Living the Dream
It was still dark when I left the hostel this morning. The bus was full and cramped, but the drive to the airport was uneventful. Check-in for my flight was a bit confusing. Since Easter Island is part of Chile, it’s considered a domestic flight. However, check-in is at the international terminal. I had read a lot of reports online that LAN Airlines is notorious for overbooking the flights to Hanga Roa, so I had confirmed my seats before leaving Vancouver. In the end, the flight wasn’t full. I had worried for nothing.
The 5.5 hour flight was easy and enjoyable. The food was delicious, the flight crew were attentive and friendly, and they even provided real cutlery for the meal. With all the ridiculous security “theatre” of the last decade, I can’t remember the last time I saw a real knife on a plane.
The best part of the flight though, was the woman sitting next to me. Rosalita was an 87-year old Swiss woman. She had always wanted to travel, but had been constrained by the societal expectations of her era, marriage and child-rearing. When her husband died she decided to finally live out her dream and see the world. Overcoming the objections of her family, in a decade, she managed to visit all 7 continents. Her visit to Easter Island marked the end of a several month solo journey around South America. She had nothing but praise for my own travels and encouraged me to continue doing it while I was young. She said that if she had been given the choices that young women today have, she never would have married and had children.
I always find it so inspiring to meet people who are living their dreams – especially when that dream is travel.
Our arrival at Easter Island was spectacular. With nothing but the vast empty blue of the South Pacific all around us, the island appeared as a tiny spec in the distance. It slowly grew larger as we flew lower. Just before touching down we seemed to be low enough to almost skim the tops of the waves.
We de-planed onto the tarmac where we were met with bright sunshine and a wave of heat and humidity. Ahhhhhh! After the cold days in Santiago, it was pure bliss! Rosalita and I said our good-byes at the baggage claim. The airport is only about 1-2km from central Hanga Roa, so I was prepared to walk to my hostel. I was pleasantly surprised to find a shuttle there to meet the plane.
Isadora, a solo Brazilian woman just a couple of years younger than me, was the only other person on the bus. Our driver and host took us on a quick tour of the town, pointing out shops and restaurants for our stay. He also advised us to make our way to Ahu Tahai tonight for the sunset. With questionable weather moving in over the next couple of days, it may be our only chance!
We arrived at Kona Tau Hostel mid-afternoon. As we checked in we were offered fresh fruit juice and bananas from their own trees. Nothing beats fresh tropical fruit on a hot day! Isadora and I were to be roommates for our stay and quickly dropped our bags in the four-bed dorm. The accommodation was rustic, but comfortable. For $30 per night on one of the most expensive islands in the world, I wasn’t about to complain!
Isadora and I went our separate ways for the afternoon, but made plans to meet up again later for sunset at Tahai. There are only 2 places on the island to buy passes to Rapa Nui National Park: the airport and the CONAF office at the base of Rano Kau. I had missed out on buying the pass at the airport, so I made my way to the CONAF office.
First though, I stopped at a rental shop to see about hiring a scooter for my stay on the island. Unfortunately, they required a valid motorcycle license, so I was out of luck. I briefly considered an ATV or a bicycle, but decided to stick to foot transport instead.
At a comfortable pace, it’s about an hour and a half walk/hike from Hanga Roa up to Rano Kau crater and Orongo village. Not sure what time sunset was going to be, I was on a deadline and moving fast. I made it to the CONAF office, the halfway point, in about twenty minutes. There I learned that they only accepted cash, of which I didn’t have enough. Sigh.
I quickly weighed my options and decided to continue up to Rano Kau crater since I didn’t need a park pass to see it. There are only two sites on the island where a park pass is necessary: Orongo village and Rano Raraku (aka the Quarry). From the CONAF office, there is a wooded hiking path that goes straight up to the crater.
The path was steep, but the footing was easy. The hardest part was the temperature. In the trees, the humidity was oppressive. Above the treeline, the views opened up. To the north, I could see Hanga Roa below me. Maunga Terevaka, the highest point on the island, rose up behind the town. To the south, there was nothing but open water.
When I reached the lip of Rona Kau crater, the wind hit me like a freight train. Something I had always looked forward to doing on Easter Island was walking around the crater to the point where it drops off into the sea. Surrounded by nothing but sky and ocean, it is the type of dramatic and isolated location that has always called to me. The wind was gusting so strongly that walking around the crater was out of the question. It was threatening to blow me off my feet on level ground. I didn’t want to take any chances on the rocky trail with a 1000-ft drop beside me.
Retreating back down the hill, I made it back to the hostel in about half an hour. The temperature was already starting to drop, so I grabbed some warmer clothes and made my way to Ahu Tahai on the other side of town.
Isadora and I found each other easily and quickly picked out a good spot to watch the sunset. Being the off-season there weren’t a lot of tourists on the island, but all of them were converging on Tahai. The open field was quickly filled with people and cameras.
Around December 21st, the summer solstice, the sun will set directly behind the moai. Even without the celestial alignment, it was spectacular. The wind had already started to rise, preceding the coming storm, and the clouds were racing across the rainbow coloured sky towards us.
I don’t know if any words exist to describe the experience. Easter Island is a place that I never thought I would ever have a chance to visit. To be here now, witnessing one of the most iconic sunsets on Earth with my own two eyes… It was without a doubt, one of the most fulfilling and rewarding moments of my life.
The best part though, is that I still have 4 more days here 😀