Easter Island, 2000
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August 16th, 2000 – by: majwilsonlion
I went to Rapa Nui [Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua] on vacation for two weeks in August. I spent a few days of the first week traveling with a Polish couple from Chicago who were staying at the same residence where I stayed, Lucia’s Mahina Taka Taka. We were sometimes joined by an English scientist, Jill, who had been living on St. Helena in the South Atlantic studying rats. Below are excerpts from a letter to the Polish couple detailing the activities during the week subsequent to their departure.
Two notes - first, the comments regarding magnetic fields refer to a tour provided to us on the first day by an illustrious German whose name was, no joke, Herman. At one point as we drove down the only paved road across the island, he stopped the van, which proceeded to roll backwards.
Second, four airplanes visit the island per week. Planes traveling from Santiago to Tahiti stop over late Sunday evening. The following morning a plane travels in reverse; arriving from Tahiti it picks up passengers who want to return to South America. This is repeated Thursday evening and Friday morning. If you are staying at Mahina Taka Taka, Herman will meet you at the airport by arrangement with Lucia. This is how I met the Polish couple as we were being shuttled together at dusk to our abode...
“Dear Mariola and Tomek,
We were kept busy after you left the island.
That evening, Jill and I joined Lucia at the gymnasium to watch the children of the island perform traditional dances and songs in competition. It was interesting to watch 6 and 7 year old children doing the same acts that the professional dance group performed for us the previous Wednesday night. There were several different age groups and categories. Children too young to compete played around the gym floor while parents chased after their babies. One child looked mistakenly like my son in the dim light; however, it was just his clothes. A row of judges sat along a table set in front of the stage.
Jill and I spent the next day looking for Ahu Huri a Urenga. We had trouble at first mainly because our journey started us down the wrong dirt road and we found ourselves on the opposite side of Puna Pau [crater quarry for the statue hats, or topknots, made from a reddish stone]. Backtracking, we found our way to the solitary moai that is thought to be associated with the solstice because of its skewed orientation from the coast in association with neighboring indentations in the ground.
The church service Sunday morning was interesting. The mass was conducted in Rapa Nui and Spanish. At one point everybody shook the hand of their neighbor, and natives were walking across the room to shake my hand, as well as the hand of all the other visitors. Afterwards, I helped Lucia carry fresh bread back home. We walked until a taxi driver who was a friend of Lucia (despite being Chilean) picked us up and returned us for free. This driver would eventually be compensated.
Monday morning, Jill and the couple from Utah left. Nobody filled their places, and I soon realized I had been experiencing safety in numbers. I had asked Lucia to arrange renting a mountain bike for the day. She said she would take care of it, but in the end presented Jose’s bike. I felt obligated to use it, but once I had left the house I found the seat was improperly fastened such that I could not press my own seat down on it. Basically I had to ride standing up the whole time, which ended up tiring me more than if I had walked simply. I ended up doing just that for all the uphill sections of the road. My destination was Anakena beach [~15km]. After struggling three-fourths of the way, I accepted a ride from a Rapa Nuian with a red truck who offered to take me the remaining distance.
Being the only guest, I suggested to Lucia that I would eat my remaining meals in town at different restaurants. She was upset by this suggestion as she said she was relying on the money she anticipated from dinners at her residence. The first few nights like this made me feel very uncomfortable because while I ate, she served and hovered, waiting for me to finish so she could go eat dinner with her family. On subsequent evenings I encouraged Peo, her youngest son, and Jose to join me and it was more pleasant. I eventually taught Jose a poor man’s version of gin-rummy, which we played every night until I left.
Tuesday night, or rather Wednesday morning, there was a terrible storm. I was awakened at around 3:00 and couldn’t sleep again until around 5:00. The wind was ferocious and accompanied by a continual deluge. The next morning Lucia discovered that her whole house was flooded by ~3 inches of mud. We had intended to go to Tongariki [largest restored monument showcasing 15 moai’s in a row] and Te Pito Te Kura together with Peo and Jose. These were two more sites previously visited without film. She had called around for taxis and found one that would take us for “25”. But because of the storm, she had to cancel and I went by myself. Basically, I just wanted to take pictures and not waste too much time, so the driver and I sped out there. My taxi driver was none other than Lucia’s friend, the Chilean who drove us back from church. After Te Pito Te Kura, I asked the driver to show me Ovahe. If on the previous day I had walked a little further, past one more hill, I would have found it! Afterwards, he brought me back to the village. Total time spent was 2 hours. I gave him $30 dollars and he returned my change in pesos. Instead of walking back to my room, I went over to Lucia’s house to see what kind of progress she had made. As we were talking, the taxi driver got out of his cab and approached us to complain that I had short-changed him. Obviously, as a uni-linguist, I had trouble following the argument, but basically Lucia agreed with him and told me that when she quoted “25”, she did not say $25, but 25000 pesos, or effectively $50. I grudgingly paid it, and basically was upset as I began to realize that Lucia would not be supporting my interests. Later in town I inquired on other taxi rates and found that most would have charged ~16000 pesos, or $25. And when this was brought to Lucia’s attention, she basically said that if I liked their prices better, I should have gone with them.
On Wednesday after confirming my flight with Lan Chile, Jose and I ventured to Ana Kakenga [a cave with two windows in the sea cliff wall]. Jose brought with him his new flashlight [a gift from the Polish couple], of which he was proud. We crawled in and looked around. Before descending, Jose chanted, “Aku Akuuuu” and we both laughed [Aku Aku are the evil spirits on the island. By chanting their name, Jose was scaring them away. I thought this was a joke]. After clowning around inside, we wormed ourselves back out and edged along the coast so that I may take a picture of the cave windows along the cliff wall. When I suggested to Jose that he go back into the cave by himself and appear at the opening on the cliff so that I may take his picture, he froze at the suggestion and immediately refused. When I asked why, he looked frightened at me, shook his head and simply said, “Aku Aku.” An uneventful day otherwise.
Thursday was my last full day and I wanted to go somewhere new. My first choice was to walk along the North coast, but that would have relied on a taxi to provide return, an option I wanted to avoid under the previous circumstances. Instead the decision was made to hike to the top of Mt. Terevaka, the highest peak on the island. I headed up the North coast past Ana Kakenga, around Ana Te Pahu [a cave with a vertical opening; inside banana trees were planted under shelter from the wind], then inland to Ahu Akivi [row of seven moai facing the sea; all other moai’s were facing inland to provide protection over the ancient tribal villages]. From there, an unmarked dirt road ascended that I hoped would lead to the right trail for completing the trek. It turned out, as I discovered two hours later, that it was itself the right trail for it wound itself directly to the top. The walk took three and a half hours from Mahina Taka Taka, and it was 13:00 when I reached the summit. The whole morning was sunny and beautiful. Consequently, I was very warm, so the strong unabated winds up there were a welcomed relief. I decided to rest and eat lunch before completing the final twenty yards to the ultimate peak. I laid down and rested peacefully for about ten minutes then left my pack to finish the walk. For about one or two minutes I had a nice view. The sea was visible in all directions except for one spot that was blocked by the tree line, and but for the stretch of horizon beyond Orongo that was shrouded in dense clouds. To be looking down on Poike [a multi-coned volcano] and its crater peaks to the right was an exciting feeling, but I was disappointed to not be able to see the waterfront at Anakena. Since the day before, the island had been swarming with German and French tour groups. There was talk of a cruise ship anchored at Anakena for two days and I had hoped to get a glimpse of it from the mountain. I turned back around toward Hanga Roa and noticed that the dense clouds beyond Orongo where now congregated in front of Orongo! When the temperature of the wind started to drop appreciatively, I knew I was done for. I ran to gather my pack and struggled to pull out my raincoat which was stubbornly bundled at the bottom beneath camera and rations. Once out, the jacket wouldn’t cooperate as I tried to fit into it. One sleeve was easy, but the other one twisted away in the wind preventing my other limb from sliding to safety. After three failed attempts, I felt the first drops and started to panic. Finally I succeeded with the arms only to be halted again by a misaligned zipper. What seemed like forever was probably only five minutes, but it was enough time for the storm to swell above and release its load. Finally ready with pack, I started to jog back until I removed myself from the upper hills that were unsheltered from the wind. Afterwards I had to slow down because the dirt road had been transformed into a mud slide worthy of a Norwegian ski jump. The downpour continued for about twenty minutes leaving everything soaked, but the sun eventually returned to warm my back and I turned to stand facing uphill to help dry my front side. While pointing in this direction, it was tempting to contemplate whether I should return to the top - that is until I turned around again to see the second front approaching from over the village. It traveled slower than the first and waited until I was completely dry before hitting with full force. This round continued then slackened only to regain strength as I merged with the main road passing Ahu Akivi. At this point a Rapa Nuian farmer in a Volkswagen bus slowed down to pick me up. I was beat and glad to retire early for bed that evening. I dreamed I heard an airplane take-off and fears of being left on the island swelled. I was awakened in the night. Was that Herman’s voice?
In the morning I was packed and ready to go home. There was a new lodger in the commons, and it turned out we were from the same alma mater, Texas A&M University. An aerospace engineer, he had graduated four years earlier. We talked about school and inquired about sites back home as we marveled over the shrinking world. I warned him about Herman, who later picked us up to drop me off at the airport and give the other his mystifying tour. Thirty minutes after Herman had left me at the airport to check my bags, he returned to place coffee-bead necklaces around the guests he had the pleasure to guide. I asked one such couple, Spanish teachers from Maine, if they enjoyed Herman’s tour. They sighed and proceeded to tell me about the magnetic fields...”
1. Canadian family, in the LA and Lima airport lounges, moving to Bolivia to begin export trade in indigenous wool products produced by native Indians.
2. Argentina psychologist, on flight from LA to Lima, returning from a conference on metaphysical healing held in Oregon. He was traveling with a friend’s son whose mother lived in LA and father lived in Buenos Aires.
3. Peruvian business woman, in the Santiago airport lounge, specializing in the production and trade of olive oil. She was headed to Argentina where the olive were grown.
4. Chilean tour guide, on flight from Santiago to Isla de Pascua, who spoke Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, English and French. He was accompanying a Russian family of four to Easter Island to act as guide and interpreter.
5. Polish couple, on Easter Island. School teachers in Chicago.
6. Couple from England. Astro physicist who had visited West Texas several times.
7. Couple from Maine. Spanish teachers
8. British zoologist from St. Helena
9. Nasa scientist who coincidentally was from my alma mater.
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