Friday, June 11, 2010

Easter Island, Part 2: Life

Man, my heart sinks when writing about Easter Island. I could’ve super EASILY stayed many more days. There was a lot of walking yet to do, much left to explore (including some supposedly pristine snorkeling and scuba diving). Christine loves pristine. And that’s a fact.

Easter Island is part of Polynesia. BUT Easter Island ain’t Tahiti. Oh no. The gorgeous beach below, Anakena, could confuse you into thinking this island is a subtropical paradise. But look closer. In this picture, there is only one person in the water. Those on the shore aren’t wearing swimsuits, either. Being the winter season, the air was a bit chilly (mixed with frequent, intermittent rain showers). Perfect walking weather, in my opinion. If you want Polynesian island life to equal tanning time, then Easter Island’s probably not your thang.

So, walk walk walk we did. If you love bathroom facilities, you might not like Easter Island. Well, I guess that’s not true. I like bathroom facilities, in fact I LOVE them and totally and completely prefer them in most instances – I promise! And that’s not to say that your hostel, campground, or hotel won’t have bathrooms, because they will; however, you don’t spend much time in the aforementioned places, you spend it instead wandering this amazingly and wonderfully undeveloped and preserved (again, pristine) island by foot, motorized vehicle, bike, or horseback. Sooo, nature’s bathroom it is!

One of our first hikes was up the volcano, Rano Raraku (attempt at makeshift panorama above). Our hostel had an amazing location overlooking the ocean and not too far from the start of this trail. Rano Raraku was an incredible experience. This dead volcano has a HUGE crater with a lake inside. I can’t describe how big and magical it was. Definitely one of my favorite parts of the island.

View of Rano Raraku, from our hostel:

Most of the shoreline consists of jet-black, jagged lava rock, making the clear blue water all the more striking. Taken on the shore, walking towards the base of Rano Raraku:

Views while climbing:

Feeling out of breath at this point, but feeling great, too.

And on top. Another view of the crater lake...and the ocean. This was taken on our second trip to the crater, with some rare sunny skies:

Our guidebook kept referring to Easter Island as itty-bitty. Therefore, we thought we’d be able to bike it the whole thing in like ten minutes. Sh-yeah right. It’s so hilly (beautiful), and most of the roads are dirt, with huge chunks of volcanic rock. A 4WD vehicle is almost essential (unless you’re superhuman…and some people are!).

We met an awesome father and son (the son is our age) from Washington state who were tenting at our hostel’s campground. They were looking to save money (as were we), so we decided to rent a car together. They were fabulous travel companions. We had a great time with them searching for moai, climbing a volcano/peninsula that is completely overlooked and neglected by tourists (which is AWESOME), exploring lava tube caves, snacking on their four-pound bag of Costco trail mix, and laughing at all the animal encounters.

Clearest waters I've ever seen:

Otherworldly bumpy hills on top of other hills were common landscape throughout the island:

Extinct lava tubes we ventured into:

If you don’t like dogs, then Easter Island would be hard for you. If you’re scared of dogs, Easter Island would be impossible. The island is full of friendly, affectionate (even if unsolicited) canines who will and do happily follow you for miles and hours. They were a lot of fun. There are beautiful wild horses EVERYWHERE. Along the roads, atop the volcanoes, near the beach, you see them munching away on the island’s plentiful supply of grass. They want nothing more than to ignore you, as they’re shy. However, the dogs love to rile the horses, scare them, and get them galloping about. The dogs reminded of Miller High Life-guzzling townies who go cow-tipping.

A few friendly beasts follow. Below, just a random pig at the park entrance:

Author, with dog friend:

Gorgeous horses:

Cattle is (are?) everywhere too. Just like the horses. Usually completely free-range, though the one below and about a hundred others were fenced into a farm at the bottom of a volcano we climbed.

This one stared at us for a good ten minutes before actually moving. Ryan, our travel companion and son of the other Washingtonian, was the driver for most of our trip and had access to an awesome horn that made animal noises. This cow was completely unfazed by our "moo"-ing capabilities.

There were beautiful sunsets every night. And since Matt and I are officially old people now, there's almost nothing we enjoy more than a good sunset.

Leaving this amazing place was a little bittersweet, for we knew we'd probably never be back. I feel so happy that we experienced this dot in the middle of the ocean.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Easter Island, Part 1: Moai!

For five days, we escaped the Santiago Slump (a self-discovered psychological condition that I will try to get added to the DSM-V, the psychological disorder diagnostic manual). We hopped a five-hour plane ride to Isla de Pascua, or Easter Island, OR Rapa Nui (the REAL name in a Polynesian language still spoken on the island). Easter Island is one of the most remote, inhabited islands on our planet. Oh boy, those were the fastest five days in recent memory. Wow.

Our travel book called Easter Island "a tiny speck of land." Okay, so I guess it's minuscule in the grand scheme of things (12 miles by 15 miles at its widest and longest points), but it sure feels huge on the natural and ancient sight scale. The island is so unique. Travel books and articles tend to gloss over the incredible, INCREDIBLE natural beauty of this place (the island being, essentially, three extinct volcanoes). Thus, tomorrow I will highlight the natural, gorgeous, sometimes eerie splendors of this special place.

But for now, the Moai. I won't go into the history of these dudes too much. Since I'm not a scholarly anthropologist, ethnographist, archeologist, or any other -ist, it's much safer for you to find that information here, if you're interested.

This island is "littered" (and I use that word with very happy affection) with these massive volcanic stone structures that were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. So, like, the island's basically an open-air museum. Most moai aren't still standing on their ahu, their platform structures. But some have been re-erected using ancient methods, in these modern times. We'll start with those.

Here (and above) is Ahu Tongariki. An amazing platform with 15 moai. In 1960, a huge tsunami knocked them down (the ocean shore is directly behind them). In the 90s a Japanese company re-erected them. 15 cheers for Japan! Tongariki was incredible:

These moai are located right outside the city on Easter Island, Hanga Roa. They were some of the first we saw:

To give you an idea of size, here's Matt standing with them.

A stray friend admiring the work with us. If you enlarge the picture, you'll see that the moai in the background has eyes. Originally, all had eyes made of coral and shells. I prefer them without the eyeballs.

Ahu Akivi. These ones are the farthest inland. And they're the only ones that face towards the sea!

These guys are on the beautiful white sand beach of Anakena (I'll show you more of that tomorrow):

We loved the warning signs:

Here's the volcanic quarry where the sculptures were initially made (and eventually transported away from). Here, you can see hundreds of incomplete moai carvings. Unfortunately, the quarry cost, gulp, $60 per person, per day to enter. A $50 jump from a month ago. We can't afford that. Thus, my pictures are taken at the fence.

The dead volcano in the background is the other side of the quarry:

Although the standing structures were completely and utterly magnificent, I was equally drawn to and captivated by all the fallen maoi all over the island. Here are these incredible feats of people (it took five or six people one to two years to make each one!), just lying there often face down like they were just garbage on the shoreline! Plus, they are anthropomorphic, so they look sort of like abandoned, dead bodies.

It is thought that many are in the prone position because of clan warfare in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, tsunamis and massive storms have also been named as culprits.

Rainwater pooling in this eye socket.

Lastly, Ahu Tongariki at sunrise:

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post! I'm serious! I'll talk about our travel companions (they included some cool human Seattlites and some cool non-human rapanuis)! Plus, the pictures will leave you visually drooling.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Santiago Slump

We're almost there, dudes. I can see the finish line. 90-feet from sliding into home, etc. Almost done with the Great Latin American Adventure. Hard to believe that nine months have passed since this journey began.

I am so ready at this point. Santiago is wearing on me. Don't ask right now if Santiago is worth visiting, because my answer would be a resounding H*&% NO! Winters in Santiago are the worst. The gross, polluted air is stagnant. Let me give you an example.

After a pollution-clearing rain, this is the view from our roof:

But most days (since rain is not too commonplace), THE SAME VIEW looks like this:

No joke. Let's just go ahead and make this picture black and white for dramatic effect:

The air stinks like burning oil and my eyes are puffy. It's a smothering blanket of smog. It's a diesel cigarette I'm being forced to smoke. Yuck.

Here's a picture Matt took a couple days ago facing Santiago after an work-related meeting that was on the outskirts:


Santiaguinos and I don't mix. They're generally grouchy. I'm sick of getting the evil eye from elderly people on the metro because of something I apparently did to them. Evidently, people here are forced to work 50-60 hour work weeks to make ends meet. In addition, they often work well into their old age. I don't blame them; I'd be grouchy, too. But that doesn't make it easier to deal with.

My open-statement to Santiaguinos:

I'm sorry if I'm somehow adding to your crappy day, but when I smile reflexively at you when you stare [read: glare] at me, could you please not take it as an insult?! It's a peace offering, for goodness sake!

Whew, that felt good.

The other day, when I was walking around with a blind student where I volunteered, she took me to this little patch of grass to walk on. It felt like I was walking on Dr. Scholl's-approved marshmallows; it was heavenly. It was then I realized that I am constantly trudging my way through a super-hard concrete jungle, and I barely recall what the color green looks like. I'm so ready to be home!

Speaking of my volunteer position, I spent the last several weeks working at a school for the blind. It was a pretty good experience. Chilean Spanish and I don't mix either. I felt like my comprehension skills actually got worse with time! A discouraging blow to my perfectionism! Oh Mexican Spanish, I miss you so!

The coolest part of working at the school was when the children taught me about braille and math on their abacuses (abaci?). One student helped me type the alphabet on a brailler! It was awesome. Those kids are so smart!

Cute story #1: Yesterday, my last day, when the kids in my class were saying goodbye to me, they all told me to be careful with tornadoes in the United States. Apparently, the 90s movie Twister was on t.v. recently, and they were very worried that it would be very easy for me to fall victim to one! In my head, I was just thinking, "Dudes, remember that 8.8 earthquake a few months ago?! Yeah, thanks for the concern, but don't worry about me!"

Kids typing with their braillers:

Re-reading what they typed, checking for mistakes:

Cute story #2: Schoolkids in Chile call their teachers tias and tios (aunties and uncles)! Isn't that adorable? A student in my class with limited sight wrote this on the white board for me:

It reads, "Beautiful Auntie Christine of Cony (that's her name). I love you so much, like an aunt." Awww. Okay, so not all Chileans are sticks-in-the-mud.

Beautiful Braille: