Up at 5:30am again to take some more (and better photographs) of the stone platform with the fifteen moai. There used to be eighteen statues on the platform but the massive earthquake in 1960 in Chile caused a tsunami to arrive seven hours later which had an eleven metre high wave that smashed the original eighteen to smithereens and they can only find fifteen to put back.
Back at the main town Stuart and I took a small fishing boat out to the the bird man island to go snorkeling. The seas were very rough and our skipper seemed to enjoy smashing our little vessel at great speed into the crest of the massive breakers one were were in the open ocean and then freefalling us down into the watery trough beyond. I was shit scared. The snorkeling was fine when we got to the island - a few exotic fish to note - but the whole trip was was rather marked by the high-speed hydronautics of our skipper. A feat he repeated during our return to dry land.
In the afternoon we decided to bicycle around the island which turned to be far more ambitious act than we had initially anticipated. Lots of hills and slopes lay ahead. We managed it though and rewarded ourselves with a spot of body surfing in the crystal blue waters at the tropical sandy beach.
Up at 5:30amto watch the sunrise over fifteen moai, a hike along the island's rugged north shore, a peek inside an ancient Rap Pa Nui stone observatory, a swim at a tropical beach overlooked by seven maoi with topknots, a spot of potholing down two perilously narrow and deep lava tunnels, and a lateFriday night in town watching a local rock band play to a good-natured long-haired drunken (largely tattooed) crowd. Yes, we managed to over-do it once again on Easter Island.
Having settled in to Easter Island life today we decided to step it up a notch with our exploring.
We started the day with a 9km hike along the rough southern coast of the island, along the terrifying cliffs and then up the steep side of the main volcano.
The main volcano is dormant and the long cooled central crater has since filled with rain water and been populated with deep green rushes, an odd species of endemic fish, and its own unique micro ecology of other flora and fauna. It looked incredibly beautiful.
The crater also was the sight of the famous annual Bird-Man competition last run in the late 1800s. The competitors climbed down the side of the volcano into the sea, swam out to a remote islette through shark invested waters to steal a bird's egg, they swam back, reclimbed the mountain and presented the unbroken egg to the king. The first back won a virgin and had to go into seclusion for a year at the moai quarry. Oddly.
Unsurprisingly the competition has long died out - not least because the island has run out of willing virgins!
In the afternoon we visited said moai quarry to take a look at the birth place of the icon Easter Island statues. All the statues were created there and transported around the island by a means no-one is sure. Some say they "walked".
We were frankly stunned by these amazing big-nosed sculptures and I don't think we will ever see anything quite so awe inspiring.
Carved out of volcanic rock by hand these massive monoliths were in turns beautiful, majestic, and characture-like.
After visiting the quarry we walked along the route the moai took as they "walked" around the island.
I don't think we will ever see anything quite like it again.
We left Santiago with a rather heavy heart. It was a fab city with lots to do and we had been there all to briefly
But we were due to be heading east. Due easy in fact. 2000 miles out to sea. To one of the most remote inhabited places on earth. Easter Island. The place of those giant stone heads known as moai.
The flight there was great (a super comfortable Boeing Dreamliner), the airport was simple (basically a hut), and the welcome warm (purple garlands all round).
Easter Island is small. Very small. It is a simple triangle of scrub land 14 or so kilometres across connecting three dormant volcanoes. There are very few trees, thousands of wild horses, a bit of tourism, and lots and lots of moai.
We were staying in the south part of the island away from the only town - obstensibly so we could experience island life at its most genuine. But in reality we were staying in a high end tourist lodge that locals probably never see the inside of.
In its defence, tourism is really the only industry on the island and all the money generated by the lodges, hotels, guides, and rangers goes back into the local economy. Also the relatively high entrance fee to the national park is ploughed back into protecting the unique ecology of the island.
Our first afternoon was spent acclimatising and going on a trek down to the sea to see one of the ancient maoi platforms. All the statues we saw had been tipped over there though in one of the tribal wars the island suffered 1000 years ago so it was a bit disappointing. Nice view of the sea though.
In the evening there was a local dance performance which rather caught our eye, for some reason...
Having decided to have a day off from sightseeing today what did we end up doing instead? More sightseeing than ever of course!
We traveled on the metro (clean, cheap, and most importantly easy to navigate). We took the cable car up to the top of Cerro San Cristobal (fast, cheap, and most importantly it didn't sway - the car that is not the mountain). Great views by the way. We walked through the long park that runs beside the torrential river (lots of grafitti, lots of people watering the park grass, I mean dozens of people, they are obsessed with watering grass here). We wandered around bohemian Bellavista (lots of street art, a real gay vibe, we drank beer, we ate chorrillana, everything was cheap as chips, especially the chips that came with the chorrillana). We went shopping (lots of hand gestures, and lots of laughing). We climbed Cerro Santa Lucía (it's a hill, it's steep, it's high, it looks like a fairytale castle at the top, it's kitsch, it's fab). We headed back to take rest. We collapsed exhausted.
After spectacular views flying over the Andes we finally touched down at Santiago airport late morning. The promised mountain air turbulence "strap yourself in tightly" had luckily not materialised and we were down on the ground safe and sound.
The Andes are breathtaking and so do make sure you book a window seat if you are ever lucky enough to fly over them.
Once the aircraft doors were open we took a deep breath. We like to do that. You can often get a feel for a place by how it smells. And we could tell straightaway we were going to like this place. Our noses told us it would be fresh, warm and friendly.
The climate at this time of year in Chile is indeed warm. Very warm in fact. It's their summer time. But again, luckily for us, although today was bright and sunny, it was not too hot. Shorts and t-shirt weather. With just a smear of sunblock.
Getting through Chiliean security and customs was dead easy compared to some airports we have visited and this laid back attitude and informality was extended throughout our first day here. Friendly faces, winning smiles and happy people were everywhere.
We sidestepped the usual gaggle of taxi hawkers and met our first friendly, happy, and smiling people - our driver and city guides Arial and Philippe. Before we knew it we were whisked out of the airport, in a car, along a few dual carriageways and into downtown Santiago proper.
Looking much like any European capital (Madrid? Lisbon?) Santiago was modern, open, and very green. In fact many of the trees and bushes along the roads and in the parks looked districtly familiar. Philippe explain why. Over the centuries the rich, the wealthy and the privileged had imported European plants and trees as symbols of their sophistication and importance and the flora had all but taken over. What the Spanish had done militarily the rich had done with their shrubs he quipped.
Something Santiago is rather short of however is old historical buildings. They were all turned to rubble in one or other of the massive earthquakes that regularly hit the region. So our half day city tour had a distinctly modern feel to it - shiney new glass towers, beautifully laid out parks, and food. Lots of food. Which started with a trip to a neighbourhood (and quite outstanding) empanada emporium. All home-made while you wait. We had two each. Delicious.
Philippe said he wanted to give us a "locals" tour so we continued on to his favourite dusty book shop where Chilean history was preserved better than any museum, to the best hot dog stall in the Southern Hemisphere, and to the public chess tables where Grand Masters are crafted. He was in full flood enthusing about his native city. This is where a famous poet was born "you really must read him", where you can buy the best dope seeds in town, where you can get the best haircut this side of the Andes. He obviously loves Santiago and all that enthusiasm was certainly rubbing off. You can even get "coffee with legs" here he said - referring rather sheepishly - to the unique Santiago tradition of coffee shops with blacked out windows and leggy waitresses in miniskirts. We settled for corn, peach and syrup street vendor food instead.
He also showed us a more policital side of his city. The water canon (nicknamed "the spitting llama") and the teargas truck (nicknamed "the skunk") were parked near the city centre on standby. Street protests are still a common feature of present local life here. Injustice, like in all cities, is rife. The rich live up the hill, the poor down in the valley.
Chile has had a troubled past too and we got to see were Pinochet mounted his deadly coup that saw a seventeen year dictatorship where so many got killed or simply disappeared. Very sobering.
Shattered after our long flights and exhaustive tour we soon bid farewell to our guide and headed back to our hotel for some tea and a bit of a rest.
The area where we were staying turned out to be well served by excellent restaurants so later on we plumped for one to only make the schoolboy error of massively over-ordering sharing platters of meat that would have fed the five thousand. We of coursed washed the food down with some Pisco sours, the way you do in this part of the world.
After dinner we settled on a local corner bar to watch the world go by and down a few local beers. The barman doubled as a homespun DJ and made us laugh by playing us Chilean covers of Eurhythmics' Sweet Dreams, Telex's Moskow Diskow, and Trio's Da Da Da.
A suitably silly end to what had been a simply fascinating day.