Arrival at Hanga Roa
Rapa Nui is the world's most remote inhabited island. The nearest inhabited island (Pitcairn Island) is 2000 kilometers away. The Chilean mainland is 3700 km away, and Tahiti is 4100 km away. The island itself is only 24 km long by 12 km wide. It was "discovered" by Europeans on Easter Sunday, 1722, which is why the Europeans dubbed it "Easter Island" ("Isla de Pascua" in Spanish). Rapa Nui is two hours behind Santiago time, and we arrived at 12:50 pm. We deplaned onto the runway (which, incidentally, is longer and nicer than Santiago's runways, as Easter Island is an emergency stopover point for the U.S. space shuttle). We were suddenly on a tropical island, with sweet smelling lush vegetation. What culture shock compared to yesterday in Santiago!
Before we got to enjoy the outdoors too much, we were shepherded inside to a small baggage claim area. We had traveled lightly with only carry-on bags (the rest were stored in Santiago), so we were pretty much ready to go. We were excited to get out of the airport and see some sights. Locals and tour operators vying for business were eagerly waiting to meet with the fresh group of tourists, but we soon realized that they were locked outside of the baggage claim area, and we were locked inside. We were standing around looking out the windows for our transfer to the Hotel Iorana. Outside we saw a woman holding a sign with half a dozen last names on it, one of which was ours. We didn't immediately assume this was specifically us, as the name is so common and there were no first names given. When the doors were unlocked and we were able to go outside to meet her, we asked if she was going to the Hotel Iorana and she said yes. She put pink flower leis around our necks and we were shown to a van. We loaded our bags into a second van. We were raring to go, but we had to wait for the other passengers, who were now gathering their luggage.
Once the van was full, we started driving. The ride to the hotel was less than five minutes, and we chuckled at the fact that we could have walked to the hotel and arrived there about half an hour earlier. The woman introduced herself as the owner of Rapa Nui Travel, a company which offered both English and German tours of the island. We were a bit confused, as we had been told that the Easter Island portion of our trip would be handled by Latitud 90. She went on to say that our first tour would be of Orongo the next afternoon at 2:30. Our itinerary had said that we had a morning tour of Orongo. Were we with the right company? We decided to just go with the flow.
We were dropped off at the hotel with two other people from the van, two Swiss men. The lobby of the hotel filled its own small building. There were couches and coffee tables, a check-in desk, a gift shop, and a display case full of a collection of souvenirs from around the world. We checked in and were given the key to room number 6. The hotel was a sprawling series of one-story wings. Our room was nothing special. We would come to call it the sweat lodge, as it was quite hot and had no air conditioning. There was a sliding glass door which led to a tiny patio that overlooked the ocean, but there was no screen door. We figured out that we could get a nice cross-breeze if we propped open the main door and the slider. This made the room become a wind tunnel and really cooled it down. The decor of the room seemed very dated, from the yellow draperies to the wood paneling to the "magic fingers" coin slot on the wall above the bed. The view from the patio really was nice. The hotel was situated on a peninsula, and we had a nice view of palm trees and volcanic shoreline. Our room faced the direction of the airport and you could see the signal towers. Air traffic is so sporadic, though, that being near the airport wasn't a problem. In fact, it was comforting to hear a plane take off or land now and then.
Once settled, we read the binder which contained the "directory of services." It was essentially an extended list of what you are not allowed to do. Some of this was probably a translation issue. The Spanish section seemed more polite and the English section was definitely more harsh (e.g. $10 fine immediately assessed if you put any of your own food or drinks in to the mini-bar). Mini-bar? What mini-bar? There definitely must be other rooms which were more fancy than ours. Other rules involved not letting guests come into your room, calling the front desk in order to make any phone calls, always leaving your key at the desk when you leave the premises, etc. The rules would be the basis for many inside jokes over the course of the next few days. It started to rain, and we immediately shut and locked our sliding door, as per the rules.
We decided to go into the town (Hanga Roa). It was about half an hour walk, but a quick U.S. $2 cab ride. So we had the front desk call us a cab. The cabbie asked where we wanted to be dropped off, and we didn't have any idea. We said just downtown somewhere. He drove us down dirt roads, which, once downtown, were replaced by a repeating pattern of red brick pavers. The cabbie dropped us at the artisan's market, and was nice enough to give us a photocopied map of Hanga Roa. The market was full of all kinds of Rapa Nui souvenirs. We talked with one of the sellers. It was immediately apparent that the prices here were much more expensive than on mainland Chile. We saw a textile map of the island that we really liked. It belonged to a seller who wasn't actually there, but the seller we had been talking with told us the price and offered to sell it to us for her. The price was pretty steep, and we were hesitant. But it was the only one that they had, and it looked like the kind of thing you might not be able to find elsewhere. So we bit the bullet and bought it, as well as some key chains, magnets, and pendants shaped like the moai (huge head statues). I saw a tie-dyed T-shirt that I really liked, but the price was outrageous ($30 U.S.) and the quality seemed like it might not last more than a handful of washings. There were some other items that we would want to buy eventually (8 inch tall moai statues made of volcanic rock) but this was our first stop, and we decided we'd have plenty of time over the next few days to do more shopping.
We walked along the red brick road, and noticed that there were culverts in the road which were covered by concrete slabs. There were some places where the concrete cover slab was missing, causing there to be a nasty, deep pothole in the road We walked down near the water. Here we would see our first small glimpse of what was to come over the next several days: our first moai (the large stone statues for which the island is known). It stood watching over the town, with its back to the ocean. We sat down for a while on a pile of volcanic rocks and watched the surfers. It smelled like dead fish and it didn't take us long to notice a pile of fish heads slightly down the slope from us, gathering lots of flies. There was a religious statue overlooking the water. Over to the right was a jetty where there was a dive shop. There were boats tethered alongside the jetty, near a small sandy area. The waves were pretty intense, at times coming in from two perpendicular directions, creating a checkerboard pattern in their wake.We could see a storm offshore. It was amazing how visible it was. It was a gray rectangle on the horizon, and it was coming straight for the island. We watched its approach, and it soon started to rain. As it was 5 pm, we decided that we should take this opportunity to head inside a restaurant and eat some dinner.
We chose Merahi Ra'a, a small restaurant which had a good number of customers. We sat on their covered porch while there was an absolute downpour. We wanted to get tuna empanadas, but it turned out that they didn't have them (nor did they have a lot of other things on the menu). So we asked the waiter what they had, and he pointed out some fresh fish from which we picked our meals. Craig got atun (tuna) a la plancha with papas fritas. I got kana kana with papas fritas. Mine was like swordfish, and was very delicious. The meal was served with bread and salsa. Craig had an Escudo beer and I had a Fanta. During the course of the meal the storm blew through and we were left with nice weather once again.
After dinner we walked through Hanga Roa and went into a store called Hotumatua's Favorite Shoppe. They had the most extensive collection of T-shirts on the island, with literally hundreds of colors and styles to choose from. At U.S. $22 apiece, they weren't cheap, but they weren't as expensive as some we'd seen, either. They seemed to be of good quality, so we each found one that we liked and we bought them. Next we stopped at a little hole-in-the-wall place for ice cream. A nice local woman served us cones (I got guava and Craig got tropical fruit and orange). The total for both cones was 1,000 pesos, or $2 U.S. We felt we'd found the best bargain on the island.
We walked up past the church, which was architecturally interesting. The priest was standing outside greeting people as they entered. Recordings of church bells were playing over a loudspeaker. We had read that attending a church service on the island is interesting, especially for the singing. And we were just in time for 8:00 Mass. We were tempted to go in, but as it was our first night we weren't really feeling that level of comfort yet. The parishioners were obviously locals who all knew each other, and we felt a bit shy. So we continued walking down the street and went into a couple more shops. We saw some beautiful pink and yellow flowers in someone's yard. We stopped to take a picture and commented how funny it would be if the owner saw us taking pictures of their plants. Lo and behold, the person who lived there walked by and just gave us a smile. We walked back by the water and went into a restaurant called Pea. Craig ordered a Cristal, which he realized he didn't like as much as the other beers, so he followed it up with an Escudo. I ordered a pisco sour, but they didn't have them. Looking at the limited bar and trying to figure out what I could even order, I saw a bottle of rum and ordered a rum and Coke. I was brought a Coke. I tried to convey "rum" or "Bacardi". After some explanation, the waitress understood, brought the bottle over, and poured a splash into my Coke. It's not easy being allergic to beer! There were tuna empanadas on the menu, and since the last place hadn't had them, we decided to order them here. They didn't have them here either. So we each ordered a ham and cheese empanada. Despite the cheap price, they were surprisingly hefty. The restaurant was surrounded by ocean on three sides. We sat sipping our drinks and watching the golden pink colors of sunset play with the many-layered clouds. After a while, we were the only non-employees in the place, and we took that as our cue to leave.
We tried to find someplace happening to go, but wound up taking a cab back to the hotel. It was rather inconvenient that our hotel was on the outskirts of town. We would have liked to have been able to wander around and find something to do, but the fact is that we were either "in town" or "at the hotel." The hotel had a restaurant and bar, but neither was very busy and thus closed relatively early. The bar was still open when we arrived back at the hotel, so we ordered a drink. Craig got a Pivo Iorana (their signature beer which came in a beer mug emblazoned with a Polynesian woman and the name of the beer) and I got a pisco sour. The drinks were expensive, but we put them on our room tab. We sat by the pool, watching the clouds light up as a result of a thunderstorm in the distance. We looked at the stars and saw Orion. We went back to the room at 11:15. I wrote in the journal and we went to bed at around midnight.