I got off the plane on Easter Island with a general awareness of the history of the island, yet somehow without having seen any sort of map or having really any idea what I was going to do there aside from a hopeful expectation that I could rent a scooter or something. I had purchased plane tickets barely two days before and was googling for a place to stay literally hours before leaving Peru.
With only a cursory inspection, I settled on Camping Mihinoa as an ideal place, mostly because I am carting around my Big Agnes SL2 and love putting it to use… and didn’t want to pay much for a room I didn’t expect to be in very often. I shot them an e-mail and received a quick reply that they would pick me up at the airport and off I went!
The flight through Santiago, Chile on LAN in business class was absolutely stunning. It’s the first time I’ve flown a “modern” business class on a big plane (767) with seats that went completely flat – coincidentally (or not?) it was the first time I’ve napped without any problem on a plane (I’ve been known to stay up for 40 hours straight on long travel days). It is certainly a pleasurable decadence to be greeted with pisco sours and plied with excellent food and wine during what would otherwise be a featureless and boring flight.
Immigration in Santiago was up next, and this part I was aware of and prepared for – the $140 reciprocity fee required when entering Chile. Luckily for me (as I will be in and out of Chile multiple times in the next few months), this is a one-time fee for the life of the passport, so I won’t need to bother with it again (unfortunately I’ll need a new visa for Bolivia since my previous one is in my expired passport). I easily made it to the flight to Easter Island and took off for another leg of decadence.
Arrival in Easter Island was both what I expected and not – the airport was small but the runway was huge, a dichotomy I was prepared for yet still shocked by. Disembarking via steps and walking on the tarmac away from a giant 767 reminded me of the old days of old travel, with my consciousness perhaps slightly prepared by the sexily dressed “flight attendants” for LAN (they clearly have some sort of minimum attractiveness policy the likes of which would never fly in the US).
Upon entering the single terminal I was greeted by a representative from Camping Mihinoa and awarded a flower necklace and a ride the short way back to the campground, which was nicely placed on the edge of town overlooking a cliff. Before long my tent was set up and I was crashing out for the day, though not before signing up to take a guided tour around the island the next day to get a feel for it.
The night was dark and stormy, full of wind and rain, which I would become accustomed to during my stay. The next morning dawned clear and blue with a bright sun, however, something I would find to be unusual. I joined the tour with the totally awesome Moi from Ancestral Tours. He didn’t speak much English but his Spanish was very easy to understand and I had an amazing time driving all over the island with him and the others on the tour. Moi is an amazing guy, a native who is very active with the restoration and culture, and it was tons of fun to hear additional stories about places to slot into the information I had accumulated from books.
For me, the tour was mainly to get a feel for the different sites, the roads between them, and the time of day that would be best to come back for photos (if you take a photo of a statue in the wrong light the photos are completely featureless, unfortunately). Plus, as expected, all the tours pretty much were on the same schedule so it helped me understand where the crowds would be and when. I highly recommend a tour the first day as it lets you determine what you’re really interested in. My cost was 40k CLP, or $80USD, a bit pricey but that’s Easter Island!
That night, Moi told us about a special show that was raising money to send some groups off to other islands for a competition or charity (I couldn’t understand if the charity was sending them to the competition?). I showed up on time to a big party full of locals and tourists, tons of food cooked in island style, and a great series of singing and dancing. I’d describe the food in more detail except it was so dark I couldn’t actually see what I was eating! I think there were ribs and chicken and some sort of fish, as well as the giant native sweet potato, some normal potatoes, and a bunch of other random veggies and fruit.
The show was pretty cool, though I have to admit it seemed like a lot of the stereotypical island show – very sexy women gyrating in skimpy outfits (not that I’m complaining mind you) and very sexy men jumping around and yelling and mock fighting. Oh, and waving the obligatory torches. The weird thing was the feeling that the locals didn’t see this as a cliché tourist show, this having the odd effect of causing me to occasionally forget as well. Or maybe that was all the rum and cokes…
The next day I walked into town and rented a sweet Yamaha 250 enduro bike that I had been surprised was available to rent (in fact, the entire time I was there I only saw locals on motorcycles and everywhere I went other tourists in rental cars were giving me huge grins and waves as I tore around on my bike). This was actually my first time on an enduro bike and I was a little nervous about the high center of gravity and ride height, but within a few hours I was tearing around the island.
For the next six days, this was basically all I did. I’d get up in the morning, enjoy my coffee and catch up on Facebook and chat with other visitors, then pop onto my bike and start tearing all over the island. On an island that is 26km long and 12km wide, I was averaging nearly 200km a day. Each day I targeted different areas for photography based on the ideal time of day, typically doing three or four circuits of the entire island chasing the correct light angles for the various directions of different statues and the like (even so, many are not perfect because the cloud cover is so unpredictable).
Around 15km of the main circuit is paved, with perhaps 15km unpaved depending on which route you take. On the paved sections I would cruise at about 90kmh, which was were my little 250 topped out due to what appeared to be a carburetor problem (I could hit 110kmh but it sputtered bad). The real fun, however, was the unpaved sections covered in mud, rock, and dirt, where I could slam around at speeds up to 60kmh, usually tearing past other tourists in their rental jeeps like they were standing still.
I finally understand how absolutely awesome an enduro bike is for this type of terrain – nothing I have ever ridden soaks up bumps as seamlessly as this bike did. I got an endless thrill from nailing the speedbump at the beach at 50+kmh because it didn’t matter, the bike just glided over it.
The second day I was riding around, I kept running into these people in the same jeep – I’d pass them on the road somewhere, get to where I was going, then pass them coming out. Eventually we got to a section of road where I would pull up and start taking pictures, then run into them as they were leaving. We struck up a conversation and it turned out to be a young Norwegian adventure couple (who have been all over the world and have awesome stories) and a really cool British lady who is spending a couple years traveling. We spent some time exploring caves together and watching the sunset, then decided to meet in town for dinner.
Here’s the thing about food on Easter Island – it’s expensive. Even a bland meal is on par with what I’d pay at a sit down restaurant in Washington DC, averaging 10k CLP ($20USD) for an entrée and 5k CLP ($10USD) for a drink. This quickly gets expensive, so most people buy food and cook it themselves. For my part, I was simply buying 2k CLP ($4USD) bags of pasta and eating very bland dinners with granola bars for breakfast (and about ten oranges a day, since they were fantastic on the island). For lunch I would usually drop around 5k CLP ($10USD) for a big empanada and a diet coke.
This night was the second and last night that I ate out, but it was wonderful. I had a huge steak and we shared a bottle of pinot noir from Chile that was quite good (20k CLP total each, or $40USD). The company was also quite excellent and I had a lot of fun talking with them, but before long we were exhausted and it was off to bed.
The next day I ran into the Norwegian couple again while looking for lunch and we chatted for a couple hours and I’m kicking myself for not getting their contact info! We were going to meet up to share photos but I never ran into them again… guess the island wasn’t as small as we thought.
After a few days of zooming around on my own I agreed to go on a fishing trip with Moi – I’ll admit I got the impression we’d be going out on a boat and this turned out to not be the case at all. Nonetheless it was a cool day, with a bunch of Chilean tourists and an American named Pedro (hah!), who normally works in Antarctica. Pedro and I enjoyed having another native to talk to and the day went by fast. The fishing was done in the “ancestral” style, by putting a net across the mouth of a bay then having a bunch of us jump into the water and try to scare fish towards the net. It was fun, though mostly pointless – we only caught two fish.
Moi was prepared for this and had brought some fresh fish, which was then prepared in a giant group effort with veggies, broth, and some sashimi (and tons of fruit). I’m not a huge fan of fish, but I had a few pieces of the sashimi and a little bit of the cooked fish before deciding it was entirely too fishy and sticking with fruit. The others constantly moaned about how amazing it was, so apparently if you like that fishy taste it works out well!
We then went up to a little hidden beach called Ovahe (which I had been trying to find for days!) and did more snorkeling, awesome fun. Moi found a pufferfish and we all had fun being amused by it before letting it go. The day wound down and I dropped off to another well deserved rest (cost was 30k CLP, or $60USD if I recall correctly).
I spent the rest of the week riding and hiking around, shooting a bunch of video to make my own short documentary on Easter Island (once I finish editing it!), and generally trying to avoid the random thunderstorms and rain. On one of my last days I hiked up to the highest point on the island, which is supposed to have a full 360 degree view of the horizon. In truth it does, however to get the full effect you have to walk out on various hills each of which have a panoramic view of a particular direction. Nonetheless, the views were spectacular and there’s something strangely humbling about standing on earth yet being able to see a vast expanse of nothingness surrounding you.
I was disappointed that I didn’t get a single good sunset the entire week because there were always clouds hundreds of miles away on the horizon, and each sunrise was marred by rain. One night we had a storm so bad that a couple tents were knocked down and a few campers slept inside the kitchen, but each night I would put in earplugs and sleep like a baby while my SL2 kept me nice and dry.
In the end, I was both sad to go and ready to leave – I had done everything there was to be done many times over, and yet I knew I would be heading back to something much less relaxing. I checked out at Camping Mihinoa (45k CLP for 8 nights – $85USD) and went off to the airport to head home to Lima.
I could see myself going back there with friends (or a girlfriend) just because it’s an awesome experience to share, but I don’t expect I’ll want to go back alone. It is, however, unequivocally a place I would recommend visiting, especially if you enjoy islands and history.
For tips on that, stay tuned for Part 3: Tips for Going There and Part 4: Expenses (which will go into a little bit more detail than this post did)