Last Contemplations on the Navel of the World

February 21, 2007

I actually had a plan for dealing with the flying/diving conflict. I would dive on the 20th and go ahu hunting today. That would give me at least two dives and a not short change the archeology. Only problem was, what would I do if it rained on the 21st?

Sure enough, it’s pouring down rain. Which means I would either have aborted (sucky, sucky) or I would be stuck far from town, in the rain, with all my camera gear. Either way, I would be very pissed.

image of parade

Before I forget, some things that did not fit with earlier travelogues:

image of painted people

The first few days, with rain delays, were the final days of a two week long festival of Rapi Nui culture. There was a parade. There were strange sporting events. There was music and dancing. I confess. I did not take proper advantage of the opportunities. I watched the parade. I saw an unusual sort of race pass through the streets. I heard music from a distance. The music and dancing occurred late at night which I could not reconcile with my need for an early start each day. It turns out, there was much interesting to see and do in the preparations for the parade. The next day, the guy at the bike rental asked if I had gotten painted up and, if not, why not? Truth is: I had no idea. I was biking among the monuments that day. But it sounds like it would have been fun.

Time is a bit different here. Start with the screwed up time zone. In an effort to ease administration, the Chilean government decreed that the Easter Island time would be 2 hours behind the Chilean mainland rather than the 4 hours suggested by the Sun.

It didn’t work. The business day just starts at 10:00am instead of 8:00am for those that are punctual. The rest, which is most, open shop at maybe 11:00am and close for random, unposted intervals, during the middle of the day.

Businesses catering to tourists are often closed on Sunday. Other shops just seem to closed all day on any given day, for no apparent reason.

And, yet, I don’t get the sense of anything like “Africa time”. People here, just seem to have different priorities.

image of Italian tourist and cat

All in all, Rapa Nui is more third world than first. But it’s a very expensive for third world. My hotel has a lovely garden but the room is basically a no-star. Private bath with hot water but fixtures are awkward and no amenities. All that for about US$50/night. Food is very expensive. It is possible to eat for less than $10/meal but you won’t get much more than a snack. Hitting $20 doesn’t require splashing out, just a hunger for more than an empanada or two. All in all, I think one would be hard pressed to cover the basics for less than $60/day. I’m paying close to $100/day and I’ve never rented a motor vehicle and used a taxi only once.

image of tourists in flower necklaces

It is definitely a couple’s destination. I see a few solo travelers but only a few. Each visitor is greeted at the airport with Hawaii style flower necklace. Romantic gardens abound. Rooms are generally meant for double occupancy and, for most people, getting around the island, means renting a car. That’s very pricey for one person. I think they are around $60/day. I didn’t look too close as I didn’t even pack my driver’s license on this trip.

While many in the tourist business speak English, few, if any, are really fluent. Precision requires Spanish. Even in print, this is true. Most menus are strictly Spanish. Some signs and tourist pamplets are only in Spanish. Even when the document is multi-lingual, the English version is notably less precise and informative than the Spanish.

For the first three days, I was taunted by street merchants selling fresh pineapples. I remembered the absolutely wondrous pineapples I consume in East Africa. But I couldn’t eat one. I knew that as soon as that acid hit my throat, the pain would be unbearable. I’d pass by sometimes several times per day. Yummy, yummy. Can’t eat.

Finally, on day 6, my throat was healed and I remembered the pineapples. I bought one. It was…. a bit of a letdown, actually. Oh well. I guess it takes more than fresh to make a good pineapple.

It was street flooding pouring down rain this afternoon. I deferred my museum trip to do a little email, catch a little snooze. I woke up, realized that it was not raining and the museum closed in 45 minutes. Oops. Oh, well. Use what I got. I made my way past direction signs to way way back end of town (It’s a small town). I reached the tiny museum with 20 minutes to spare. That was almost enough. The museum is quite small. The captions are all in Spanish. There is an English translation guide but it’s not much fun. I saw a few things. An example of a female moai. A moai carved out of basalt. Some interesting carvings. And then they threw me out: 5 minutes early according to my watch.

But I knew where I was. I was right next door to Tahai. I wondered down toward the shore. Dazzling as ever. And so, my journey to End of the Earth closes, much the way it opened: With stone eyes, and an unworldly stare across the centuries. No camera this time. That final stare lives on only in my memory.