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Calliope's Odyssey "If you smile at me, I will understand, 'cause that is something everybody, everywhere does in the same language." -CSNY

Rod Stewart is to Easter Island as Tom Jones is to El Conti.

CHILE | Wednesday, 30 May 2007 | Views [2954] | Comments [1]

My week long trip to Easter Island began with the appropriate apparel: adventure clothes. You know...extra-heavy-duty-gortex hiking boots, fannypacks, cowboy hats, and camoufloge bandanas, all of which feature super-duper-quick-dry technology. My travel buddies, Ellen and Liz, and I don't tend to sport this sort of attire, so we felt slightly out of place at our gate, where the vast majority of our fellow travelers looked like they were about to go on an African Safari or climb Mount Everest. As we scarfed down Dunkin' Doughnuts, we pondered whether we were going to be required to parachute out of the plane and someone failed to inform us about it.

Fortunately for us, the closest we got to jumping from the plane was disembarking right on the runway rather than at a gate, since Easter Island's airport is so tiny that it doesn't have gates. As a traditional Polynesian greeting, we were given lei flower necklaces by Edith, a native of the island and the owner of Hotel Taura'a, where we would be staying. Although the "real coffee" that Hotel Taura'a advertised turned out to be Folger's (I admit it, I'm a coffee snob), we loved our stay there. As young travelers, normally we stay in hostels, but we decided to splurge on this occasion. Edith and her Australian husband Bill were overjoyed to have a more youthful feel at their hotel for once and proceeded to tell us their life stories, offer us parental advice on life in general, and spoil us with all kinds of attention.

Once we got settled in we asked ourselves, "what should we do?" This may seem like an absurd question for three young gringas who have just landed in the most remote inhabited place on earth. However, we were celebrating our three month anniversary of arriving in Santiago, population seven million. The island's only town, Hanga Roa, felt as though it had a population of about seven hundred. Culture shock! Luckily, Bill sensed our distress and gave us some ideas for a walking tour around town.

We followed Bill's advice and got a bite to eat, admired the ocean views, visited the town cemetary, went to the museum, and, most importantly, saw our first moai head statues. Our first instinct upon seeing the moai was to wonder "are those real?" Again, a seemingly ridiculous question, but the statues were not only enormous, but interspersed throughout the town. It just seemed odd that the town of Hanga Roa was allowed to overlap with the site of these historic icons.

While wandering among the moai, we deviated from the path and down to the tide pools where we discovered a little cave. While we were inspecting it, we suddenly heard a voice and realized that we were being watched by an unkempt middle-aged man holding a piece of moldy bread. "¿Qué están haciendo en mi isla?" (what are you doing on my island?), he inquired. I mumbled something about traveling as we speed-walked away. After our initial freak-out session about this incident, we joked about making a "Scary Movie: Easter Island" in which "Moldy Bread" would be the villain. However, I couldn't help wondering whether the Polynesian greeting and hospitality was simply a tourist scam. I wanted to know how the Rapa Nui people actually did feel about tourists.

My doubts were expunged from my memory once we discovered this trendy little Asian inspired restaurant down the road from our hotel. We frequented the restaurant for the rest of the week for its food, cocktails, and live traditional Rapa Nui music, not to mention its handsome bartender! After a performance, Kunki, a brave member of the band, approached our table. About 30 seconds later, the remaining members of the band, the bartender, and 2 rather intoxicated middle-aged men had descended upon us.

Hold that image for a second. Have I mentioned yet that Rapa Nui people are the most beautiful people in the world? Actually, to put it more blatantly, they are hot. I send my apologies to the people of Brazil and Buenos Aires, but it's true. I just wanted to make sure that you could accurately invision our astonished reaction to being surrounded by such good-looking men, instruments in hand. Minus the two old drunk guys, of course!

Ok, so to pick up where I left off, the members of the band picked up their instruments and started to serenade us with Rapa Nui songs. I am one to find this sort of move a bit cheesy, but the male voice in Rapa Nui music is so soft and alluring that it almost won me over. Abruptly, I tumbled out of my trance when I realized that they had switched into a song in English. And not just any song in English, but "The Color of my Heart" by Rod Stewart! Even the bartender and the two drunks joined in! To make it even better, most of them didn't speak English and were just reciting the lyrics phonetically. My friends and I managed to mask our bewilderment until we returned to our hotel room.

The great advantage of befriending these guys is that we didn't have to take ridiculously overpriced tours of the island; they showed us around for free. The next day Kunki, his brother, and his friend Ricky took us hiking up a volcanoe (inactive, don't worry). The greens, browns, and whites of reed islands were scattered throughout the ocean-blue water that had collected in the volcanoe's crater, giving it the illusion of a satellite photo of Earth.

Before splitting up for a few hours of rest, Ricky invited us to come over later for an asado (cookout) at his family's home. We headed over later that night, and within approximately 5 minutes I felt as though I had know these people forever. Rapa Nui families are huge; Edith is one of 22 siblings. Consequently, many of the people at Ricky's asado were related to Edith in some way and were excited to find out that we were staying at her hotel. Rather than displaying the anti-Americanism that I have encountered so often while traveling, they were curious about our culture, as well as our travels. Most of them had only visited mainland Chile a handful of times throughout their lives. The picture they painted the South American continent, which they referred to as "el conti," was almost romantic. To them, life as we know it in mainland America is as exotic, mysterious, and far-removed as we perceive life on Easter Island.

After we finished our cuba libres, we received our next lesson on Rapa Nui culture: these people know how to party. Ricky's family accompanied us to Topatangi, a bar popular with all ages because of its live music. And when I say all ages, I mean all ages. Men and women old enough to be my grandparents danced alongside kids in their early teens. Not dancing is not an option at Topatangi, so by 3 am Liz, Ellen, and I were too exhausted to make it to the real party. We headed back to the hotel to pass out while our new Rapa Nui family headed to the discoteca. My conclusion stands that if the Rapa Nui can outparty kids from the University of Wisconsin, they can outparty anyone.

Although we were con caña (a little hungover) the following morning, we had promised Torea, the bartender from our restaurant, that we would go boating with him. We naively got into Torea's fishing boat with our cameras, towels, and wallets, despite his warnings that we were going to get wet. How bad could it be? Five minutes later I was more soaked than I have ever been in my life. Luckily, the guys had brought a cooler and we threw our stuff in there. As the towers of water surrounding us grew taller, our concern increased that we were going to either a.) throw up or b.) get thrown from the boat. So Ellen, Liz, and I reacted in the best way we knew how to: grasping onto one another for dear life and screaming at the top of our lungs, on top of our constant, histerical laughter. The guys were used to boating in the ocean, of course, so they found our reaction quite amusing. We were not so amused when we realized that they were sitting in the best positions and were completely dry. The good news is that we made it out in one piece. The better news is that they caught two beautiful tuna, which Torea cooked for us over an open flame on Anakena beach later that afternoon. The bad news is that Ellen's camera was completely destroyed from the salt water...

Our final day in Hanga Roa we rented a jeep with two members of the band, Ivan and Rod (Tico is his real name, but coincidentally, he actually looked a lot like Rod Stewart, hence the nickname). On the way to our first destination, a volcanoe that is home to hundreds of moai, Ivan and Rod started to sing Rapa Nui songs. They quickly moved on to...you guessed it! Rod Stewart's "The Color of my Heart". Ellen, Liz, and I aren't really fans of Rod Stewart and didn't even know the words, so the Rapa Nui boys taught us the words and made us sing along. I decided that their fascination with Rod Stewart is as inexplicable as continental Chile's fascination with Tom Jones.

We arrived to the volcanoe and wandered among the moai, which were about 4 times my height. Several never completed moai were still carved into the rock on the side of the volcanoe. We climbed to the top of the volcanoe to see the only female moai, and then sat down to take in the view. We continued on to several moai sites that we had not yet visited, followed by the beach, and then to a cave. Since we didn't have a flashlight, we had to feel our way through. After several minutes of trying not to hit my head or trip, a weak light came into view. Finally, we came across an opening in the side of a cliff on the waterfront. The twilight gave the water a shimmery silver color. As we sat in awe of the expanse of the ocean that separates Easter Island from the rest of the world, I asked myself if I could tolerate life on an island thousands of miles away from any other civilization.

As the restaurant began to clear out later that night, Torea gave us a round of drinks on the house and sat down to visit with us. He gave us the lowdown of what life is really like on the island. Most people don't study past high school, unless they go to mainland for a couple years to go to college. He doesn't feel inferior since he never went to college, because he possesses other types of intelligence unique to the island. They fish, play music, dance, and give impromptu tours for people like us. Most days they wake up without a plan and just see where the day takes them. The ultimate vida tranquila.

We returned to our hotel room and as we were getting ready for bed, we heard a knock on our door. The whole band was there, wanting to give us a sendoff. Of course they wanted to sing and -surprise surprise- we got to hear their rendition of Rod Stewart once again. We didn't want to wake up the other guests at the hotel, so we took the jeep down to the waterfront to see the moai one last time. The statues seemed even more immense with a night backdrop, and we danced around crazily in front of them as Manu played the ukelele.

Our flight left in the early afternoon the next day. We ran into Ivan and Rod at the airport. It turned out that Ivan's girlfriend was leaving for "el conti" on the same flight as us. We asked when she would be back and he shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. It was then that I realized that I couldn't live on Easter Island. Torea told us that many people who go to the mainland to study don't like life on the continent. While I felt closterphobic from the immense stretch of ocean that binds the island on all sides, undoubtedly the Rapa Nui feel overwhelmed by the expanse of land when they travel to the mainland.

It was about 8pm when we returned to Santiago, and the first thing I noticed when I stepped outside of the airport was a faint dishsoap-like scent in the air. Apparently it had been a particularly smoggy week. Like I realized that I could never live on Easter Island forever, I knew that Santiago wasn't really for me either. At this point, all I really did know was that Easter Island was quite the impressionable adventure. Sans adventure clothes.

Tags: adventures, chile, easter island, tom jones



Hey! you made it to the disco in Hanga Roa - I never managed to get there when it was open. They certainly love there 80's music there - I can't recall hearing any Rod Stewart though, just lots of 80's stuf & Shakira, alternating with polynesian style songs.

  stowaway Jun 29, 2007 10:38 AM

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