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Trip Report 10 Nights in Central Chile and on Rapa Nui

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The four of us are off again - this time to Central Chile and Rapa Nui, commonly known as Easter Island. We are dividing our time evenly between the two areas: 5 nights in Santiago and 5 nights on Rapa Nui. From Santiago, we plan day trips to Valparaiso, the Andes, Isla Negra, and the Casablanca Valley. Come join us on our Chilean adventure.

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    The Journey South

    We flew from Washington, DC, to Santiago, Chile, via Miami on American Airlines. Both our flights were delayed, the first due to thunderstorms and the second due to fog and a medical emergency onboard shortly before takeoff. The flights were otherwise uneventful.

    The four of us landed at Santiago Airport at around 10:00 AM. From the airport, we traveled to our hotel in Lastarria, the boutique Luciano K. The rooms are nice and the bathrooms very spacious.

    Day One in Santiago

    Our rooms were not ready when we arrived. We stored our baggage with the reception desk and immediately went sightseeing. From the Baquedano metro stop we made our way to La Moneda, the office of the President of Chile. We had originally booked a tour of the palace, although our flight delay meant that we would be late for the tour. After a couple photographs of the palatial exterior, we visited the cultural center with its arts market.

    From La Moneda we wound our way to the Precolombian Arts Museum. Before visiting the museum we went to nearby La Nuevo Estacion for a lunch of typical Chilean cuisine. We ate conger eel, meats, and other dishes. The food was good. The place filled with locals.

    The arts museum contains a sizable collection of pre-Colombian art although the collection is not as extensive as that of Lima, Peru. We, however, did see some interesting artifacts.

    From the museum we walked to Plaza de Armas, Santiago's main square. Fronting the square is the Cathedral of Santiago.

    After a brief visit to the Cathedral, we headed 3 blocks north to the Central Market, where we saw a conger eel, crab, mussels, and other seafood. The market is much smaller that the Central Market in Lima, which we visited 3 years ago and enjoyed much more.

    We now want to Santa Lucia Hill, with its superb views of the city from above. Santa Lucia Hill, with its wide open spaces, is the second tallest in Latin America. The afternoon was cloudy although the views from above were quite decent.

    From here we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before heading out for our first evening meal in Santiago, at El Galeon in the Santiago Central Market. For dinner we had fish and a large king crab from Patagonia. The food was good although skimpy.

    Overall we were not terribly impressed with the city. The core seemed gritty and a bit run down. We thought Lima, Cuzco, and Rio de Janeiro more appealing.
    We're in Santiago for 5 nights. "Will we be bored here?" I thought to myself. Hopefully not.

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    Thursdaysd, thank you. As you will read below, our second day in Santiago was much better than the first. And we are headed to Valparaiso this morning (my report was a day behindx but with this post, I am caught up.)


    Day Two in Santiago

    We began our day fortified with a continental style breakfast included in the price of our hotel rooms. The breakfast, with eggs made to order, had a good selection of breads and pastries, and most importantly coffee.

    Following breakfast we walked outside of our hotel, crossed a bridge, and were in the neighborhood of Bellavista, the location of one of three of Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda's homes, La Chascona. The home is unique in its design, and its surrounding. I loved how the exterior walkways are connected with the home; it makes the outdoor spaces feel as though it is part of the house itself. My favorite rooms are the dining room and the captain's bar, which made me feel as though I was on a ship, exactly Neruda's intention.

    We spent about 90 minutes on the property before walking to the foot of San Cristobal Hill, from where we would take a funicular to the summit. The line was relatively long, we thought, but we saw it much longer by the time we came back down. The day was overcast and there were low clouds, which meant none of the potentially spectacular views of the city below, although it was not bad enough that we could not see anything.

    Up at the top we visited the santuary of the Virgin Mary with a large statue of her atop of mountain. The statue reminded us very much of that of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro, although there seemed to be more of a "holy" atmosphere here with the soft religious music playing in the background and people worshipping. The church is worth a look as well.

    From the santuary we walked along the promenade heading east towards the cable car station, enjoying what we could see of the city below along the way. While the views were not picture perfect, I did come to enjoy the mysterious quality of the city wrapped in fog; it felt very Neruda.

    The cable car took us east towards the Providencia side of the sprawling park, from where we enjoyed views of the tall office buildings including Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest in Chile. We walked around the park a bit, hoping to visit the Japanese gardens nearby. Alas the area was closed for renovations.

    We headed back down to Bellevista via cable car and funicular and enjoyed a couple of hours wandering the streets of the neighborhood. We spent a good amount of time at Patio Bellevista, an open-air mall of upscale restaurants and shops. We enjoyed lunch at Zorro, an Italian place, and shopped for some souvenirs. The surrounding streets were also very lively and picturesque. We could easily spend more time here. Our impressions of Santiago is beginning to look up.

    By about 4:30, we walked back across the river and along Parque Forestal to the Fine Arts Museum for a look. Much of the museum is concentrated on contemporary art exhibitions - not our thing. We took a quick look around before going back out to the streets.

    We walked to the Lastarria neighborhood, from where we enjoyed more strolling and browsing. There were a couple of crafts markets tucked in some of the buildings and vendors selling their wares along the streets. We also stopped by the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center for a peek.

    For dinner we had reservations at Sur Patagonico on Lastarria's main drag. The food, everything from the grilled meats to the octopus to the fish and the salads, was fantastic and well worth the visit. The staff were very friendly and the atmosphere was comfortable. We may come back sometime during our stay here.

    All in all, a very enjoyable day in the Chilean capital. We're slowly coming to appreciate this city.

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    Thanks for the report so far. Looking forward to the next instalments.

    I will be spending time in Santiago (first time) in the New Year to partially escape our harsh winters up North. Your comments on the city from your first day did get me a little concerned, although the second day seemed more positive. Hopefully your impressions of the city will continue to improve to put my mind more at ease (I do realize that impressions are subjective, though).

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    The "MercadoCentral" which you visited is mostly restaurants. Santiago's main market is La Vega across the river. Beside it is a smaller market called Tirso de Molina. Upstairs there are several cheap but good small restaurants. Better food and prices than the Mercado Central. You do have to watch your things around any of those markets.

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    Mglb, I think I recall you giving the advice about Valparaiso versus Santiago to others and have more appreciation with your suggestion after having spent time in both. We originally leaned towards Santiago for its central location and perceived ease in getting around via public transportation.

    Kanadajin, you're welcome. Valparaiso is easy to like while Santiago takes time. Either way, consider spending time in both, even it is just taking a day trip from one to the other as I did.

    Huentetu, good advice about watching belongings at markets. I would give the same advice for any crowded public space, including at museums and other tourist attractions and on public transportation. Thank you for letting me know about the other markets.


    Our Day in Valparaiso

    Today we took a day trip to the port city of Valparaiso, about 75 minutes away from Santiago. From our hotel we hopped on the Metro at Baquedano and took Line 1 straight to Pajaritos, where buses left for Valparaiso every 20 or so minutes. We understood Tur Bus and Pullman were the largest companies and went with Pullman as the next bus left 30 minutes earlier. The bus ride was smooth, and we arrived in Valparaiso about 10:30.

    From the bus station we hopped in a taxi and went straight to La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda's home on a hill overlooking the city. The home was nice although we liked La Chascona much more; the setting of La Sebastiana, though, cannot be beat. I did enjoy aspects of the Valparaiso home - my favorite being the living room fireplace.

    From La Sebastiana we worked our way downhill through the Bellavista neighborhood towards the waterfront on foot, passing by numerous beautiful buildings and vivid murals everywhere. The area around the open-air museum with its colorful street lamps were also a joy to see.

    Once on flat land we walked by the Cathedral to Valparaiso and lively Plaza Victoria to Avenida Errazuriz, the pedestrian promenade closest to the shore, and Prat Pier. Valparaiso is very much a working port and in this area you could see plenty of container docks and cargo ships, much more so than tourist vessels and the like. There are a handful of souvenir stalls and a couple of dining establishments, one of which being Bote Salvavidas where we stopped for lunch. The restaurant was nice and had a nautical theme, which reminded me in some ways of Bondi Icebergs in Sydney. The food, though, wasn't as good.

    Stomachs full nonetheless, we explored more of Valparaiso, going up and down its hills. We followed an excellent walking tour produced by Frommer's, http://www.frommers.com/destinations/valparaiso/walking-tour-1, which took us to the most worthwhile parts of the city. Starting at Plaza Sotomayor with its monument to the soldiers and sailers who fought in Chile's 19th century war with Peru and Bolivia and the gorgeous Naval Headquarters building, we took the funicular at El Peral up to Paseo Yugoslavo, with its magnificent views of the surrounding hills and Valparaiso harbor down below, and Palazzo Baburizza, the home of wealthy early 20th century magnate turned city art museum. The palace is gorgeous and a joy to wander. The artwork was also very pleasant, especially if you like landscape paintings and paintings about everyday life like we do.

    From here we worked our way to Pasaje Galvez, but not before treating ourselves to more drop-dead views of the city and its surrounding landscape. Pasaje Galvez itself is a gem in Valparaiso. The walk up the colorful staircase reveals a narrow street that snakes its way past numerous homes, shops, and cafes. There are street musicians playing and locals and tourists alike having fun.

    From Pasaje Galvez we continued along Paseo Gervasoni, Paseo Dimalow, and Paseo Atkinson. We walked by an Anglican Church and a prettier Lutheran one. The area was packed with locals and tourists alike on a sunny Sunday and added to the atmosphere of the area.

    From Paseo Atkinson we walked back down to the port area and over to the Artilleria funicular, where we went up to Paseo 21 de Mayo for panoramic views of the entire bay below before heading to the bus station for our ride back to Santiago. A cap to a wonderful day!

    All in all, we found Valparaiso easier to appreciate on first sight than Santiago. With its hills and the ocean below, the setting cannot be beat. Add to it the plethora of pastel-colored buildings sprinkled throughout the hills and the fantastic murals that are found everywhere, the city oozes character and charm. The atmosphere is very much of a working-class city, which is hard to find in many destinations visited by tourists. While we did not mind the grime and grittiness, nor the faded glory that adds to the city's charm, there were a few quiet streets filled with abandoned buildings that led us to turn our heads a few times. Most if not all the areas we wandered felt safe, there are a few areas that would be questionable at night, at least to us based upon our own impressions, more so than the areas we wandered in Santiago (please understand that I am not knocking Valparaiso or any other city for that matter, as there are safe and unsafe areas in any city on earth including my home of Washington, DC). For this reason, as well as the larger number of shopping and dining options in Santiago and its central location, we came to the conclusion that Santiago was a better base for us than Valparaiso, even though we would not be bored if we spent the night. Nonetheless we had 8 hours in Valparaiso, felt we were able to get a good feel for it, and left satisfied; we also would not hesitate to return.

    Tomorrow we're off on an excursion to the Andes, of which we've caught a couple of glimpses during our time in Santiago.

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    Lots of great restaurants up in gentrified Cerro Concepcion Valparaiso. One night I walked up from the Ibis to Sabor Color (alone) and didn't feel skeeved out. I took the Tours4Tips afternoon walking tour to get oriented. Recommended. The next day I took the "cultural" tour which went to some of the grittier areas and was also interesting.

    I gather you weren't able to go to Isla Negra? Of the three it was my favorite.

    Looking forward to the rest...

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    When the Anglican church was built it was before freedom of religion existed in Chile. Only Catholic churches could have steeples. The roof of the church seen from the inside will remind you of a ship's hull because the men who built it did that for a living.

    Worshipers will have been buried in the Disidentes cemetery as they could not be buried in Catholic cemeteries. Before that they were just buried on the beach but storms tended to unearth the coffins. In Santiago they were originally buried on one side of Santa Lucia hill. There is a statue with a plaque.

    End of trivia report!

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    Mlgb, no, we did not go to Isla Negra...yet. We're going there in combination with the nearby Casablanca Valley for some wine tasting tomorrow. We understand it is close to Valparaiso, but we wanted to maximize our time in the port city.

    Huentetu, thank you for the information. Very interesting.


    Up into the Andes

    As most of you probably know, we're big on hiking. We like to include some time in the outdoors, no matter how long or short our trip - as long as it's feasible. With the Andes mountain range in view from Santiago, at least on a good day, we could not give it a pass. We could have gone on a regular hiking tour, but most of the options seem only available during the summertime, at least if we wanted more than photo stops. We could also have gone skiing, but without any experience doing so, we thought a day would be too short and enjoy the experience. Instead we went for a snow hike, a perfect choice.

    The day was overcast, but dry. The weather was cool to cold at times, although we prefer it to warm weather when hiking. We went with an outfit called EcoChile, although others offer the same tour. There were 8 in the group including the 4 of us; the other 4 were awesome travel companions. Tomas was our guide and he was a true gem - professional and personable.

    We were picked up by Tomas and his driver Sebastian shortly after 7:30 and headed out to Cajon de Maipo, about 2-3 hours outside of the capital. Along the way we stopped at a roadside cafe for some homemade apple-cranberry bread and hot chocolate - a great way to start the tour.

    By about 11, we arrive in the Volcano Valley, where the conditions were best for our snow hike. Weather dependent, these tours could also take place in the Gypsum or Maipo Valleys. We were outfitted with snow shoes, walking sticks, gaiters, and all.

    About 15 minutes into the hike we went from enjoying some snow on the mountains surrounding us and on the ground to seeing white all around us. The snow was everywhere and so beautiful. There was nothing better than being enveloped in mountains reaching up to the skies all covered in snow and nobody but the 9 of us including our guide. Given that we've never experienced any snow-related activity other than commuting to and from work and other business in major urban centers, everything was new to us. We did well in some sections and struggled at points. I also fell a couple of times luckily the snow was soft and the landings were gentle. We also ate a picnic lunch at a spot where several valleys came together. All in all we spent 5.5 hours on the snow - and it was pure delight.

    We went back to our vehicle at 4:30 and headed back to Santiago, but not before sharing a break over empanadas, beer, great company, and good conversation. We arrived in the city at about 7:30.

    Tomorrow we booked a private tour, also with EcoChile. On our agenda are Isla Negra and the Casablanca Valley.

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    Treesa, you're welcome. Always glad to provide ideas. Also happy to answer any specific questions you may have.


    A Perfect Day Out

    We awoke to what we thought was a novelty in Santiago - a glorious day of blue skies. We looked out our bathroom window and immediately saw the Virgin Mary high atop Cerro San Cristobal standing watch over the city; she reminded me of our hotel room view of Christ the Redeemer over Rio de Janeiro. We were just happy to see the sun come out to play.

    Today we booked a private tour to Isla Negra and a Casablanca Valley winery. We again used the services of EcoChile, and once again were very pleased with them. Javieira was our guide for the day and Felipe our driver. We left Santiago at 8 and arrived at Isla Negra about 10 minutes before opening time at 10. This meant we were first at the Pablo Neruda home and had the place all to ourselves through most of the tour.

    The Isla Negra home was the most interesting of the three Neruda homes we visited. The homages to ships and life on board oceangoing vessels were present throughout the home. The collection of items from around the world were also a joy to peruse; I especially enjoyed the ship mastheads, the numerous ships in bottles, the shell collection, the maps, the horse...I could go on and on. Each room was more interesting than the one before, so much so that it is hard to choose a favorite. We felt very comfortable in the home, and could imagine ourselves living here.

    The surrounding landscape is also extraordinary. The views of the ocean are magnificent. We could sit there and listen to the ocean for hours and not be board. Ah, this is the life. Too bad reality called and we had to be on our way all too soon.

    From Isla Negra we went to the Casablanca Valley, one of the several wine regions located in central Chile. The clear day meant we had great views of the vineyards and the surrounding mountains throughout our drive to Matetic Winery. At the winery we were treated to a cellar tour followed by wine tasting and a fabulous lunch at Equilibrio restaurant. We also enjoyed some time walking and touring the property before heading back to Santiago.

    We spent our final evening in the city going for a leisurely walk from our hotel at Plaza Italia through the Providencia neighborhood to the Gran Torre. We ended our evening with a fitting steak dinner at Cuerovaca in Vitacura.

    Our first day in Santiago left us wondering whether or not we made the right choice dedicating 5 nights to the capital city. We were skeptical after day one. Our impressions of the city improved on the second day and thereafter. Sure, Santiago may not have the blockbuster sights of other cities nor a natural setting like Sydney or Cape Town that leave lasting first impressions, but there were enjoyable aspects to the city that could be appreciated with time and effort. And what Santiago may lack, its surrounding region surely compensates. Whether it's street art in Valparaiso or wine tasting within an hour or two's drive from the city or the plethora of outdoor activities on offer, we could have spent more time in the region without being bored. And don't get me wrong, the city itself is worth visiting and it comes with effort; in this way I was reminded of Johannesburg, which isn't the easiest to admire at first sight either.

    With our 5 nights in Santiago coming to a better end than it began, we are now looking forward to the second half of our Chilean adventure - to Easter Island. Please come along for the rest of our journey.

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    A Trip of a Lifetime - to Easter Island

    Easter Island is one of those bucket list destinations that seem most inaccessible. It's far away, not close to any other inhabited lands. You cannot really visit Easter Island en route from one destination to another as we do sometimes. Yes, there are flights to and from both Santiago, Chile, and Tahiti, but the Tahiti flights operate only once a week. Not to mention weather-related delays and cancellations. There is only one strip of runway at the airport on Easter Island. It's separated by many miles of Pacific Ocean on either side, which means two planes cannot be in the air at the same time which originates or is destined for Easter Island in case of emergency.

    Easter Island is a place that is on all four of our dream lists. We hope to visit someday, to admire and appreciate the mysterious statues that we've all seen on photographs and in videos. Someday will be today.

    Without ado we left our hotel at 5:30 for Santiago Airport, hoping to avoid the very bad Santiago traffic, eat breakfast at the airport lounge, and not have to rush to make our flight. The airport is very unorganized. We failed to locate any LATAM staff who were able to help us with boarding passes (we only brought carry-ons so no checked luggages) or even understand that Easter Island is a domestic destination. After searching a few available kiosks, we finally located one that enabled us to print LATAM boarding passes (not all had a LATAM option). With boarding passes in hand we proceeded through security and asked for directions to the LATAM lounge. We were told there were no domestic lounges available. Oh well - a first world problem I suppose. Instead we grabbed some terminal, checked emails, and waited for our flight.

    We were in business class on the flight to Easter Island. This was our first time in business on a LATAM flight. The service was good and the lie-flat seats were comfortable. The 5-hour flight arrived early and we were out of the airport as soon as purchased national park entrance tickets. The taxi ride to our hotel, the Altiplanico, was short.

    The Altiplanico hotel is north of Hanga Roa, Easter Island's main town. What it lacks in convenience (it's about a 30 minute walk into town), it makes up in its large-size bedrooms and bathrooms, comfortable beds, and an attractive lobby.

    After dropping out belongings in our rooms and freshening up, we were on our way to explore the time.

    Next up: our first two days on Rapa Nui...

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    What's in a Name?

    The Island we commonly known as Easter was settled by Polynesian peoples approximately 1,000 years ago. The peoples are thought to have come from other islands in the South Pacific, around what we know today as Tahiti. The peoples of the island share a cultural heritage with those across the vast Pacific, including Hawaii, Tahiti, and New Zealand. The peoples who settled this land called their new home Rapa Nui and still do today. It was only until the Europeans came to Rapa Nui in the 18th century and named it Easter Island for having sighted it on Easter Sunday 1722. The island was only annexed by Chile in the late 1800s, in an act that is disputed as in places such as Hawaii and New Zealand. Today the island is populated by a mix of Polynesian, Chilean, and other peoples, and they use the names interchangeably with a preference to Rapa Nui, which I will also use here.

    ...And the Statues?

    When we think of Rapa Nui, it's the world famous stone statues that come to mind. We have always been drawn to them, the story behind them. The statues of Rapa Nui, in our minds, represent a far away place that we hope to visit someday, that hard to reach destination that only fortune would have us see. So what are they, and why do they exist? And why are there nearly 900 of them? As with other world famous sights such as the pyramids of Egypt or the citadel at Machu Picchu, we may never know how they were built but we have a better understanding of why. It is commonly accepted that the statues, or moais, were carved out of stone and erected on platforms known as ahus to be worshipped. Some claim the images on the moais represent tribal leaders or another important clan figure while others believe they are some idealized form of ancestors connected with their tribes. The moais were created in a stone quarry on the island and transported to ahus around the island. The ahus were built close to the shoreline and villages sprang up near and around the altars. At some point in the 18th or 19th centuries the population of Rapa Nui declined due to perhaps a combination of overpopulation, deforestation, and intertribal warfare. During this time it is believed that many if not most of the moais around the island were pulled down from their altars, not to be reerected by Western archaeologists and preservationists in the second half of the 1900s.

    Our Orientation to Rapa Nui

    As always we hungered to explore new lands as soon as we arrived at a place. This time was no different. As soon as we arrived at our hotel, we dropped off our belongings in our rooms, freshened up, and went out to sightsee and where better to go than up close and personal with some moais. From our hotel we were able to catch a distance glimpse of a handsome figure sitting near the shore, a moai, and it is there we went to say hello. The moai sits alone on a platform known as Ahu Hanga Kio'e. He's large, as we expected, and beautiful. He's both stoic and charming. We had the place to ourselves, which we would find common as we traveled the island, and enjoyed the opportunity to just be with ourselves. Within steps of Ahu Hanga Kio'e is Ahu Akapu, which is home to a single moai fragment. From here we followed the coast south, towards the town of Hanga Roa.

    Along the way we come up to Tahai, one of the most if not the most important moai ceremonial complex on the island. Found at Tahai are 7 moais resting of 3 ahus. One is Ahu Vai Uri, the largest of the 3 platform altars and contains 5 moais. The two others are Ahu Tahai, with a moai similar looking to the one on Ahu Hanga Kio'e, and Ahu Ko Te Riku. The moai on Ahu Ko Te Riku is special. It is topped with a hat made of red scoria stone. It is also the only one on the island that was restored and reerected with eyes. It is believed that the statues were carved with only eye sockets and that the eyes were carved separately and placed upon the statue in a special religious ceremony when upon the spirit of the person who is represented by the statue enters the stone creation and comes to life. As a result, in the troubled years, the eyes of statues all
    around the island were vandalized and destroyed to rid the moais of their perceived powers. The eyes really made the moai on Ahu Ko Te Riku, in my opinion, come alive. It was definitely a sight to see. Also at Tahai are ruins of the village homes, vegetable gardens, and outdoor ovens that used to sit on the site.

    From Tahai it was a short walk into town. We followed the shoreline all the way south past the two small harbors to the airport before making our way back, this time through the town's main thoroughfares. Along the shoreline we saw several more moais, most standing alone on its own ahus. The town itself is centered on two intersecting streets, Avenida Atamu Tekena and Avenida Te Piti Te Henua. Along these two streets are souvenir shops, Internet cafes, restaurants, supermarkets (more convenience stores), travel agencies, etc. The town looks and feels very much like what you would find on a laid-back island or resort area.

    In Hanga Roa is a Catholic Church known for its unique statues that combines Catholic and native iconographies. We visited the church to check them out. Next door to the church is an artisan's market that sells the typical tourist knick-knacks. We stopped by and purchased a few items.

    From there we strolled back to the shore and chose a seaside restaurant, Te Moana, for dinner. The food is a combination of Polynesian and Chilean, with an emphasis on fish and other seafood. We were happy with our choice as the food was very good and we were able to see our first sunset on the island sitting at our seaside table. From the restaurant was a quick 10 minute cab ride back to our hotel.

    More of Rapa Nui to come...

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    Treesa, you're welcome. If you will already be in mainland Chile, and have the time, even for a few days, I would encourage you to make the trip to Easter Island. It is so worth it.

    Kanadajin, I don't know if it is a blessing or a curse, but I'm not a big sleeper and find myself being the last to go to bed and first to rise among our group, which gives me some quiet, reflective time. I enjoy writing these reports as a way to give back to a community that gives me more than my share of advice over the years. It's also a good way for me to keep a record of my visits to relive long after our trip is over.


    To Orongo

    For most of their existence on Rapa Nui, the Polynesian inhabitants on the island practiced a form of ancestor worship. The moai statues that dot the island form a core part of religious life for its people. Residents erected moais in the image of a particular noteworthy individual or an ancestral being from their clan who preceded them, bring them to life, and worship them. Ceremonies were performed in front of the ahus on which moais sit. The decline of the moai-centered religion on Rapa Mui occurred the 18th and 19th centuries, during which time island societies collapsed as a result of misinformation and environmental degradation. In its place was a new religion, that of the Birdman, born out of the period. As part of the Birdman rituals, Polynesian men compete by swimming to a small nearby island to retrieve the first egg of a sooty tern (a bird) of the season; the one who succeeds is crowned Birdman for the year. He becomes the religious and political leader for the next 12 months.

    Our first full day on Rapa Nui would take us from our hotel to Orongo and back, all on foot. After a light breakfast at our hotel, we walked to the island's museum for a quick look-around. The museum is free and features a good exhibit telling the story of the island. There are also a few interesting pieces worth seeing. From the museum it is a short walk to the Tahai ceremonial complex, where we visited yesterday. From there it is a 5-10 minute walk into the heart of town, where we would pick up some water and snacks for the day. We proceeded out of town past the airport and down the coast to Ana Kai Tangata, a seaside cave that was significant to the natives. There are some faint paintings of birds that may be related to the Birdman religion in the cave. The day could not have been prettier and the views were expansive.

    Near Ana Kai Tangata is the start of the walking trail up to Orongo. The path is gentle with steeper climbs in parts and goes from sea level through the forest and up through Rano Kau volcano. At Ana Kai Tangata, we managed to pick up two stray dogs, who would accompany us for most of the day. We are normally not dog lovers, but having them accompany us made the journey more enjoyable.

    Anyway, up to Orongo we went. Along the way is an area of recreated manavai, or stone enclosed vegetable gardens. We also stopped several times along the way to admire the views of the town, the ocean, and the volcanic peaks in the far distance. At the top of the path before reaching Orongo is Rano Kau volcano.

    Rano Kau's crater is filled with a large lake that contains reeds and other plants. Gazing upon it at first sight as spectacular. Both the lake and its surrounding rim were impressive, and so were the views all around. We lingered at the rim for quite some bit of time and even enjoyed a small picnic there before continuing on to Orongo.

    Orongo is an old village constructed and inhabited by the native Rapa Nui people, and was the center of attention once every year when the Birdman competition takes place. Orongo is made up of a collection of 54 restored homes made of stone and grass that reminded me very much of Newgrange in Ireland. On one side of the village is the overlooking three small islands including Moto Nui, where the competitors would swim to retrieve the sooty tern's egg, and on the other is the rim of Rano Kau crater. There were also petroglyphs scattered throughout the site. The setting could not have been more picture perfect. We again lingered on site, having the place almost to ourselves (we saw a total of maybe a dozen visitors during our entire time at Orongo, one of the two top tourist sights on the island; visitor numbers on the island seem to be quite small, at least it seems to the case throughout our visit), and absorbed the surroundings.

    After we were satisfied, even though we didn't really want to leave, we headed back around the rim of the volcanic crater and made our way back into town. We picked up a few items to bring back to our hotel and enjoyed dinner at Haka Honu, another restaurant on the Hanga Roa shore. The octopus salad as well as the other salads we enjoyed were very good although the fish dishes not so much so. Following dinner we took a quick taxi ride back to our hotel.

    Tomorrow...moais, moais, and more moais.

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    It's All About the Moais

    Our second full day on Rapa Nui is focused on the area of the island the guidebook "Easter Island: The Essential Guide" (the best one on the island, published by the Easter Island Foundation) terms the south coast. We began with a taxi ride to Rano Raraku, the stone quarry that gave birth to all the moais on the island. The moais found across the island were all constructed here and transported to the ahus where they belong, along how the transportation was completed is still in dispute.

    Rano Raraku is a large site. The side of the mountain facing the ocean is home to the majority of the nearly 400 moais found on the site. Here we saw moais of all shapes and sizes, and at various stages of construction. Some of the moais were being erected during the time of European explorations, as is evident by motifs of ships found on the stones. One even had legs. Yes, it was fun to walk among these impressive statues, but we also felt a spirituality at the place that is hard to describe. And better yet, we had the whole place to ourselves (we spent close to 2 hours at the site and saw maybe 5 people the whole time we were there, although there were about 2 dozen people coming in as we were leaving). Also at the site that most visitors apparently miss is access to the volcanic crater on the other side of the mountain. The crater contains a spectacular lake, and about 40 or so moais on the slopes of its rim. What a sight!

    Fully satisfied we proceeded on foot along the main road for about an hour to Ahu Tongariki, a platform that contains 15 moais of different sizes. The moais were originally toppled in interclan warfare, reerected in the 1900s, toppled again by a tsunami, and reerected again in the 1990s. Tongariki features the largest collection of reerected moais on a single platform on the island; one even sports its red pukao, or topknot, made of a different stone that was placed on top of the statue. The grounds are vast. We were able to walk in front of and behind the moais for an appreciation of the back side that is not accessible at all the ahus.

    From here we arranged a taxi to take us to our next sites, although it took some time for the taxi to arrive. We used the time to create a small picnic for ourselves at Tongariki while we waited. The taxi arrived about an hour later and we were on our way to two more ahus, Akahanga and Vinapu. Both platforms house toppled moais that were never reerected. They afforded us with a sense of how the ahus looked prior to conservationists coming to the island to restore some of its past heritage. They also allowed us to appreciate the violent past that struck this island and brought it to the brink of extinction.

    Also noteworthy at Vinapu is its unique ahu. It is the only one on the island in which the stones used to construct the ahu were cut at perfect right angles. The result is something very similar to what you see from the Inca structures throughout the Sacred Valley of Peru.

    From Vinapu we headed back to our hotel via Puna Pao, the red scoria quarry from where the pukao that adorned the heads of the moais were made.

    For the evening's activities it was dinner and a show with Te Ra'ai, one of the several Polynesian luau-style affairs in town. We were picked up at our hotel by Te Ra'ai staff. At the location we were treated to a welcome ceremony in which the hosts explained Rapa Nui traditions, songs, dances, and customs. Dinner was served buffet style and was good for a buffet. The show immediately followed dinner, during which we were treated to Polynesian song and dance. Sure it was hokey and it was a production made for tourists, but it was fun nonetheless.

    More of our time on Rapa Nui to come...

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    Rapa Nui Off the Beaten Path

    Today is our leisure day on Rapa Nui and we don't know how to do it any other way than to go in a good hike. We started our day at Anakena Beach with a goal of ending our walk at Ahu Tongariki.

    Anakena Beach is believed to be the original landing spot for the first Polynesians who settled on the island. The beach features fine white sand, numerous beautiful palm trees brought from Tahiti, and two ahus. Ahu Nau Nau holds 7 moais, 4 of them sporting the red pukaos. The other, Ahu Aturi Huki, holds a single moai. Also at the beach are numerous restaurants and souvenir stalls, but none were open when we arrived at 10.

    From Anakena, we followed the coastline to Ovahe, with its splendid views and secluded beach. We continued onward to Ahu Te Pito Kura with a singular toppled moai. The moai was one of the last to be erected on the island and was the largest to be erected. Along the way we sae numerous matavais and other native structures built long ago.

    Papa Vaka with its petroglyphs carved in stone followed, as well as a stone known as the Trumpet of Hiro that natives supposed used to draw fish as well as warn against invaders. From Papa Vaka it was inland past Poike volcano from one side of the island to the other - to Aku Tongariki. We spent some time at Aku Tongariki once again before heading back to our hotel.

    For dinner tonight we chose Au Bout du Monde, a Belgian-Polynesian fusion restaurant on the northern edge of town. The food was simply outstanding! We ordered a wide variety of dishes among the 4 of us and nothing was short of great.

    We capped our evening with Kari Kari, an authentic curanto ballet show. The show features brilliant dancing and great music, much better than the show put on by Te Ra'ai. I highly, highly recommend it.

    Tomorrow will be our last full day on Rapa Nui. On our agenda is a full day of horseback riding along the relatively unexplored north coast from Ahu Tepeu to Anakena. Stay tuned...

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    Not Our Best Moment Yet

    On the agenda for today was a horseback ride along the relatively unexplored north coast of the island. We hired Cabalgatas Pantu, which proved to be a costly decision.

    We were picked up at our hotel by a staff member of the Rapa Nui outfit and driven to Pikera Uri Hotel, which also owns the horseback riding operation. We paid for our tour and shown to the horses. The owner paired each of the guests with a horse. He simply asked us one question, "Have we ridden before?", to which we responded "Yes, one time and for one hour or so." There was not an attempt to evaluate our equestrian skill level and whether or not we were comfortable with horses. Shame on me for not thinking to inquire in the moment, as we were paired with animals not suited for our skill level. There was also no explantation of how to use the horses, nor the type of terrain we would be riding through.

    Long story short, three of the four of us fell about an hour or so into the five hour ride. We were given a little bit of attention when we fell, but the service ended there. A vehicle was called to pick us up, but we had to walk to meet the vehicle as we were on land that isn't accessible by passenger van. We therefore had to walk about an hour to the nearest road; I cannot blame them as regulations are there for a reason, unless in case of emergency. We only had some scrapes and bruises so no, it does not qualify. However, I expected the guide to assist us down, but it was wishful thinking. Somewhat sore from the fall, we took our time walking to the nearest road and made a few stops along the way to rest before continuing, to which we were met with a terse "Don't stop. Keep walking. The vehicle is already there waiting for you." How about do we need assistance? Do we need to take a break, or do we need a hand?"

    In the end, we are grateful that we are alive and well, relatively speaking. Accidents do happen, yes. Do we bear some blame? Of course. But to adopt a stance in which the operation bears to blame for assessing our abilities and skill level, well...

    We arrived back at our hotel for showers and dinner. We won't let the day color our time on Rapa Nui though.

    We begin our journey home tomorrow. More soon...

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    Closing Out

    We had a slower start this morning following yesterday's accident. After a leisurely breakfast at the hotel we went for a final walk from our hotel to town, revisiting some of the moais we admired on our first day. And what a nice day it was to take the walk. A few minutes of on and off mist with peaks of sunshine produced a couple of rainbows at the site of the moais; we interpreted these as signs from above after yesterday.

    Following our walk it was back to our hotel for a quick taxi ride to the airport. The journey back was long but comfortable and uneventful, thanks to the good service of LATAM Airlines. While the business class service from Easter Island to Santiago was top notch, even the economy class service from Santiago to the USA via Lima was better than what we've come to expect from most U.S. and European carriers.

    Lastly thank you for joining us on this incredible journey. I hope you enjoyed it and that there may be nuggets of information that will be useful to you now or in the future.

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    Thank you again for sharing your wonderful trip. So sorry about the horse misadventure. I had a similar issue many years ago and will not ride horses under any circumstances. Horses take an instant dislike to me. Dogs and cats love me. Glad you made it home safe and sound.

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