Driving Easter Island Day 3

TahaiOur second night on Easter Island is blissfully quieter than the first. The barking from the strays who wander the island is much more subdued. Could someone have transported the roosters to the other side of the island?  Their crowing’s a bit less incessant and doesn’t seem as loud. Of course, earplugs help.

As we discover at breakfast, China missed a couple of sites that were supposed to be on the west coast tour on our first day. Without us having to ask, Bill, the co-owner of the Hotel Taura’a comes to tell George & Elaine and us that he wants to make it up by taking us to the two places we missed. He tries to get in touch with a few other people on the tour but they rented a car and started exploring on their own early this morning.

Well, all righty then. A slight change of plans but we roll with it. We want to see the caves. This side trip will take about two hours.

Easter Island’s Cemetery with the moai at Tahai in the background

We drive through town to a dirt road that runs next to the cemetery across from China’s restaurant. It takes us by Tahai, part of which sits the only moai on the island that has replica eyes and a topknot. We will come back and see this on our own.

The path to Two Windows Cave

Our destination is Ana Kakenga, better known as the Two Windows Cave. The short walk from the parking lot is no better than the drive out here. Lots of uneven terrain and at one point the path has been washed out. So no one will break a leg, someone has placed a large boulder in the middle of the path, where we can see there is a big dip ahead.  Bill says this has just happened in the past few days.

Two Windows Cave Entrance

Before we shimmy into the tiny hole in the ground, Bill gives us the “Liability Speech.” Chile does not have liability laws. By going into the cave, we understand that if we break a leg or something else bad happens, it’s no one’s fault but our own. We can’t sue anyone. The flip side is that health care here is very reasonably priced so we can get what we need fixed pretty cheaply.

The two windows!

With that bit of business out of the way, Bill explains that we are to climb into the small hole like we are climbing down a ladder. When we touch the floor of the cave, we are to stoop down, turn around and make out way down through the lava tube while watching out for juts in the rock so we don’t smack our heads or scrape our backs. I’m a little nervous as I look at the tiny hole in the ground but down I go nonetheless.

Hanga Roa is in the distance

We stay stooped over until the skinny path widens out about 50 feet in, and we keep going until we are standing upright facing the two “windows” with views of the rocks and ocean below.

It’s really magnificent. Islanders used to hide in these caves from slave traders and other nasty people who came to Easter

Don’t slip!

Island. The caves dot the island so there are plenty of places to hide. In this particular cave, the natives could see the harbor in Hanga Roa out of the opening to the southwest and watch the bad peoples’ ships’ comings and goings.

The other “window” opening faces northwest and overlooks the treacherous rocky coast. There is no safety net or railing so it’s a bit scary to get too close to the edge. Even from a safe distance from the lip of the opening we can take in the million-dollar view.

Climbing out of Two Windows Cave

If I ever had to live in a cave, this would be the one. The downside, besides living in a cave, is that volcanic rock is very porous so when it rains, the walls weep and the ground gets slick and muddy. Currently, it’s damp. So, we tread carefully while we are down here and then tenuously climb safely out.

Bill at the entrance to the Ballroom Cave

The “Ballroom” cave is down the street a bit and just the opposite from the Windows. As its name indicates, this place is wide open inside and feels more like a cavern than a tube.  There are the remnants of very uncomfortable looking beds in here.

Inhabitants piled rocks into a long, rectangular bed and then covered it with leaves and palm fronds. I like a firm bed but this is pretty severe looking. I can’t imagine anyone being able to get a good night’s sleep on this torture rack and am grateful for a comfy place to sleep tonight at the Hotel Taura’a.

One of the many cave beds!

Bill tells us about his former life working on movies as construction manager. He has some pretty big credits under his belt including Star Wars. He first came to Easter Island for a movie called Rapa Nui produced by Kevin Costner. The story about the Birdman contest is based on fact but is highly fictionalized. The Hollywood version of the competition sounds more like the Hunger Games, rather than the way natives believe.

The road to the Ballroom Cave

He goes on to explain that the belief in mana, or magic still exists within the Rapanui people today. Bill’s wife Edith was told early on by her grandfather that her husband would come from someplace further than Polynesia (Bill is from Australia) and that she is barren and would never be able to give birth to her own children. Both predictions were true.

Horses on the road between caves

This does not mean they are childless. One of Edith’s sisters gave them her daughter. Bill tells us it is quite common in Polynesian culture to give a child to a barren sister. In a conversation with their daughter she casually talked about her “other” mother, presumably her birth mother.

Road Hazards!

Back at the hotel Edith arranged for a car for us. It’s all very casual.  A friend had a car we could rent for $40.000 CLP or $80 US. It’s a Suzuki Jimmy stick shift with 4WD. We can keep it until we go to the airport tomorrow. No paperwork, no proof of insurance, no driver’s license, no questions. The only instructions are to pay in cash, fill it up before we drop it off and leave the keys under the mat with the doors unlocked in the airport parking lot.

Another couple needs a car with an automatic transmission and that proves to be a bit more difficult to find, but in the end, someone comes through. That’s how things seem to work here.  Someone puts out the request and someone else fills the need.

Before we head out in the car, I need mega protection from the sun. The tropical sun is frying me and I am having a bad reaction to the exposure but it’s only bad from my knees to my ankles. And it doesn’t feel hot like a sunburn. Only later, after a visit to my doctor do I find out it’s a photosensitivity reaction to some medicine.

I’d like to save my only pair of jeans that are still clean for the flight home so Edith volunteers to take me to her favorite shop a couple of blocks down the street to shop for something to wear.

I want at least a pareo that I can wrap around my head and shoulders. A pareo, also known as a sarong, is a large piece of fabric that can be used as a scarf, skirt, top and many other creations – it’s all in the way it’s folded. I found this YouTube video that shows how to fold it into many different styles.  The folding portion starts around 2 minutes into the video.

Also, I would really like long pants or an ankle length dress. Most of the clothes here are imported from Tahiti. The little shop is out of pants but I find a dress ($35.000 CLP) and pareo ($15.000 CLP) that will do the trick.  Yes, I am not happy about spending $100 US for this outfit but it’s necessary. I look like I am wearing a not very flattering floral burka but don’t really care who sees me. I have to protect myself at the expense of any fashion sense.

Finally at 1:00 we are out the door and ready to explore.  We make plans with George and Elaine to have dinner if we’re back in time. Another guest was raving about a restaurant on the water with a good view of the sunset.  He said they had really good little local lobsters called rape rape (pronounced RAH-pay RAH-pay) and we all want to try it.

Plans for today include shooting lots of video. We head back up to windy volcano Rano Kau. Just to get a feel for how the winds howl and blow us about, here’s a snippet to set the scene. For all of my friends in the biz, yes, the camera is on a tripod but I wasn’t traveling with sandbags so it’s blowing around a lot.  What do you expect in a 20-25 mile an hour nearly constant breeze?

Across the street is the view of the town of Hanga Roa. Yup, still windy!

This next video really give a feel of what it’s like to drive on the dirt road coming down from the Rano Kau volcano to get back into town.

(Transcript of the voice-over for people who need to translate it into another language.)

0:00 I know I’ve touched on how bumpy the roads are but I want to be able to demonstrate it so I shot about 14 minutes of the drive back down from near Rano Kau.  The dirt road is really bumpy at the top and then we pass by the graders working to smooth out the road.  I’ll point out a few things as we get a little further down the hill.

1:08 As you can see as we come around this corner, they’re working on the road to smooth it out.  We have to wait for another car to pass and the grader to get out of our way but look off in the distance at the incredible, incredible view of the island and the Pacific Ocean.

5:20 I just love this little stand of trees.  Pretty cool!

6:24 Start looking for little glimpses of Hanga Roa off to your right.

6:58 Just when we think it’s safe to go a little bit faster, a cow appears on the right side of the road and you just never know when they’re going to jump out in front of you, so you have to slow down.  There are lots of animals just wandering all over the island.

8:09 As we start to get to the bottom of the volcano, we’re seeing cell towers and things that look like they have to do with the airport.

8:48 This little gate up ahead just cracks me up. It’s a gate in the middle of nowhere. There’s only one lane, one way to get through it. Although I think that is probably some kind of a thing to contain the animals.  It looks like it has a cow catcher on the top.

9:31 This truck up ahead has water tanks on it presumably to wet down the road to keep the dust at a minimum.

9:50  Now as we start to get towards the bottom of the hill, we starting to get into a more residential area.  As you can see, it’s trash day.

10:27 Yay, pavement up ahead!

11:04  Yow!  Those are some big potholes!

11:25   As it turns out, the paved road is just as bad as the dirt road, maybe even worse.  This cracks me up, they’re kind of like synchronized swimming, this is synchronized driving just to get around the potholes!

11:56 On the right is the west end of the airport runway.

12:34  As we curve around the right here, we’re are starting to head back towards town. Now we’ve gone around the runway and we’re going to head towards the airport.

12:57 The only gas station is right here on the right.

13:07 This street on the left where that car is, is heading into town and back towards our hotel, a couple blocks down the road there. And coming up here where the red sign is, is the Japanese place we had a fabulous dinner there the first night.

13:49 Up on the right where the bicycle is, is Mataveri Airport, the airport for Easter Island.

14:13 Coming up on the right is the runway and a little further up ahead is the airport control tower and that’s where we end this portion of the Easter Island tour.  Hope you liked it!

I think that gives a pretty good cross-section of travel conditions in the area around town.

Being free to drive wherever we want is fantastic!  We can stop whenever something captures our attention.  We stop here just to watch the cows and horses noshing on the grass. Behind them the waves are crashing on the shore.  I am especially captivated by group of horses that move together behind the stone wall. Out of that group, a mama mare and her white-faced colt seem to appear out of nowhere. The baby is almost glued to his mom’s side.  

A moment later I turn to the road because a man has come up from behind a wall. He hops on his horse and trots by as a dog stands in the road wondering which way to go.  

The stray dogs on this island captivate us.  We have a couple of really great experiences with some pups that I can’t wait to share but next it’s back to Rano Raraku, the quarry and we have it almost all to ourselves.

About Journeys By Jill

I have spent most of my adult life working in and around TV, film & radio production. As an avid traveler, I have a goal to visit at least 100 countries using the Century Traveler's Club Country List. At the moment, I have 54 to go. My favorite form of travel is to get off the beaten path and discover weird & wonderful attractions. Basically, I wing it. I'd love for you to come along for the ride.
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4 Responses to Driving Easter Island Day 3

  1. Shinji says:

    Easter Island is one of the places I have still on my visit list. Hope to be there, soon or later. Love your pictures!

  2. Pingback: Easter Island Planning & Packing Tips | Journeys By Jill

  3. Lori says:

    Hi Jill,
    Thank you for all this great information! My family and I are headed there for two days late April. We are thinking of renting a car day 1, and exploring around on foot day 2 using some of the hiking trails we’ve ready about. In your opinion, is renting a car a good option if you have limited time to explore (versus doing a more expensive tour)? And if you were asked to craft an ideal agenda for one day of driving around on your own, what would that include? No pressure to reply, but you seemed to really soak in a lot of knowledge about traveling the island, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to get your advice.

    • Hi Lori,

      Two days is really quick so you will want to maximize your time. Depending on how large your family is, ages, etc., a car would be cost effective but I think if you can swing it, a tour is the way to go on Day 1.

      The reason I say this is because if you go off the main roads, it’s easy to miss turns and with so little time you don’t want to spend a bunch of it backtracking and getting lost. The guides also know which roads are washed out or in bad condition, etc. They took us to caves and other places that we never would have found on our own. As much as I loved the moai, the caves were interesting too. And having the chance to get to know our tour guide China and her life on the island really enhanced our experience. A tour is a way to get the lay of the land and recover from jet lag.

      Finally, everything works on island time so just because you want the car to be available when you are ready to go, be prepared that it won’t happen the way you planned it in your head.

      That said, if you really can’t swing the expense of a tour, here’s what I would do in a car on Day 1.

      First, make sure you buy your park tickets for Rano Raraku (the quarry) and Orongo at the kiosk at the airport while you are waiting in line for customs and immigration. You’ll save $10 a person and pay $50 each (if the prices haven’t changed since we were there.) Don’t make our mistake. Get in line for customs and then send 1 or 2 people to buy the tickets while the others wait in line.

      You will be exhausted from traveling but you need to hit the road running. You will check into your hotel and most likely have breakfast if you have arrived on the overnight flight. Pack food and lots of water for your car. We had individual packets of cashews that were lifesavers.

      I’d start by driving up towards Orongo. Stop at Rano Kau on the way up. The views of volcano are spectacular. You can also see the whole island from up there. Continue up to Orongo to see the Birdman competition caves and islands. The highlight here is at the end of the trail – the petroglyphs.

      Drive across the island to Anakena Beach and have lunch at the empanada stands. I didn’t have an empanada but others in our group said they were so good, they went back the next day for more. Besides empanadas you can get skewers of meat.

      Check out the moai and then dash off to the quarry. You’ll pass Tongariki on the way. When we were there, Rano Raraku closed at either 6:00 or 7:00p. After entering the quarry, take the path to the right. Walk around the remaining moai in the quarry – make sure you go all the way around so you see the one different moai and the view of Tongariki in the distance. If you have time, you might be able to see where the other path near the entrance goes. I think it heads to the volcano. There were supposed to be more moai in the crater but someone told me that it was closed to the public when she was there. Maybe you’ll get lucky and it will be open with time for a hike.

      Have dinner at Restaurant Manuia across from the cemetery. You can see Tahai (the moai with eyes and a couple other ahus with moai) in the distance while eating the freshest food ever. Our guide China owns it. The ceviche was divine!

      In this scenario, you’ll miss Vaihu and Vinapu with some face down moai. If you have time, but need to choose between the two, I’d go to Vaihu. As impressive as the resurrected moai are, I had such a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that clans knocked down rival moai. The knocked over moai were some of my favorites. And the view from Two Windows Cave was spectacular.

      For dinner on night 2 Kotaro is the way to go. Francisco was a delight and the food was delish.

      Depending on your flights, weather, how quickly you get a car, etc. you might be able to more but this is the bare minimum. If you need to cut something, I would drop Anakena Beach.

      I hope this gives you a place to start planning. Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions. I am happy to help.

      And of course it goes without saying, I am as jealous as can be! Have a wonderful trip.


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