Rapa Nui

February 22, 2023

Since we had seen all of the historic sites, w thought we'd do a little something different, and we booked a snorkeling tour for the afternoon with Mike's Rapa Nui.  They mostly do dives, but take snorkelers out in the afternoon at 3 near the islets where the birdman competition was held.  We were on the boat with a couple from Santiago and two producers from the United States who work for Good Morning America.  They're out here getting ready as they'll be broadcasting live from Rapa Nui next week for the whole week, but wanted to do something fun after they had finished work for the day.  

Our guide, Rodrigo, shared lots of information with us on our ride out.  It was really nice to see the island from the water. The water out there is deep azure, and visibility is to almost 60 feet underwater, but there weren't really a lot of fish to see today.  We spent about 45 minutes snorkeling in a small semi-protected cove area.  We did bring the underwater camera, but didn't get really any great shots worth sharing.  On the ride back, we talked with Rodrigo more informally about life on the island and his life on the island with his partner, who's now on the mainland studying.  He talked a lot about what it was like for the two years that the island was closed during the pandemic, and how the community came together to make the island function for that long.  Interesting stuff.

We arrived back at around 5:30 and were hungry.  We stopped at a few places, but none were open for dinner yet, so we ended up going back to Oheho for dinner.  It was as good this time as it was last time.

February 21, 2023

In the morning, Stephen went this morning to the Rapa Nui Museum while Eli was virtual tutoring a friend in Spanish.  While not very extensive, it did have some really interesting information about the knowledge of navigation of the original settlers here.  He spent about 40 minutes walking through.  Around 3pm, we met up with our tour group for our final tour of the last set of sites.  Sebastian, unfortunately, wasn't our guide for this tour as there were a number of German speaking group members today, and so our guide spoke English and German.  It is interesting to hear a different perspective on what is interesting or important, but overall we much preferred Sebastian's thoughtful explanations.  We also didn't cover sites that we felt were as interesting, and overall they seemed to rehash things we had already learned about or seen.  The only really new things we saw were the quarry for the red top knots for the moai (which come from a different part of the island to achieve the red color), and the one ahu where the moai are facing to the ocean instead of inland.  This last part isn't really correct anyway, according to our guide, because the village for this ahu was inland; really the moai were just facing the village in front of them.  Besides, when you're on an island, technically everywhere direction you face you're facing the water (or have your back to the water) if you take the vista far enough.  We said goodbye to Joao, who was on this tour with us as well, but we'll see a number of our tourmates on the plane ride  back to Santiago on Thursday.

We had the tour leader drop us off at town center, and we walked to have dinner at La Kaleta.  It's really more of a bar, but they serve food... and, boy, what a view.  Literally our table was right on the water's edge.  The don't even have a printed menu, but the chef cooks up a variety of things based on what they found that day.  Today, unfortunately, there was not fish.  They were anticipating that they might get some later that evening, but one of our servers whose father is a fisherman said that the fishing has been pretty poor the last few days, and they're never quite sure what's going to come in.  In any case, the had a really interesting sounding sirloin with four cheese sauce, so we both got that.  In the meantime, they also didn't have any lemons for the pisco sours we ordered, so Eli asked Stephen to ask the couple who was sitting near us what they were drinking.  It happened to be a ramazzotti violeta, but more importantly, it opened up a wonderful conversation with Alex and Sandra.  They were here visiting from Puerto Montt, and were the most gracious and interesting couple.  We talked about travel, the island, life under the dictatorship, politics in the US, feminism.  All good stuff.  Oh, and the sirloin with four cheese sauce was AMAZING!

As we left the bar/restaurant, we did see someone come in with a swordfish catch.  They were in the midst of gutting and cleaning as we walked by.  

February 20, 2023

Today Sebastian picked us back up again for our full-day tour of the sites on the east and north of the island.  This section of the tour is more moai focused.  We toured an area that had both ruins of and recreations of what a village during the moai period would have looked like, we toured the restored ahu (platform) of moai on the eastern shore that was financed with the support of the Japanese following the tsunami in the 1960's, and we went to the quarry to see where the moai were carved and then transported to their platforms.  The quarry was amazing to see, and it was dotted with moai that never made it to their platforms; it's estimated that 1/3 never made it as they were damaged in transit or in separation from the quarry.  At the height of moai construction, there were full-time carvers who were commissioned by the villages to construct their moai.  

Our tour usually consists of about 12-16 people, which is a nice sized group (the same number that we had on our Intrepid trip, although the group members change day to day).  Today we had a US couple from Seattle who retired early and have been traveling extensively (although no longer totally full-time).  We also met a guy from Portugal who had worked in NYC for a long time (he spoke Portuguese and English and Spanish flawlessly... and knew a little Danish also).  Joao has been traveling full-time for about 18 months so far.  He's going to end his adventure at the two year mark, though, and go back to work (although he says he told himself that at 6 months and a year, so who knows?).  It was nice to speak English to someone other than each other for a bit.  Generally it's been 100% in Spanish otherwise.  They'll all be on our tour tomorrow again.  They got their tickets to Rapa Nui at the last minute, and without the same challenges we faced with availability and cost.  When we booked tickets, there were only two flights a week on the schedule.  At least, as of now, they are running flights 6 days a week.  Joao got a great deal on a cruise to Antarctica at the last minute at antarcticatravels.com, so he's heading there after a stop in Santiago.  

There's an around-the-world cruise on the MSC line that is docked in the bay at Hanga Roa today.  We were worried that they would be all over the island and it would feel like we were in Croatia again with all the cruise tour groups.  Luckily, it wasn't that bad.  We did run into a group of cruisers at dinner, which we had at Te Moai Sunset, right across from Ahu Tahai.  We thought we'd head back to that area as the sky was clearer, to see if we could see the sunset again.  Stephen had the ribs (which the waiter kept saying was too much food, but Stephen ate it all) and Eli had a nice cheviche.  We were also joined by a dog and a chicken at our feet while we ate.  We did get great views and photos of the sunset, but we had to be strategic about the angles we shot because otherwise the cruise ship would be in the background.

February 19, 2023

Our hotel host presented us with 2 options for tours that she thought were very good.  The first was a private tour with a Rapa Nui guide that we would have to pay in cash, or via a tour company that we could pay with credit card.  Both were about the same price.  We ended up deciding to book with the tour company, Rapa Nui Travel, and did two half-day tours and a full day tour that would cover all the parts of the island that have cultural significance.  Today we did the section up to the volcano that relates to the development of the birdman competition in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Our guide, Sebastian, was thorough, organized, knowledgeable, serious but fun, and clearly cared about imparting an understanding of what we were seeing.  We both occasionally would listen in on other tour guides while we were at the sites, and we definitely know we hit the jackpot with Sebastian.

The birdman competition developed in response to ecological challenges on the island that had led to an abandoning of reverence for the ancestors and the destruction of many of the Moai by clashing factions.  Deforestation meant that there was no longer any wood to construct boats, and so the inhabitants were stuck on the island and became disenchanted with the King and ruling family.  The birdman competition connected them to the idea of fertility through the terns that came to nest on the islets near Rapa Nui every spring (the competition was based on finding the first egg laid on the islets for the year), and also led to a lessening of tensions between competing factions as the "king" of the island would now rotate yearly based on which faction won the birdman competition.

We asked Sebastian to drop us off in town instead of at our hotel, and we had lunch at Oheho Surf Cafe (where we ran into a couple who were at the dance show the night before).  Stephen had a great empanada and fries, and Eli had a tuna steak sandwich which was huge.  Our meal with beers was about $40.  We were stuffed at that point and it was about 2pm, so we didn't think we would want to eat a full dinner.  We just picked up some snacky foods from a mini-mart and will do that for "dinner" tonight.  We walked the 25 minutes back to our hotel.  We were very sweaty by the time we arrived, even though it was overcast the entire time.

We headed back out at sunset to Ahu (platform) Tahai and Ahu Ko Te Riku.  It had just rained (it does that on and off basically all day here) and the sky was a bit cloudy, so we didn't think we'd be able to see the actual sunset, but thought we might get a good view of the colored sky as the sun went down.  It was really pretty, and we thought we got some nice photos.

February 18, 2023

After all the rigamarole we went through to get tickets to Easter Island (which we will henceforth refer to in it's proper name of Rapa Nui), we almost didn't make it.  We arrived at the airport two hours in advance, and it was a zoo (at 7:30 in the morning).  You have to self check-in and then tag the bags you're going to check yourselves (and they are really strict about carryon weight and size of personal item at LATAM, so we're checking our rollaboards).  Then you have to wait in a super-long line to scan your bags and put them on the conveyor belt.  Except today, the conveyer belt was full of stops and starts.  It took us almost 45 minutes to get to the front of the line to check bags and then the conveyor went kaput for a good 20 minutes.

At this point, they yelled for everyone on our flight to leave the line and they would check our bags in manually.  We did that, she checked our online form for Rapa Nui entry (which is a new requirement to enter Rapa Nui since they opened to tourists for the first time since the pandemic in August of last year), and then the agent said that flights for Rapa Nui depart from the 2nd floor.  We thought this was odd to tell us this, but we figured after we got through security there would be some stairs or escalator to get to gate 17 where our flight was departing from (and we thought we remembered having gone down some stairs because we had taken a flight from this gate to San Pedro).  When we got about 3/4 through the line to security, there was an employee checking boarding passes.  He looked at Eli's and moved him on, and then he looked at mine, and said, "You can't go through here, you have to go to the second floor." And we were like, "Whoa!"   We asked him a number of times (in Spanish, so this was his first language) where we get to the second floor, and all he would say is, "You have to go out."  UGH!

So we ran out of security, and tried to figure out where to get to the second floor.  We asked someone, and it wasn't where they told us either.  Finally we found a staircase, completely unmarked from above, and we found a tiny little sign at the bottom that said "Flights to Rapa Nui."  We went down the stairs, hustled around 3 or 4 turns over about 100 yards until we came up to internal border control and screening for Rapa Nui.  They checked our passports and the online form again, gave us a PDI printout and stamped it and our passport, and then sent us to a special screening line for the Rapa Nui flight.  Luckily, since they were just screening passengers for this flight, the line went super quickly.  As we made it through, we heaved a sigh of relief as had we not caught the error, we wouldn't have had the documents we needed to get on the plane.  We made it with about 5 minutes before boarding started.  As we boarded, they sent one man in front of us away because he had missed the correct location to have this extra processing done.  That could have been us.

To get into Rapa Nui currently, you are supposed to show proof of 3 doses of Covid vaccine, show proof that you're staying in a SENATUR (Chilean Tourism Department) approved lodging, and are subject to random PCR rapid test on arrival.  We figured we'd have to show our vaccine docs plus our online form when we arrived in Rapa Nui.  All they did as we got on the plane in Santiago was collect the PDI slip they had just stamped 15 minutes before.  When we arrived in Rapa Nui, nobody asked for anything.

Our hotel host picked us up from the airport, and presented us with leis.  We're staying at the Hotel Teanehi.  We booked using Hotels.com and got 4% back on the rate in addition to 2x points because we registered our Capital One Venture X card with the site.  The room is huge, we have an awesome ocean view, it has air conditioning, and the rate includes free breakfast.  Had we to choose again, though, as much as we love the hotel and the view, we might not stay here.  When we looked at hotels to book, we tried to choose one that we thought would be close enough to town center, even if we weren't right in the center.  Unfortunately, the Teanehi is a little too far out for us.  Its location isn't shown correctly on Google Maps, and we misidentified where the "center" of town was, so we are about a 25 minute walk from any restaurants, cafes, and mini-markets.    In tropical summer heat, that's not fun.  The town's center is actually a lot closer to the airport than it is to the geographical center of what's on the map.  

Our hotel host has been very responsive and helpful.  She helped us to arrange tours for our stay here.  The other thing that is new since Rapa Nui opened up again (and that we were completely unaware of) is that you must have a registered guide or Rapa Nui indigenous individual with you in order to access any of the sites on the island outside of town (which is basically nine tenths of the island).  We had originally thought that we would do one tour for one day while we were here, and then we would also venture out on our own for our last two days here with a rental car we had reserved for those days.  That plan was now out the window (and we couldn't get our deposit back on the rental car, unfortunately).

Once we figured out our plan for touring, we were left to figure out what we might want to do for the evening.  We knew we wanted to see a traditional dance and music show, but the one we really wanted to see, Kari Kari, only performed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays as of now (although it looks like their schedule changes frequently).  Since we wanted to get a start on our Rapa Nui experience, instead we booked with another company, Te Ra'ai, which did have almost as high Google reviews.  They include dinner, which we thought would help us kill 2 birds with one stone.  The presentation of Te Ra'ai was very good and included a nice section before dinner and the dance presentation about the history of the Rapa Nui people's arrival on the island (with some audience participation as we learned the movements to one of the traditional dances together).  They did both traditional dances, with percussion only, that predate European arrival to the island, and also dances that incorporated string instruments and accordion.  Dinner, though, was just okay (they ran out of fish before we got to the buffet so Eli was very disappointed), and it was much more expensive (about $190 total for the two of us with dinner) than Kari Kari would be just for the show.  Kari Kari's company of dancers is quite a bit larger than Te Ra'ai's, so we imagine it might be more "immersive."