Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Church and Afternoon Beach Party- Rapa Nui Style

We had read that the Sunday morning Catholic church service was a unique experience, so we decided to go. The priest wore a gorgeous feather head piece with his robes. His assistants wore flower leais around their heads, even the nun wore a floral wreath around her headpiece as did many of the parishioners. A lot of the ladies wore flowers in their hair.

During a quiet part of the service, an older grandma's cell phone went off. She picked it up and said something in Rapa Nui, probably "I'm in church, can't talk" before hanging up. Some things are the same all over. 

The whole service was in Spanish and the Rapa Nui language. The music was great. There were a number of musicians with guitars and ukuleles with a strong drum beat in the background. And when people sang, they put everything into seems like the walls were reverberating. Such a joyful experience.

After church, we took the jeep to Ahu Akiva where you can do a hike to the top of Terevaka, an extinct volcano. After an hour of constant uphill walking with the top still not in sight, I uttered some expletives and plunked my bottom on the grass and refused to take another step.  It took us half the time to get down.

We next drove to Anakena Beach. The parking areas were packed and people were still arriving by car, motorbike, atv and horse. There were a few party tents set up. Some selling drinks, another serving food made in huge bbq pits, another for musicians who were jamming. From time to time, some musicians would leave and other ones come. It was quite informal. The music was all local music.

In another area a group of drummers were creating a Tahitian type beat.

It was a real party atmosphere with many large groups of families and friends. Some people doing their own bbq and most people were lounging in the shade of the palm trees. The beach was also packed with locals enjoying their Sunday. Apparently this happens every week.

As John and I sat under our palm tree, a local lady came over and offered us a plate filled with food from the bbq. I guess she had one plate too many. They had sweet potatoes, potatoes, empanadas, pork done in the big bbq pit and something that I don't know what it was but it was good.

After lounging for a long time, we went down to the white sand beach and took a dip in the ocean. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be. 

Too soon it was time to head out. We next went to Ahu Tongariki (my favourite ahu). After sitting back and taking it in, we took a few last pictures and headed home.

I couldnt help but notice that the dead horse was still there.

We went out for sunset in Tahai again.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Cows, Horses and Chickens...oh my!

Today was a pretty relaxed day. We drove throug the centre of the island to Puna Pau Quarry...this is where they quarried the reddish rock for the moai's topknots. There was a great view of the only town on Easter island (Hanga Roa). About 5000 people live there. Personally, I feel there are more horses, cows and chickens wandering around this island than people.

Our next stop was Ahu Akivi which is the only grouping of moai that look out to sea. They are astrogically aligned with the spring and fall equinoxes. Unfortunately the morning was not the best time to see them because their faces were in the shade so we decided to return later.

We went to the another moai site, Ahu Akahanga. This was a larger site with more knocked over moai and the remnants of a village.

We continued our drive along the coast and went back to the gorgeous Anakena Beach. We had to slow down and sometimes stop the car due to horses and cows being on the road.

 Unfortunately by the time we reached the beach, it had clouded over so we just had lunch at one of the beach restaurants. Chickens were running all over the place including in the restaurant. I must confess, I encouraged them by dropping a few crumbs on the ground.

While on the island I have developed quite the attraction to cinder cones, little mini-volcanoes that are everywhere here... so cute as long as they don't belch out any lava. ( I have not developed an attraction...John added that).

We returned to our apartment for a rest before going back to Ahu Akiva in the late afternoon. The moai were much easier to see with the sun shining on their faces.

Just before sunset it clouded over so we stayed in and watched a tv show on John's iPad.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Everything you want to know about Moai but were Afraid to Ask

We were blessed with another sunny day. We were off in the jeep to check out more moai sites. Once again we passed many horses and cows roaming around free, we also saw a dead horse lying in a field.

We drove straight to Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater and the quarry where 95% of the moai on the island were 'born'... carved out of the sides of the crater. Here we were able to see the moai in all stages of their development.

Let me take a few steps back. Before we arrived to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), my knowledge of moai consisted of what I picked up in the movie "Night at the Museum" and travel photos. Moai are what Rapa Nui s best known for... monolithic statues of people carved between 1250 and 1500 AD. It took about two years to carve each moai.

Contrary to popular belief, the moai do not look out to sea, they look inwards to the land...towards the clan that created them in order to give protection. The moai were then moved from the quarry to sites around the island where they were erected on an 'ahu' or ceremonial platform. At some point in the process  before or after being placed on the ahu the moai were given their hats called a topknot carved from a different coloured rock from another quarry. How the moai and topknots were transported is still a mystery with various theories involving sleds, logs and ropes.

Rano Raraku was my absolute favourite site so far. To start  the setting on the side of the crater is beautiful. There were so many of these unique statues  (almost 400)  scattered around the hillside. Mostly you just see the head and neck leaving 2/3  of the moai's body still buried 15-20 feet in the ground. Quite the spectacle.

In other sections the moai bodies were still being carved from the rock. Other completed moai were lying face down as if suddenly abandoned before they could be transported. 

After gawking at all the moai, we hiked up the extinct volcano for a great view of the inside of its crater. Wild horses were grazing around the rim.

After leaving the quarry, we stopped by the ocean side for our picnic lunch. The water was gorgeous with vibrant shades of cobalt, sapphire, aqua and turquoise. Some of the blues were so bright they were practically florescent. The waves crashing to the shore took our breath away.

We drove past a few more moai sites but decided to save them for our return trip when the afternoon light would show them at their best.

Our next stop was Anakena Beach with its vibrant blue waters, fine white sand and shore lined with elegant palm trees. The best part was that there was no hotel or resort within miles and miles of the beach, just a few grass roofed beach restaurants and a bathroom. There was also a well preserved grouping of moai and a lone moai near the beach. Totally stunning.

We stopped at other moai sites including Te Pito Kura (largest moai on the island at 70-90 tons but sadly lying face down on the ground) and Papa Vaka (petroglyphs).

However my second favourite site (so far) on the island was Ahu Tongariki which is a grouping of fifteen moai on an ahu.

These moais were short, tall, fat, skinny and all with different facial features.

They recommend seeing these moai at sunrise but then the sun rises behind them and leaves their front in darkness. John and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them with the afternoon light shining on their faces.

We headed back to town. Some cows crossed the road in front of us and then got spooked by something they saw on the other side and started to run right infront of us again. Yikes.

We spent the rest of the afternoon with a nice drink and treats in the courtyard of our accommodations at Chez Hiva. We are going to do something different for sunrise tonight, instead of drinking wine and watching the sun set behind the Tahai moai, we will eat popcorn, drink wine and watch the sun set behind the Tahai moai.

I must admit, this is a bit more relaxing than Santiago.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Touring Around Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui)

Another gorgeous, sunny day in Rapa Nui (Easter Island)...and thank goodness because there is not a lot to do here if it is raining.

We went to the bakery to pick up our rental car and some food for lunch. They had the fattest beagle that I have ever was like a beach ball. 

Renting a car on the island is rather different than usual. None of the big car rental agencies like Hertz, Avis etc have offices here. You can rent a car from an agency like Oceanic or Insular which have websites you can book through, or smaller agencies where you walk-in off the street or from locals who rent out their personal car to make extra money.

We did the "rent from a local" which happened to be the family running the bakery up the street from our accommodations. There is no contract, they don't ask or care if you have a driver license or insurance. Just pay the daily rate and you get the keys. So I gave the fee for a four day rental to a nice lady and got the keys to a Suzuki Jimmy. Each night we park the car in her driveway.

Even with the regular rental agencies, there is no insurance coverage. If you damage the car you pay to fix it. We paid $40,000 Chilean pesos a day which is $10,000 pesos less than the rates charged by the car rental agencies for the same car. It seems that almost everyone on the island drives a Suzuki.

We needed lunch food because there are no restaurants outside of the main town and only one gas station on the whole island so we need to have food with us if we are not going back to the town for lunch.

The paved roads have lots of pot holes and many of the dirt roads are pretty rutted. However I am truly enjoying the lack of over development here. It is a gorgeous island.

Most people get around by jeep, motorcycle, bicycle and ATV but there are number of people that get around on horseback. It is not unusual to have to slow down or stop because horses or cows are walking on the roads. Goodness knows where their owners are. I have also seen numerous dogs running after cars....and the chickens are everywhere!

Our first stop was an overlook where you get a great view of the southern part of the island. Then we continued to Rano Kau Volcano, Easter Island's largest volcano, where we checked out its amazing crater which has a reed-filled lake at the bottom. The crater has unique plant life due to people and animals not having access. 

A short drive away is the ancient archeological site of Orongo Village. The site has 50 ancient stone dwellings and is the place where the ancient Birdman competitions took place. Each village on Rapa Nui had a representative to compete in a treacherous swimming and climbing challenge to a small rocky island  to see who would collect the first bird egg of the season. The winner became the leader Rapa Nui  for the next year. Your national park ticket let's you into this site only once.

We had our picnic lunch overlooking the ocean.

Our next stop was Ahu Vinapu. We practically had this place all to ourselves. Although the moai were all fallen (on their faces), it was still impressive to see the tightly carved blocks making the platform walls which reminded us of the perfectly fitted Inca walls. The site also had the only female moai, but I had problems making out how it was female.

Our final stop was Ahu Vaihu. We practically had this place to ourselves as well. These moai were also toppled over but the location by the sea was stunning. 

On our way back to our apartment, I sighted a larger than tiny supermarket where we found a few more food choices.

We spent the last few hours of the afternoon doing laundry and enjoying a drink in our courtyard before heading out to watch the sunset behind the Tahai Moais.

National Parks ticket- $80 US per person. Good for all the Easter Island parks over a ten day period

Chez Hiva- 

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Easter Island (Rapa Nui)- Day 1

The day dawned bright and sunny. I was awake early because some psychotic rooster started crowing long before dawn and kept going.

We made our way down to the waterfront, passing a primary school with a very large and  interesting choice of sculpture outfront.

At the waterfront we saw a large sea turtle, schools of fish and a lone puffer fish.

We passed a large cemetary that was uniquely Rapa Nui with its mix of traditional sculpture and current day touches.

We then walked to one if the nearby maoi sites- Ahu Tahai- which I was excited to see. The moai were even more impressive in person. At this site there are the remains of 5 standing moai and two off on their own. One of the two still has his top knot and eyes have been added to indicate how the moai may have looked

It is easy to tell that you are on a Polynesian Island. The beautiful flowers, the volcanic formations and the artwork are reminiscent of Hawaii but Easter Island is less developed.

So far I haven't found a large grocery store. There is a limited amount of choice in foods because most things need to be brought in from the mainland and the closest islands are over 1000 km away. It is really quite remote. There is only one airline that flies here.  I also don't recall seeing any buildings taller than one story.

After paying homage to the moai, we visited the museum. There was no cost to the Rapa Nui Museum. They didn't have many archeological pieces but they did have a lot of information abour the history of the island and first peoples.

There are dogs running free all over the island...some have collars, others not. This is yet another place where you have to watch where you step.

Two dogs met up with us just outside the museum and followed us the whole way back into town. They even stopped and waited for us outside when we went into the odd shop before continuing with us to the main street in town. Once we arrived, they just went on their way.

We rested for a short bit at our place before heading to the nearby bakery to get some pastries and rent a vehicle for a few days. Yep, we rented a car at the bakery.

In the afternoon we once again passed the primary school. The kids were singing and dancing to local music but the big statue from up front was gone...?...

We went onto the main street to try a recommended (by TripAdvisor) restaurant called Club Sandwich for lunch. I have not had a hotdog in ages but  travellers we have met, one of our tour guides and TripAdvisor say you have to try the hot dogs in Chile. John had one with tomatoes, avocado and mayonnaise and I had one with sour kraut, tomatoes, mayonnaise, onions and more. They weren't on your usual bun and they were so laden that you were hard pressed to find the weiner but it tasted good.

We made our way to one of the many icecream shops before walking along the seashore.

We passed a resort that had many black flags and signs saying that the resort was built on an ancient burial site and that it is bad tabu. The black tattered flags did look awfully creepy.

Surfers were catching some waves in one area.

There are few signs of the manifestations (protests) here. There is not any graffiti but there are paper signs around.

We made our way back to our apartment where I napped while John made supper. This hacking cough had really zapped my energy.

After supper, we grabbed a small bottle of wine and made our way back to Ahu Tahai to watch the sunset. Many other people, both tourists and locals also wanted to mark the days end in the same manner. Awesome.

Santiago to Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Joseph (our Airbnb host) drove us to the airport at 3:00am for our 6:30am flight to Easter Island. It was a good thing we went early because there was some Easter Island form that needed to be filled out online but then the site was down so after waiting ages we were told that the police would manually do the form. After going to another place in the airport we were told our gates were someplace else and we never did fill in the form- maybe that will happen when we arrive (it didn't).

A lot of family and friends were saying that it was too bad that things like museums were closed and that the protests were going on while we were in Santiago. We definately had a different experience than planned here but I do not wish it to have been any different. It was one of those times in life that I actually felt like I was watching history happen. I was not afraid. There was something very powerful to see the people; old, young, male, female coming together to make a difference in the status quo of many decades. There was an energy and hope that can't be described. If you asked local people what they thought of the "manifestations" as they called them, every single last one who answered us said they were happy about them. I found that answer strange at first, but as we witnessed things, we grew to understand. 

We also took the earthquake in stride because no one else was freaking out. It is just part of life in this part of the world.

Now the Starbucks here is a bit of a mystery. Today I stood in line forever at the airport Starbucks. When my turn came, I pointed to the overpriced cheese scone and was told (despite there being two) that I couldnt have it. I then pointed to some other cheese thing of which there were three and I was told I couldn't have that one either. Really? The same thing happened to John yesterday when he tried to buy a cookie in a different Starbucks.

The five hour flight to Easter Island was uneventful except forvthe landing when the captain had to do a "go round" because it was too foggy for him to see the runway the first time.

It was pouring rain when we arrived to Rapu Nui (Easter Island) and continued to pour all day. Our host said it had been raining for days. I was feeling exhausted and had a hacking cough to the point that I fully expected to cough up a lung.

We checked into our Airbnb which is a short walk to the main street. It is great, we have a full kitchen, sitting area, comfy bed and good sized bathroom. We even have our own washing machine...but directions are in Spanish.

In the rain we checked out the bakery and main street and picked up some groceries. We sloshed back to our room and John cooked up some pasta. Most food is very expensive...  anything that has to he flown or shipped here, so pasta may be on the menu for a few nights. I had an early night and hopefully will feel better in the morning. Hopefully the rain will also have stopped.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Valparaisio, Protests and an Earthquake

We were in front of our apartment waiting for our tour guide to pick us up at 7:10am. An older gentleman was taking pictures of the graffiti and the memorial at the front of our building. The memorial was for sixteen people killed by police the week before. These sixteen were of all ages, one looking as young as seven years old, both men and women. There was even a clown among the killed. 

We spoke to the man who was a local. He said we are lucky to have been here for what he described as three peaceful days because the protests had been worse earlier.

Of the people we have spoken to, they are all glad that people are finally standing up against the corruption and injustices. The police are an arm of this corrupt government. 

The bus picked us up and we made our way out of the city to the Casablanca wine region where we stopped at a winery. It seems that once again I was partaking in wine before 10am.

At first, I thought the winery looked unattractive, but then they explained that they put large metal shipping containers in front of all the glass doors and windows so that the glass doesn't get destroyed if there are protests.

Valparaiso was our main stop. This city on the ocean is set amongst 45 different hills and its buildings have a mix of fading grandeur with vibrant graffiti art. There is something unexpected around every corner. Many of the houses are painted in bright colors and artwork is on walls, doors, stairs... anywhere you can put paint.

There are fourteen elevators to take you up and down different hills but currently only seven are working.

Our next stop was the floral clock in Vina del Mar which is just north of Valparisio. However, the government had taken away the clock hands so that they are not damaged during any protests.

We stopped at a museum that had an original Moa statue from Easter Island in the front. It is
one of only eleven that were taken from Easter Island. John and I felt that there was some resemblance to him so I just had to take a shot.

We stopped for lunch at a higher end waterfront restaurant. I am sure the tour company got kick backs for that stop.

Finally we stopped for twenty minutes at the beach. It was too cold to go in but it was nice to sit in the sun.

We got back into Santiago about 4pm. We decided to go out to eat across the river in the Bellavista area. We walked through the main park that is the centre for the protests but it was pretty quiet.

We ate at a Peruvian restaurant then went out for ice cream. Everything was normal in the Bellavista area. John grabbed a Starbucks coffee for our walk across the river back to our apartment. The most direct route to our apartment is through Plaza Italia, one of the main protest areas.

Tonight the place was packed with protesters in the thousands. My eyes were stinging with the tear gas. A tire fire was set on one of the streets which was barricaded. John continued to sip his Starbucks. This was the largest protest we had seen since arriving.

We made it through the crowds with no problem. People were singing, chanting, yelling and waving flags but they were peaceful and we saw no violence although some street lights had been pulled down. Infront of our apartment was a large van filled with riot police.

Inside the apartment we started packing as we leave tomorrow for Easter Island. The racket outside got increasingly louder. Poor Mel (the dog) was shaking so I cuddled her in our room. 

While I was speaking on WhatsApp to my sister, the whole apartment started to shake. The windows rattled violently and the floor trembled. I thought that a police helicopter had decided to hover over us and John thought that maybe the large police armoured vehicles were rumbling down our street. 

Our host Joseph came to our room and told us that it was an earthquake. Chile has an earthquake website and within an hour we learned it was a 6.0 and the epicentre was just north of Santiago. 

The protests continued.  Unlike the other nights our street was filled with people. Hundreds were walking up the street chanting and banging drums. It was impressive how all the people came together. Things got really loud. We went out on the apartment balcony with Joseph and his friend and watched. We could hear many loud bangs which Joseph said were tear gas canisters exploding. It was clear that something was causing everyone to move up our street. Suddenly the crowds started looking back down the street and were yelling at the police just beyond our viewpoint. Then tear gas canisters were fired up our street at the protestors. Joseph immediately had us all get into the apartment and close any outside windows and doors as he had first hand experience with getting dosed with tear gas. 

We continued to hear the bang of tear gas canisters going off, helicopters flying overhead, shouting and yelling in the street and sirens everywhere. 

Easter Island is going to seem very tame after  Santiago. 

Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Day in Santiago

Today we had time to walk around the city as part of a walking tour and also on our own. Santiago has many parks and neighborhoods and without the current troubles it would be a beautiful city in which to spend some time.

However the demonstrations have resulted in many buildings being covered in graffiti, many stores and restaurants near the protest areas are closed, large areas have no operating traffic lights as they have been damaged and all the museums have been closed indefinitely. We walked by some buildings which had been burned.

There were some areas where things seemed normal so we had a sense of what the city was like before the protests.

We started the morning by walking to Plaza de Armas, the meeting point for our 10am walking tour with

On the way the destruction from the protests was clearly visible.

As we walked on the sidewalk we became the target of a pickpocket attempt. Suddenly a large amount of mustard fell on John and I from the building above. My first thought was that it was crap from a very ill bird but then I could smell the mustard. It was in my hair, on my backpack and on my jeans. I saw a woman coming towards me with a kleenex. I just looked at her, put up my hand and forcibly said "No". She quickly backed off.

You see, this is an old trick that we had read about. Someone throws something on you and a different person supposedly comes to your aid with a tissue but while they are wiping you off they pick pocket you. There are various versions of this scam such as 'accidently' spilling a drink on the person etc. John and I continued walking a few blocks and then stopped and wiped each other off before continuing.

Our walking tour started from the historical Plaza de Armes. John and I had time to look inside the Cathedral before starting the tour.

Our tour guide Leon voiced the same views about the protests as all the other young people we talked with - they regret the damage to the city but they are happy about the protests as something has to be done to cause change. Although Chile is in the top 30 of the world's wealthiest nations its ranks last in terms of income equality in that group. Half of Chilean workers make $550 US or less a month. 

We were unable to even glimpse the Presidential Palace and Constitution Plaza because the streets were cordoned off by police for several blocks around and neither people or vehicles were allowed inside.

We went into the beautiful old financial district. All the museums we passed were closed because of the protests or being on strike.

Santiago has some beautiful parks. A lot of them are in temporary ruins due to the protests...the grass and flower gardens are totally trampled and then there is the graffiti all over everything.

We went to an area filled with special cafes whose customers are mainly older men. Young, pretty girls in very short and tight black dresses and high heels work as servers. The counters inside the cafes are made of clear glass so that you can still see their legs. Creepy, old men frequent these cafes. The girls talk to them and give them kisses on their cheeks and for all the attention they give the men they expect big tips.

We stopped in the trendy Lastarria area for a drink and quick snack before continuing our tour.

We crossed to the other side of the river, where we walked through the Bellevista area which is filled with attractive restaurants and cafes that were actually open. This neighbourhood seemed unaffected by the demonstrations and we felt like we were in a normal city again.

The tour ended in Bellevista. My ankle was killing me.

After the tour we took a funicular up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal which is a very large hill in the centre of the city. The park on top is said to be twice the size of New York's Central Park.

We walked around San Cristobal taking in the great views  of the city spread out below. After taking the funicular back down, we went for drinks and supper at Galindo. I had a Caipirina drink which was rather strong...which was probably a good thing because we had to cross the protests to get back to our Airbnb.

One thing about travel is that you get to have new experiences. Well John and I can now say that we have experienced tear gas.

Today's protests were themed around bikes. It was a peaceful protest, in that they were only driving their bikes around and around the square but still the police were there with their armoured vehicles unleashing water cannons and tear gas on the bicyclists. John and I saw a big puff of smoke go off and the next thing I know is that we are both coughing and sneezing with a burning feeling in our nose and throat.

We got back to our place no problem and checked out what was going on with the protests from our window whenever things got loud.