Lots of international flights seemed to arrive at Santiago Airport late at night, meaning that clearing customs and immigration took forever. It was after two in the morning when I was officially in Chile. With the Easter Island flight departing at 0935, I needed to find somewhere to sleep. What few chairs that were around had already been taken. I spotted a closed restaurant with all of its seats stacked on the tables. There were some booths that were not cordoned off. It was either this or the floor so I settled down on a booth seat, fully expecting a tap on the shoulder and to be moved on at some point. That never happened though and I managed to sleep until about 6am. It wasn’t a bad night’s sleep by any means.
The only way you can fly to Easter Island is from Santiago. There’s usually only one flight a day, although it’s a big one, a 787 Dreamliner. The plane was also pretty fancy with excellent tellies and window blinds that didn’t require pulling anything up or down. Instead a button made the glass turn either lighter or darker, something that kept me amused for a good while! That said Santiago to Easter Island is and expensive route. The choice or airlines is LATAM, LATAM or LATAM! A return cash flight would usually cost in the region of £500-£700 although after much searching I was thankfully able to get an Avios airmiles redemption for much less. With a flight time of almost six hours I was looking forward to watching some films although I fell asleep after the first one, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, which was alright. Without wishing to name-drop, Adam Devine, who I saw rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed on a cruise a couple of years ago seems to be a bone fide film star nowadays.
At around 1pm, over two full days after leaving Cartagena, I had arrived on Easter Island. Instead of having 72 hours there, I was down to 48, but I just had to make the best of it. The airport was a bit of a sight to be seen. Its runway covered almost the entire width of the island. The terminal building was smaller than the bus stations in most British provincial towns. 300-odd passengers around the small luggage conveyor belt was also interesting. I was greeted at the airport by the owner of the hotel where I would be staying. She presented me with the traditional Polynesian welcome gift of a flower necklace. I’d have felt a bit of a burk wearing it if everyone else wasn’t adorned in something similar. It would have been rude and somewhat culturally insensitive not to wear it, at least for a bit. I suppose that in the middle of the south Pacific, I should at least try to embrace it. On the way back to the hotel we were given a tour of Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island. Hanga Roa was the only part of the island that could be even remotely described as built up, with a population around 4000 of the 6000 Easter Island inhabitants. The tour lasted less than five minutes as essentially the town consisted of a main street, a few back roads and a small harbour area. It was here that I witnessed my first moai statue with my own eyes.
With time on Easter Island at a premium, I headed straight out to have a look at the Museo Antropologico. It was only a small place but admission was free, making it pretty much the best deal you’ll find on the island. The museum provided a basic knowledge of the history of the island and its people, while promoting the indigenous Rapa Nui culture and heritage. You got the impression that Easter Island history has been obtained from oral accounts and conflicting modern scientific theories. A degree of uncertainty remains which gives the place a degree of mystique. What makes Easter Island unique from the other Polynesian islands are the moai, the ceremonial statues constructed to commemorate clan ancestors in Rapa Nui culture between the ninth and seventeenth centuries. Ever since childhood, I’ve always been fascinated by such this amazing engineering feat.
There was a nice walk along a coastal path from the museum back into town. The sea was quite rough and although there’s a sheltered beach near the harbour in Hanga Roa where you can have a paddle, it’s more of a surfing sort of place. The path passed next to the Ahu Tahai archaeological site, home to some impressive restored moai, which I believe is the correct plural for moai.
The time zone Easter Island in seemed a bit strange. For some reason mainland Chile is -3 hours compared to GMT. This is despite being on a similar longitude to Colombia which is -6 GMT. Easter Island is two hours behind Santiago, meaning that at -5 GMT it shares the time with the East coast of the USA, even though it is located almost halfway between South America and New Zealand. That said, the time did seem to actually fit the day quite well. One of the advantages of Easter Island’s location was that with it approaching summer in this part of the world, it didn’t go dark until about 9pm. This gave you longer to see stuff in daylight, compared to Columbia where it was pitch black before 6pm. Conversely the main disadvantage of being stuck almost as far away from civilisation as is humanly possible, is that prices on Easter Island tend to be expensive. I’m not sure if this is for the logistical reasons of transporting goods over 7000 miles from the mainland or having a captive market of affluent tourists. It’s probably a bit of both. Admission to the national park, which was essentially most of the island, was about £30. I heard quite a few people moaning about how this was a rip-off but if it’s used towards conservation and preservation of the sites, I didn’t begrudge paying this. Food was expensive, around £15 for a pizza or a pasta meal. My room had a kitchen and you could find stuff in the supermarkets that wasn’t too hideously priced. Unsurprisingly the heavier and bulkier stuff was dear, such as a jar of mayonnaise costing around £5. Alcohol also wasn’t cheap although I managed to go a couple of days without getting the urge to drink £6 pints. For those insisting upon drinking though, you could bring as much reasonably priced Chilean wine from Santiago Airport as you could carry onto the flight. I spotted two cash machines on Easter Island. One charged £5 for the pleasure of dispensing your own money. Obviously such a fee this wasn’t sufficient for Santander to maintain their profits of over £1 billion during the last quarter. Their ATM wanted £6.25 per transaction. I suppose they need to line the pockets of those mogadons, Hamilton, McIlroy and Ennis in those dreadful adverts!