this species in Barcelona, and I know that they also now live in Florida.
The Museum was free to enter, and had interesting displays on the different regions of Chile. All in Spanish, of course. The Blue whale skeleton shows just how large these creatures are.
I stopped off in a small food store on my way back to the hotel. There were a number of these, offering a mixture of dry goods and some fresh. The cheese and ham came in large rolls, and the amount was sliced to order. Although I know a little Spanish, it’s of no use in Chile (their dialect is beyond me), but a smile and four fingers let the woman know what I wanted. The hotel has a kitchen for guest use.
I booked my return shuttle to the airport, checked in for tomorrow’s flight (the hotel offers a laptop and printer for guest use), and after dinner I’m going to have an early night.
Went to bed early, and sadly woke up with a bad headache and an uneasy stomach. I skipped any attempt at breakfast. Sometimes long haul flights affect me in this way, a version of altitude sickness I reckon.
I was taken back to the airport where I dropped off my bag. The flights from the mainland to Easter Island allow passengers to check in up to 46kg of luggage. I’ve read that mainland Chile subsidise the flights for islanders, and perhaps the increased luggage allowance is part of this.
The flight took five hours, and I concentrated on resting and trying not to be ill. I declined the offered breakfast, but worked away at drinking water.
As with other remote airstrips I’ve visited, we left the plane on sets of metal steps. The weather was sunny, and much windier than I’d expected. The terminal is a small building. I paid for my entry ticket to see the two major sites (entry to other sites is free). My luggage was early off the plane, and I exited to the welcome sight of my name.
Many of the islanders rent out rooms in their house to tourists, and I decided to go for this sort of accommodation rather than a hotel. The owner met me with her four year old son, and drove me the mile or so from town to her house. The house is a single story, rambling sort of place, absolutely clean (she told me that she’ll be changing my sheets and towels every day). Her sister lives in the house opposite. Two stray dogs wander around, along with a black cat and at least six chickens (various colours and sizes) and a rooster. Everything is greener than I’d expected.
I unpacked, read for awhile, then napped. Part of me was eager to go to town, but I’m going to be here for seven days and I decided it was better to let head recover. The kitchen is available for use by guests, and I’ve brought food with me for that very reason.
So my evening meal was pasta with a stir in sauce. The black cat kept finding his way in to beg, and the woman kept putting him out again. I listened to the chickens clucking outside and the occasional chorus of dog howls. Makes quite a change from my modern housing estate in England.
Another early night, and was rewarded to a headache free waking. There’s nothing like a bout of pain to make you truly appreciate being pain free.
I rose at 7.30am, and it was still dark outside. Easter Island is two hours behind mainland Chile time, but it seems that four or five hours would actually be more accurate. But in order to facilitate communications with the mainland, only two hours are deducted. This means late sunrises and late sunsets.
I had breakfast bars and two cups of coffee for breakfast (I brought my own ground coffee and a small, plastic caffetiere). My guide was due to arrive at 9.30am, so around 9.20am I went outside to wait for him. I watched the cat climb on a car and was able to ask my host about the chickens. It seems that these are communal chickens. The hens belong to a number of people and just wander freely from garden to garden (there are no fences). ‘Who gets the eggs?’ I asked. ‘Whoever finds them,’ was the response.
My guide for the day was Christopher. He grew up in Virginia, came out to the Island to do some research, fell in love with a native woman, and they now have two daughters.
Our first stop was Tahai. One of the moai (the Easter Island statues for those who didn’t know) has had his coral and obsidian eyes restored. There are also a number of moai on a platform. By the way, the moai were erected to face inwards, to protect the people who had erected them, rather than outwards, because until the arrival of Europeans the islanders had no outside enemies. They did fight quite a bit amongst themselves, though, and it’s thought that as the moai each represent a great king, they were toppled by enemy tribes. Last century was when most of them were re-erected onto their platforms.
The restoration of moai to platforms is problematical. The platforms are actually the graves of kings and other royalty. The statues represent these important men, and were thought to actually hold their spirit. The last parts of the moai (the eye sockets) would not be carved until the statue was at the platform.
The foundations of one of the ‘boat houses’ could be clearly seen. The name comes from the fact that the construction was shaped like a boat. The foundations are carved volcanic stones. Wooden poles would be fixed into the holes drilled into the stones, and then palm fronds would be woven between the poles to create walls, roof, and entrance way.
I also liked the chicken pen. At night, the chickens would be forced into a structure of stones and then entrance sealed, to prevent the birds from being stolen (it would be hard to locate the entrance stone unless you knew where to look for it). Christopher told me that, if the chickens weren’t laying well, a human skull would be placed inside as that was thought to increase fertility. I would have thought that the threat of being the next lunch might have been more effectual.
We then drove across the island. Horses were everywhere. Seems that not much is done with the majority of them, they are neither tamed nor eaten. And the horses cause great damage to the moai and other structures. Some horses are ridden, and I admired the many riders rode without a saddle, just a blanket thrown onto the horse’s back.
We stopped at Anakena. The tour company I used, Easter Island Spirit, deliberately goes the opposite way around to the tour buses. So we were at a very nearly deserted beach with a platform of moai plus one fellow on his own. The sand was gleaming white, and a few people were swimming in what I was told are warm waters.
It was at this site that two Polynesian canoes landed around 1300 years ago. That’s when humans first came to Easter Island.
The moai here, when toppled, were gradually covered with sand. This means that the carvings on their backs have been well preserved. Christopher explained that the islanders would start tattooing their children from around three years old. After a time, the entire body would be covered by tattoos. The carvings on the statues reflect these tattoos.
Perhaps it’s best not to dwell on how tattoos were created in a time before needles… Let’s just say I found my own painful enough.
On to Te Pito Kura, site of the tallest moai ever erected (but which remains toppled and broken). This statue would have been around 30 feet high and weighed 70 tonnes. Nearby was a round stone, which local stories state was brought by the island’s first king when he brought his people to Easter Island. Some believe that the stone has special powers. Four smaller stones have been set around it, as for some time one could go into the enclosure to touch the central stone. However, after too many tourists were standing on it etc, the stone enclosure is now sealed off in order to protect the stone.
We stopped for lunch at Rano Raraku, the quarry at which nearly all the moai were carved. A local restaurant takes order in the morning from tour groups, and delivers hot meals to the picnic area at the site. I had tuna in a mushroom sauce with vegetables and rice. Plus an orange—it was good to have some fruit! Chickens and dogs wandered around the picnic area and I was pleased at the cooling breeze.
After lunch, I had some time in the small shops set up nearby. Then we walked first to the freshwater crater lake. Unfinished moai poked up from the soil on the slopes of the caldera, and a large herd of horses made their way around the lake. Then we walked through the quarry. We were nearly the only visitors there. And the wind was quite strong.
The moai would be carved lying down, then erected for further carving of the heads and backs. How these statues were then moved to the coast is still debated. Christopher has his own theory, involving a raft shaped a bit like a ship, and he presented this idea at an international conference in Berlin, Germany several years ago.
It was at the quarry that I had some shots taken of me posing by statues. Christopher was very good about doing so with my compact camera, and my iPhone. There is good 3G coverage in the town, although expensive to use on a foreign smartphone.
Our last stop was at Ahu Tongariki. This is the island’s largest ceremonial platform, with fifteen restored moai. Well, semi-restored. Only one has been given his red topknot, as the other topknots were too damaged. A number of well preserved petroglyphs are nearby, including one of marine turtle. The turtle was a special delicacy reserved to the nobility.
We walked to the back to admire the stone work used to create the platform. Pieces from older moai had been incorporated into the stonework.
Then back to town. I asked to be dropped off in the main street so I could buy some groceries (I’m mostly self catering). I had been assured that taxis were plentiful and cheap. Well, as I trudged up the hill to the Catholic Church, and glumly contemplating the even longer uphill trudge to where I’m staying, I couldn’t see anything which resembled a taxi.
But just as I arrived at the church, I saw Christopher driving by. He also saw me, so he pulled over so I could climb in. The return to the house was further than I’d remembered, so I grateful not to have had to carry backpack and groceries all that way.
So now back at the house, and enjoying a bottle of lovely locally brewed dark beer.
Much to my surprise, the children of the household didn’t go to bed (or at least, that’s when their noise ceased) until after 11.30am.
I got up at 7am and fortified by some fruit and coffee, I packed up for the day and walked down to the Roman Catholic church. Along the way I passed two adult German shepherds who had a young puppy. The adults barked hopefully for food, and I ignored them. I think they must have then instructed their child to follow after me. ‘You’re a puppy, and humans can’t resist puppies.’ The young lad followed me for quite some time, and I became increasingly concerned at the distance we were putting between him and his parents. Plus he was a definite trip hazard, and I now realise the truth of the expression ‘dogging my feet.’ I finally resorted to turning and growling at him. After the second throaty growl, he finally headed back the way he'd come.
The church service, in the native language, starts at 9am. When I entered, about ten minutes beforehand, the building was nearly empty. There were what seemed to be a long list of announcements first. Then, with singing accompanied by acordian and ukulele, the servers, deacon, and priest entered. The latter wore the white cassock alb and purple chasuble (purple as we’re currently in Lent) which would have looked at home in my own church. But on his head the priest wore the most splendid headdress. The portion fitting around his forehead was painted with figures (the twelve disciples?) and white feathers rose in a magnificent ruff. This headdress remained in place for the whole service.
I might not speak the language, but I could follow where we were in the service. The Catholic mass follows pretty much the same pattern as the Communion service in the Church of England. None of the congregation had any service books. At various times they sang, but I think this was part of the liturgy rather than being hymns. There was also the baptism of a toddler, and the godparents wore crowns of fresh flowers on their heads.
The church filled steadily during the service, until there was standing room only. I estimate we numbered at least two hundred. But very few people went to either the altar or the centre of the church to receive the bread (the wine was taken only by the priest).
I managed to obtain some photos afterwards. Despite the language barriers, I did manage to establish that he was indeed the priest of the island, not a visiting bishop. I also came out in time to see a visiting cruise ship pulling up to the island. The locals were bracing themselves to receive 1500 visitors that day. I was pleased to have done the major tour yesterday.
At 10.30am I was collected for the half day tour. The owner of the company drove up, today’s guide with him. So I was able to ask James to sign my copy of his guidebook to Easter Island.
I had decided to leave backpack at home, as this four hour tour was to be of three caves (formed from lava tubes) and crawling was to be involved. Although it was a bit warm to do so, I wore my camera waistcoat, so that I could carry my wide angle lens in addition to my camera and main lens.
The first cave is known locally as ‘The Banana Cave’ because banana trees grow in the area around the entrance. The native name is Ane Te Pahu. Yoyo, the name of my guide, had a strong torch with him to help us navigate the sometimes slippery floor. We had quite a long distance to transverse, stopping to look at the structures left by humans who had taken refuge in the cave during tribal wars. Occasional openings to the surface allowed for windows onto the plants growing nearby.
We had a thirty minute walk to the area of Ahu Te Peu. The remains of a large village are here. Enough can be seen of the house foundations, the chicken houses, and the platforms to get a good feel of the size of the settlement. I found it absolutely fascinating. Anyone who plans to visit Easter Island should pull themselves away from the moai and see the reasons for the erection of the huge statues. The moai were raised as the central point of a village, and this site made this very clear.
The moai toppled from the two platforms remain where they fell. Going around the sea facing side of the platform reveals the wonderful stonework. Some compare the construction to the ingenuity seen in such Inca sites in Peru.
We entered a second cave, Ana Te Pora. This showed much more human construction, with a built up walls to narrow the entrance and a rocky sleeping platform. It was somewhere around this time that I asked Yoyo, himself a father of two toddlers, about the time the children of the household had gone to bed. ’11.30pm is a bit late,’ he said. ‘We put ours to bed at 10.30pm.’ He was amazed to hear that British people often have a much earlier time period.
Our walk continued along the coastline. We had more views of the huge cruise ship. Yoyo said that many locals would be working as guides that day, ‘Even people who aren’t guides.’ Any available large vehicle would be used to transport the visitors to the major sites. Since the resident population of the island is 6000, a visiting cruise ship is a massive swell in numbers. But there are times when the visitors can’t land. The ships have to use tenders to bring them ashore, and if the sea is too rough this is too dangerous.
Our final cave is called Ana Kakenga, ‘The Two Windows.’ Entry is rather steep, and even someone with my lack of height has to crawl. The floor is very uneven. At the end of cave are two separate openings allowing for views of the coastline below. We waited for our turn as a family took selfies. Their dog had come down with them, which Yoyo told me was quite normal.
Then a long walk back over the turf and around mounds of volcanic rocks to town and to the car. The brochure for this tour states ’30 minutes of walking.’ Actually it was pretty much continuous four hours of walking. I was pleased that my legs held out, but my feet were beginning to ache by the time I climbed into the car.
Yoyo returned me to the house, where I took off my waistcoat to cool down. Although it was only 3pm, I decided to stay put the rest of the day. I had no desire to fight the crowds in town.
Oh, seems I impressed my guide that I was staying in the house of a local, rather than in a hotel!
Christopher collected me at 9.30am for our day’s tour. Our first stop was Orongo, the site of the Birdman competition. By the time the competition started, in the 18th century, there was a lot of violence between the differing tribes. The island’s resources had become depleted, and the moai were being thrown over during attacks.
The competition was set up as a way to non violently determine the leader of the island. Each September (which is spring in the Southern Hemisphere) the Sooty terns would return to the offshore islets to lay their eggs. Each tribal chief would select a man to train and prepare to try to be the first to gain a tern egg. The men would swim out to the islets, and wait for egg laying to begin. When the first man gained an egg, a signal would be sent back to the main island, and his chief would rule for a year. The winning man would still have to bring the egg back unbroken, and the two inch egg would be carried in a container strapped to the man’s head as he swam back again.
The houses for these athletes can still be seen. They are made of stone, with small entranceways. A number were destroyed when European explorers broke through the roofs to bring out the painted tablets from inside. The moai in the British Museum in London came from one of these houses.
The most interesting house, which held the priests who judged the competition, is now in danger of falling off the side of the eroding cliff. Visitors are no longer allowed to visit, which is a shame as the best petroglyphs were carved onto the sides of the building.
Freshwater was obtained from a lake which has formed in the volcanic crater. The lake is covered by reeds, said to be so thick that a person would walk on them. Very few people are permitted to go down to the lake. As the immunosuppressive drug called Rapamycin (used to stop the rejection of donated organs) was discovered on Easter Island, it is hoped that perhaps other native plants (which are still used by local healers) might also have wider health benefits.
As we left, the buses carrying people from the cruise ship were arriving. I looked down at the sheer numbers and was glad that we were leaving. One of the buses had blocked our car, and it took a few minutes to find the driver.
We stopped at a viewpoint which allowed us to study the town—and the cruise ship, anchored offshore. There were more clouds today, which gave the mixed shadow and sun which I like on landscapes. Then a visit to the cave Ana Kai Tanata. The cave opens directly onto the sea, and has several cave paintings. A section fell down the other year, and local feeling is that the cave will soon be shut to visitors.
We stopped at a petrol station for me to use the loo. Christopher bought some items in the shop, and I purchased four bottles of beer (one per night of my stay, if you’re wondering). I put them in the boot of the car and told him, ‘Now don’t let me forget these.’
We drove down to the Hanga Piko bay, where local boats plus the tender from the cruise ship were tethered. Stalls had been set up to sell local items to the cruise passengers. Christopher had bought some bread, which he threw into the water. To my delight (and as he had planned) fish came to eat the crumbs. Butterfly fish, puffers, trumpet fish, and several marine turtles.
One moai has been re-erected nearby, and we went to have a look. There is also a cave, which we admired but did not attempt to enter.
We had a picnic lunch (we brought our own supplies) on a bench in the shade at Puna Pau. This is the quarry at which the topknots were carved from the local red volcanic stone. Abandoned topknots rested on the ground, several having been hollowed out as shelters by later generations. Christopher hurried off to admonish a woman who had stepped over the boundary fence to stand next to a topknot to have her photo taken.
We walked up to the viewpoint over the crater which had been the source of the topknots. The landscape had been altered by all the stone removal, making the shape more elongated than round. The petroglyphs on the stones are thought to have been carved much later than the time of the moai builders.
Next to the only inland moai platform, Ahu Akivi. These appear to be looking out to sea, but in reality they would still have been facing the inhabitants of the village. The site has been dated to 1400 AD.
Our last visit took us past the gravel quarry. There was an explosion when we were at our stop, a little while later, and the dust rose into the air. The quarrying causes mixed feelings, as the gravel is needed for local construction but the activity threatens several burial sites. Also nearby were the large containers to store various fuels. A tanker comes every four months with fuel, and divers are used to hook up the pipes so the fuel can be pumped off. Petrol is heavily subsidised on the island, which means that it currently costs around one US dollar to a litre. Cheap to British ears, but most likely expensive to any of my readers from the USA.
We parked at Vinapu, a place special to Christopher, as this is the ancient tribal place of his fiancee’s family. The moai and their topknots lie where they fell. What Vinapu is known for is the wondrous stone work of the platform. The tight fit between the carved stones has been compared to Inca construction in its precision.
Sadly cows and horses walk over the site and rub against the stonework. Christopher pointed out hoof marks and animal hairs on the topknots.
We headed back to town, tour over. I wanted to buy some more fruit, and we stopped at four small shops. None of them had fresh fruit. The main supermarkets were closed (seems they often are from noon to 5pm).
Christopher dropped me off at the house. It was only after I let myself in that I realised I’d left the beers in the car. Tragedy! I moped around my room, trying to console myself with the fact that I’d be seeing him again on Wednesday and no doubt would regain the beers then. But, ten minutes later, he was trudging up the drive with the objects of delight. ‘I heard them clinking in the back,’ he told me as I restrained myself from giving him a hug.
My host was in the kitchen, so after I put the beers in the guest fridge we had a chat. I mentioned the lack of fruit, and she said she’d have a look when she went in to town. Several hours later she proudly presented me with apples and bananas, and wanted no payment for them. ‘My gift to you,’ she said.
Around 6pm we had a sudden rainstorm. The sight of the huge raindrops pelting the ground is making me ponder my plans for tomorrow. I’m on an all day walk, around 7 miles, with little shelter. Perhaps a day to only take the aim and shoot.
Someone new to me collected me at 9am. Christian and I climbed into a high clearance 4 x 4 and a driver took us out of town and onto the dirt track I’d hiked with Yoyo two days before. By 9.30am Christian and I had been dropped off for the start of our 13 kilometre walk around the north side of the island.
I had decided to pack light photographically speaking - just my compact camera. I was rather more intent on carrying enough water, as there would be none (and little shelter) during the hike.
Fortunately the day was overcast, and we even had some rain early on. We mostly followed the dirt track created by horse and cow hooves. We saw quite a few of both as we followed the coastline. Christian pointed out the platforms for moai which were further down the slopes. We also passed remains of the villages associated with the moai. There were several boat house foundations, cooking stones, and the stone gardens. Sadly a lot was destroyed during the time sheep were farmed on the island. The stones were removed in order to build walls.
We stopped for a quick lunch near one of the main sheep pens. As I ate my cheese sandwich, Christian climbed into the mango trees and shook down the fruit. Several were ripe, and he shared them between us. Delicious. He also found one ripe fig, which we split. Also delicious.
Other than the lunch break, and stops when I wanted to take some photos, we just kept walking. When I’m at home, I spent time on an exercise bike almost every morning. I don’t enjoy it, but I guess it’s that exercise which enabled me to complete the walk in under four hours.
At one point we came across three park rangers (and the young daughter of one of them) on horseback, rounding up the cows. We made our way through the herd, admiring several very young calves on the way. I also admired the expert way in which the girl, who looked to be around eight years old, rode her horse up and down the rock strewn hillside.
As we rounded the coast the wind became very strong. Walking into a headwind isn’t that much fun, particularly when dust swirls up from the path. But soon afterwards the end was in sight, as we approached Anakena beach. By 2pm I was back at the house, where I allowed myself an ice cold beer!
I took it easy for the rest of the afternoon.
My legs and feet showed no signs of complaining about yesterday’s walk. I shall try to keep this in mind when I next climb onto my exercise bike.
Christopher again today. As we drove off to visit a few more sites, he suggested that I rebook the sunrise tour for Friday. This had been planned for tomorrow, but the weather forecast indicates rain. We agreed to try for Friday instead.
Our first stop was Ahu Huri A Urenga. This is a single moai on an inland platform, which is aligned so that the statue faces the rising sun at the winter solstice (June 21st—remember that Easter Island is in the Southern Hemisphere). A large ceremonial platform angles up to the statue, and there were a few remains of the village nearby.
We drove on to admire Ovahe beach. There are only two sandy beaches on the island. and there were a few people sunbathing. The waves were rougher than in recent days, and I’m not certain I would have wanted to attempt a swim. Not with all the volcanic outcroppings in the water. A rocky outcropping nearby was where commoners were cremated (only royalty were buried in the mounds).
On to Papa Vaka. There are a number of petroglyphs here, carved into the flat volcanic slabs. Older carvings are cut through by newer ones. Sadly, in some places people have taken upon themselves to apply modern knives to the petroglyphs to make the symbols more obvious. This is unauthorised, of course, but in such open sites it’s difficult to see how this can be stopped.
Next stop was at Taharoa Bay. There were a couple of fishing boats moored, and Christopher scattered crackers into the clear water to try to entice fish to come to the surface. We saw Butterfly fish and Trumpet fish. Nearby were a couple of platforms, the moai and topknots nearby.
A brief visit to the stone Pu o Hiro. There are holes carved into the stone, and it seems that someone properly trained can blow into these holes to create sounds. The noise supposedly brings fish to shore.
We stopped for loo break and lunch at the quarry. I’d forgotten to pack sandwiches, so I bought what seemed like the local equivalent of a Cornish pasty. A pastry like shell held a mixture of minced beef and melted cheese (the item was served warm).
The next stops were at very impressive platforms with massive (toppled) moai. Ahu Akahanga is possibly the burial place of the island’s first king, and Hanga Poukura also had huge toppled moai and impressive stonework. Christopher recounted many legends about all these places, some more grim than others (cannibalism sometimes featured). Akahanga once had twelve moai standing on the platform. Some have toppled forwards, some backwards. It is believed that an enemy tribe preferred to throw statues over to fall on their faces, as the eyes had spiritual significance. We also visited another cave.
Although wooden fences have been erected around some of the moai lying further away, the destruction caused by hooves was obvious. Many were nearly flat against the ground.
I was dropped back to the house, where I did some clothes washing and hung these out to dry on the house’s laundry line. I also spent some time talking to my host, gaining an insight into what it’s like to actually live here.
There was rain in the early hours of the morning. I woke briefly to the sound, then went back to bed again. When dawn came, the skies were very grey.
I had always planned to use my last full day on the island to visit the only town, Hanga Roa. Most of the island’s 6000 inhabitants live here, but this is due to the sad history of the island. For many years people were simply not permitted to leave the area. Now that they could settle elsewhere, everything is concentrated in this one small area, so why would they want to?
I had heard that little opens before 10am, so I didn’t head off until after that time. I took only my compact camera and walked down into town.
My first visit was to the craft market. The stalls which were open showed a pattern. Many of the same types of wood carvings, or replica moai made from stone. I actually preferred what I’d found at the stalls outside Rano Raraku quarry. I did admire some very beautiful wooden carvings, but not enough to spend 300 US dollars on them.
The road leading down from the church had shops either side, many of them again selling the same mixture of replica moai, t-shirts, and smaller trinkets. I found a mug I liked (I try to bring back mugs from far flung places) which just fit into one of the pockets of my waistcoat. The post office will stamp your passport with their own franking for Easter Island upon request, so that is now in my UK passport along with those from Machu Pichu, the Antarctic, the Amazon… And, contrary to concerns I’ve sometimes heard, no immigration authority has ever shown any concern regarding these extra ink impressions. Does fill up the passport more quickly, of course.
I had decided to find a local restaurant for lunch, and I particularly wanted to eat local fish. Near the small harbour I located a place recommended by my travel guide. The doors were open, tables were set, but although I wandered deep inside could find no one. As I continued along the sea front, the heavens opened. I was very glad I’d brought an umbrella with me as the rain pummelled down.
I retraced my steps and tried another restaurant. I settled at a table, bread was brought to me, and only when I tried to order the ‘local fish of the day’ was I told that there was none. I had a very nice steak instead, but part of me regrets that I had imported meat rather than something caught locally.
The sun came out as I ate. I walked back along the sea front. At a cafe I bought ice cream and sat at a table which overlooked the ocean. Surfers were doing their best with admittedly small waves. Afterwards I also had a coffee.
Back up the road to the main street of the town. Many businesses shut from noon to 5pm for a siesta. I wandered into a few more stores, then decided it was time to visit the museum. This proved to be much further than I’d anticipated. It took a good half hour’s walk to get there, although the last part was past the moai at Tahai.
The museum is small but very informative. Display boards are in Spanish and a very well translated English (only a few strangely worded phrases). There are bits of moai, as well as one of the few feminine ones found thus far. One cabinet holds the only original eye ever found.
I decided, when I’d finished, to be lazy. I left a donation (entry to the museum is free) and asked the woman at the desk to call me a taxi. The driver turned up in less than ten minutes. I confused him by using my seat belt (he did not) and I wondered if I should shut my eyes as he drove rapidly around dogs, people, and other cars. But we arrived safely at the house, all for the sum of 2000 pesos (around two dollars US or £2.40).
I spent the afternoon reading and planning for tomorrow.
I got up at 5.30am to have breakfast and ready myself for the trip to Tongariki for sunrise. Christopher collected me at 6.45am. He had brought a tripod, in case I didn’t have one, and his video camera.
The roads were dark, but moonlight glistened on the breaking waves as we followed the road along the coast. The car park for Tongariki was full, but Christopher recommended a viewpoint further up the road anyway. There we set up our tripods and waited to see what the rainclouds would do. There were a couple of flashes of lightning, which he said was unusual for the island. And just a few speaks of rain. We could see the light from the torches of people standing near the platform.
We didn’t see the sun rise, but there was some interesting light from the clouds. After a while, we went further up the road, to catch the brighter light behind the statues, then back down again as I spotted a large cloud formation moving into position.
Then we packed up, and avoided horses as Christopher drove me back to the house. By 9am I was enjoying a cup of coffee in the kitchen and talking to my host.
There was no reason to leave for the airport until after lunch, as I had a 13:25 flight. I took my time packing and making a final cheese sandwich lunch. My host gave me a small moai carving on a rope thong as a parting gift. When we arrived at the airport, I saw many others also wearing one. So it would seem to be the custom here.
Checked in, bought a few final gifts, and was first in line to board the plane. I watched the film ‘The Martian’ and enjoyed it.
The flight was pleasant enough, but getting out of the plane was a slow process. We had to wait on the runway for our disembarkation point to clear. After we’d been allowed out of our seats, we then waited nearly half an hour before leaving the plane. Then another pause, as one bus at a time came to take us to the lugguage collection site.
It wasn’t until 11.30pm (an hour after landing) that I finally had my bag and could leave. The driver was waiting for me, and had another person who had just returned from Easter Island and was staying at the hotel. It was a relief to get to the hotel, drop my bags into my room, brush my teeth, and to go bed.
It was strange not to hear chickens or cats or dogs. In fact, my hotel room in Santiago was so quiet that I found it hard to fall asleep.
I had plenty of time after breakfast to upload this blog and get ready for the next flight. I was taken back to Santiago airport in good time for my 1.50pm flight to Punta Arenas.
By the way, I asked about the bell system in the front office. My driver/hotel co-owner flushed bright red. ‘This used to be a house of love,’ he confessed, ‘and the people needed to contact the owner.’ So, yes, I have stayed in what was once a brothel.
I had a window seat, which meant some great views over glaciers as we flew over Patagonia. We had a planned stop at another airport en route. The stop ended up being longer than planned for, according to the announcement given to us, the pilot was delayed in traffic in his trip from the hotel to the airport.
So we landed an hour later than planned at Punta Arenas. I wasn’t entirely surprised that the taxi I had supposedly booked was nowhere to be found. Another taxi driver contacted the hotel at which I’m staying for me, but couldn’t get an answer. He disappeared for a moment, then told me that he could squeeze me in with his other passengers.
Squeeze it was. Three cases, including mine, went into the boot. The boot wouldn’t shut, but with a quickness which leads me to believe he’s done this before, the driver pulled down the lid with a bungy cord. I was given the front seat, with my two carry ones piled on top of me. The back three passengers also had bags on top of them.
When we reached my hotel, it was obvious that the taxi driver knows the couple of who run it - hugs and kisses all around. I booked in, and then the language barrier caused difficulties. Breakfast is served from 8am to 10am, I understood that. But I’m to be collected at 8am tomorrow. So the proprietor turned to her computer, and we used Google translate to arrange for me to have breakfast at 7am instead.
After sweating in the heat at Easter Island, it does feel strange to be in a room heated by a radiator… On a more exciting note, I heard parrots outside. The Austral conure (or parakeet, the term often used in the Americas rather than conure). They are known to live in towns.
Jetlagged for the second time on holiday. I’m still getting over the two hour time difference between Easter Island and mainland Chile.
I had my breakfast, a simple affair with powdered coffee. At 8am I was collected by my guide, Sebastian, and our drive, James. Two people just for me! The tour can take up to six, but I was the only one who booked and the company kept to their promise to only charge me group rate.
We drove through the open land of Patagonia. It was three hours to the next major town, Puerto Natales. There were several stops, both for comfort breaks and to look for wildlife. We saw some grey foxes, a flock of Austral parakeets, and various waterfowl including flamingoes. The weather was mostly grey, with a fierce wind. Our packed lunch was eaten in the car.
James and Sebastian are keen birdwatchers and photographers. Plus point on that score. Not so promising on the landscape photography side, as that is not their interest. I’ll have to make some enquiries as to what they know of good spots to go to, as once we’re there I’m happy not to need any more input.
We reached our hotel around 2.30pm. It’s one of those posh ones where you have to pay for the luxury of wifi in your room (but it’s free in the public areas, which includes the bar, so that works for me). I have a huge room with two queen beds. Even more importantly, I have a grand view of the mountain peaks from a huge window. I have already experimented, and I can open the small window and point out my camera on a tripod. I’ve been told that we need to leave the hotel at 7am tomorrow to get to our boat trip (up to Grey Glacier) so any dawn photography will have to be done at the hotel. It’ll certainly be the most comfortable dawn photography I’ve ever done. If I only had a kettle or coffee maker in the room than it would be perfect.
I have a token for a free pisco sour, so in a moment I plan to redeem that while I upload this blog. James and Sebastian have asked that we three have dinner together, at 7.30pm. Then I guess it’s an early night for an early rise.
Slept badly, don’t know why. Got up at 6am, had breakfast 6.30am, left 7am before dawn happened. Clear blue skies, and mist rising from the river. I took some pre-dawn shots. We also stopped at the viewpoint above the river to photograph the misty river.
Then along the gravel road to Lago Grey. I’d loaded up all my camera gear. I’ve taken boat trips along the fronts of a glacier before. It’s ticket office, short walk, pier to boat. Surely?
We parked at the hotel for the boat ticket office. Sebastian paid (the cost is included in my holiday), and we set off. After 30 minutes non stop march through woods and up gravel paths, I thought to ask, ‘How much further to the boat?’ ‘Oh, only thirty more minutes,’ Sebastian said in a tone which he obviously thought would be reassuring. So I trudged around 4km with 9kg of camera equipment, including a long stretch across a beach of shifting pebbles. I was just thinking, ‘This isn’t fun anymore’ when the boat finally came into view. I have told Sebastian that he should have told me the length of the walk!
At least the trek seems to discourage custom. There only around fifteen of us on a boat build to hold at least three times that many. No fighting for viewpoints along the boat. It was chilly, of course. I had dressed warmly, plus we had to wear a lifejacket, but I was still glad to have my photography gloves with me.
Clear blue skies, very little wind. The crew did the usual trick of bringing small icebergs on board to serve over a drink. I managed to obtain two pisco sours, albeit well diluted with huge chunks of ice. Eased the pain in the feet, though.
James had stayed behind to do some birding. And birding what we did the rest of the day. The two men did their best to find me good shots of Austral parakeets. The mixture of forest, open land, and waterways lent the area to a good variety of birds. Part of me was frustrated that I wasn’t doing landscape photography, but I also realised that the bright, flat light wasn’t good for landscape photography anyway.
Full use was made of the car’s CD system. At one point James held up two CDs and said, ‘You choose.’ One was of Frank Sinatra hits, the other Dean Martin’s. For me, that was like asking whether I wanted one tooth pulled or two. Since it’s only human nature to go for the lesser pain, I chose Dean Martin.
Clouds started coming in around late afternoon. We came back to the hotel around 5.30pm, only to find horses waiting near the entrance lobby!
Looking forward to dinner, particularly as one glass of wine is included for free.
Left the window open and slept well. I got up at 6.30am, decided the dawn thing wasn’t going to happen, and went to have breakfast. Whilst watching the mountains from the restaurant window, I saw wonderful red light creeping down the peaks. I abandoned my third coffee to hurry to my room. Missed the best of the light!
We left at 8am for the eastern sector. Today was indeed landscape photography. A mixture of clouds and sun in the morning, and stops at some waterfalls and lakes. Nearly got a clear reflection of the mountains in one lake. Unusually for this area, we’ve had very little wind. The driver and guide left me to it whilst I stood with camera on tripod, waiting for the light to change.
We also came across an armadillo. He ignored the humans taking photos as he dug in the soil for grubs. I was amazed by the strength of his legs as he tore up the dry earth in large clumps.
In this region of Torres del Paine you find guanaco. And, if you’re lucky, puma. At one rest stop a woman was excitedly telling people about the three they’d seen at the camp that morning. We weren’t so fortunate, despite our best efforts. Driver and guide also made stops to note birds. The driver has a large scope which he put up several times.
Back around 6pm. Some nice light in the evening, so again it was landscape photography from the comfort of my own room.
A final dawn. Again I rose at 6.30am, and this time had everything set up and ready. It had been another cold night, so I cranked up the heating to counteract the cold air coming in through the open window. Sadly the lack of clouds didn’t give as good a light as yesterday.
We left at 8.30am. Seems that there is flex built into the schedule in case bad weather affects one of the days. So we went back through the eastern sector, stopping to take shots of the mountains reflected in the nearly still water. Also guanaco photos. One herd was alarmed, though not by me (the guide assured me) and I heard them make their alarm call. Possibly a puma nearby, but we didn’t spot it.
Another warm day, and again very little wind. Final lookout to gaze at the mountains. Then we headed off through the flat lands of Patagonia, with stops at lakes for bird spotting. Flamingoes, waterfowl, and everywhere Upland geese.
We visited the Mylodon cave. This large structure has been used as shelter by both animals and humans in the past, and has been named after the mylodon (sloth) skeleton found inside. Afternoon is the best time to visit, as that’s when light reaches furthest into the cave.
We drove (with permission) onto the private land of a ranch. More waterfowl, and an interesting old barn.
Our overnight stop was at Puerto Natales. A rather odd hotel, built to be charmingly rustic. What I have found refreshing is that both this hotel and the one before did NOT have televisions in the rooms.
Went up to the dining area for dinner. ‘Drink?’ asked the bartender. ‘Sparkling wine, pisco sour, something else…’ So I had sparkling wine and we were offered some snacks. Although I’d been photographing them all day, I still had slices of guanaco as a starter. Again a glass of red wine was offered, and then the waiter offered me another. Between that and the brandy ice cream I had for dessert, I was definitely feeling no pain.
An 8am start. I did like this hotel, wouldn’t have minded staying longer. But a long drive through Patagonia beckoned.
We stopped first at the mixture of woodland and lake which we had visited on the way up to Torres del Paine. Sebastian thought we should be able to see the Ringed kingfisher at the lake and, yes, he was right. We were able walk around the lake to get a good look at him, although sadly the light was better from further away. He was one of the largest kingfishers I’ve ever seen, and looked very aware of his status.
Then a long drive through the flat and scruffy lands of the Patagonian steppe. Guanacos everywhere, as well as the sheep and cattle of local farmers. The land became progressively drier. Lack of proper toilets led to a challenging moment in a bit of a ditch which I shan’t dwell on (the wind lacking in previous days had come back with a vengeance).
We entered Pali Aike National Park. The scrub land was interrupted by volcanic cones, making for a surreal landscape. We walked up inside one crater, admiring the volcanic formations, lizards which were camera shy, and a guanaco (very obviously male) which grazed at the rim.
On to the short ferry crossing to Tierra del Fuego. Sadly no dolphins, but I did see one Magellanic penguin swimming in the far distance. On the other side we headed off for Porvenir, our stop for the night. It was a long, two hour drive, along the same dusty gravel roads I’ve come to associate with Patagonia. And here too were guanacos, rushing away from our car.
We had dinner in a restaurant which didn’t have half of the things listed on the menu, but did have nice local dark beer. Today was the first day of school for local children (end of summer), and a large group of teachers were enjoying drinks and a meal together.
A more truly rustic hotel tonight. A steep set of wooden steps led up to the floor of my room, so I did call upon masculine assistance. An early night, bearing in mind that we were having an early start the next day.
A 7am departure! We drove the gravel road for two hours to a colony of King penguins which only formed a few years ago. As this is a species of penguin I had yet to see I was very keen to go.
We arrived at 9am. A few penguins were marching around the beach, and we watched them for a short while. Then we went to the breeding area, where a good number of penguins were there with chicks and, from the posture of the adults, even eggs. In previous years the breeding success had been very low, but this seems to be improving. It did feel quite bizarre to have sheep in the background, but this is a working farm and the sanctuary is run by the farm staff.
Then the long drive back to Porvenir. We stopped at a view point over the town to eat our sandwiches, then drove to the ferry port. We checked in, then boarded the ship.
As we headed out into the bay, a number of Peale’s dolphins leapt and swam both at a distance and a few nearby. I have never seen such acrobatics from wild dolphins. My photos sadly do not do justice to the flips and leaps. Amazing. Perhaps I should have tried to video them instead.
Then a rather boring 90 minutes on board. I worked on my photos and chatted with a man from Argentina who admired what he saw on my computer screen. He and his sister were taking the ferry to visit Punta Arenas for the shopping.
We pulled into port around 4pm, and saw a couple of fin whales in the distance. The schedule promised a visit to a local colony of Magellanic penguins. However, Sebastian had phoned and discovered that the viewing area was shut. The penguins have finished their chick rearing and left the area. So I was dropped off at my hotel, and I said goodbye to the two men. The main square was only a short walk away, so I looked the souvenir stalls before heading back and settling in. And packing for the return flights tomorrow. All felt like a bit of a weak finish to the holiday, but I cheered myself up with a glass of red wine in the hotel bar.
05 - 06 March
James collected me from the hotel at 7.45am for the drive to Punta Arenas airport. I’d been able to check in and print out the boarding passes from public computers at the hotel, so I dropped off my bag (which they assured me would be checked through to Heathrow).
A five hour flight to Santiago, relieved by conversation with a British couple who were enjoying a seven week trip through Chile and Argentina (oh, the joys of retirement!). I had five hours between flights at Santiago, so I checked through the shops, and decided to have a meal and a beer at an airport restaurant in case the airline food was up to the usual standard.
The long flight back to Madrid was more tolerable than the one out. I actually managed to get some sleep. Then two hours between flights at Madrid. I paid a small fortune for a large coffee to see me through.
On Sunday I finally got home at 7pm. Holiday over!
No photos from the flights. Why would there be?
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