That’s Easter Island to you non-woke fascist Karens. In Spanish, it’s called “Isla de Pacua,” which means “island of a thousand dogs sleeping in the street and barking throughout the night.” No matter what you call it, it is 2,182 miles west of Chile, making it the second most remote inhabited place on Earth.
Day Uno (Monday)
IAW official guidance we arrived at the Santiago International Airport (SCL) three hours prior to departure, which meant a 6:00 am Uber. It all seemed a little excessive, but was probably for the best due to the required special screening. Six hours after that we arrived at Mataveri International Airport (IPC) in Rapa Nui.
Our host picked us up at the airport. There is no better way to deplane in a strange and mysterious place than to see your name on a placard and have a homemade lei placed around your neck with hugs & smiles. And an hour after that, a well-deserved nap.
At 6:09 pm we walked to “downtown” Hanga Roa (the only village on the island) with no map, cellular connectivity, or internet. Much like Tonto and the Lone Ranger, Mrs. AAR and I just followed the setting sun to dinner at Te Moana where we dined with two delightful ladies (¡Hola Karin y Jeannie!) on rather undelightfull ceviche. I’ve never had ceviche that was topped with uni, which was probably a good thing.
Day Dos (Tuesday)
A café americano at Mikafe harbor-side, where I took in beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, tied up fishing boats, and my first Moai.
Then a walk over to the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum. A Capuchin Franciscan friar spent his life studying and preserving Rapa Nui culture and this museum is the result of his efforts. Well put together, informative, and free. All the exhibits, which provide a good overview of Rapa Nui history, are in Spanish and English. On the way back, after now having a better understanding of their history and architecture, I checked out the moai at Ahu Tahai. These are the only moai on National Park land that can be viewed for free.
Then some lunch at Topa Ra’ A for some undelightful seafood soup and octopus salad. And then an after-lunch cerveza at the IRA Bar where we learned that some of the seafood is from Santiago, while some of it is freshly caught off of Rapa Nui. Note: when ordering seafood on Rapa Nui it is important to know which is which.
In order to enter the Rapa Nui National Park where most of the moai are located you need a National Park ticket and a guide. I purchased my ticket at the Ma’u Henua customer service office in Hanga Roa for $80 USD or they can be purchased online.
Back to Te Moana for some damn good tuna tartare. Locally caught and it showed.
Day Tres (Wednesday)
Chile, like much of the world, has embraced the coffeehouse culture, but it still clings to Nescafé. We bought some locally and now enjoyed it on our Airbnb patio overlooking a verdant garden, barking dogs and some ripening bananas.
We spent the balance of the morning visiting with our Airbnbkeeper who lived on the property, with her one husband, one dog, three children, two cats, two roosters, and six hens. As they would say in Hawaii, we “talked story,” with Alicia sharing hers. We agreed to meet back at 7:00 pm for some fish, rice, and beer.
A café americano at Mikafe, more views of the surf crashing, turtles turtleling, and dogs sleeping.
Besides seeing the Moia, and trying to understand their meaning and the mystery of their toppling, I knew I needed to mail postcards to those most loyal subscribers and purchasers of my book. This was done to partly reward them for their efforts, but mainly to sow envy. Postcards were purchased at a market adjacent to the Ma’u Henua customer service office called Féria.
Dinner was delightful, with the Missus making some delicious cilantro y garlic rice, our host sautéing freshly caught pisi fillets in a tomato ragu and me icing a six-pack of Escudo lager¹ to perfection. We then solved many of the world’s problems, the most important being, that for $290,000 CLP/pp ($363.62 USD/pp) our host's husband Marcus would take us on a two-day tour on Friday and Saturday that would ensure a complete understanding of Rapa Nui culture and the viewing of as many moai as humanly possible.
Day Cuatro (Thursday)
After being fortified with some homemade huevos rancheros made with the freshest eggs possible (see hens above) and a cup of Nescafé, envy was sown at CorreosChile (the Post Office) for a very reasonable $1,000 CLP ($1.24 USD) per postcard stamp.
I find Post Offices deeply comforting, in that they celebrate the universality of man. In my global travels, I have found all post offices share a commonality and Rapa Nui was no different: a tired welcome, walls begging for a fresh coat of paint, bad lighting, with empty and dusty shelves and racks that say “Why are you here?”
A moai kavakava is a wooden figure resembling a standing, slightly stooped, male human that serves to scare off bad spirits. Across the street was a statue of one that looked strikingly familiar.
Then on to the sunset at Ahu Tahai.
And then dinner at La Vi’e Belle. I knew something might be up when I saw an entree titled “Fish Sandwich” and should have ditched when the server cryptically mentioned that the Ensalada César was missing an ingredient. Just terrible.
Day Cinco (Friday) y Day Seis (Saturday)
Woke up to rain and Nescafé on Friday for day one of our two-day tour, titled “Megaliths.” Should we postpone? The Missus decided that if the original Rapa Nui settlers could sail for 30 days across some 2,000 miles of open ocean in a canoe, we needed to cowboy up and not be deterred by a little €¥#$ing rain! And . . . we were off!
A Moai Primer: Moai are stones about 40-80 tons mostly carved from tuff (compressed volcanic ash) to look like the torsos of men. About 20-30 feet tall they dot the island singly or in groups, like measles on the face of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s grandchildren. They were carved between 1250 - 1500, as a representation of ancient Polynesian ancestors and served to house their mana (spirit essence or power). They were subsequently toppled during a period of unrest between 1722–1868 with many over the last 50 years being uprighted. There is a fair amount of mystery of exactly why they were made, how they were made, how they were transported, and why they were toppled.
We didn’t see them all, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
A must-see is the quarry at Rano Raraku where all the moai were made. There are numerous moai here, some fully carved and ready for transport, others a work in progress, and still others yet to be cut loose from the quarry wall. You can inspect most of them up close.
Next door to our lodgings was Te Ra'ai, an authentic Rapa Nui cultural show @$90pp. Now when I used to live in Hawaii I went to more than a few “authentic” luaus and it always felt a little/lot kitschy, so I was a little reluctant to attend. The Missus convinced me with the argument “When will we ever be here again?” followed by the classic “I don’t want to have any regrets!”
All in all, the show we saw Saturday night was quite good. The food was excellent, the dancing well-choreographed and the music quite canorous. Please note that my review may have been slightly affected by the female dancers' costumes and that second Pisco Sour drink ticket.
Day Siete (Sunday)
My bathing suit was burning a hole in my suitcase, so I headed down to the Hanga Roa harbor. There is a tidal pool there, called Poko-Poko, which is much like the one in Magnum, P.I. . . with me of course being Thomas Magnum.
Day Ocho (Monday)
A café americano y banana tart at Mana Coffee, the most modern-looking space in all of Rapa Nui. Followed by an airport dropoff by our host and her mother, which included more smiles, some tears, and a handmade Rapa Nui necklace.
After watching the movie 180 Degrees South, a documentary that prominently highlights Rapa Nui, Mrs. AAR reached out to one of its stars, Alicia "Makohe" Ika, and arranged for us to stay at her Airbnb called Makohe's House.
While the place was a little more rustic than I’m used to, it did enable a real connection to the island, its people, and its language (and its dogs²).
Rapa Nui incidentals and accidentals:
Besides a National Park ticket (see above), you need to have a guide to enter almost every major archeological/moai site on the island, except for Ahu Tahai (see above) and Anakana (the beach).
The internet is tenuous throughout the island, which made the research of Rapa Nui culture, future travel, and the viewing of random TikTok videos difficult. Plan accordingly.
LATAM Airlines is the only way to fly to Rapa Nui. When accessing their website, select the Spanish language option and then use Google Translate as required. Why? To save upwards of $500, as the Espanol site tends to have lower prices. Please know this could be the most valuable information ever provided by this website.
Our host and her Swedish husband run a tour company that besides giving me an excellent tour has a website that contains detailed information about Rapa Nui, including copies of the ship logs of all the early western seafarers who landed on the island. It's a useful way to conduct your own research in an effort to unveil the mystery.
Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.
¹ Chile's beer history has a strong German influence – some of the bigger beer producers are from the country's southern Lake District, a region populated by a great number of German immigrants during the 19th century. That being said, Escudo is more like the Budweiser of Chile in market share and taste (or should I now say Modelo Especial).
² Why are there so many dogs on the streets, in the parks, and . . . quite simply everywhere? I asked our host who told me “The people here just like dogs."
Sundown, dogs barking
Abundant Stars fill the sky
Morning roosters crow