Reasons to Visit Rapa Nui

Were we leaving sunny Santiago to fly five hours for four days of continuous rain? That’s the forecast for Rapa Nui, the Polynesian island we Estados Unidenses know as Easter Island. That’s because a Dutch explorer stumbled upon it on Easter Sunday while cruising the Pacific Ocean. Since Rapa Nui is what the indigenous people call it, that’s what I’m going with.

But as is frequently the case, the weather report was only partially correct. Our rainy arrival date has been followed by two perfectly beautiful days. And so far, it’s looking pretty good for our departure at noon today. We figured it was a sign that the Moai looked favorably upon our visit.

We have probably all seen one or two photos of these iconic statues, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one surprised to learn that there are more than a thousand of these on the island.

The “man bun” must have started here.

So, for those of you wondering what Rapa Nui has to offer, here’s a short, but incomplete, list in no particular order:

1. Enjoy a Dinner Show

This one was complete with pisco sours, indigenous music and dancers, buffet dinner cooked in a pit and a chance to shake your booty with the locals. Yes, there IS a video, but I can’t upload it now. Did I pass up a chance to dance? I think my friends and family know the answer to that!

Much of the Rapa Nui culture is similar to that of the Maori. Made me want to go back to Rarotonga!

For those of you interested in learning WHICH dinner show we attended, I took a photo of one of the worker’s tee shirts. It has everything you need to know written on his back. You’re welcome.

2. Enjoy a gorgeous beach, with great waves, warm water, and soft, soft sand PLUS concessions with fresh pineapples, smoothies and beer. Oh yeah, and a chance to shop for the folks back home.

Remember the ladies I met in the funicular in Santiago? My new best friends, Shirley and Janis, are fun loving and adventurous. The three of us couldn’t pass up a chance to splash in the very bay in which the king of the Rapa Nui (according to legend) first landed.

3. Experience the Rapa Nui Equivalent of Plimoth Plantation minus the people in costume.

What may look like a stone wall is actually a chicken coop. You remove one stone, and out emerges an entire flock.

The wall is bigger than necessary to hold the flock. This was done to confuse rival tribes. It made it harder to find the magic stone that could be removed.

Another interesting structure is this one.

This is a boundary marker. If you cross it without permission from the rival tribe, you could be killed. Sorta like today’s gang warfare.

4. View Fantastic sunrises

Our driver took the five of us willing to get up at 6 AM to view the Moai at Tongariki. As the sun rose, the light changed, giving us gorgeous views of the sky behind the statues.

5. Have an opportunity to relive your childhood.

Remember when 5 or 6 kids piled into the car’s backseat? We were only able to fit 4 adults: Laura, our guide, and two of my new friends, Karen and Janis. Shirley is holding on for dear life in the front seat as José goes flying across the island. As for me, I’m doing what I usually do: taking pictures.

6. Get a Cool Passport Stamp

7. Learn about the Birdman Culture

I’ll let you read about the birdman competition on your own–I’ll just show you the island to which the competitors had to swim. More importantly, I’ll share the info our guide related to us. The chieftain of the winning tribe got to rule the island for one year. The COMPETITOR, however, did not end up empty handed. HIS reward was SEVEN pure women. How did he know they were pure? A “doctor” crawled between their legs, looked up and made sure everything was in order. If it wasn’t, that “impure” girl got tossed into the ocean. You can only imagine the comments from all of us women. I’ll just say there was quite a bit of laughter among us all!

8. Visit the Quarry from Whence the Moai Came

There are many more reasons, but we are heading for the airport for our flight to Santiago today, and an early morning departure for Buenos Aires tomorrow, so typos and all, if I don’t publish now, who knows when the next opportunity will arise.

Santiago, Day Two

We started our second day in Santiago by congratulating ourselves on our wise decision to take it easy on day one. It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep can do for a pair of weary travelers.

First on our list was La Chascona, one of the three homes of Pablo Neruda. Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who he is. I certainly didn’t, and this is the second time I’ve been in Santiago. Not only was he a Nobel prize winning poet, but he was also a politician, and a very quirky collector. What did he collect, you ask? Well, clearly houses, given that he had three of them, all kinds of art, books, knickknacks and women. I’ll let you read about the women and all the steamy stuff on your own. I’m doing this post on an iPhone so have to stick with the essentials, because I am so high minded.

La Chascona is now a very well run museum, complete with a short, but very informative video about Neruda’s life. You also get one of those “press the button” audio guides, which explains what you are seeing as you move from room to room. What makes this house so fascinating is it was built according to Neruda’s specifications and it is multi level.. Big deal, you might be thinking. LOTS of houses are multi level. Yes, but do you have to go outside to get from one level to the next?

No ranch style living for THIS aging Chilean!

We weren’t allowed to take photos inside the house, but I was able to get this shot of the dining room from outside. The table is very narrow, to facilitate conversation and extends almost the entire length of the room.

What I loved most about the dining room is something I unfortunately couldn’t photograph—the back wall. The left side was occupied by a hutch containing china and crystal. what looked like paneling on the right was actually a door to a secret passageway, with a spiral staircase leading to Neruda’s bedroom. The treads on the staircase were so small, I was afraid by very tall, very big footed husband wouldn’t be able to climb it, but he did. For him, the outside staircases were far easier to navigate.

See, I wasn’t kidding about multiple levels!

La Chascona is close to Cerra San Cristóbal, so even though we fully expected it to be a tourist trap (thank you, Esther, for the warning)it made sense for it to be our next stop. We rode the funicular to a viewing area for a look at the HUGE metropolitan area of Santiago. I knew the city was big, but didn’t know HOW big till then.

At the summit is an enormous statue of Mary. It appeared some sort of religious service was taking place there, so we climbed the 6o steps (yes, I counted) to ride the cable car. Although you get even more views of the city, to me it wasn’t worth waiting in line. And yes, the hill IS a bit of a tourist trap, although most of the tourists appeared to be South American.

On our return trip, I noticed a couple of clearly North American ladies in our funicular car. What are the odds, that among all the thousands of visitors to Cerra San Cristóbal, those two random strangers we encountered would be two of the other five travelers on our OAT trip? A quick question got us the answer. It was 100%. They too had come in a day early, and had been touring via the Hop on Hop Off bus.

Returning to the hotel, we met the remaining three OAT travelers who had arrived at the normal start date. Our guide took us on a short walking tour, which ended at Chile’s “ground zero”, the Plaza de Armas, where the Spaniards initially settled. At one corner of the square is a statue of the Moche’s leader, Caupolicán,

and diagonally across is Pedro de Valdivia, the Spanish conquistador.

Isabel Allende’s wonderful book “Inés of My Soul”, gives a historically accurate, but fictionalized account of the founding of Chile, as told by Inés Suárez, the only known female conquistador, and mistress of de Valdivia. It is well worth reading.

Our day ended with a fabulous welcome dinner at Casa Lastarria. We were the only patrons because we were dining at the ridiculously early hour of 7 PM, to make it easy to get up for our 6:45 AM departure for Easter Island.

Pisco Sours for all!

And if all goes well, my photos will upload.

Santiago, Chile

Expect to find these words carved on my tombstone: “She never passed up the opportunity to use a clean bathroom”. Good thing, because it took us two and a half hours to get our butts off the plane, thru Santiago airport and into a taxi. The airport’s long lines would have been even more of a challenge with a full bladder.

One reason it took so long was the computers at passport control went down for 30 minutes. Can you imagine what the crowd would be like if that happened in a NY airport? But here, everyone chilled. No groans, cursing or eye rolls. Free Wi-Fi helped. It gave everyone an opportunity to check in with friends and family.

Was this a regular occurrence? We will soon find out, because over the next six days we will be experiencing Santiago airport three more times: back and forth to Easter Island and to Buenos Aires.

Another reason for the long lines is Chile seriousness about not allowing agricultural products into the country. If the dogs don’t get you, the scanning equipment will, so there were no nuts or granola bars in OUR luggage.

We followed our tour guide’s instructions, paying for our taxi inside the airport. 20,000 pesos sounds like a lot, but it is only about $30, and they accept credit cards, so I didn’t need to stop at the ATM to the right of immigration, but I did anyway.

Although we don’t usually stay at Crowne Plaza Hotels, I signed up for their loyalty program when I made our on line reservation. Not only do loyalty members get free Wi-Fi, they also can request early check in. By the time we arrived at 10 AM, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that our room was ready.

A less pleasant surprise was how very tired we were. Or maybe we are just having to acknowledge that we no longer have the stamina that we did in our younger days. Back in “the day”, we would have ignored our weariness and started checking things off our (actually MY) list. Instead, our goals for day 1 are: eat, walk a bit, rest, get acclimated to the new time zone. That was ONE To-Do list we completely accomplished!

By 1 PM, we were so hungry that we ended up having pizza and beer at La Junta, a bar with outside tables. I tell you the name so that if you are ever in Santiago, you will avoid it. The only problem with outside dining—that’s where all the smokers hang out. We ate inside.

Yeah, it was every bit as bad as it looks.

Thanks to the OAT Forum and Trip Advisor, we fared MUCH better for dinner. Both recommended Boca Nariz, a wine bar offering tapas and entrees.

If you don’t have the time or the energy to tour a Chilean vineyard, this is a great alternative. Here, you can choose from a wide variety of wine flights. We opted for wines from the Pacific coast and were pleased with our choice.

Although it looks empty, that appearance is deceiving. Those empty tables are reserved. If you plan to visit, it is wise to make a reservation. We lucked out. Initially the hostess seated us at the only available table, one designed for munchkins. Poor Mike looked like he was at an elementary school parents’ night, sitting at his kid’s desk. The hostess took note and moved us to the big kid’s table as soon as one opened up.

Once again, my blogging is lagging behind our experiences. More about Santiago next time we encounter cooperative Wi-Fi