Day 14: A half day in Santiago, Chile, then the flight to Easter Island
We had the first half of the day to ourselves, as we were to be picked up to be taken to the airport after lunch. We went to the Citibank on the corner near the hotel so that Sue could cash some traveller's checks, but since their minimum was $500 she decided to cash a lesser amount later at the hotel. We set off for our primary goal, the Precolumbian Art Museum in downtown Santiago. It was only a four block walk from the hotel, which wasn't too bad, even with the on-and-off rain that fell on us.
The two-story museum was very nicely done, and had numerous fine examples of ceramics, textiles, statues, and other types of art from all of the South American and Central American precolumbian cultures. We saw some excellent Mayan pieces that were as good as anything that we saw during our previous two trips to Mexico. As usual, we couldn't take any pictures, but there wasn't anything that we really had to record for posterity anyway.
We went in and out of a few shops on the way back to the hotel, and stopped at a Kentucky Fried Chicken and got lunch to go, which we took back to our hotel room to eat. We went down to the hotel business center and sent an email out to a few people letting them know that we had made it this far. It was then time to check out of the hotel, and we met up with our driver, who took us to the airport. After going through the usual procedures, we settled in at the gate to wait the two hours before our plane left for Easter Island. (The two hour lead time was recommended because, since the plane went on to Tahiti, it was considered an international flight.) We could see that it was raining again outside, and wondered what the weather would be on the island.
The flight was about five and a half hours long, and uneventful. We saw our progress being displayed on the cabin monitors, watching the little plane icon on the map slowly covered the 2300+ miles from Chile to the Easter Island as the hours went by.
Easter Island is known as the most remote inhabited island in the world. About halfway between South America and Tahiti, it is way out in the middle of the Pacific ocean, a long way from anywhere. Luckily NASA had improved the runway on the island so that it could be used as an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle, which meant that the LanChile airlines could bring in their 757 jumbo jets full of tourists. The island is known as "Easter Island" to English-speaking people, "Isla De Pascua" to Spanish-speaking people, and "Rapa Nui" to the islanders that live there. It is about 8 by 12 miles in size, has three volcanic craters, 600+ moai (statues), and more enigmas than you can shake a stick at.
We arrived around 8pm or so, and even in the darkness we could see that it was raining somewhat outside. As we de-planed, we had to go down the skystairs that had been pushed up to the aircraft, and walk across the rainy tarmac towards the small terminal building. For some reason I always like to use this old method getting into an airport, as opposed to the modern method of having the plane attach itself directly to the covered terminal entry. I guess it seems kind of nostalgic to get on or off of a plane in this way, as I tend to picture myself next to an old DC-3 prop airliner like you would see on a 1940s airfield.
We retrieved our luggage from the carousel, and I luckily managed to grab one of the few available rusted luggage carts available. We made our way out of the terminal, where we were met by Ramon, who was to be our guide while we were on the island. He presented each of us with a flower lei, and took us to the waiting van. We were originally supposed to have the Hotel Iorana as our hotel on the island, but it was changed to be the Hotel Hanga Roa after we had left on our trip. We were told that the new choice was a better hotel for the same price, but from our point of view the advantage was that the second hotel was closer to the center of town, allowing us to walk to the stores and museum without having to undertake a major hike.
Picture from the brochure for the Hotel Hanga Roa. This is identical to one of the 2-3 room bungalows that we had
that were separate from the main part of the hotel and located next to the ocean.
Another brochure picture, showing one of the bungalow rooms and the view of the ocean.
Even in the darkness we could see that we had left South America behind, and we were now on a Polynesian island. The buildings were made of lava rock, and lush tropical vegatation was everywhere. After checking in with the front desk, we were taken through the palm trees to our bungalow near the ocean. Our room was decorated with pictures of the ancient birdman cult from the island, and its sliding glass door and patio opened right out towards the nearby rocky surf. Aside from some tricky procedures to keep the shower water from not getting either scalding or frigid, it was a very nice room where we could easily spend the next three days.