Day 52

Easter Island Adventure

Personally, I’ve always wanted to go to Rapa Nui, or Isla de Pascua, or Easter Island. It is just one of those locations that has such an allure to it – whether it is the mysterious moai statues, or just its overall “middle of nowhere” remoteness, it has always been on my list. Ever since we knew we’d be living in Chile for 6 months, the idea of visiting Rapa Nui became more of a possibility because we’re obviously a lot closer than from the U.S. After the first several weeks, it was a bit disheartening to see that flights from Santiago to Rapa Nui were consistently $1,000 USD RT per person. Every once in a while flights would dip lower, but it would be for really bad times, etc. However, after looking at flights every morning for close to a month, finally a deal popped up that would have us leaving on a Thursday morning and coming back on a Sunday afternoon – the price was $190 RT per person – incredible. I had already given the foundation a heads up that Sarah and I were looking at flights to Rapa Nui and hoped to go during our time down here. We mentioned that we may have to act quickly if the right deal popped up. When we informed Susana, she was excited for us and definitely pushed for us to book the flights. It was great knowing we have the support of the foundation to live out some fun Chilean experiences while still supporting their team.

Once we got the flights booked, it was off to the races on doing all the necessary research to plan a packed 72 hour visit. Needed to figure out all the sites to see, transportation needs, lodging, etc. What was even crazier about the dates of the flight deal was that it was during the tail-end of their annual Tapati Festival – a 2-week celebration at the beginning of February (the most popular time to visit the island). Finally, the day we booked the flights, we were driving into the foundation and we told Juan Manuel about it – he was shocked about that price and him and Mily were able to book flights the next morning for slightly different dates but we’d overlap for about 36 hours. Neither Juan Manuel nor Mily have been to Rapa Nui, so it was exciting that our initiative sparked an opportunity for them as well! They have been great in showing us the Araucania Region so we wanted to do a lot of research and return the favor.

Thursday

While our flight deal was pretty great, it was a RT flight from Santiago, so we still needed to figure out how to get to Santiago. We booked an overnight bus on Wednesday night to Santiago and then had a 9:30 a.m. departure (note: the flight is about 5-hours from Santiago – just showing really how far away the island is). Overall, pretty easy travel. We had a 2-hour delay (of course), but still got to the island at a good time on a beautiful day. We were greeted at the airport by our Airbnb host who drove us to our place for the three nights. It was a large, private studio a bit off the beaten path outside of Hanga Roa (downtown). We got cleaned up after a long night and day of travel and walked into downtown to watch the Tapati scheduled event of the day which was a parade throughout the main strip. On our way into town, we stopped by the Tourist Center to get some passport stamps (since Rapa Nui is part of Chile, we don’t technically get stamps since it’s a domestic flight; however, it’s all good to add one of these to our passports, so we did it). We also had our first taste of ceviche and some local beers (Yes! Even Rapa Nui has some local micro-brews, it was a great surprise to us).

In typical Chilean fashion, the parade started late, but once it got going it was really interesting to see everyone dressed up and painted marching and chanting through the street. The parade moved really slow, so we were able to walk up and down the sidewalk to get ahead of it and keep people watching. It was quite the scene. Of course, we ran into Juan Manual & Mily at the parade (even through were weren’t planning to meet them until later). Side note: In doing our research, we quickly realized that we’d have no cell service (our Chilean provider, Claro, doesn’t work on the island) and WIFI is very limited. Therefore, we’d have to revert back to “Okay, meet us at this location at this time, we don’t have phones” kind of thing.

We connected with Juan Manuel & Mily again later and picked up a rental car that we wanted to use that night and early morning the next day to tour the island. We grabbed a light dinner just outside of town and then attempted to catch the sunset at Ahu Tahai, a location on the west coast with about 5 moai on podiums, near the water. It’s a popular spot for the sunset, and we could see why – it was beautiful!

After that, our plan had been to attempt some star-gazing by leaving the downtown area with our rental car and just checking out the night’s sky. Of course, this island is great for the activity given the limited light pollution. Well, Juan Manuel had a little surprise for us. Him and Mily arrived the previous day and so on Thursday they went to the Anakena Beach. They chatted it up with their taxi driver and learned that he was a guard at the beach in the night time and actually invited him and Mily to stop by if they wanted (the park is closed, so not technically allowed). Well, we all took them up on this offer and drove across the island (about 30 minutes) and got to Anakena Beach which was empty, under a clear moon-lit sky. There are some moai on a podium overlooking the beach, and so we used this opportunity to attempt some long-exposure night photography with our respective camera devices. I love night photography and was excited to see what the GoPro would be able to capture. We spend about 90 minutes there, and it was just awesome. The island felt so empty, even though it was the most popular time to visit.

We got back to our Airbnb about 1 a.m. – needing to get a quick night’s rest as we were starting really early the next morning.

Friday

We picked up the rental car the previous night so that we could have it first thing in the morning in order to drive to the east side of the island to Ahu Tongariki for the epic sunrise. Tongariki is the largest display of moai on pedestals, in which there are 15 together. It’s spectacular to see the sun rise right behind them and create the long shadows on the green grass. The place was fairly crowded with tourists getting their pictures and time lapses of the events, but everyone was really quiet so it was still very peaceful and enjoyable. We spent about 90 minutes there for the sunrise and hanging around taking pictures as the crowds dispersed some more.

From there, we went to another popular site – Rano Raraku. This was just a couple km’s away from Tongariki and is best known for the quarry where the moai were carved and then carried to other parts of the island. What is soo cool about this site is that it has such a large collection of moai, all of which are in different stages of development. This is the best place to just “walk among” the moai and gain a better understanding and respect for the sheer size. What blew me away was that in many of the pictures, you just see the heads, whereas these are primarily full bodies being carved and the head is about 1/4 the size of the full statue – really incredible. This was probably Sarah and my favorite site on the island.

After Rano Raraku, it was getting hot out and the beach was calling our names. Therefore, we headed back to Anakena Beach (where we took the night pictures) and spent some time there. I walked around and took some pictures of the moai and beach during the day and then Sarah and I got into the water and just enjoyed the waves coming it. It was really relaxing and just what we needed.

It had been a long morning, especially after a late night, and so we headed back into town for a casual lunch at an affordable spot that was offering a lunch special. We appreciate traveling with Juan Manuel and Mily because they are pretty cost-conscious about things, which we like. They are always looking for good deals and to avoid the high tourist prices. This is especially helpful on this island where everything is so expensive due to all the imported goods.

We had a good lunch and then used the rest of the afternoon to travel up north to visit Ana Kakenga Cave. I thought this would be a pretty easy excursion, especially since we still had the car, but after a 20 minute drive, we had to hike another 40 minutes to a location near the water. The Ana Kakenga Cave is known as the “two windows” cave, and you head underground through a VERY narrow passage way to then get to a larger cave that has two openings in the walls of a large cliff off the west coast. It was really awesome to be in the cave and looking outside the “window” to the waves crashing against the coast.

After the cave visit, we were all just beat. We were all disgusting from hopping from one place to another, swimming at the beach, etc. and we were all just dead tired. Sarah and I went back to our Airbnb and we planned to meet up with Juan Manual and Mily later that night for the Tapati Festival Closing Ceremonies. Even though Sarah and I were wiped out when we got back to the Airbnb, we were too scared to take a nap as we thought it might knock us out for the night – and we couldn’t do that! So we rallied and tried to head into town for some drinks/dinner before the ceremony. On our way in, about 10 minutes into our walk, it started to downpour. We were pretty unprepared (we hadn’t been checking the weather since we have no working phones/WIFI), and so we tried to stand under a tree for a while, but in the end, we had to hike back to our Airbnb, change clothes and head back out anticipating consistent rainfall.

We made our way into town (on our second attempt), popped our heads into a few restaurants before settling on a location near the Tapati ceremony stage. We ate a quick dinner, enjoyed the other local brew (Mahina), and then went to find some seats for the ceremony.

We had no idea what to expect for a Tapati Closing Ceremony. All I knew is that they crowned the next queen who won the competition that year. It turned out being a concert for about an hour with a local band and then it turned to the ceremony – honoring the past festival queens and then preparing to crown the new one. I would say that I caught / understood more of it, but to be honest, Sarah and I kept falling asleep during it. It was far from boring, but we were just wiped out. We had planned to meet Juan Manuel and Mily there, but after a while, we didn’t see them and just figured we wouldn’t see them (again, couldn’t contact them without the cell service / WIFI). However, about halfway through the ceremony, a man knocks on my shoulder and basically wakes me up and it ends up being Juan Manuel haha. I was just laughing because he was asking how it was and I was like “to be honest, I was passed out and you just woke me up”. Anyways we watched (kind of) the rest of the ceremony, and then attempted to grab a beer afterwards, but everything was closed. We called it a (very long, but rewarding) day.

Saturday

We were definitely spoiled with good weather on Thursday and Friday. Except for a little rain later in the day on Friday, the weather was perfect. Saturday is when the rains became a bit more consistent and the cloud coverage was more noticeable. We had planned to do a hike with Juan Manuel and Mily, but they informed us the night before that they would pass since they were leaving the next day. Therefore, Sarah and I left our Airbnb and walked across downtown to the south of the island to take a trail to Rano Kau (a crater) and the ancient town of Orongo (a town next to the crater). The hike (which was listed as “easy” online) was a bit tougher than expected. It was a straight up-hill hike and our boots were carrying more and more mud due to some of the rains. However, when we got to the top, the views of the crater were fantastic. Additionally, a stray pupper decided to guide us on this hike the entire way, it was a nice extra travel companion.

The view of the Rano Kau crater was really cool, in my opinion. It was such a unique geological landscape, and knowing there was an ancient city on the other side gave it a feel of Machu Picchu. The city of Orongo was small, but really neat, especially looking at the construction of the homes and how they were built into the ground. Orongo is where the traditional birdman competition was held. The views of the water were fantastic and even though it was a bit of a cloudy/misty day, the weather cooperated when we were at Rano Kau and Orongo.

After a long trek up, we were fortunate to find a taxi driver who took us back into town. We were famished and conveniently next to the same lunch spot as yesterday so we stopped in again – as they had a different daily special. Another thing that was great about this spot (and several others) was the jugo naturales drinks that they served. This place specialized in the guava one, but we had other varieties on the island throughout the weekend, including an incredible pineapple one (Rapa Nui is supposed to have the best pineapple on the planet, the juice made it hard to argue against this claim). During lunch, the rain picked up – so it was perfect timing for us to relax, split a meal and listen to the rain hit the tin roof. After the rain subsided an hour or so later, we hopped around a couple shops so Sarah could find a t-shirt, and then we went on a mini-adventure to find the Mahina Brewery to find some merchandise and enjoy some beers. Once again, we had not GPS and it wasn’t on any maps so we tried talking with locals to get directions. After a few wrong turns, and unfortunately, the rain picked up again, we found the brewery! However, it was closed. Very disappointing. It’s not open on the weekends I guess. Oh well.

We strolled around town a little longer but then went back to our Airbnb to clean up prior to dinner reservations that Sarah and I had booked at Kotaro. This restaurant is the only Japanese restaurant on the island, has rave reviews, and the owner is incredibly…quirky. Check out his website – he has some fun rules about the dining experience. We got there and I’d describe the restaurant as a very modern home, and has seating for about 15 people. When we arrived, there were three guests at a table, and Sarah and I were seated at the bar (which was perfect to watch the chef, his wife, and son, prepare the dishes). The rest of the night, there were 7 other guests, so the restaurant only served 12 people that night, and that’s apparently how the chef likes it. We had some great fresh raw fish as an appetizer and then the chef basically told us we have options for what we wanted to eat: beef, fish, pork, chicken, or shrimp. After we picked the protein, he gave us some options for sauces. We went with the fish with curry sauce and the beef with teriyaki. Both were fantastic. After we finished those, we just relaxed and continued to watch him prepare items for others. One of the rules of the place was to not try to plan anything else and to not be in a rush. So we just relaxed. It worked out great because then he gave us some additional raw tuna to try, and then kept brining us different sauces to taste – while they had common names like garlic, curry, miso, etc. they all had a very unique flavor that was quite memorable. Personally, I regret not getting the miso – I’m not even really a miso soup fan, but this was a fantastic flavor. Anyways, we were the last two people there and just found ourselves talking with the chef for about 45 minutes, it was a nice experience.

Needless to say, we passed out immediately back at the Airbnb after this. Great day.

Sunday

We didn’t have much planned for Sunday since it was our travel day. We had planned to head to the airport at 12:30 p.m. with our Airbnb host, but she needed us out of the place by 9 a.m. to start cleaning for the next guests. So we “checked out” and left some bags in the corner and went out exploring a bit more. Since the time spent at Ahu Tahai during sunset on Thursday night was really quick, Sarah and I went back there to just walk around and get a few more pictures.

Unfortunately, the rain had continued a bit more on Sunday so it was fairly wet, etc. At this point, we found a WIFI spot and wanted to check in for our flights and see if everything was on time. Well, the day went a little south from this point, as our flight was delayed by 4 hours, but didn’t really say why and the WIFI wasn’t working great to do any more research on where the plane was located, etc. We ended up going to the airport at the normal time to at least check in our bags and get some more information. The flight was in fact going to be delayed 4 hours, which created some issues for us. We were scheduled to land back in Santiago at 9 p.m. and had a 11:30 p.m. overnight bus from Santiago to Temuco. Well, now we were going to arrive to the airport at 1 a.m. and all the overnight buses would be gone at this point. So we needed to go back into town to find a WIFI spot and see what we could do. Well, it was pretty frustrating because all the WIFI is bad and we tried to book some flights but the credit card wouldn’t process due to the speed. But, that happens.

We ended up not making any decisions until we got back to Santiago at 1 a.m. in which we could talk with some people and have some stronger WIFI and cell service to figure out our next steps. We ultimately booked a flight from Santiago to Temuco leaving at 7:50 a.m. The price was far more than we wanted, but we both really wanted to get back to the Foundation for a full day of work on Monday. Our alternative option would have been taking morning buses to Temuco, but that wouldn’t get us back to the city until the evening, so we’d miss out on Monday. The rest of the day was consumed by the travel fiasco, which was annoying because the final hours ended up being beautiful on the island. By the time we decided to just figure it out in Santiago, we treated ourselves to a final ice cream and walked to the airport. While the travel annoyances left a sour taste in our mouth for the weekend, all in all, it was a fantastic time and incredible experience. One that I never thought we’d get to experience, but we’re extremely fortunate to have been able to!

The best piña jugo naturale on the planet.

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