Discovering Easter Island 4 – Exploring Rapa Nui Solo, part I
October 02, 2016: I deliberately took my time in the morning, not wanting to get to breakfast too early. About 8 o’clock I sat outside the dining room under the overhanging roof, setting up my tablet computer on a table and finally connected to the internet; it was very slow and I wasn’t able to do more than send out a couple of emails and couldn’t attach any pictures.
Seeing me sitting outside, Ramon brought my coffee out and at 08:30 told me breakfast was ready; pretty much the same as the day before but still delicious and filling. He sat with me and we discussed what I’d seen the day before and what I planned for the day. The tour company offered three tours of the island; the full day tour I took the day before and two half day tours to other parts of the island closer to Hanga Roa for 15,000 pesos each. They offered the full day and half day tours on alternate days so I could take at least one or both of the short tours or go exploring on my own. We talked about bike, motorbike, 4-wheeler ATV, and car rentals and he found a flyer from one of the rental agencies. It looked like rain and not being a great motorcyclist or bicycler, I quickly discounted those options. An ATV sounded fun, but when I saw it was more expensive to rent than a small jeep, I decided to rent the jeep for 45,000 pesos per day, their smallest and least expensive car; not really a Jeep but a Suzuki Jimny, all little 4-wheel drive SUVs are called Jeeps. Definitely more expensive than the tours, but it gave me a lot more flexibility and there was plenty of room inside the fence to park at the hotel.
Since I didn’t have to rush for a morning tour, I took the opportunity of a slow morning and about 10 o’clock walked down the street to the car rental agencies in town. All the agencies offered the same vehicles for the same prices so I went to Insular rent-a-car, whose flyer Ramon showed me earlier. The lady at the desk quickly filled out my rental agreement, took a photocopy of my driver’s license and I was outside checking out my little car in about 5 minutes. In her broken English, the only specific instructions she gave me was to drive slowly, which she repeated several times. I drove it back to my hotel; with light traffic on the road it was not a problem getting back into the habit of driving a stick shift. They drive on the same side of the road as in the States with good lane discipline and slow traffic, so driving on my own was a snap.
At the hotel I loaded my shoulder bag with water, map, camera, binoculars and the left over sandwich from the night before, then headed out. I planned to follow the same route the tour took the day before so I could get more pictures of the sites I saw the first day and spend more time exploring some of the sites plus some the tour bypassed.
Out the hotel gate, I turned left onto the road leading past the airport and out of town to the highway that crossed the island. I knew I had to turn onto the south coast road but I passed it sooner than I expected and missed the turn. Farther up the road I came upon a bicycle tour with riders stretched out over about half a mile and had to slowly make my way past them on the narrow two lane road. Past them I realized I’d missed my turn and found a wide spot to turn around and headed back the way I came. Since the island is so small with only two paved roads, there are nearly no road signs so when I came back towards town, I turned left on the only paved road I passed, across the a field at the corner I saw what must be a small hotel with 3 concrete Moai standing in front; I noted those as my landmark to find the road in the future.
As soon as I reached the shoreline it was clear I was on the right road and quickly saw where we stopped the day before. I found the road to the parking lot and spent some time at the ruined Viahu site, taking the pictures I missed because of my low battery during the tour. I spent some time there not just looking at the ruins of the Ahu and Moai, but also along the rugged coastline. Next to the site was a small rocky cove that was once the fishing harbor for the ancient village, I couldn’t imagine how difficult launch or bring boats ashore would be, even dugout canoes. Today, a boat launch is carved from the rocky shore so modern fishing boats can be launched but there is not much more than a cleared channel and breakwater. While I was walking around the harbor, a young lady on a bicycle was leaving and headed down the highway and as I left a different woman also passed by on her bike; obviously bicycle tours were popular both in groups and solo.
After leaving Viahu I did the same thing at Aka Hanga, checking out the ruins and the surrounding area. It was desolate with many stone walls and piled rocks that are of unknown origin. Some may be from the ancient villagers to separate plots of land, or they may be from the 19th century when the island was used for grazing cattle and stone fences built then; the stones are silent.
I continued down the highway, enjoying the beauty of the rocky shore. The land near the coast was open, rocky grass land with stone or barbed wire fences and usually horses on both sides. Of course not all the horses were feral, some wore halters, but how the owners kept track of their own I’ll never know. There were a few scattered trees, usually growing inside low stone wall about 1 meter high that encircled it. All along the road as I stopped at different sites and driving between them, I kept passing the two young women peddling their way around the island.
After stopping at Tongariki for a few more pictures of the impressive 15 Moai, I went back along the coast road to a wide open area at the top of the cliffs on the shoreline. I pulled over and parked between the cliff and road, opened up the rear door of the little Jeep, sat on the back and enjoyed my lunch overlooking the rocky coast that strung out in both directions, undisturbed by buildings or civilization. There were few cars passing on the road, and no sign of life anywhere I looked, except of course one of the bicycling ladies. Other than that, the only movement was windblown grass and birds. As I wrote earlier, all of the native land birds originally found on Rapa Nui by the first Polynesian settlers became extinct. Except for sea birds which have recolonized the island, there are only four species of birds on the island; House Sparrows and Pigeons that seem to make a home where ever men live, and Common Diuca Finch and Chimango Caracara were introduced. The Caracara are related to Falcons but behave almost like crows; gregarious, numerous and unafraid of people, they will even form into small flocks. Along with other land bird species that were also introduced but didn’t establish viable breeding population, the Caracaras and Finch were introduced from mainland Chile.
When Europeans started to settle on the island, it was leased by a British company from Chile to be used to raise cattle. The major problem was that the besides no trees, the island was infested by rats, both the smaller Polynesian rat which arrived with the first Polynesians on their canoes and later the larger European rat came on the European’s ships. To control the rats the Caracara were introduced because they would prey on the rats and nest on the cliffs; today the rats are controlled and the Caracara are everywhere; the other birds were introduced to fill other niches.
I’ll stop here and continue my journey around the island next time
Enjoy the Journey
Scott C. Ames