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Category: Easter Island / Rapa Nui

Easter Island, Chile: Taking a Day to Enjoy Ahu Tahai and Hanga Roa [Day 5]

As mentioned in my previous post on Rapa Nui, I’d managed to lose my camera on my fourth day on the island, but was determined to find it, mostly so that I would not lose the pictures I’d taken (it’s always about the pictures!).  I got up early, soon after sunrise, and set out on the long walk up the north coast to where we’d watched the sunset.  Since it was Sunday morning, I’d hoped to go to a church service to hear the hymns sung in Rapa Nui, but it was not to be this morning, although I passed another traveler on her way there and directed her to the church.

Luckily, I’d chosen the site we’d watched the sunset because there was an open, less rocky pathway towards it from the main road, and it was easily recognizable to me when I came across it again.  I saw the cove, and walked over to it, determined to search every inch of the black volcanic rock until I found my camera in its black camera case.  Thankfully, I didn’t search long; I suddenly remembered that I’d set down my backpack on a rock close to the entrance to the cove to pull out my camera case, where it might have fallen.  In one joyous moment, I spotted my camera lying where I’d thought it might be, resting against a large rock.  Words cannot express my excitement at being reunited with all those pictures!!

From there, I had to head back to the town, this time in the rising sun.  I managed to get some nice pictures in the morning light, illuminating the moai of Ahu Tahai from the front.

Morning from the North Coast of Rapa Nui - Ahu Tahai

It would have been fascinating to revisit all the other ahu at different moments of the day, just to see how the light differs there!

Morning from Ahu Tahai, Rapa Nui

I also walked past the always-stunning, cheerful Rapa Nui cemetery. This is the type of place where I’d like to be buried, surrounded by beautiful flowers celebrating my life.

Rapa Nui Cemetery

By the time I made it back to my residencial for breakfast, my feet were completely shredded. Long days of walking, in shoes perhaps not suited to it, had led me to get a number of blisters on the balls of my feet and toes.  I was limping, and my body was crying to me to take a day to just rest and recuperate. I decided to spend the day in Hanga Roa, make lunch, and then meet up with my friend to say goodbye before he headed on to his next adventure. One of the advantages to having so much time on the island is that I did not have to rush to squeeze everything in.

That evening, I decided to limp down to the water to watch the sunset again (and grab some more ice cream!). I knew my feet wouldn’t be able to carry me all the way to Ahu Tahai, so I sat in a park just on the outside of Hanga Roa, where some of the friendly, roaming dogs followed me. I enjoyed the golden sunset and simple colors, perhaps not as stunning as the night before, but still special.

Sunset from Hanga Roa

Sunset from Hanga Roa

Sunset from Hanga Roa

Sunset from Hanga Roa

And then I headed back to the residencial to do some research for the next day; I knew it was time for me to explore the south coast, and I was almost certain I was going to do it on bike.  After a day of recovery, I was ready to get out there and explore more ahu and visit the quarry where the moai came from.  I needed a good night’s rest.

Easter Island, Chile: Swimming at Anakena Beach and an Amazing Sunset [Day 4 on Rapa Nui, Part 2]

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

First glimpse of Anakena

After about four hours of riding along the north coast, we finally saw a glimpse of our final destination: the white sand of Anakena.  Doesn’t it look like paradise?  Green grass, black volcanic rocks, white sand, turquoise water, blue sky with dreamy white clouds?

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Approaching Anakena Beach

Fascinating clouds; approaching Anakena

I glanced up at the sky to see the clouds creating the most interesting patterns, a beautiful gift to a girl who loves clouds.

Anakena Beach

At Anakena Beach

We dismounted our horses at the edge of the beach, after seeing our guides’ younger brother, here with a group of friends, celebrating the end of the school year.  As it was Saturday, the beach was busy, even more so with recent high school graduates who camped out in the nearby campground with their friends.  I couldn’t wait to get on the beach and explore the ahu.

Ahu at Anakena Beach

Seven restored moai

The restored moai of Anakena are well-known due to their location at the only white sand beach on the island, a picturesque (and highly photogenic) place with green hills, palm trees, and the turquoise sea in the background.

Ahu at Anakena Beach

View of the moai with the ocean in the background

It’s interesting to visit the moai as an amazing, fascinating place while Rapa Nui residents are enjoying the location solely for its beach.  For us, it is a dream to see these statues; for residents, they may not even remember their presence on a normal summer day, when the cool, clear water beckons!

Views of Anakena Beach

Ahu at Anakena Beach

View of the hills and a moai in restoration; the main ahu of Anakena

After photographing the moai, my travel companion and I decided to get in the water.  We only had a short while to enjoy the beach before being picked up for our return to Hanga Roa.  Luckily, just as each moment of this trip was charmed, they somehow knew we’d need more time and did not come at the arranged time, which was good, because we lost track of time in the water.  After a long, hot day in the sun, it was nice to be able to cool off, swim around, and once again take a moment to appreciate the amazing surroundings.  After a while, my friend did a bit of snorkeling while I enjoyed a snack, sitting on the beach and observing people from afar.

Finally, the owner and his wife came to pick us up and drive us back across the island.  They were happy to hear that we’d had such a good time with their sons, and we asked them to thank them for us, since they’d already returned with the horses.

After getting back to Hanga Roa, we decided that we weren’t quite ready for the adventure to end, so we decided to meet up again after a quick shower and rest to trek up the north coast to view the sunset from an interesting location.  It was a very good decision.  This was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen.

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

We walked past Ahu Tahai and Hanga Kioe, and continued along the north coast. We were tempted to reach a cliff a little in the distance, but I spotted a nice cove where the view of the sunset would be unobstructed and we’d have an easier exit to the main road in the dark. We were the only people out there, and I wanted to be sure we didn’t get lost!

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

I still remember how I felt watching that sunset, even though it’s been six months. It felt like everything made sense at that moment; I was living my dream of visiting Rapa Nui, watching a gorgeous sunset, in the middle of nowhere, with a great companion for conversation. How cool is your life when you can do these things?

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

It made everything I’d been through to get to that moment absolutely worth it. It is all always worth it; it’s just harder at some moments than others. But these moments are rewards for patience and perseverance.

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

After enjoying the amazing sunset, I knew to linger on to watch how the sky would change afterwards.  Just as I suspected, the remaining light played with the clouds in the sky and started to paint them in shades of pink, peach, purple, and other pastels.

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

And then the colors deepened and grew richer.  (You can see the moon appearing at the top of the next photo.)

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

A beautiful pink sky, glowing orange and yellow near the horizon. Absolutely amazing.

Sunset from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

As the sky changed, we had started walking back towards town.  After pulling out my SLR camera to capture these pink moments, I suddenly realized that my point-and-shoot camera was missing. I’d taken it in and out of my camera case several times while removing the other, and somehow it had slipped away from me. I thought maybe I’d left it in the cove where we’d been sitting, but when we went back to check, it wasn’t there. Night kept falling, and neither of us had brought a flashlight, so I had to let it be, to accept the fact that I might have lost the photos of my entire day horseback riding. I decided to get up early the next day to head back out there to look again, and to not let this ruin a beautiful evening.

We walked back to the main road, and as we were following it into town, a bit disoriented in the dark landscape, a car approached us. Its driver, a friendly woman who lived in Hanga Roa, offered us a ride, but informed us that she did not really know how to drive the manual transmission car. We had a great chat and lots of laughs as the car stalled along the way, and the ride completely saved us a long walk back! From there, my friend and I decided to get dinner at the same sandwich shop we’d visited a few nights before, and then went to another bar, Dominican, on Rapa Nui, where they were playing live reggae music in Spanish and in Rapa Nui. It was a perfect way to end a long, very interesting day.

Easter Island, Chile: Exploring the North Coast on Horseback [Day 4 on Rapa Nui, Part 1]

One of the things I planned to do on Rapa Nui was go horseback riding.  Going riding again has been something I’ve wanted to do for years, and I hadn’t managed to make it happen until this trip.  The north coast of Rapa Nui, beyond Ahu Tepeu, is only able to be covered on foot or on horse due to all the rocks covering the gorgeous landscape.  I knew I wanted to see as much of the island as possible, and so did my travel buddy, so we organized a guided ride along the north coast to Anakena.

Posing on my horse!

Ruins on North Coast

Me on my horse; an old watering hole

We got picked up early in the morning to head to the home/stable where our guides lived.  As it turned out, our two guides were brothers who help out with the family business of riding and guiding when needed.  They were amazing people and we started out the day laughing, sharing stories, and enjoying each other’s company.  It was not your average, stale horseback tour; it was covering a long distance with new friends, seeing as much as possible, and letting things happen as they would.

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

From the beginning, the landscape was amazing.  The skies were clear, the grass was green, and the sea was its ever-impressive shade of blue.  The horses took their time on our way, and mine kept wanting to eat grass whenever I’d let him.  Our guides told me that he’d been on vacation and was being a bit lazy.

Boat House on the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

A boat house on the way; one of our guides ahead on the trail

The benefit of being with guides, rather than covering this rather lengthy distance on foot, is that they know the land well, and they can point out some interesting things you might not spot otherwise.  They showed us an old watering hole with a carving of a face, and while they couldn’t tell me much about it, I was glad to see it.  We also passed countless boat houses, which you can recognize by their canoe shape; they were narrow structures which had been covered with bamboo when they were in use.

Fallen Moai on the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Ancient Birthing Structure on North Coast of Rapa Nui

A fallen moai on the north coast; an ancient birthing house

And then there were the carvings we especially wanted to see; the moai.  I am sure there are countless more moai than those they showed us on our route.  The abandoned ahu and fallen moai are just so common for Rapa Nui locals that they don’t think it that interesting to explore every location.

Above, you also see the inside of a structure I crawled inside.  They told me that it was an ancient birthing house, where women went to have their babies.  I crawled on my back down a narrow pathway to enter the interior structure, which is open to the daylight above.  I wondered how pregnant woman were able to get in there, but our guides didn’t have many answers. 😉

Fallen Moai at an Ahu on the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Rock Art on the North Coast of Rapa Nu

More fallen moai; rock art

After seeing restored moai and larger sites with other fallen moai, it was interesting to just pass by these abandoned ahu with their moai sunken into the disarray of rocks.  I wonder how much history has and can be studied there; questions to save for my return to the U.S. when I can read more books about Rapa Nui!  We also saw some rock art with marine images and the well-known make-make symbol.

Make Make Rock Art in a Cave on the North Coast of Rapa Nui

We saw more of the make make when our guides took us to a cave covered in carvings of the symbol.  Our guides, along with another we encountered on our way, had to split up in order to find the cave.  They knew the general area where they could find it, but they had to search to actually come across it again.  It’s not marked in any way; you have to know where it is to see it.  I would never have seen this impressive cave otherwise.  Once inside the cave, everywhere you looked, you saw images of make make, which represents the god of the birdman cult. It was fascinating and special to be so close to rock art that had meant so much to the earlier culture.

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

As the guides said, this island is paradise.  You just have to gaze off into the endless blue expanse of the ocean to appreciate it.  Though the island’s past is incredibly troubled, the people have endured and appreciate their beautiful home.

Fallen Moai on North Coast of Rapa Nui

Posing with Our Group and the Fallen Moai on North Coast of Rapa Nui

Posing with the moai and the most pleasant company I could have asked for

Our guides then took us to another fallen moai.  They were intrigued by this one because of the differences in its features.  Since it lays face-up, you can observe the broadness of its nose, suggesting a different race than many of the long-nosed moaiMoai were build to represent the ancestors, so this represented people with distinctive features.  There are many questions about where the ancient Rapa Nui came from; this is just another mystery to ponder.

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

We continued along the north coast, keeping the ocean at our left.  The colors really were as amazing as they look in the pictures; it felt like you could film in technicolor there.  The sun beat down on us, but we continued laughing, enjoying the journey, every moment a great one shared among new friends.

Views from the North Coast of Rapa Nui

As the saying goes, life is the journey, not the destination.  And sometimes it takes special moments like this to remind us of it.

Easter Island, Chile: Heading on Foot and Hitchhiking to Vinapu, Puna Pao, Ahu Tahai, and Hanga Kioe [Day 3 on Rapa Nui]

On my third day on Rapa Nui, I was ready to continue exploring the island on foot.  At this point, my feet were still in pretty good shape, so I set out towards Vinapu, picking up some empanadas for the road.

As it turns out, the walk to Vinapu is a lot longer — and dustier — than I expected it to be. I got about halfway there before a pickup truck pulled up next to me and its driver offered me a ride, a classic example of the Rapa Nui hospitality.  Rapa Nui is so safe that it is more than okay to hitchhike and accept rides.  The generous driver worked for the power station which was right by Vinapu, and saved me quite some time in the hot, persistent sun.

Fallen Moai at Ahu Vinapu

View of the Rapa Nui South Coast from Vinapu

Arriving at Vinapu, I quickly saw that I was the only one there, though there were people closer to the water’s edge, picnicking or biking.  Stunned and appreciative of my surroundings, I approached the first ahu I’d seen with fallen moai.  Seeing these gorgeous statues tumbled to the ground with their pukao (topknots) scattered nearby was incredibly moving.  I sat near the ahu with my simple lunch of fruit and an empanada, taking in the scenery.

Pukao at Ahu Vinapu

View of the Rapa Nui South Coast from Vinapu

From there, I continued to walk around the site.  I approached different pukao, took in the gorgeous southern coast with the incredibly blue sea, and came around to the other side, where I saw more fallen moai and the impressive and unique stonework of the ahu.

Stonework at Vinapu and Moai Head

Stonework at Ahu Vinapu

The stonework at Vinapu is supposed to be particularly interesting because of the resemblance it bears to Incan stonework.  People, like me, who visit from Peru are especially encouraged to check it out for that reason!

Moai at Ahu Vinapu

Stonework at Ahu Vinapu

It’s interesting to inspect the moais‘ heads up close, and wonder about how they got there, which ancestor they represented, and why they ended up being toppled over.  There are lots of theories, and each seems rather heartbreaking.

From Vinapu, I headed back down the dirt road towards the main road.  Soon after I passed the power station, another man passed by to offer me a ride to the main road, saying that I had a long way to cover on foot.  After talking about my plans to walk to the next closest site on the south coast, he suggested that I head to Puna Pao instead, and generously went out of his way to take me to the intersection of the road leading up towards it.

Horse at Puna Pau

Horses at Puna Pau

When I arrived to Puna Pao, I found myself alone — well, with the exception of a few horses grazing nearby. I sat under a tree for a little while and ate another snack, appreciating the brief moments out of the sun.

Pukao at Puna Pau

Pukao at Puna Pau

Then I headed up the hill to look out over the rocks spotting the landscape.  The pukao, or topknots, were carved out of this stone; Puna Pao is known for being the quarry where the pukao were born.  You can see the quarry and scattered, abandoned pukao in the picture on the right.

Views from Puna Pau
Hills near Puna Pau

When you reach the top of the hill, there is yet another wonderful panoramic view of Rapa Nui, including Hanga Roa and the nearby hills.  The greenery of the local farmlands is lovely, as are the views of the town as you look out towards the sea.

Views from Puna Pau

Views from Puna Pau

As I headed back down the hill, a few tour buses pulled up, and I knew it was time to head on my way.  I walked back to the main road, and as I was walking around it, beginning the long journey back to Hanga Roa, I saw a car pass, turn around, and then head back towards me.  Two women pulled up alongside me and asked me if I needed a ride; they were Chileans visiting from the mainland, and had spotted me walking and turned around just to pick me up!  So kind.  We had a nice chat as they drove into town to mail some postcards, and they dropped me off at my hostel.

At this point in the day, I was covered in dust and needed a break, so I decided to hop in the shower and relax for a bit before heading out to take in more of the island.  I’m sure I stopped for ice cream that day too. 🙂

Coast of Rapa Nui

Statue near Hanga Roa

Walking along the north coast outside of Hanga Roa never failed to amaze with the beauty of the water. I also appreciate the art inspired by the style of the moai, such as this one!

Appreciating Ahu Tahai Again!

Since it was earlier in the day, Ahu Tahai was nearly abandoned, and I got to appreciate the statues in a less hectic setting.  From there, I continued walking up the coast until I reached Hanga Kioe and two more moai, one just a stub after years of decay.

Hanga Kioe

On the way back, the views from Ahu Tahai were astounding. This photo with the late afternoon sun hitting the rocks with atmospheric clouds is one of my favorites from the trip.

Ahu Tahai

I headed back into town to meet up with my travel buddy for dinner.  Since the sun sets so late on Rapa Nui, we were able to catch the end of yet another gorgeous sunset from the pier.

Dusk from Hanga Roa

This was a much calmer, quiet night of yet more empanadas and wine, since we had a very early morning planned: covering the north coast on horseback!

Easter Island, Chile: Hiking to Rano Kau and Orongo [Day 2 on Rapa Nui]

After a good night’s sleep, I got up early on my first full day on Rapa Nui, determined to check out Orongo, the ceremonial center of the bird man cult and one of the major attractions of the island. As is my style, I intended to do most of the trip independently, and on foot, incorporating as much hiking as possible into my day.

I headed out of town early, though early on Rapa Nui means about 9:30; the sun doesn’t rise until about 7 and doesn’t set until after 9PM! I walked out of town, seeing few others on foot, but eventually catching up to other travelers. My first stop was into a little cove where you can find rock art in a cave named Ana Kai Tangata. The cave is covered in images representing the bird man.  The location itself is spectacular; blue water and skies.

Rock Art of Ana Kai Tangata

Bay from Ana Kai Tangata

Ana Kai Tangata

After climbing out of the cove, I walked along the coast to better appreciate the clear blue of the sea, the green hills around me, and the amazing feeling of the strong sunshine on my back.

Views of the Coast En Route to Rano Kau/Orongo

Views of the Coast En Route to Rano Kau/Orongo

Ahu near Ana Kai Tangata

Views of the Coast En Route to Rano Kau/Orongo

Views from the coast

And then I began my ascent up the hill leading towards Orongo.  The hike is only an hour or two long, but this is in relentless sun and warm weather, so it feels pretty strenuous.  But it’s an enjoyable route, and the views from the top are absolutely amazing.

As I approached the edge of Rano Kau, I had no idea what to expect, but what I saw took my breath away.  I had never seen anything like this; a deep crater filled with water reflecting the sky and vegetation adding splashes of green, brown, and yellow.  A crumbled wall revealed the incredible blue ocean once again.  It was astounding, and I could have stood admiring that crater all day.  At the same time, the panoramic views back towards Hanga Roa and over the rest of the island were nearly as impressive!

Rano Kau

View of Hanga Roa from Rano Kau

Rano Kau

Rano Kau and its panoramic views

From Rano Kau, I continued the short journey onwards to Orongo.  At Orongo I took a minute to cool off and read the displays about the history of Orongo and its birdman cult. (If you’re interested in learning more, this blog has a good summary as well as nice pictures!)  The islands in the pictures below are where competitors swam to collect and bring back the egg of a bird for their chiefs.  You can also see the ceremonial village and living structures, below.

Moto Nui and Moto Iti from Orongo

Ceremonial Village of Orongo

Moto Nui and Moto Iti; ceremonial village

But for me, the most beautiful part of Orongo was the views.

Bird at Rano KauBird overlooking Rano Kau

There is some well preserved rock art at Orongo, honoring make make, the god of the birdman cult, but unfortunately it was off-limits to visitors when I was there. This photo got closer than I did! Instead, I appreciated the birds that were around the area; there are only about five species on the island.

Rock Art at Orongo

Rock art at Orongo

Views of Rano Kau from Orongo

Views above the crater

After leaving Orongo, I headed back to Rano Kau to enjoy the views of the crater once again, and then headed down the hill. On the way down, I ran into my new friend, who was on his way up, and we made plans to meet up again that night.

I headed back into Hanga Roa and wandered over to Ahu Riata, where there is a lone moai near a busy road on the outskirts of town. From there, I walked back to my residencial, passing a yoga studio, which I unfortunately did not get the chance to check out on my trip. After giving myself a brief rest to recuperate from the day’s walking, I headed back to Mikafe for some more gelato.

And then it was time to see Kari Kari, the folkloric cultural ballet performed in Rapa Nui by dancers in amazing physical condition.  You might think that a performance of traditional dance for tourists could be overdone, but instead it was incredibly beautiful and really made me appreciate the music.  The dancers never stopped smiling, the story was told through their movement, and the joy of their performance was palpable.  I loved it so much I almost went back another time.

Gelato from Mikafe

Gelato from Mikafe

Kari Kari Cultural Ballet

gorgeous dancing of Kari Kari cultural ballet

From there, we headed off in the night in search of dinner and drinks, finding a restaurant with unusual, but delicious pizza, and a bar with some well-crafted, fruity cocktails.  It was the best way to end a truly amazing, joyful day on Rapa Nui.

Christmas Tree Outside Kari Kari Theater

Festive Christmas tree outside Kari Kari theatre

Fancy Cocktails in Hanga Roa

Easter Island, Chile: Exploring Hanga Roa and Sunset from Ahu Tahai [Day 1 on Rapa Nui, Part 2]

The first day in any new location is always a bit disorienting, even more so when you are sleep-deprived and a bit overwhelmed by your surroundings.  After seeing the gorgeous island appear in the deep blue sea from my window on the plane, it started to hit me that I was really on an isolated island, in a tropical climate, a place that so many will never get the chance to visit.  This trip was already special.

Touching down to Rapa Nui is a unique experience, since the runway is the length of the island.  Upon landing, the plane has to turn around and head back the way it came in order to taxi to the gate.  When you descend from the plane, you walk right on the tarmac, surrounded by palm trees, blue skies, and the heat of the tropical sun.  You begin to see clues to what you’ll experience on the island, with signs in Rapa Nui, the language of the island, and artwork reminding you of the moai you’ve come to see.

And then you have a lot of waiting in lines to do.  National park passes are sold right at the airport, where they are only $50 instead of the normal $60; they admit you to the two major attractions of Rapa Nui, Orongo, the ceremonial center of the birdman cult, and Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were forged.  From there, you pass through immigration and then customs, where Chile continues to prevent fruit flies from entering its country by X-raying every bag!

Hanga Roa

After I made it through the airport, I stepped outside, looking for a representative from the residencial I was staying at, Vaianny.  I was somewhat awkwardly presented with a lei of fresh flowers, which is the traditional Polynesian-style welcome, and to be honest, my lei had seen better days. 😉  My guide drove me into town, giving me a basic tour of the layout of Hanga Roa, and showing me my first moai, which is located in the center of town.

Ahu/Moai in Hanga Roa

At Vaianny, I checked in to my single room, the first time I would not be sharing a room in a very long time.  I’d almost booked a dorm room, but I’m so happy I had my privacy and the ability to recover from group living.  After discussing the major sites to see on the island, I decided to take a little nap.

Looking Back at Hanga Roa

Since I had an entire week on the island to explore, I decided to spend the first afternoon walking around Hanga Roa and getting a sense of where I was staying.  There isn’t much to see in Hanga Roa proper, but I appreciated the chance to just wander around with all the green plants and flowers, after so much time in dusty Huaycán!

Boats in the Harbor at Hanga Roa

Hanga Roa

Wooden Playground Near Hanga Roa

Views from around Hanga Roa

As late afternoon hit, I wandered down to one of the small harbors, where I found a delicious gelato place called Mikafe. I ended up getting gelato there almost every day. I basked in the late afternoon sun and enjoyed the sound of the waves before walking out of town towards Ahu Tahai, well-known as the best place to watch the sunset. There were tons of other visitors spread around the grass, many with serious photography set-ups and tripods, others just there to observe. I wandered around, taking in the angles, admiring these restored moai.

Sunset from Ahu Tahai

Sunset from Ahu Tahai

And then the sun began to set, with its rays sneaking out from behind the clouds and illuminating the sky. Gorgeous.

Sunset from Ahu Tahai

After the sun disappeared from the sky, the place began to empty out, but I lingered, knowing that dusk brings lots of other beautiful colors. I headed over to the lone moai at Ahu Ko Te Riku, and took pictures looking back towards the town with the horizon changing colors.

Dusk at Ahu Ko Te Riku / Sunset at Ahu Tahai

As I was standing there snapping shot after shot, I ended up chatting with a fellow solo traveler who’d also lived in Boston and currently lives in NYC.  We decided to head back to Hanga Roa to grab a bite to eat together.  That’s one of my favorite parts about travel; you connect with people much more easily.

As you can see, it was a beautiful first day on Rapa Nui, and my explorations would begin in earnest the next day after a good night’s sleep.  (Obviously, I have many more photos of the gorgeous sunset; if you’re interested, check out my Rapa Nui Flickr set!)

Easter Island, Chile: Living the Dream! Arrival on Rapa Nui [Day 1, Part 1]

Years ago I decided that I had to visit Easter Island, which is known in Spanish as Isla de Pascua, but is called Rapa Nui by its residents and everyone who visits and grows to love the island.  I’m sure I saw some amazing pictures of its moai and was fascinated by the remote Pacific location and mysterious history, and visiting the island ended up on my life list, that ever-changing and expanding list of dream travel destinations and personal goals.

After I’d made the big decision to leave life in the U.S. behind to volunteer in Peru, I happened to see a flight deal from Lima to Rapa Nui, a deal that made this dream affordable. I had a nice chunk of time between the end of the our programs for 2012 and my flight back to the U.S. for Christmas, and the flight deal would give me just over a week on the island.  You’d think that I would have booked my ticket immediately, but I debated the decision for a few months, as there are so many other places I want to see in Peru and its neighboring countries.  I suspect it also just seemed far too easy to fulfill my dream.  I finally pulled the trigger in September and booked my trip.  I know now that it was meant to be; the serendipity throughout my entire trip is undeniable.

By the time December hit, I’d been living in Huaycán for over five months.  The end of the year was hectic and I was focused on finishing it as strongly as possible and setting myself up for a better 2013.  I also had to pack the majority of my belongings in my backpack once again and store the stuff I didn’t need for my return in January.  I read a little about Rapa Nui and marked some places as “must-sees,” but as my departure date approached, I was anything but over-prepared for the trip.  That’s how I travel; I prepare myself with a little background knowledge, but leave the rest open so my destination can surprise me with its story and my itinerary can fill day by day as I learn more.  It works for me.

My flight on December 12 was scheduled for 1:20AM; it was supposed to be an overnight flight, which gave me the whole previous day to transition from hard-working Kim to travel Kim.  Late in the afternoon the day before my departure, I received a message that the flight had been delayed, and was now leaving at 6:45AM, which meant I’d be arriving to the Lima airport in the middle of the night.  Delays are very common on flights to and from Rapa Nui; the island is very small, the runway, the whole length of the island, and weather issues anywhere on the flight route can affect travel plans.  As it turns out, when I finally boarded my plane in Lima, there was another plane on the island and we had to wait until it left before we could even take off!

Waiting in the boarding area was fascinating.  There were a lot of people traveling by themselves, like me.  Some people were very obviously backpackers on a round-the-world trip; others were couples or families.  Many people had spent the night in the airport since they hadn’t received advance notice of the delay.  When it was time to board, we patiently and quietly waited in line, and many people pulled out their smartphones to snap pictures of the departure gate screen, with IPC (Isla de Pascua, Chile) as the destination.  I wish I’d done it too!  It made me smile because I knew other people felt as I did; this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

The flight from Lima to Rapa Nui is five hours, most of which I passed napping and trying to recover from my exhaustion of the past few days.  But as we began to descend to Easter Island, I was glued to the window, with my camera in my hand.  I didn’t know what to expect, but what I saw was breathtaking:

Landing on Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui

Blue water everywhere.  Yes, we were really in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, in one of the most isolated locations on Earth.  And my adventure was about to begin.

Landing on Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui