20.06.10 Rapa Nui – church, Rano Kau, Orongo

Was supposed to wake up early for church, but only managed to catch the last 10 minutes of mass. The service was in Spanish accompanied by Rapa Nui music. I remember asking the guide about religion yesterday and she said that Rapa Nuis practice a “synchronization” of both catholicism and traditional beliefs. The church is ornately decorated with wooden carvings that are typical of the islanders’ wood craft culture.

After stocking some snacks for lunch, I started walking in the direction of Rano Kau, the volcano that is nearest to town. Along the way, I passed by another bay and the Chilean army/naval post. Stopped to check with the naval Chilean officers whether I was walking in the right direction. I wondered how the Rapa Nuis feel about the Chilean army being here considering the various sentiments I have been hearing about “Rapa Nui is different from Chile” (depending on whose account you listen to, the annexation of Rapa Nui to Chile is either a voluntary or uneasy or unhappy one).

Walked past some villages with fishing boats docked at the bay. Then walked down a trail leading to a cave, which was more like a cliff with a slight concave at the bottom. Didn’t find that particularly special but the weather was good and the ocean in a spectacular colour of blue. Continued walking to the foot of the trail leading up to Rano Kau.

As usual I was busy taking photographs of plants that probably won’t matter to most people. But I find the plants were interesting and you probably won’t notice them unless you were on foot (rather than by bike or car), plus I was getting kind of bored by just walking. Another guy on the trail stopped to see what I was doing. Started chatting – and later on it turned out that we were the only 2 people on the trail.

Turns out he’s from France and writing a novel while travelling for a year in South America (already I have met a few people who are travelling for a year or more), and I am only the second Malaysian traveller he has met. “You mean in South America?” I asked. Apparently, EVER (the first he met was in Czech Rep. Could have joked whether that was me too). He’s staying on the island for 2 weeks! I was wondering how anyone could afford to stay here for that long. Later on it transpired that he’s camping (there is only one permitted camp site on the island for tourists).

It turns out that he was walking just as slowly as I was. And later on I realised why – he was spotting for petroglyphs – carvings on lava stones by the ancient Rapa Nuis. Courtesy of him, I also took some photos of the petroglyphs, which I have seen on some other sites, but these are not marked exhibits. The island is really an open air museum, and it is a bit peculiar that not more is done to protect these remains from erosion (or for that matter, a horse with an itchy back).

It took less than 2 hours to reach the rim of the crater of Rano Kau. Supposedly stable, the crater is now more like a lake brimming with fauna.

The surrounding landscape is interesting, in that there are no trees, except for a couple of odd clusters. Generally, growth is short and the slopes are covered with lalangs and lava rocks.

Decided to walk around the crater, and so did the guy. Took almost 2 hours (ok, was walking relatively slowly and being very snap-happy), just to reach the edge facing the sea to see a sign saying “no paseo”!!! I wouldn’t say that the route was wasted except that to get to Orongo I had to backtrack and circle the crater anti clockwise; Orongo was exactly on the opposite side of the crater!

Bidded farewell to the guy who decided to descend via another way and I gathered pace so as to make it to Orongo before sun down.

This time, I finally saw other people around the crater, a person painting, and another 2 visitors who came up by car. The weather today has been most lovely, and yet so few visitors. And that is the perk of coming to this island during low season; you can have the place almost exclusively to yourself.

I reached Orongo with ample time to spare. Orongo is a preserved and partly restored site of an ancient Rapa Nui tradition, involving the Birdman cult. There you will see how the houses built (by a unique stone stacking system) and the islets where the Birdman ritual is performed. Although ticket-controlled (only 2 sites on Easter Island requires ticket: Orongo village and Rano Kau, an exorbitant US$60 for foreigners and US$20 for locals for both sites, which is a steep increase from the previous price of US$10. And in spite of the hefty price, theoretically you are only allowed to enter each site once), I didn’t realised how fragile it was:- there is a vantage point with the petroglyph-carved rocks perched over the sea which used to be sacred site and I was the only one there initially, taking my own time to sight see and take photos; then, a tour group (incidentally, they were the same group I was with the day before) came and I realised that the guide only permitted 5 people to stand at that point at any one time.

Interesting.

It was about 5.30pm by the time I made my descent. I was to walk another 2 hours before reaching the inn. My legs were so tired from walking since morning and I was to walk again to town to meet ling for dinner after taking a quick shower. Walking alone at night is not a big problem, but it can be very dark. Suddenly, I was startled by a sound from the back, and I couldn’t make out what it was… until I realised that it was a galloping horse!

Had a big tuna (fresh ones, not the canned stuff) sandwich generously smothered with avocado and home-made mayonnaise as we exchanged stories about our day. Turns out that ling met a couple of Rapa Nuis who asked her to go fishing, but she turned them down because she was meeting me. Aww so sweet but told her she could have just called the inn and dropped a note for me (neither of our mobiles have connection on this remote island). As it turned out, by the time we finished and paid for dinner, one of the Rapa Nuis whom she met earlier, happened to drive by and spotted her. After exchanging introductions, he invited both of us to a “festivity” which we had absolutely no clue what it was but decided to just go with the flow.

This turned out to be a party or gathering of sorts at Mau’s home, with a few other Rapa Nuis and Mau’s girlfriend from Santiago. There, I had my first pisco sour, mixed with coconut juice poured from a coconut that Mau just smashed opened on a stone on the front porch. That kicked off an unusual night.

After a few drinks and a somewhat heated conversation with Mau (through translation by Maria though it is not her fault), Mau offered to do face painting for ling and I. It’s supposed to be a spiritual experience, although I didn’t quite feel it the way ling did. Took a group photo with the flag of Rapa Nui (please do not say that the symbol on the flag looks like an empanada as the people are very proud of their flag).

While the guys partied on, it was then just us girls chatting, although ling gave way and fell asleep on the bed! Had a very interesting conversation with Maria, with some curious interjectures from Mau who was wondering what his girlfriend was talking to me (in English) about. He obviously didn’t like it although he toned down later on. Incidentally this behavior had something to do with what we were talking about too but too complicated to explain here.

Soon it was almost 4am. I had a tiring day and was wondering when and how were we going to go back to town (Mau’s home is in the middle of the woods). Everyone seemed to think it was a good idea to stay over. Anyway there was talk of catching the first sun of the winter solstice at 6am (?). As I dozed off with ling with our face paints, the party was still going on.

The next morning, we woke up at close to 8 (whoever was thinking of getting up early for the first sun was sadly mistaken).

Still groggy, I decided not to join the rest for the day. Plus I originally had plans of my own. Mau dropped me off at the inn, and thus starts another day of adventures (or perhaps, misadventure?)

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