RTW 2019: Rapa Nui

Community Highlights Central / South America & The Caribbean RTW 2019: Rapa Nui


6/25/19 at 2101
Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Chile

Fun fact: day old lengua sandwich tastes much better than it sounds. It was quite the hearty breakfast before another day of traveling, especially when my flight got delayed for 3 hours.

I started off this AM with a 4:30 AM cab ride to the airport. With the cabbie right on time, I thought I was in good shape. Checking in and dropping off my bag seemed pretty straightforward. Then I went to security. I was told that Rapa Nui trips specifically were on a different floor. I was directed to an elevator, which then took me to a hallway with empty offices. I looked around, no other souls in site. I contemplated going back up, thinking that clearly they must have directed me the wrong way. Then I ran into a young boy delivering local papers from a cart. In broken English he told me “we go to the same place”. I followed him through the office hallways, telling him I was a little worried. “No personas?” He motioned as we made a turn, said “Public area.” I saw a few people ahead of me with suitcases and a sign for the security checkpoint. Faith restored!

I found the security checkpoint, went through immigration and passed a tower of confiscated sharps (including way too many tools and pairs of scissors), and then was told again to go down a long & empty hallway. All signs said “Salida” (exit) and my faith that I was going in the right direction again started to wain. A European boy who spoke no English became uncomfortable, started heading back. I was next to a local Rapa Nui girl who thankfully was bilingual. She told me the fact that we were uncomfortable together offered some comfort. She said “I always get lost in here. There are never any signs.” We came across janitorial staff who were able to confirm we were headed the ride way. We went through two more deserted hallways before coming in to a crowded terminal with a Dunkin Donuts nearby. My new Rapa Nui friend told me “There’s ALWAYS a Dunkin’ Donuts by the terminal. Rapa Nui people LOVE Dunkin’ Donuts.” She wasn’t kidding. I saw several people with multiple boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts, which I later saw being stashed into overhead bins for travel to the island. I looked at the long line and thought, “When was the last time I had a Dunkin’ Donut?? Am I missing out . . . how well would a Dunkin’ Donut mix with the cold lengua sandwich in my belly?” I decided it was a culinary concoction I wasn’t ready to explore before a flight.

So then the boarding, not boarding, boarding, not boarding dance began. We were officially delayed. After a few hours and some mediocre sleep on the floor with my inflatable travel pillow and bags wrapped around my arms, we were officially boarding. Disembarking on to the tarmac, you could see the ocean and feel the breeze. Which of course, was lovely for the hair . . . in addition to the terminal floor nap. Walking out of the airport, you’re greeted by a large crowd of local peeps yelling, waving necklaces, holding signs, offering taxicab rides, car rentals, whatever you need!! I made my way through and followed my Google maps to my AirBNB. I dropped off my bags in the kitchen, took my valuables and headed out to put some more miles on my feet.

Hello Hanga Roa!

Walking down the main street I passed by artesian shops and souvenir shops with the same mass produced souvenirs over and over. Almost all were figurines of the moai, earrings of the moai, magnets of the moai, shirts of the moai. I was looking, curious to find some original design or craftsmanship but I was disappointed at each shop I came to. I started thinking of the irony that I was finally to Easter Island and seeing numerous moai but it was all in design before seeing an actual statue. I wanted to see something real.

My first Moai sighting

Right as I was mumbling to myself about the irony of no moai while being surrounded by thousands of moais, I walked up to Ahu Riata in the harbor. He was singular, starting straight ahead, back to the water. Stray dogs walked around, sleeping on the grass in front of the ahu. A soccer field was nearby with some young men laughing, running, kicking the ball around. Battered old cars drove by, rolling through the stop signs. In front of me was a moai, carved maybe 500 years ago, maybe a thousand years ago, representing a person and meant to capture a soul so that this person may live on. In that moment I reflected on how easy it is for us to take our surroundings for granted. I thought about this little island, described as “the most isolated but inhabited island” in the world, and here I am standing before this mysterious statue that represents someone who lived and walked on this land . . . the construction still a mystery, the rituals not completely revealed, a written language never decoded. I didn’t want to take the moment for granted. Even with the stray dogs walking by.

I wandered a bit more, wishing I could get closer but extremely aware of the multitude oof signs warning “NO”, “NO STEP AHU”, and circles with lines through the center. In my wanderings up and down the coast I found more carvings, more moai, and more ahus, many without their person. I took a decent walk up and through the curvy streets to the free Museo de Rapa Nui, also known as the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. Their exhibits were more signs but I appreciated being able to see the rare female moai. I would have loved to known more about her. Who was she, why was she significant enough for a statue, what was she like? The museum also had recreations of the tablets which display the Rapa Nui written language that has never been deciphered. An English documentary played in the background and I learned that evidence has been found to show that the Rapa Nui people realized their deforestation effect and began planting trees. An archaeologist was showing evidence of an irrigation system and tree seed planting. Though the island is pretty desolate now, I still appreciated this tidbit.

The Father Sebastián Englert Anthropological Museum
A very rare female moai
Known as an avanga, this is a funerary cist where
bones of ancestors were buried within the ahus

After the museum, I followed pathways to the coast where more moai and ahus were, all with the same DO NOT TOUCH THIS signage. I found a local cemetery and wandered around, looking at all of the memorials loved ones set up. In a land of forgotten history and unknown ancestors, it appears that the local people have a strong focus on remembering those who have passed. The graves were extremely lively with bits of artwork, painted stones, built structures, a guitar, sculptured aces, plants both real and silk. There was such vibrancy left in remembrance of each person. I was able to get a minute sense of each person who was buried there.


I took the day slow, walking and wandering around. I had originally planned on renting a car today but I’m going to try tomorrow. With the delay and everything, I wasn’t feeling particularly gung ho. I did end up going out for a nice dinner though. I ate at Koloa Restaurant at the Hangaroa Eco Lodge and VIllage. A cocktail of unclear ingredients and a perfectly seared bit of tuna . . . there was supposed to be a beautiful ocean view but many protest signs and stakes obscured that part. I have to do some research on what’s going on there. I could still see some ocean through the stakes and I could hear the waves so tried to rest, relax my mind a bit. I watched the sunset go down as I munched down on dinner and marveled at the stars. I do wish I had a car to travel to the more remote parts of the island to do some stargazing. But I am probably honestly too tired for it anyhow. After dinner I went to the market, picked up a local Rapa Nui beer to try at some time before I go. I also grabbed a large container of water to refill my Rapa Nui rainwater bottle I picked up earlier. I think I’ve decided this will be my travel bottle this trip. I considered possibly picking up food to cook for breakfast but I think I want to find a local place and maybe do coffee and pan in the morning. Tomorrow will be more exploring, more Moai . . . and I hope to find more quiet moments.

6/26/19 at 1054


I’m sitting at a small cafe with a thatched roof and free WiFi that doesn’t work, waiting on my cappuccino doble with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, ham, cheese, and toast. Knowing I was feeling under the weather, the parentals offered to treat me to a morning coffee which is greatly appreciated. A little pick me up feels necessary. One thing I have noticed in Chile is that fresh vegetables seem hard to come by here. For how lush looking the greenery is in Rapa Nui, it surprises me to see that vegetables are also rare here. No tomatoes, no greens. The salads I’ve seen brought out are also onion heavy, such as on the mainland. In Santiago, food seemed meat and carbs, meat and carbs. My body is craving more!

Before this I was able to find a rental car after trying four different rental car agencies. $90,000 Chilean pesos a day, or roughly $130 USD a day. I have been saying how I need to learn manual but at the current prices, it looks as though a manual car would have been about $100 a day so not much more of a deal. I asked about a discount paying cash to which the gentleman quickly replied “No because automatic is so rare.” I guess there would have been a chance to try to talk him down there butt either way, I’m glad to have a car and a bit of freedom. I slept in today and continually am feeling better. Tomorrow I think I’ll get up early to try to see the sunrise near Ahu Tongariki where fifteen moai stand strong.

Today I will be heading to see Orongo and probably drive the roads. I don’t have a particular destination in mind so we’ll see what happens. First thing is first . . . food . . . and then finding where to buy my park pass!

Found it . . . and so did this stray dog

6/26/19 At 1107

The food has come out with the scramble in a small cast iron pan. I was given a salt container filled with rice to absorb the moisture, a thin pepper mix and hardened sugar crystals for my coffee. Large perfectly square pieces of toast there to spread the scramble on. A very filling beginning to my day . . . thanks again to the parentals.

6/26/19 at 2009

My noble steed

Ah, a successful day! As soon as I sat in my little gray Suzuki I felt at home. I’m a total California girl at heart, happy to have my vroom vroom to go around in. And you know it’s going to be good when your rental car comes with advice: “Watch out for the wild horses.” In my mind I was thinking “and the stray dogs . . . and the cows . . . and the chickens . . . “ Not to mention the pedestrians, other drivers who are comfortable with the roads and the tourists who are uncomfortable with the roads. And the scooters, the motorcycles, the ATVs . . . we’re not even going to think about how “no insurance” exists on the island. But moving on. I was freeeee! Also the sickness seems to be at bay, which is great.


I started off with Orongo, the dwellings near Rano Kau Crater where the Birdman Ceremony took place. I stopped at the crater’s edge on the way in and enjoyed the crazy wind up so high. The crater is indescribable in person. I absolutely loved being at the edge. Orongo itself has dwellings that were reconstructed in the 70’s so visitors could appreciate what it once looked like. My biggest joy perhaps was coming across the site where Hoa Hakananai’a was found. He is the moai that is now in London, apparently taken away in 1868. I was already very excited to see him and say hello but now there is an even stronger connection because off seeing where his home was.

The dwelling where Hoa Hakananai’a Moai was removed from.

After I got my fill of the crater and the Orongo dwellings, I made my way back down the extinct volcano towards the famous cave Ana Kai Tangata. Here you can see ancient red, white, and black paintings of birds, presumably depicting important aspects of the Birdman ceremony. Apparently human bones have been found here with evidence to support the claims that the ancient peoples were cannibalistic in nature.

Cave paintings of birds

I also made my way to the north, stopping at several ahus, moais, and petroglyph spots along the way. On the famous Te Moai road there were too many toppled and fractured sculptures to count. I passed the famous Ahu Tongariki and but honestly got distracted by wild horses on the opposite side of the road taking a bath in a small pool of groundwater. I visited Puna a Pau, the quarry where red volcanic rock was used to carve the “hats”, known as pukao. There are still several unfinished pukao in the quarry site. On some of them you can see petroglyphs with canoes and other images. I really enjoyed he quarry and am excited to see the main quarry tomorrow where the bodies of the moai were carved.

The Puna a Pau red rock quarry

I saw so many moai today and still feel like I can’t get my fill. I look at their different facial structures, their different heights. I know they say they were meant to capture souls and essences, to keep them for generations to come, and so I wonder about them. Who were and what were they like? I also have these thoughts strongly for the toppled moai lying facedown on the side of the road. As the stories go, the sculpture were toppled during unrest in the 17th and 18th centuries. The government later lifted some back up, put them on display for people to see. I wonder how these ancestors would feel knowing they’re facedown in the dirt. Or would they prefer that to having thousands of tourists gawking and taking pictures, threatening to cut off an ear? (Bad idea guy, really bad idea.) I wonder how some were chosen to be re-erected while others were allowed to stay in the ground. Another random interesting point is that many of the ahus have astronomical significance which I am not surprised about but I did not know. They said that several are facing the area of sunrise during the equinox and things such as that. I find it all fascinating.

After that bit of exploration, I headed back to the AirBNB for a rest. A party was under way for my host to welcome her brother to the island. Several friends and family were laughing, talking, singing and playing guitar, eating. I was made up a plate by Carlos, my hosts’ nephew, with a grilled whole fish and rice. He motioned to show me how to peel the fish skin off in one peel. I didn’t do the best on the top side but I was better the opposite side. They didn’t know the name of the fish but I was assured it was a Rapa Nui delicacy. I was given a container of salt where we all pinched a bit, spread it on the grilled fish and then I was given half of a small green lemon to squeeze over the fish. It was honestly one of the best fish I’ve had. I pulled out my Rapa Nui brewery APA to wash the fish down. The beer was decently tasty and my bottle seemed to make a mild buzz at the table. In a sea of Budweiser, the Rapa Nui brewery bottle stuck out a bit. I was surprised they seemed so unfamiliar with it. I’m sure it’s more pricey than the average pack of beer but I hope they try it. I wish I had taken a picture of dinner, of the table, but surrounded with casual family and the lack of communication I felt it would be ill-fitting.

Fun tidbit: after this meal I had the particular joy of trying to get a scratchy fish scale off the back of my throat. Coughs and clearing the throat proved ineffective. I decided to try some gargling. A few gargles with water later and the irritating scale was off. I don’t recall the last time I had such a sense of relief.

Later I went out, walked around the main street again to enjoy the atmosphere a bit. I treated myself to a guava ice cream and picked up some groceries including unknown white cheese, sliced meat, avocado, and fresh bread. I also picked up some papaya juice, pan dulce, and a handful of eggs to make myself a breakfast. Tomorrow I have decided I am going to get up early to see the sunset from Ahu Tongariki. With sunrise past 8 AM I feel I have no excuse not to go . . . its about 30 min away. Tonight, a little more stargazing before I head home to try to call my baby.

My guava ice cream with maybe a tad too many seeds

628/19 at 1137

A simple breakfast to start the day
Ahu Tongariki

Yesterday was a full and amazing day. I’m now in the plane, heading out from Hanga Roa, feeling happy and settling in, about to start watching the Greatest Showman on Earth. Yesterday, I got up early as planned and made a simple breakfast. Man, I love that papaya juice. There were many people at Ahu Tongariki for the sunrise. The sun raised up a little farther north but it was still a beautiful sight to see. After the sun was up, many of the people headed out which somewhat surprised me. I walked around the fifteen moai, including taking the pathway behind them where you can see the carving and detail on their backs. I only saw one other person taking a look at the back of the sculptures. I loved the feeling of seclusion and the ahu is right up to the water’s edge. I took a few minutes to wander out on the rocks, to listen the ocean, watch the waves. The quiet and peace was very soothing. I knew there was more I wanted to do in the area but after such a morning, I was a little tired. I decided to take a short nap in my rental car. Some of the stray dogs softly followed beside me, laid down when I laid down in the car. I woke up to a few dogs napping outside of the car and a handful of wild ponies grazing a handful of yards away.

Can you see the Giant on the righthand side?
Tukuturi, the only kneeling moai

The Rano Raraku quarry where the body of the moais were carved is right near Ahu Tongariki so it was the obvious next stop. The area was nearly empty and the sun was peaking enough to make it warm but not enough to make it hot. I put my headphones in and walked around the curving pathways. I saw the famous Giant who is more than 72 feet long and would have weighed more than 200 tons had he been removed from the quarry. I passed by Tukuturi, the kneeling moai who is coincidentally also the only known moai to have a booty. Local legend tells of a man who fell to his death and upon landing, his legs were buckled beneath him as if he was kneeling before the volcanic mountain. There were different styles and sizes, various facial features accentuated while others were more muted. I found it fascinating and wished there was more information provided on the moai but I suppose the lack of information is one of the tragedies of this island, yes?

After the quarry, I made my way to Anakena Beach, past the awkward carved statue of a woman giving birth with a rope for an umbilical cord. An uninterested employee stamped my ticket and told me to remain on the pathways, to not go off the pathways, to not touch the moai, to not touch the ahu, do not go off the pathways and towards the moai. Got it? Got it.

The beach was beautiful with fine sand that lifted up what felt like mini-sand dunes, but the scene appeared to be manufactured with palm trees that were aligned in rows. I believe this was the first area I had seen with palm trees and I’m not sure if they were planted to replace natural ones or specifically meant to be in an arrangement. Little fine bits of plastic shined in the sand as I got near the water, a little painful ping of reality. Tourists posed with bathing suits, greenery in their hair as the waves crashed around them. Other tourists walked up to the water in heavy fleece jackets and scarves. The weather was warm in the sun but somewhat chilly in a shadow. I had put on my flip flops, so stayed in the sun, pulled up my pants and stepped into the ocean waves. I enjoyed the feeling of the sand between my toes, let the cool water soothe my wandering feet.

This canoe petroglyph is the largest on the island

I was at the beach a short time before brushing off the sand and moving on. A quick stop off at the Papa Vaka petroglyphs where I was again the sole tourist waking around. Then a market run where I was pleasantly surprised to find a Brazilian drink marked “ANTARCTICA” and very sad to find out that Doritos Sabor is not the same as Doritos Nacho Cheese back home. I stopped by my AirBNB for a simple sandwich lunch with more papaya juice, a refill of my water, and then back out for more.

I was very excited to explore the Ana Kakena lava tube and looked at the map, feeling there was a good amount of time to make the drive. Of course, the road marked turned to a dirt road and then a rough road with large rocks, and then mud and lava rocks. I wasn’t so confident that my rental car could handle it without me having to utilize the spare tire in the back so I abandoned my car to the side of the road and took off on foot as ATVs passed me be. I came to a small parking lot where there was a few cars who had braved the trek and then I saw a ticket window. I realized this was part of the official National Park and received a stamp on my ticket for going further. In a heavy accent, the old man with leather skin and long hair, missing teeth and blackened teeth said “About twenty-five minutos.” He wasn’t kidding and it was a slightly exhausting twenty-five minutos on top of the already thirty or so minutos I had spent trudging through rocks and mud. There was a small rain cloud that came in, giving a light spray but I thought “I’m too far in, can’t turn back now!”

Almost there
Entrance to lava tube

I accidentally missed the entrance to the lava tube on the first pass. Chile is a place of “You’ll figure it out” . . . and I did. Eventually. When I reached the cliff edge before the ocean I figured perhaps I had gone too far. I turned back and found it promptly. Headlamp on, ready to go, I crawled in. It’s a small cave, wet and dripping but the two windows to the ocean are breathtaking. One window had what appeared to be a mild mudslide in its recent pass so I admired from afar. The second larger window was dry and clear, opening to a sheer drop off and overlooking crashing waves against protrusions of rock. I sat alone in the lava tube for a short time, looking out on to the water and the setting sun. The small rain cloud made its way over and a fine mist of rain came down through the sun rays. I truly didn’t want to leave, sitting on the edge of that lava tube, overlooking the ocean.

The view from one of the lava tube windows, leading out to the cliff

After packing and preparing for the flight the next day, I headed to bed. I set my alarm early because I knew I wanted to see the sun rise again. I didn’t feel I needed to watch it above the moai but I definitely wanted the experience of watching the sky change color before leaving the island. I headed out, drove about a half away and pulled up to the waters edge where I could see the waves jumping up the black rocks. I cuddled up in my car to stay warm with my slightly cracked windows . . . I wanted to hear the ocean waves crashing between songs on the Rapa Nui radio. As the sun came out, I realized I was on the exact same bit of shore that I had stargazed at the previous night. I guess that was meant to be my spot. When it was time to head back, I avoided the wild horses that like to wander on the roads, saw no other tourists, reached my AirBNB, gathered my things, and headed out for the airport.

So . . . now on to watch the Greatest Showman on Earth because I did promise my lady love that I would watch this at some point. Goodbye my moai friends. I do not know if and when I shall ever be back.







At the top of the Rano Kau volcanic crater






The Polynesian Triangle, made up of Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand

Bridge of a nose I came across on my treks






This featured blog entry was written by WanderingWorld from the blog Enjoying the Banquet.
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By WanderingWorld

Posted Tue, Jul 09, 2019 | Chile | Comments