*To fully appreciate the pictures, click on them to see them full size*
It’s 6 am and Edith is rattling our door. Scared out of a dead sleep, we are a bit alarmed and confused until we figure out that the owner of the Hotel Taura’a thinks we are part of the group on an early fight. Before we can respond, she realizes her mistake and moves on.
Our flight doesn’t leave until 5:40 this evening. We still have plenty of time to play. Wide awake, now. We decide, “What the heck!” Let’s go record an Easter Island sunrise.
We pick Anakena Beach because we can race there on paved roads. Well, not really race. Time is of the essence to make in time for the sunrise. But there are so many loose animals on the island lurking around every other corner, that we are afraid we will hit a cow or horse in the dark if we go too fast.
There is no moon so it’s still pitch black when we arrive and can’t see a thing. I open the car door a smidge and it’s pushed open by more than one furry creature that I can’t see. The interior car light is not set to turn on so in the inky darkness I push whatever they are away with my tripod legs and get the door closed. We shine a light and realize that the car has been surrounded by a pack of dogs. Mike and I freak out a bit. What should we do?
Because we were here yesterday, we are pretty sure the pups are well fed. I watched the woman I bought a pork skewer from throw what I didn’t eat in the air for the stray dogs. I’ll bet that happens all day long. Nor have we seen any of the strays be aggressive with people but you never know, so we are cautious.
We carefully trek across the beach, watching where we step. There are many hazards. Volcanic rocks, excrement from all kinds of beasts and our pack of four curious canines stuck to our sides. These guys really want some attention but we have learned from the Dog Whisperer, when it comes to strange dogs: no touch, no talk, no eye contact.
It’s so dark that we have to guess where the giant ahu and moai are and just set up the tripod with camera pointed in the general direction. I can’t even tell if the camera is in focus but I go ahead and hit record anyway.
Our pack has made themselves comfortable wrapping their bodies around the legs of the tripod so we have to step over them to make any adjustments. The long-haired guy seems to be the alpha because everyone else rolls over when he corrects them.
After about 20 minutes of relying only on our senses of sound, smell and touch, we can finally see a faint outline of the stone giants. The ears on all pups go up, faces look to the left. As if on cue, the pack jumps up and go chasing after something, maybe a horse. A few minutes later our escorts are back by our sides.
Once there is a hint of daylight, we realize we are facing north instead of east so we’re not going to get the sunrise behind the moai. Still, the gradually growing light coupled with the grey clouds and sounds of the animals and ocean is pretty cool.
This time-lapse video condenses the sunrise and some of the sounds we heard as we stood in the dark surrounded by our pack of dogs from forty minutes into just two.
In the darkness I forget there is another moai on his back and a lone one on the hill. In daylight, we hike up for a few pictures.
Meanwhile our pack runs off to chase the horses down the beach. When they return, the black and white guy digs himself a comfy couch in the sand.
Happy for our efforts and our canine company, we head back to the car. This whole morning, amidst the bustle of barking dogs, nickering horses, lowing cows and more roosters than you can shake a stick at, we’ve yet to see a single human.
When we return to the hotel, we have a bite to eat but it isn’t the same. All of our friends left this morning and the new people aren’t the talkative types.
Time is flying. After getting cleaned up we decide we should just go ahead and check out and take our luggage with us. Typical of the trust on this island, we rented a car for $80 US/$40.000 CLP cash with no paperwork. Edith arranged it for us. When we are finished she tells us to leave it unlocked at the airport with the key under the mat.
Bill & Edith’s daughter helps us settle the bill for $780 US. It includes $450 US for the hotel and $330 US for the tours plus the cost of the car. Then she gives us each a going away gift of a feather and a shell on a rope with a symbolic meaning. The feather is for safe flights and the shell symbolizes the hope that we will return.
Edith is working in her tour office at the end of the block so we go down to say goodbye. After kisses and warm hugs, we’re off.
First stop is at the busy LAN office down the street to secure our boarding passes for our flights to Lima and Miami. With that little chore out of the way, we are free to roam the island.
Even after almost four days here, there are many more moai to see. Near the cemetery is Ahu Vai Uri, an ahu, or platform with five moai in various states of disrepair; Ahu Tahai, the single moai next to the boat ramp; and Ahu Ko Te Riku, the only one with replacement eyes. The real eyes are in the museum. Unfortunately, we are almost out of time so we won’t get to see them this trip.
One thing I insist on seeing before we leave is the brand new Hanga Roa Eco Village & Spa. I almost booked us into a room but I only found one review saying that most of the hotel was still under construction.
Also, there were a lot of articles about a land dispute with protests that keep pushing back the grand opening. I didn’t want to take a chance that we would travel all this way to find that we might have to deal with protesters to get to our room. Or worse, sleep on the beach with the wild dogs, roaming horses and ever-present roosters!
Fully open, the rates at Hanga Roa Eco Village are around $600 US a night for two people but when I tried to make a reservation there was a pre-opening special for around $200 US a night. I had trouble determining if that was per person or per room. It could have really pushed our budget to max so in the end I opted for the Hotel Taura’a at around $150 US a night.
As soon as we walk in the front door of the main building, we are sorry we didn’t spend at least one night here. The white curvy walls with cypress tree trunks are holding up a ceiling covered in woven handmade pine sticks. The floor is polished concrete. The beauty of the lobby blows us away. And that’s just the beginning.
As we wait for the clerk at the cool front desk to finish helping a guest, I can’t help noticing the nice touches available, like pitchers of water flavored with fresh fruit. Obviously, there’s WiFi because a couple of people are tucked into corners, busy typing away on the their computers.
When we ask if we can get a tour of the hotel, the manager tells us he is busy with someone else but asks if we can wait. A clerk volunteers to show us some rooms and we quickly say yes.
Our jaws drop when he opens the door to standard room number 26. Yes, we could have been VERY comfortable here. More cypress tree trunks, and woven pine stick ceilings but the added touches of the lava stone sink, the curved stone tiled shower and that beckoning bathtub! I really want to go unload the car and move in!
The wows continue in suite number 55. Our young guide slips us into an occupied room that is being cleaned. The roof is covered with skylights and grass. Inside, there’s a cool concrete work area; a bar; an open sitting area; and a bathroom with a Japanese style toilet brimming with electronic gadgets like a heated seat and bidet functions. Yup, I could embrace the toilet technology.
Our tour continues with the spa. Massage and treatment rooms are connected by a boardwalk with sand underneath to evoke a feeling of being at the beach. There’s a small outdoor jetted hot tub.
The pool looks inviting but it’s not open. During our visit, they are waiting for the government to issue the paperwork to allow them to open it. They think they will be getting permission to open shortly.
We meet up with the manager and he offers to take over but our guide is doing just fine so we stick with him. Our next stops on the tour include the bars and restaurants that are still not quite fully operational. There are plenty of comfy chairs on the patio where guests can sit and stare at the ocean. But we can’t get food and I am hungry.
The only distraction to all of this beauty is the neighbor across the street where people are camping and have laundry hanging out to dry, making it look kind of low rent.
While the setting is stunning, I think our experience would have been different if we had stayed here. It seems a bit sterile.
At the Hotel Taura’a it’s a community where we made friends. The Hanga Roa is more of a hotel. Guests seem to be off in their own corners instead of mingling, interacting, touring and swapping stories like we did at Taura’a.
Time is running out and we need to find some food. A place called Miro got high ratings in TripAdvisor so we decide to check it out. It’s next door to the fabulous Restaurant Manuia where we had dinner the other night. The view is of the colorful cemetery, Tahai and the other moai beyond, all with the Pacific Ocean as a backdrop.
Mike gets the Española pizza with sausage, tomatoes, onions and red peppers ($5.500 CLP/$11 US). Me, I’m still jonesing for the sizzling shrimp with peppers and oil that Elaine had last night so that’s what I order for lunch. It arrives with oil boiling but it’s flavorless. It needs more peppers.
We have less than an hour before we need to be at the airport. Too early to go now but not enough time to do much of anything. We decide to kill the time by taking a peek inside the Catholic Church, Parroquia Santa Cruz de Hanga Roa. I read so much about its interesting architecture and I am still curious.
This doesn’t look like any other Catholic Church I’ve ever seen. The outside is covered with wooden Rapanui symbols. The main door is locked but a side door is open. We slip inside the silent sanctuary to take a few pictures. It’s very sparse but it’s the statues that catch my eye. They are not what you would expect in a church. They are wooden carvings that seem to combine saints with what I assume are Rapanui gods.
With a few more minutes to spare, we dash across the street to the Mercado de las Artes where we look for last-minute souvenirs. We are the only shoppers in the place.
I am in need of a wind breaker/rain jacket and immediately find what I am looking for. I get the bright red one with a few moai embroidered on it. Mike finds a nice navy polo shirt and I insist he buy it because he will not have a chance to buy it again. He returns the favor when I touch some cheap earrings in the shape of moai heads. They are not even silver and cost $10.000 CLP/$20 US. In a split second decision I get them because we need to head for the airport.
But the woman working the stall wants to talk. She asks where we are from and then tells us she has relatives in Michigan, near Mike’s hometown. In any other situation we would stay and talk but we still need to fill up the car’s gas tank and we are out of time. We try not to be rude but we need to extricate ourselves from this conversation.
One more drive through town takes us straight to the gas station. We’ve burned about half a tank of gas in our tiny Suzuki Jimmy 4WD SUV. We pull in and are immediately reminded that we are not in the U.S. anymore. It’s like we’ve stepped into a bygone era. This is a full-service station. For my younger readers, gas stations used to have attendants who would fill your tank, check the oil and wash your windshield at no extra cost. Here the attendant fills the tank for $10.000 CLP/$20 US.
Arriving at the airport two hours before our flight to Lima, we hide the key under the mat and leave the doors unlocked. At the Mataveri Airport we only need to be there two hours before the flight instead of three normally for international flights. Mataveri is a tiny airport and this is the only flight leaving at that time.
Once through security, we sit outside next to a giant wood carving of a man wearing a loincloth. We can’t resist peeking under. The guy is, shall we say, well hung. Of course being as juvenile as we are, we have to take pictures. Being trendsetters, passenger after passenger has to follow suit. A Russian family is having a lot of fun with it. They seem to be just as juvenile as we are. It keeps us amused until we have to board.
I am sad to leave. I need more time. Maybe a couple more days would have done it. And I am bummed that I forgot to go to the post office for an Easter Island passport stamp.
We are a bit surprised the plane is sprayed for bugs before we take off. I guess it makes sense but I would think it would be more important to spray planes leaving the mainland so they don’t introduce parasites to the island. But what do I know?
The LAN flights home are pretty packed. We only have a couple of hours in Lima and the lines for immigration and customs are long so we don’t have much time to hang out. We arrive in Miami at 7:30 am and breeze through customs. As expected at this hellish airport, we have to go out of the secured area to the US Airways ticket counter to get our boarding passes to Charlotte.
Because we have learned that every time we fly through this airport we have to go through security, we allow for a lot of time to change planes. We are booked on a flight at 12:55 pm but there is a nearly empty flight at 10:10 am. If we want to change, we have to cough up $50 each. Are you kidding? You suck US Airways! But Miami International sucks more! We grudgingly pay the $100 extortion fee and get home three hours earlier than planned. We wonder if US Airways re-sold the two seats we vacated on the later flight.