Less than a minute after I press the “Buy” button for tickets to Easter Island, Mike announces, “We can’t go. My passport expires five days before we leave.” Panic sets in for a second. Should I quickly call and see if I can cancel the tickets? Nope. We are going. We’ll just hustle and get his passport renewed pronto.
Next order of business is booking a hotel. As regular readers of this blog know, I like to live dangerously and book my hotel on the day of arrival. I’m playing it safe this time because it’s a small remote island and I don’t know what to expect. Better safe, than camping. I spend hours pouring over reviews on TripAdvisor.com, Hotels.com and any other .com I can find. All sites try their damnedest to lower my expectations.
But Easter Island has been on my radar for a while. It started when I was a kid in school and saw something about the big heads or Moai (pronounced mo-EYE). Then a couple of years ago we went to Viña del Mar in Chile to the Museo Fronk and I saw my first real Moai.
The following year we’re in Oslo, Norway and what is greeting visitors at the Kon-Tiki Museum? Yup, another Moai. This replica has a red topknot. The real ones are inside. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl made a trip to Easter Island in 1955 to lead archaeological excavations and document the artifacts.
Clearly these are all signs indicating that Easter Island is reaching out to me.
When my brothers and I finally sell my Mom’s condo almost six years after her death, I decide that it’s time to spend a few pesos and go to the most isolated inhabited island in the world to see these guys in their natural habitat.
This is exactly what my mom would want me to do, because she was the pathfinder. I inherited her globe-trotting genes and know of no better way to honor her.
There’s a ton of information online about the Moai and history of Rapa Nui as the locals refer to their island. But I’m searching for touristy tourist information and that’s not easy to come by. There are a few scant pages in guidebooks for Chile and most of that is severely dated.
There’s a book that was recommended on one of the many websites I searched but when I find A Companion to Easter Island (Guide to Rapa Nui) by James Grant Peterkin on Amazon, the only place it’s available, they want $79 for a book that retails for $29.95. Sorry. Not taking the bait on that one. But a couple of days later I check back to find the book has been restocked and is selling for the cover price. I snap up a copy after reading the glowing reviews.
I know from keeping tabs on Isla de Pascua (as the Chileans call it) there has been a change in the law that has allowed a few new, high-end resorts to open on the island. Only Rapanui (the indigenous people) can own land but the change allows islanders to lease their property to outside interests.
Enter the luxurious resort by Explora called Posada de Mike Rapu. I try to see how much it would cost to stay there and keep getting numbers that can’t be right. It looks like it is either $1500 a night or for the entire stay. As it turns out, the 3-night stay includes everything from tours to food and alcohol but it is way out our league at the moment – total cost would be a bank draining $4770 for the two of us. As much as I feel that we should be staying there, it’s not going to happen so I continue to study up on hotels.
The one place that stands out in all of the reviews I’ve read is the Hotel Taura’a. For $75,000 Chilean pesos, it comes out to roughly $150 a night, depending on the exchange rate.
What makes it attractive is that includes a breakfast that gets good reviews. Everyone writes that food is really expensive here so a few included meals that are edible will save us a bit of cash. Plus, we save even more in transportation costs because it’s located in town. We will be able to walk to bars, restaurants, shopping and shows.
At the last moment I am almost sucked in by the luxurious, brand new, unfinished Hanga Roa Eco Resort that’s more expensive than the Taura’a but way less than the Explora – coming in at around $600 for 3 nights. I am not sure that I am reading this right. Something seems off.
Upon further research, I find only one review. It’s by someone who stayed there in December 2011 and said at that time only 8 of the 75 rooms are open. There was a dispute about ancestral lands and that has delayed the construction schedule. The reviewer said the service was lovely but there were a lot of workers on the property. The rest of the rooms are expected to be open by August 2012. We plan to go there for a drink, if possible, just to check it out.
There are many blogs that say we should bring lots of cash, preferably Chilean pesos to get a better exchange rate, but US dollars are also accepted. Because we are flying through Lima, Peru and not Santiago, Chile, we will need to get money from our bank instead of a Chilean ATM. None of these blogs give any indication of how much money we will need to bring. All they say is that everything is expensive.
We usually blow into town and hit the ATM for local currency but another tidbit I have found is that power can be iffy on the island and the ATMs may or may not work. One review said that the ATMs didn’t work the whole time they were there. Credit cards are not widely accepted so now I am left to figure out how much cash to bring just to be safe.
As someone who rarely carries cash in my everyday life or when I travel, this has become an interesting conundrum. I can’t find anyone who says “for 3 days bring $500 or $1,000 in cash” so I am left to guess. I don’t want to come home with pesos to exchange back to dollars so we will probably bring a few hundred dollars in each currency and hope the ATMs are working. That way we will have back-up dollars with the possibility to pay for everything in pesos.
The exchange rate is better if we pay cash (in pesos) for the hotel. We have already paid for one night with a credit card and that was a challenge. It’s required as a deposit to hold the reservation, and it’s non-refundable. They ask for a letter to be e-mailed that gives them permission to charge it to my credit card. I am not happy about that.
For security purposes, it’s never smart to send sensitive info by unsecure e-mail but what is a traveler to do? This is precisely why we have a separate travel/online checking account with a separate debit/credit card where we keep almost no money. And it’s not attached to any overdraft protection so at least theoretically, criminals can’t drain our main accounts.
The beauty is that we can transfer money from our other accounts from anywhere in the world using our iPad or iPhone over a WiFi connection. Yes, it’s still a WiFi connection but we won’t be typing in passwords on strange computers. Fingers crossed that the WiFi connection works!
With the flights, hotel and money pretty straight in my head, I turn to what to bring. Countless advice articles say to bring everything from water to wine. The water is safe to drink but contains many minerals so bottled water will make sure our tummies aren’t aggravated. But how to get it there?
After thinking I need to pay to check a case of water to fly with us from Charlotte to the hellish Miami airport and then retrieve it from US Air baggage only to recheck it on LAN, I dial back the hysteria. Besides being overly cumbersome, it’s ridiculous. We’re talking three and a half days on the ground.
This island has regular daily air service. The furthest I am willing to go on this front is to MAYBE buy a few bottles of water at the airport in Lima. After that, we will pay whatever the price…and of course, report back here.
One suggestion we are going to heed is to bring flashlights. This is a tiny island in the middle of the ocean with one small town and no streetlights. The moon will be setting around 7:30 in the evening and there will be only a sliver of moon the days we are there. It’s going to be dark so, oh yeah, we are bringing flashlights.
(Okay, I’m a geek for knowing all of this, but in my defense, I work in TV production so I have iPhone apps that tell me this stuff. I use them to determine crew call times so that we are ready to go as soon as we have enough daylight for outdoor shoots. Why not put them to use for my personal life too?)
Another re-con item that grabbed my attention is a report that the island is covered with a battalion of bugs. Armies of ants; brigades of beetles; and cavalries of cockroaches! Yes we will have bug spray for mosquitoes (a few years ago they were carrying a mild form of dengue fever) but there’s no way we’ll be able to bring a can of Raid in our carry-on luggage. As a former Floridian, I know we will survive.
There are also stories of roosters making it hard to sleep after a late night by doing what roosters are known for doing: crowing at dawn’s crack. Hopefully, the great LAN Airlines still provides passengers with a kit that includes eyeshades and earplugs.
Whatever else lies ahead just adds to the experience. Bring it on! We are ready and cleared for takeoff! Mike’s shiny new passport with an embedded microchip arrives just two weeks after being sent to the U.S. State Department for renewal.
Unfortunately our flight doesn’t leave until next month. I don’t know how I will be able to wait that long!