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Big Heads!
By Mikey
Tuesday, 8th June 2004 20:29

At some point everyone must either have heard of Easter Island and the statues on it or perhaps even seen a picture. Until I started reading about Easter Island in our guide book I must admit that I didn't know what they were called but I was looking forward to seeing them.

When we originally booked our tickets for this trip, the nice chap in Trailfinders had pointed out that it was unlikely that we would visit Easter Island as a destination on its own or that we'd want to pay the huge amount that it would cost. Stopping there on our way to New Zealand didn't cost us anything extra and we both wanted to so it didn't take more than a microsecond for a decision to be made.

It was a little weird to leave Santiago after spending so much time there and the Che Lagarto hostel had felt like home for a while. Still, it was also nice to be moving on. Our flight with Lan Chile took about five hours from Santiago. Time enough to watch a couple of films. Unfortunately though, Lan Chile's selection was still the same as earlier in the month so I ended up watching Paycheck again along with Cheaper by the Dozen (which was actually quite fun).

We landed at 9pm or so local time (2 hours behind mainland Chile) and looked for a place to stay that had been recommended to us. We very easily found the desk for Ana Rapu and agreed to stay there. Once our luggage was collected, we hopped into a pickup truck (Claire wanted to ride in the back) and disappeared into Easter Island's only town. The town itself is quite small, having only about 2800 permanent residents, so the ride was short. Our room was ok although the deep red satin bedspreads were a bit scary.

The next morning we hired a small jeep (a Suzuki Samurai). Tours of the island cost about the same as car rental but with a car you can go at your own pace and it's much more fun. A paved road goes right the way round one side of the island and then cuts back across the middle with a few side roads pointing off in various directions. The first day, we decided to stick to the main road as it takes you past a large number of the moai on the island. Although the round trip was only about 40km long, it took most of the day as we stopped to try and find all of the moai and take photos.

The following day we still had use of the jeep and we eventually set off in search of a few bits that we had missed the previous day. (I say eventually as we had to stop at the sole bank on the island to get a bit more money. It took over an hour!) The bits we missed included some caves, some petroglyphs, a few more moai and a national park consisting of an extinct volcano. We managed to set off at midday. As planned, we managed to see a few more moai and some caves but we hadn't managed to get to the petroglyphs. The sun was rapidly setting and, despite our best efforts, we could not find the petroglyphs marked on the map. The only other glyphs shown on the map were the ones at the top of the volcano. For all of two seconds we debated whether or not we would have enough time to get to the top or not. It was an easy decision. We didn't come all of this way to miss something out.

Up the volcano we went, bouncing along the unpaved road. We saw a couple of cars coming down and this gave us a little bit of confidence that we would be in time. After a quick stop near the top to gaze in awe (anyone remember George of the Jungle?) at the crater, we reached the entrance to the petroglyph site. It was closed.

Something being closed has never been known to stop us and when the wall is so low and there is a broken gate in it anyway, it's like an open invitation. We hurried in, trying to beat the sunset, got a bit lost and eventually found what we were looking for. The petroglyphs are basically carvings in rocks that date back at least as far as the moai. They show up better in strong sunlight than they do in setting sunlight but we snapped a few photos anyway. I hurried a bit on the way back to the car as it was out of sight and I had left the keys in the ignition. Not that I needed to worry. Car crime isn't a problem on Easter Island. There aren't any places to hide a stolen car and the chances are that one of the other 2799 people on the island will know that you did it.

Our final day on Easter Island was spent on foot exploring some of the souvenir markets and finding the last few moai that were located in and around the town. Souvenirs are very expensive on Easter Island and it's not surprising really. The island is 2000+ miles from the Chilean mainland and to get here, most tourists have to pay about $500 for a flight. So it's not really an unfair assumption to make that any tourists who fly to Easter Island are in fact loaded. We spent a little while shopping around and followed the advice of our guide book. It suggested that we should seek out the original artisans or at least the smaller shops if we wanted better prices. There was something we wanted to buy for ourselves that we had seen and we spent quite a while comparing prices. The most expensive price we saw was about $70. The cheapest price, (and strangely the best quality product as well) was just under half of that. It was also the most unexpected location too. We had just found our last remaining moai. It was outside the town, on the coast and it was one we had been curious about. I think I'm correct in saying that it's the only one on the island with painted eyes. A nice lady had a small stall setup nearby and we got what we were looking for.

Our flight to Tahiti wasn't until 9pm that night but once the sun had started to set, there wasn't too much point waiting around. Check-in had only just opened when we got there and the girl at the desk told us we had to board at 8:20 at gate number one. Then she laughed and said something in Spanish. At took a few seconds for us to work out what she was getting at. Apparently Easter Island airport only has one gate! I guess you had to be there.

We were waiting for airport security to turn up and let us through and I was contemplating how easy it would be to get something past them when a young boy started chattering away to us in Spanish. He could only have been four or five. He seemed very proud of his marble collection and his boots and he asked very few questions. This made it easy for us to nod as if we knew what he was saying although after half an hour our necks were sore from too much nodding. Airport security finally let us through and I found out that it would have been very easy to smuggle something on. Their x-ray scanner wasn't working and they weren't too thorough searching bags. Not that it mattered really because I'm not really into smuggling.

That's about it as far as our short trip to Easter Island is concerned. I'm very glad we went there, it's a great place. It just might be a bit too remote to live there. I'll leave that to the moai.

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