I jumped off the map of South America!
I couldn’t resist a visit to the “world’s most isolated inhabited island” – Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island / Isla de Pascua.
At about a mid-way point in the Pacific, between Chile and French Polynesia, or 1/3 of the way to the International Dateline (3800km, a 6-hour flight from Santiago), the island is a living legend.
Don’t worry, I meant that both literally and figuratively.
I don’t remember when I first saw the moai.. maybe a travel agency poster, maybe a National Geographic feature. But ever since, I just couldn’t shake the vision out of my mind. I’ve read about it, and it’s always the same bits of information told and re-told, but nothing definite. And then there were phrases thrown around like “the world’s unsolved mystery” and “a total enigma”.
I couldn’t contain my curiosity when I just found myself so (relatively) near.
Well, curiosity is an understatement. El viaje de ensueño.. When a dreamer becomes a traveller, all bets are off. Aren’t all travellers perpetual dreamers? (or, aren’t all dreamers perpetual travellers?).
This one, lone, small island became inhabited by a community of wanderers who drifted from either Polynesian islands or South America (most likely the former, although Chileans like to argue that they are descendants of Chile’s indigenous tribes) and settled on this speck of land in the middle of nowhere.
They erected the massive stone statues, known as moai, all over the island, standing proud, as defendants, facing inland. They are as magical as I had anticipated.
The moment when your heart beats faster and your thoughts get quieter? I never have dramatic coup de foudres on my travels, because preparing for the trip I usually already have some idea, sometimes a wrong one, of what to expect.
It takes some time to process it and then it hits me at some of the most unassuming moments. But I saw them unexpectedly, coming up in the distance: an army of moai with their backs to the sea. I stopped my buggy abruptly and raised myself on it, just looking ahead, mesmerized.
The road from the main town, Hanga Roa to one of the main sites, Ahu Tongariki is not illuminated at all, and parts of it are unpaved. Right before Naomi’s pre-dawn alarm signalled a get-up-and-go, I was already awake listening to the heavy storm which was passing through town.
We got going anyways. My headlights were throwing light only about 2m ahead of the buggy, and I was panicking because the horizon was already starting to be visible.
The little strip of a road I could see ahead of me looked like it reached out to the very end of the world.
Navegar por la immensidad del confine! ..and we were racing against the clock that was ticking sunrise.
We somehow, astoundingly, made it to the Ahu Tongariki in time. It was a rainy, cloudy morning, and the sun actually wasn’t at all rising behind the moai, like we had imagined.
A handful of people were there already, awaiting the same miracle. I saw sheets of rain, like a swarm of bees, coming at us. About 15min later, the dawn broke with a subtle coral light coming from behind the Maunga Pu A Katiki volcano.
On the drive back, the ‘swarm of bees’ followed us almost all the way to Hanga Roa. Soaked, muddy from buggy’s wheels, and debating whether the dawn escapades were a good idea at all, we went looking for warm breakfast.
There is no public transportation on the isle, and so after returning my 24h-rental buggy, I decided to hitch-hike the rest of the time (after all the island is an area of only 160 km2).
At the intersection towards Anakana, after no more than a 10-min wait, a jeep stopped and a very interesting native man offered me a ride. He said he lives ‘near Anakana’ and was heading home, but first needed to run a few errands. So I would join him in his errands: didn’t mind the least!
An artist, a philosopher, a writer, a thinker, Fetu, when asked what he does with his life nowadays, said he “thinks”. I knew we would get along..
During our 45min ride he overwhelmed me with various theories of life, at some instances very intensely talking about his beliefs, and in some so lightly, practically jokingly. He also taught me a bit of Rapa Nui language:
io rana, pehe koe? (hello, how do you do?)
riva riva (very well)
He, then, dropped me off at Anakana, but he added that, with this wind, I will probably not enjoy my time there, and offered to take me to Ovahe instead. I was set on Anakana, and so I thanked him – for the ride, for the advice, and for a lesson in life (“no permita l’oscuridad a entrar sin permiso al alma”).
It remains one of my favourite local encounters on this entire trip.
At Anakana there was barely anyone on the beach or the site (it’s home to a row of five beautiful moai, complete with red topkapi). It was windy, with little sand devils flying around. After a 15min struggle with the wind and the sand, I realized Fetu was right – not a good day for this beach. Right then, the rain started and I hid under the eaves waiting for a ride.
A few minutes later two guys whom I’ve seen on the beach came by, and while I was internally speculating whether to ask them in Spanish or English if they were going to Hanga Roa, they spoke …… Serbian among themselves!
Shocked, I said that that has to be the last language I had expected to use here, at the end of the world.
They were on a maddening marathon 11-day trip of South America, including Machu Pichu, Rapa Nui, Buenos Aires, and Foz de Iguazu.
As they were at the beginning of their tour of the island, heading to all the sites I had already visited, I hitched a ride with a family from Santiago who were such great company that we ended up having lunch together back in town.
I knew I would see the marathoners again at the Ahu Tahai site, where everyone gathers at sunset.
Well, the sunsets were a much less daring but no less thrilling venture than the sunrise. It was a simple 15min walk from Hanga Roa and no rain.
When you’re in a place where reality is surreal, you don’t need photoshop:
At the western tip of the island, sentada en la ribera del mundo, I reached out and extended my arm so that I touch the westernmost point I’ve ever been..
Until I realized, afterwards, that it’s at about the same longitude as Puerto Vallarta, Mexico (: which I conquered over a decade ago. Oh well..
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