Thursday, May 03, 2018

More Hitch-hiking Craziness - Easter Island Part 4

[Kyle]I had it in my mind that we would spend the day at Rano Raraku, now that we had our tickets, and finish off with some quality time spent at Tongariki, sitting in the grass of the great square and taking the time to properly soak up its magnificence. The tourist office unwittingly messed up my plans when they gave Maryanne a map.

Anakena Moai(s) & the wild horses on route

From her map, Maryanne was able to determine that we were just across the island from some other good stuff that, now that she knew it was there, she was not about to miss.

So, at first light, we walked past Tongariki and joined the road as it looped toward Anakena. Unlike the previous morning, there was no traffic whatsoever going in that direction. We walked over the saddle of the island to the north side, where we could see the whole coast laid out before us. After an hour or so, we came across a family of horses who eyed us suspiciously as we ambled past. A curious foal kept being frustrated in his attempts to introduce himself to us by his nervous mother, who kept blocking his path.

A little while later, we met what appeared to be a German endurance athlete doing his morning lap. We figure the only other person we had seen for hours would stop for a brief chat, but he didn’t seem to want to interrupt his workout. I was a little hurt, but then I have been that guy myself. Don’t want to let the heart rate go below 150. This would actually be a lovely place for a long run; lots of scenery, mild grades and no traffic.

As we were approaching the coast on the other side of the island, we spotted our first car: a subcompact full of Asian tourists – no room there. The next car was a big pickup with four seats and only the driver. He blasted past us going twice the speed limit and seemed to deliberately not leave more than a few inches, which seemed rather unnecessary, considering the lack of other traffic. The exceptions to my subsequent curse were if he actually had to deliver a baby or put out a fire. If he wasn’t engaged in hurriedly getting to either of those two activities, he is going to get the most tenacious and embarrassing burning itchy rash.

Two cars later, just when the blisters were starting to get painful, we were picked up by a nice Chilean couple, who promised to take us to Anakena if we didn’t mind stopping at Ahu Paro along the way. Of course we wouldn’t! Ahu Paro is on our map!

Paro is the last of Easter Island’s Moai ever to be transported to and erected at an ahu. Now lying unceremoniously face down in the dirt after being toppled, Paro was the tallest moai ever successfully transported and erected. He is currently beyond the capacity of the island’s largest crane to erect.

Also at the site is Te Pito Kura, a series of stones known as the Navel of the World. Oral histories say the center stone, which is 75cm in diameter, was brought to the island by the first group of settlers. It is also said to focus energy, Sedona-style, to assist in the movement of Ahu stones and Moai. Subsequent geological testing showed the stone to be of local origin, so it’s looking more like they were all just big and strong.

Once we’d all had our fill, the four of us jumped in the car and within a few mere minutes, we were being dropped off at the beach at Anakena. That really does beat walking!

Anakena is the largest and most accessible by sea of Easter’s two beaches. Evidence indicates that it was likely the place where landfall was first made and where the first settlements were established. It is a lovely crescent of white sand fronted by swaying palms. The water is shallow in most of the little bay, so it is the perfect spot for families to spend the day splashing around and sitting on big towels. It could be anywhere tropical but for the two Ahu rising above the sand in the background.

The largest, Ahu Nau Nau, holds four Moai, each about half of the size of those at Tongariki. The Ahu is built upon the ruins of several earlier Ahu. This and the level of refinement in the details of the Moai has led archaeologists to believe the current Ahu was constructed during the very latest stages of the Moai period.

Since we were unsure how much of the trek back to Hotuiti we would have to do on foot, we decided to fortify ourselves with lunch at one of the many attractive cabana cafes overlooking the beach.

Most of the normal entrées caused a bit of sticker shock but, as almost everywhere, the empanadas were quite reasonable. We went for one each and and balanced them out by splurging on smoothies to drink.

Wow! Our meal was magnificent! Not only was the view the view that it was, the smoothies were about a liter each and were explosions of tropical sweetness and the empanadas were by far the best we had ever had.

Empanadas, like their cousins the Cornish Pasty, are mostly meant as a quick and portable lunch you can hold in one hand. As such, they are ubiquitous in bakeries and gas stations all over Latin America. They are generally built so as to be able to tolerate many hours under a heat lamp before being consumed. This gives their crust a texture that varies between crunchy and chewy. The ones laid before us now were made when we ordered them. They covered the whole plate and were so light and flaky that at the first hint of pressure from a bite, they dissolved and flowed over our tongues. Inside was not the usual gravy-colored, uniform filling, but real food – crunchy vegetables and delectable sauces making a kaleidoscope of wonderful flavors. We liked them so much, we would have ordered another, but we were already full from the ones we had.

After that marvelous experience, we rolled out of our chairs and decided to burn a few calories by walking at least part of the way back before sticking out our thumbs again. We took a shore trail from just behind the beach at Anakena over rolling hills to the next cove over at La Perouse. The trail was not that long, but made up for it with a surprising amount of up and down. Along the way, we got great, long views of the north coast as well as some nearer ones of the many wild horses grazing along the way. They all looked like they didn’t see too many walkers on this part of the island.

Cresting the last ridge, we got a high altitude view of the cove at La Perouse. Anchored inside on a tiny patch of sand was Nemo, now the only other sailboat at Easter. The group of three other boats had left Anakena the day before and were now heading for Pitcairn Island. Nemo was just a bit too far away for shouting and waving, so we admired them for a bit, wishing our anchorage was as calm, and continued on.

We were only on the road for a mile or so before we were picked up by an innkeeper giving one of his guests a quick orientation tour in which he was kind enough to include us.

He was an interesting guy. In the 1960s, he was an aerospace engineer who decided to give up the rat race, learn Tahitian dancing and move to Easter. He claimed to be the first Caucasian permanent resident. He married a Rapa Nui woman and has lived on the island ever since. He knew so much about the Island and its history and it was very generous of him to let us tag along.

As we approached Hotuiti and he got ready to drop us off, we mentioned that we were going to walk to Rano Raraku and he offered to take us with him. There, he gave us a good tip: Park tickets are only supposed to be good for one entry at Rano Raraku, but if you don’t get to see all you want or the weather is bad, you can come back a day or two later, point out your name in the book, and they will let you back in.

That turned out to be good advice for us. Almost as soon as we entered the site, it started to drizzle. That turned into rain, which increased further until it was slashing down in sheets. Undaunted, we walked the whole site anyway as all of the other visitors save one headed for their cars. He was an Asian man who had clearly come a long way to see this and wasn’t going to miss it for anything. He became our Easter Island friend. We never spoke, but over the next few days, we would see him here and there, often sitting on a bench admiring the view. As we passed by, there always came a moment when he would recognize us, and then he would give a little wave and break into a knowing smile.

The rain was really rather unpleasant. We kept a nervous eye on Begonia, rolling over the swell in the bay as we scoped out photo angles for what we hoped would be a return on a sunny day. Rano Raraku is in a way like a photograph itself. Work at the quarry seems to have stopped everywhere all at once in the same thin moment of time. Statues in various stages from rough-cut blocks still attached to the parent rock to completed ones being lowered down the slope to begin their journeys to their distant Ahus have remained in their same locations for hundreds of years, slowly being swallowed by the ground beneath them. One statue, its features just taking shape as it lies supine in the rock would, had it been completed, have been by far the largest ever made. Its final mass is estimated to have been 240 tons. The next heaviest, at Tongariki, is 86 tons. It is widely agreed among geologists that had an attempt been made to separate it from the mountain and raise it to vertical, it would have collapsed under its own weight.

We left right at closing time, with the staff following behind us at a respectful distance to close behind. As we were splashing through the puddles on the access road, a van stopped. It was the same woman who had given us a ride the previous afternoon, only this time her van was filled with the same staff we had just left. We made broken small talk as best we could for the five-minute drive and they seemed simultaneously impressed and concerned that we were anchored in rolly Hotuiti.

We squished our way to the dinghy and launched it, but not before someone ran out and gifted us another piece of fish as a thanks for the box of cherry cordials we had left at the empty house that morning. Once back at Begonia, I did the whole reverse wrestling match to get the pudgy safely out of the water into the davits. We achily peeled off all of our soaking wet clothes and hung them in the cockpit, not so much to get them dry, as the next day was supposed to be even wetter, but to keep from dripping all over everything inside. A change of dry clothes and a hot meal later, we were snug and looking forward to a rest day of not having to leave the boat, even if it was bouncing around like we were on passage.

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