Heading to the Alps

At the beginning of our drive south the next day we immediately passed what we then knew were kiwis, apple trees, and hops. If it hadn’t been for the signs warning drivers of the hops trucks, we wouldn’t have known what crop we were passing. Someone was selling bags of horse poo for $2. Farm stands are unmanned, though the one we stopped at had a security camera. For just over US $2 each we bought a bag with several apples and a small container of blueberries, none of which had been sprayed. They were tasty!

To give Bill a break from the driving, since I was added to the contract for about ten dollars, I took the wheel and managed to stay on the mountainous road while on the left side. After an hour and a half my shoulder hurt from holding on tightly so gave Bill back the control. As we approached the west coast the skies began clearing and the temperature actually seemed quite hot. A stop at Tarangua Bay gave us some sunshine and a chance to enjoy more fur seals on the rocks and their pups frolicking in the waters. One mama kept calling her wayward child who finally managed to make its way to her only to continue on exploring. More calls convinced the young one to go see her. Mama lay on her side and eventually the still suckling child went to get some nourishment. We also saw a couple of wekas, a common bird about the size of a hen, who love shiny things.

Further down the coast is Punakaiki where there are “pancake rocks”, a rather unique formation. The limestone created twenty-five million years ago was uplifted five million years ago. For the past one hundred thousand years, erosion has stripped away the sand and gravel of what had been a beach covering the limestone. With the skies continuing to be clear, we were able to marvel at the grand display covering quite a distance.

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For the night we stopped in Hokitika. We were glad we were getting smart to book ahead two nights as there was no room at seemingly all the inns. This one was expensive, being fifty dollars more a night than we prefer to pay and the room was small. Again, being given milk, we were able to have a quick cereal with fruit in the morning before heading out.

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The North Coast of South Island

Needing wild scenery we chose a route west that took us along the coast. The fiords were a welcome sight, though the mountains still relatively short. We took a short walk up a somewhat muddy path to Cullen lookout. Along the way a small quail suddenly crossed in front of me. Just around the bushes was a family of them, parents and two hatchlings happily exploring their surroundings. Mom seemed to be trying to nest. The view at the top of the path was worth the effort to get there. This was the first sunny day since we had left Auckland which helped to lift our spirits.

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We continued on through Nelson and stopped at Motueka to arrange for a scenic boat ride along the Abel Tasman National Park coast. The weather for the next day was not expected to be very pleasant, and we were told not many bookings were being made. Since we were there we chose to take our luck with the rain but not do any long walks. With our reservation complete we tried to find a place to stay. That was almost impossible on Booking.com and Agoda. AirBnB had a place, expensive, but while waiting for a reply from the owner we started driving up the road to a tourist place which helps with accommodations. Quite quickly Bill spied a holiday park with vacancy. It turned out to also have motel rooms and one was available! We took that and the next night had to switch to the one next door, due to ours being reserved. It was clean and comfortable! There was a small living room with kitchenette, bedroom with queen, and a bathroom. Once again we were given a pint of milk so we were able to enjoy cereal in the morning.

Well, when we boarded the next rainy morning at 9 AM the boat was full! We were afraid we would be cramped below deck with condensation blocking any views, but fortunately the rain stopped and we were able to get outside and enjoy them. The misty morning provided a more dramatic scene than glaring sun would have. The boat made several stops along the way up the shoreline and numerous people disembarked to do some hiking. That gave us more opportunities to position ourselves as we cruised along. Two hours after leaving Kaiteriteri we arrived at Totaranui where we turned around. At Medlands Beach we got off where we had just over an hour to walk along a trail which would circle back to the beach.

The woods were quite different from what we have experienced, with many fern trees. For a while the rain held off but started to pick up as we strode along the trail which followed the coast. There was a small waterfall and with ducks and a quiet lagoon further on. Bill noticed that the circular trail involved a crossing which is accessible only at low tide. Since this was mid-tide we weren’t going to be able to do the entire route. Quickly, we doubled back which meant missing the second waterfall and the swing bridge. With ten minutes to spare and the boat waiting off shore, Bill used the bathroom and we took a few more photos. On the return trip we stopped again to see fur seals on an island and also made a half hour stop at Anchorage where we ambled along the beach and photographed a different variety of trees. One couple stripped down to their skivvies and took a dip in what must have been mighty chilly water! I did not feel so inclined.

When we returned to the holiday park the owner asked us about our day. Due to the name Vineyard Tourist Units we assumed we saw grape vines across the way. No, she explained those were kiwis! I had no idea how they grew. When I approached them I could the leaves are different, but the support systems and general look truly resemble a vineyard.

North Island, New Zealand

Auckland, where we entered a country new to us, is really quite a pleasant city. The two days we were there the air was calm, fresh, and warm. We stayed in the Ponsonby area, quite upbeat and quiet. The room was tiny with barely room to walk around three sides of the bed and no real room for either suitcase. Bill had to step over his to get to the bathroom. There was free use of the kitchen which meant we could make our own meals. An easy breakfast of granola and milk along with tea/coffee was all we opted to do at that point.

From there it was about a half hour stroll to get to downtown Auckland. Victoria Park is a happening area if one is part of the cricket world, where three matches were underway. A band consisting of drummers and bagpipers practiced for hours in the shade. Kiwis do love their cigarettes and don’t mind dropping the butts on the sidewalks. Other than that, there was little littering. Even in the heart of the city the air did not seem polluted by fumes or blowing grains of sand.

We skipped the pricey Sky Tower but did watch a man calmly plummet from the modified bungee jump and a small group of tethered walkers at the same height. The Auckland Museum has a marvelous display of Maori artifacts and a well rehearsed show expressing their history and culture. The National Geographic New Zealand photography exhibit was breathtaking and allowed voting for the favorite shots.

The war canoe below could carry one hundred warriors and has a twenty-five meter hull carved from a single log.  It’s huge!  Carving was a prominent aspect of the culture and could only be carried out by men; in fact, women were not even allowed to watch.  Adzes were used for the larger cuts and work while chisels and mallets were implemented for the finer details.

Our initial impressions over two days were that the people are very friendly, restaurants and clothing very expensive, grocery stores have comfortable prices, the infrastructure sound, and the speech, though having a mild accent, was at times a challenge to understand in that it can be quite quick. The car rental price was not outrageous.

The second morning after Bill picked up the car rental back by the airport, he returned to the guesthouse where we loaded the car and began exploring the area south. First up was a glow worm cave at Waitomo. A friend had highly recommended the black water adventure involving caving and tubing, but we opted for a calmer safer boat excursion. The glow worms are the larvae of the fungus gnat and their multitude of lights does resemble a sky full of green stars. They send down silky strands to catch insects and then haul them up for a meal. Once they become adults, they mate and die; a short and simple life. No photography is allowed for safety reasons such as people not dropping cameras or falling, keeping the crowd moving, and to be sure flashes do not go off. We did a bit of walk in the caves first to see the stalagmites and stalagtites. Around the country there are several glow worm caves which can be visited.

From there we headed south west towards a boob of land where there is a photogenic lighthouse. Not too far before getting there we spent the night at a motel with a huge room and kitchenette which could have held perhaps eight of the rooms we had in Auckland. When we checked in the manager asked us if we wanted milk. That was a new one for us. He told us usually a pint of milk is given to guests for their coffee in the morning, but we used it for our breakfast cereal! We walked into town for dinner and bought some groceries on the way home. We added to our breakfast cereal and cheese and crackers for lunch on the road. Unfortunately the skies were quite overcast the next day so the photo op of a volcano in the distance behind the lighthouse did not happen. I did like the bright red door of the lighthouse, though. The coast was quite uninteresting making us crave the wild Irish meeting of the land and the sea.

Not feeling quite as enthralled with the North Island we opted to keep going south along the coast and spent the next night in Whanganui. For $6 NZ/ $4.36 I was able to wash and dry a load of laundry which included the detergent. While doing that I checked again the ferry crossing to the South Island and suddenly found the ride we wanted in two days was booked. After discussing what to do we decided to book the crossing for the next day at 5 PM which would get us into Picton about 8:30 that night. Using a magazine discount, Arrival, we saved a bit of money as we did at the glow worm cave. When that was taken care of, it was time for dinner. Interestingly, we had to pay for it when we ordered at a sizable hotel with an Irish pub. The food was pretty good and Bill had a Guinness draft. I found the NZ white wines not nearly as dry as I prefer, and they tend to be fruity.

The drive towards Wellington, where we were to board the ferry, was a bit more interesting as we finally we able to view some mountains. The village of Mana is on the water and was worth a stop for photos and lunch.  The capital city was nothing special, at least the part we walked around while waiting to get in line for the ferry. Bill stopped in at a camera store looking for a particular lens, which was not to be had. We arrived at the ferry terminal two hours ahead of departure and had to wait an hour to drive on. The three-and-a-half hour crossing itself provided the most interesting scenery up to that point, and we finally felt we were going to see what everyone who has been to NZ has raved about.

We arrived in Picton on time and checked into our hotel about ten minutes before they locked the door for the night. We managed to find a lot to park our car, unloaded, unwound, and went to sleep. Breakfast was self-serve with cereals, yogurts, canned fruit, and bread to toast. Coffee and tea were also available. Dishes were to be rinsed and placed in the drying rack so the female manager could put them in the dishwasher, as she pleased, later.

Time to explore the South Island!

Final Days in Rapa Nui

Our original plan was visit the museum first.  When we got there it was closed, which was a bit aggravating as we had been told it was closed Sunday and open the other days.  Turns out it was open Sunday and closed Monday.  Grrrr.

There was only one more stretch of dirt road to explore.  From the popular sunset spot heading north is a dirt road which meets up with the one we walked on the day before.  This small complex has two seventeenth century restored ahu, but only one with a standing moai, along with an enclosed stone garden or chicken coop and some rubble.  Tradition says each new king lived for a while near Ahu Akapu.  A nearby school taught the king the art of engraving tablets with rongo-rongo script.

We continued driving up the bumpy road to another section of the National Park.   The park ranger was playing a game of chess with his friend off to the side of the hut. While Bill was having our tickets stamped, I spoke a bit with the other player.  I noticed his arm was sporting a large tattoo of the rongo script.  I had read it has not yet been deciphered as there are not enough of the original writings to do that.  I asked him about that and was told it tells about the culture of the Rapa Nui people, which I had assumed.

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The first cave we came to, Ana Kakenga, is a lava tube about 50 meters long and was used as a shelter.  We weren’t quite sure if what we saw was the cave but the entrance did fit the description.  Some cut rock had been used to make the mouth of the cave smaller and make a narrow passage.  This helped control those who entered and exited.  Deciding this had to be it, Bill waited outside while I carefully crept down into the entryway.  There was no head room so I had to be very careful as I crept deeper into the cave.  Again, with my iPhone flashlight not being very bright, I could not see well enough to desire to go much further.  Banging my head on an overhead rock was not in the plan.  There were supposed to be two openings at the other end which face the sea and an islet, but I left that for someone else to enjoy.

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The next cave, Ana Te Pora, is also a lava tube but has more head room.  It was used as both a shelter and ceremonial place long ago.  People also hid in them during wars.  We both went into this one and exited not too far along.  At this point there is a continuation which descends into the next section with a tree growing out of it.  Bill stayed outside while I ventured onwards.  It was pretty dark so I didn’t go very far.

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On the way into town we passed the current cemetery.  It is filled with a mix of Christian and Rapa Nui icons.  There are no funeral companies on the island so the people have to make all the arrangements, from building the coffin to transport to the cemetery.  The dead are always buried with their heads to the Pacific Ocean.  Wildflowers grew everywhere and made for a more wild than manicured look.

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Our last dinner was closer to this area with another view of the ocean.  The food was quite tasty, Bill’s being the best he had had.  I had a risotto with fish and lemon and cheese which I loved.

The next morning we were going to take a taxi to the museum, but needed pesos which we didn’t have.  There was no where close to get any so we hung around the hotel using the wifi until the owner took us to the airport.  There was supposed to be wifi there, but it wasn’t working.  Being a small airport we had to wait until closer to the flight to go through security.  Once we did, we were in an area open to the outside.  People milled about and took photos of the waiting plane, a moai, and a few other items including a memorial to the joint effort of the US and Chile to extend the runway.  in 1987 the Easter Island airport was to be used as a possible landing for the space shuttle which required a modification.

Both legs of the trip back to Mexico were with lie flat beds.  We didn’t need them for the first one, but the second one was delayed by several hours.  Fortunately, we were able to use the Latam lounge which is much bigger and was more crowded.  We didn’t see anywhere to stretch out, but there was plenty of free food and drinks.  This one had showers, but at that point we didn’t feel a need.  We finally took off in the wee hours and did stretch out to sleep for about five hours, skipped dinner, and took advantage of breakfast.  We missed our Interjet flight back to Costa Rica.  Thankfully, Latam had told the other airlines of the delay due to bad weather, perhaps smog, in Mexico and to help passengers get to where they needed to go.  The agent with Interjet did get permission to put us on the next flight, about nine hours later.  As we weren’t on a connecting flight with Latam we couldn’t use the lounge, but they seemed to make an exception as long as we paid thirty dollars each.  This time we did take showers which helped me feel not as yucky after the long wait and three hour upcoming flight.  We arrived home about midnight rather than midday, but it wasn’t too bad.

I am so glad I chose Easter Island as the destination for my birthday.  It was really cool learning about the culture and just being on a remote speck of land way out in the South Pacific.

 

A Mix of Sites on Rapa Nui

Curious about the church service we drove downtown, used the free Wifi in the park, and ambled towards the singing gently flowing from the congregation.  As we stood outside for a few minutes and then peaked inside there seemed to be many songs with just a few verbal thoughts from the priest in between them.  After entering a side door, I could see the pews were filled.  I finally was able to see the priest who was in a robe and large white feathered headdress.  He was unique to any religious leader I had personally seen with my own eyes.  On the right side and in pews closer to the front were a few tropical shirt clad musicians playing ukeleles and other instruments I couldn’t see.

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On a previous day we had stopped in this simple yet large building and were intrigued it was decorated in an understated fashion.  In the back was a display case showing a 3D configuration of their future church.  It was pretty cool to see that it is in the shape of a turtle!  The roof is curved like an actual turtle shell.  Fun and creative!

There was one more stretch of road we had to explore so off we headed to the central western area.  From town we were a bit confused but finally came to an intersection, turned left, and located the section with Ana Te Pahu, a cave.  We had our tickets stamped saw why the road was closed.

With evidence of dried mud, some places which we deeper, we walked almost a half hour along the plain before arriving at the cave.  As rain would filter through the ground and collect on the floor, this large and spacious cave was initially used for water storage.  Banana trees grow well in the open center space with caves on either side, as do taro, a root vegetable, and mahute, a fibrous plant which can be mashed into a paper-like product.

Entry involved descending about a dozen stone steps.  To the right was a huge cavern with elongated oval storage areas.  We headed towards the back to find that it went quite a long ways.  With our meager iPhone lights we did not go as far as we could have.  On the other side of the steps and a bit further to the left was another smaller cave.

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Another half hour down the road were the remains of a ceremonial complex.  As we ambled along, dark clouds seemed a bit threatening so we paused under a stretch of parrot trees.  The only lizard I saw during our stay on Rapa Nui was there doing a few pushups before scampering away.  It seemed we had more time before the drops would really start so went on down to the end where we fed a cow trying to reach those nutritious leaves and then on towards the next smaller group of trees.  After a pee break and the passage of the clouds we continued on.

Ahu Tepeu seemed to be one of the most vast ceremonial complexes on the west coast and similar to that of Vinapu.  The walls were not as well done here, though, but still reminded me of Incan construction.  The aristocratic village included stone circular greenhouses, hen houses, boat houses, and earth-ovens.  The boat houses were quite long, one about forty meters, with only the outlay of the bases remaining.

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The high volcanic cliffs gave what seemed to be more than a hundred eighty degree view of the horizon.  A few cows grazed, one being very brave right at the edge!

On the way back along the dirt track more dark clouds were approaching pretty quickly.  Fortunately, we were quite close to the cave and were able to find refuge there before getting terribly wet.  Other people were already there and others arrived shortly thereafter soaked to the skin.  We were quite lucky!  A half hour later the rain eased up and we were able to make our way back to the car.  The mud was quite slick and I came close to falling twice.  Our mud spattered pant legs were easily washed that night in the sink.

Back on the road we quickly came to another ahu called Akivi, restored in 1960.  These statues are a bit inland and face the ocean to the west, lined up for the solstices.  They might have been used as a type of calendar for agricultural purposes.

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The last stop of the day was at Puna Pau, a volcanic center where the topknots/turbans/feather headdresses were initially carved.  It isn’t known which they represent.  There were about twenty scattered about, some with petroglyphs of canoes and tribal logos.  The mirador at the top of the hill affords a panoramic view towards Hanga Roa, the town, and the countryside with volcanoes near and far.  These ten tons items might have been rolled to the remote locations of the ahu, but it has not been proven.  Neither has how they were mounted onto the heads; stone ramps is one theory and another is a system of ropes and tree trunks.  The final carving was done on site at the ahu.

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Something Different on Rapa Nui

Vinapu is in the southwest corner of the island and consists of two main large ahu at this ceremonial site. A third is mostly rubble. A very interesting difference of the stonework of the ahu wall here is the strong similarity to that of the Incas. The stones are perfectly cut and fitted together so tightly a slip of paper could never be inserted. It is though there was a brief period of visitors from what is now Peru, which is a considered possibility. Numerous moai and headdresses lie about, some seeming to have never been completed. There is one female statue, well eroded, that supposedly had two heads. Perhaps the dead were laid to dry on a board between them.

Once the moai culture started to collapse after the natural resources were depleted for multiple reasons, the Birdman culture expanded and became the new culture. The new belief system was that communication between the dead and living was through competition. Orango, also in that corner of the island, was our next destination.

The road curls around the side of the volcano, Rano Kau, with a mirador close to the end. From here is an aerial view of the town, Hanga Roa, the airport, and other volcanoes in the distance. Just past there is another viewpoint, this one of the crater. We decided to visit Orango first, and to stop there on the way back. Orango is the other section which can only be visited once for the life of the park ticket.

The site had been used earlier for ceremonial purposes, and the construction of the village cemented it as the most important ritual center on the island. It was used exclusively for religious intents. The houses were used only for meeting and sleeping so were not at all spacious in any direction, including vertical. To enter the people crawled through a small opening in front. Many paintings and petroglyphs were created by a small set of craftsmen. The petroglyphs were difficult to see and we initially missed them. The paintings were not available as they had been plundered long ago.

The worship of the god Make-Make and fertility grew as the moai culture waned. The Birdman competition was held annually in September when the terns migrated to the islands. Just off the cliffs of Orango are three very small islands. The biggest has numerous caves which the terns used for nesting. Each tribe selected one representative who swam out to the island and waited for eggs to be laid. The first one to scale that small spit of land to notify the others on Orango via a communication chain he had an egg was declared Birdman for a year. Then the head of that clan shaved his head. It was quite a feat to get down a thousand foot shear cliff to the ocean, swim to the island avoiding the sharks, gather an egg, and then scale the cliff to return to the village with the egg. The participants took provisions out in reed baskets, and returned with the egg in a reed holder on his forehead. Food and other tributes were enjoyed by the winners. The leader would then go into seclusion for a year. The first five months were considered sacred and he would let his nails grow and wear a head piece of human hair. Eating and sleeping were the only activities. About a hundred years later, Christian missionaries put an end this culture in 1860.

Towards the end of the trail through the former settlement is a fabulous view down into the crater of Rano Kau. A marsh has formed there with the same types reeds in the lagoon near the quarry.. The intense green of the algae on the sides seemingly close to the azure blue of the sky was quite stunning. Bill stated it was one of his ten favorite sites he has ever seen. At the widest it measures 1.5 kilometers and just over a kilometer across at the marsh. This view is from the other side where we stopped on the way out.

From there we continued down the road along the coast to visit a cave with a painting to be viewed. We found it a bit disappointing as it was difficult to discern the subject. The ragged coastline, though, was intriguing. There were a few inaccessible caves carved out at the base of sheer cliffs. As with Ireland, the exquisite water colors along the dramatic coasts is just a delight I would never tire seeing.

After a rest and shower we returned to town and enjoyed delicious personal pizzas. Our young waiter practiced his English to translate the numerous options. He really was quite delightful.

Happy 65th Birthday, to Me! More From Rapa Nui

Although when we arose there was a threat of rain, when we arrived on the north shore the skies gradually became more blue.  A friendly park ranger stopped his chore of clearing debris from the overnight rain and winds to stamp our National Park tickets.

Anakena beach, the only shoreline really safe for swimming was the next location of standing moai we viewed.  According to legend, this is where Hotu Maru’a and his people arrived at Rapa Nui and established a village.  Thor Heyerdahl landed here in 1955 when there were no trees.  Now there is a large grove of coconut trees as seeds were imported from Tahiti and carefully planted so they would thrive.  The moai were set back up on the ahu in 1978.  It is said that the drifting sand covered them when they were toppled which helped preserve them from erosion.  Four of the seven are basically complete with their burgundy topknots.

There are also a few remnants of the village, ceremonial sites, and such that are both above and below ground.  We could see umu pae, underground ovens for baking; hare paenga, foundations of houses with an upside down boat shape; and poro, smooth beach stone used for terraced paving.  The house foundations have rather shallow circular holes to hold poles, but they didn’t seem deep enough to have done the job very well.

We meandered around the outskirts of the beach with the ever present black lava flows.  The beach itself is made from soft white sand with other areas having a coarser pink component.  A few people were setting up for some sun and clear water and as we were leaving a group of young adults arrived with kayaks.

From there we drove down the coast towards yesterday’s end point.  Close by is Ovahe which has a small sandy beach.  Some people claim it is safe for swimming, but there are too many sharp craggy volcanic rocks to tempt me.  These are deep red rather than black.  We did make our way over to it, though.  Ovahe is a site of some ecological restoration projects, and we did see a group of people with a park ranger in the distance gathering up something.

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There is also a crematorium site here.  The borders were built from slabs of basalt stone or other hard stone.  Coral, obsidian blades, fish hooks, and other tools have been found inside.  When wood became scarce they were abandoned in the fifteenth century.  Burnt human bones mixed with animal bones were discovered in 1987 in one of the crematoriums which might suggest cannibalism.  Others only have human bones but exclude the skulls and teeth.  Legend says they were placed elsewhere.  Those crematoriums which do have skull remains might be from their enemies and burning them a way to show disrespect.   Some bodies were burned without treatment, others were left to dry and decompose before cremation, and others show the skin had been removed prior to cremation.  Much more research is needed to truly understand this component of the culture.

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Te Pito Kura has only one statue, and is the biggest moai moved and erected on an ahu at almost ten meters tall and weighing about eighty tons.  It, too, is toppled and lies face down with its twelve ton top knot, pukao, resting by itself.  There is also a circular enclosure with a large round stone surrounded by four smaller ones.  Legend tells it was brought by the founder of Rapa Nui from his homeland Hiva, and contains a great force. Before it was put out of reach, one could actually touch it and feel the heat, or its mana.  In reality, sorry, it contains a lot of iron with absorbs more heat than its surroundings.

Further on is Papa Vaka, a prehistoric ceremonial site with petroglyphs.  Although difficult to discern due to erosion of the volcanic lava flows, one can find canoes, fish hooks, and sea creatures such as tuna and sharks.

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Nearby is another stop, this time at Pu O Hero.  This is an engraved stone and a talisman for fishing.  Supposedly, by blowing through one of the holes fish can be attracted to the coast.  This stone was also a war trophy and carried about to various places on the island.

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We stopped again at Tongariki to view the fifteen moai which to me were the most striking.  Then it was back to the hotel to rest and shower before my birthday dinner.  We went to the restaurant near the ahu popular for sunset pictures.  As we are wimps, we ate before the sun set and went home to bed.  My ribs were supposed to have a sauce based on ancient family recipe; to me it tasted like it came right out of a bottle.  The dessert was chocolate cake, but it was what we North Americans call a pie.  The thin dark chocolate filling was absolutely wonderful on a rich crust.

Rapa Nui Friends

While we wandered around the harbor area the first night we saw some individual moais, some looking seaward and others inland.  For dinner we ate at a restaurant right on the edge of the water.  My local fish was white and thick, a bit dry with not enough sauce for me.  The quinoa side salad was excellent, though!  As we dined I kept seeing an animal head surface here and there.  I wasn’t sure if they were sea lions, sea otters, or sea turtles.  I felt sure they couldn’t be turtle heads for the distance and the size.  Yet, when we went to check them out after eating, lo and behold, they were!  At least four of them surfaced simultaneously, so who knows how many were actually there.  A couple of people were in the water nearby, but that didn’t deter them.  They were there again a few nights later.

The next morning we were ready to start exploring this remote unique island after a hearty breakfast included in the price of the room. We headed towards the south coast, me driving the clunky Jimny. After a couple of false starts we were in our way along the rugged volcanic rock coast. The waves were huge with the tide coming in and the water a stunning aquamarine in varying shades.  We made several stops along the coast sometimes just to view the amazing South Pacific Ocean waves and glorious color, and other times we meandered sites of fallen moai and remains of ceremonial areas and villages.  There were a few horses, some with young, which roam freely yet are branded.

One of the two tourist spots allow only one visit per National Park ticket which is good for five days.  One is Raró Raraku where the quarry is.  As we approached the volcano by road we could see the stone structures and people in the far distance.  Yes!  We arrived at the parking lot, paid a dollar to pee, and then headed to the entrance.  Before entering the quarry section we followed the trail up to the volcano crater which now houses a lagoon with reeds.  There are moai up one side looking across the opening.  Horses were in various spots around the crater.  Eventually, a female park ranger came trotting by on her grey one and circled the lagoon to disperse them so as not to damage the moai.

The first erect moai we viewed that day were in the quarry area where we could see the heads sticking up out of the ground. That was pretty cool to actually see them in person.  Everyone must stay on the trails, not touch the carved stones, nor take any stones at all from the island.  Then, along a trail which curved around to view the ocean, we could see the fifteen famous ones on the ahu at Tongariki. Seeing them in the distance for the first time was quite exciting! Later we drove down for an up close and personal experience.

Right there at the bend of the trail is a unique moai in that it is kneeling.  It is not known why, perhaps it was a first attempt before the final design was decided.  It is rounder than the others and, perhaps, sports a beard.

As this is where the initial carving took place, and some were left unfinished, one can see the beginnings of the process.

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The moai of Tongariki were knocked over in the 1600’s due to tribal warfare.  Then, in May 1960, an earthquake caused a tsunami that scattered the statues and alters.  In 1992 the government of Chile and the Moai Restoration Committee of Japan began the four year job of resurrecting the statues.  It was a bit of a puzzle as pieces needed to be matched by grains, markings, color, etc. to figure out which head went with which torso.  Not all the top knots were put back on the heads and were left off to the side in a neat row. The tallest body seems a bit off so perhaps there is a mistake or two. Cranes were brought it to move the pieces and place them back on the ahu.

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Having had an exciting hot first day, we decided to take the coast road back to the hotel and rest.  Dinner was back down at the harbor at a different restaurant with a sea view.  This time I ordered what was translated to as a crab cake, yet the Spanish said it was a creamy crab mixture.  The later was correct!  Quite tasty and rich, it really should have been served with bread, crackers, or raw vegetables at it was what I would use as a dip.  Bill shared some of his fries so at least I ate a bit of vegetable.  Actually, a side of vegetables was never served with any dinners we had!

Around the island there are a few more resurrected statues.  The second group we saw were at Tahai where we viewed the sunset about 9PM that night.  Due to backlighting, we achieved silhouettes with the orange horizon in the background. Many people gather there in the open field.  A few crafts are sold and there is a restaurant nearby where people reserve tables for the sunset views.

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This is the only one with inset eyes on the entire island.  It stands by itself off to the side of the ahu at Tihai.

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Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for another exciting day on this magical island.

 

 

On the Way to Easter Island!!!

Months ago we were lying in bed browsing our iPads when I got an email that notifies me of premium flight deals. My eyes perused the listings and came to rest on a special from Mexico City to Easter Island. It was for premium business class and connected in Santiago. The clincher was we could take advantage of it for my 65th birthday. Bill said he was onboard with the idea even though it meant not getting much sleep. Interjet flies from SJO to MEX, but to be sure we got there in time we would have an eight hour layover in Mexico City. That would mean an even longer travel time. Hey, premium business for the cost of a regular ticket, more or less? Done!

A few days ago as we worked on getting our boarding passes and checked the seating before leaving, we found we might have lie flat beds!! I found a video of someone’s experience on the type of plane and oh, my. The seats have rising leg support and the back reclines to make a bed. Really?? We might actually be able to sleep? Wow.

Interjet then sent an email saying the flight the next morning was leaving an hour earlier than scheduled, for a reason not shared. Yikes. That would mean getting up at 3:30 and having nine hours in Mexico City. I confirmed it with a phone call and rescheduled our taxi ride.

Interjet has taken out fifteen rows of seats giving everyone proper legroom. Amazing. There is no business or first class, just priority seats for being in the front of the plane. It was actually quite comfortable. There were many empty seats, including the one next to us. I moved over to the window to keep an eye on what was below. Mexico City is covered with brown smog. So glad we weren’t going to meander around in the yucky pollution.

We just had carryon luggage and due to our early arrival we didn’t yet know the gate. While we waited for Latam to open, we had a delicious breakfast at a French restaurant. Fresh fruit slices, and eggs Benedict for me did the trick along with some really proper bread. When we got back to Latam they were open and not busy, so we checked on the gate. As it turned out our electronic boarding passes wouldn’t be acceptable there, she printed them for us. Noticing we had premium business, she said we could use the Iberia Lounge on the other side of security. Oh, things were looking better.

Indeed, all we had to do was show our boarding passes and we were allowed to enter this rather comfortable spacious lounge. In the back, in the relax area, were some sofas and divan type things with a back cushion. We could stretch out and even take a nap! Yes! Free food and drinks of all types were also included. The bathroom had one shower stall. We didn’t use it but Bill saw someone getting a towel and amenities pack from the front desk. Ooh la la. Good to know for the future.

Entering the plane and turning left for the premium seating as seen in videos on YouTube and knowing we could enjoy them was a thrill. Getting settled we noticed we did actually have lie flat beds! Score! Mama did well on getting these tickets. There is so much leg room I could not reach the bench across the way above which is the entertainment screen. Having leg support was pretty cool, too. While waiting for take off we were served a glass of champagne and a tiny dish of nuts. Before dinner I began watching a John Le Carre movie. When Max came around to prepare us for food, he placed a white linen tray cloth before serving our dinner. There was another cloth on top of the tray and below our food dishes. Cloth napkins wrapped around the cold plentiful silverware topped it off. Unfortunately the chicken was a bit tough so I didn’t eat much. I made do with a few bits of potato, asparagus, salad, real cheese, and a roll. White wine washed it all down. Dessert was Hagan Daz chocolate ice cream and a small bit of a dark chocolate bar. Later we were given a bottle of water to stay hydrated.

Fatigue set in about a half hour before the movie ended so I paused it and set about getting settled for the rest of the night. The recline worked only so far and neither of us could get it to go completely flat. Other people seemed propped up so I thought that might be just the way it was. We could lie flat if we curled up so at least that was better than the economy seats, although my neck wasn’t completely comfortable. After a few hours of dosing, I sat back up and watched the end of the suspense movie with the surprise ending. Soon breakfast was served in the same elegant style as dinner. The omelet was much tastier than the chicken.

As I played with the seat adjustment buttons, I pressed one I had tried before but it just seemed to raise my legs. I let it work some more and lo and behold, the back of the seat slowly went into horizontal position. I could indeed lie my body flat with my legs stretched out. Even though there wasn’t much time before landing, I took advantage of the lie flat bed. We didn’t think the next leg from Santiago to Easter Island would have such seats, as it was only a five hour morning flight.  Look at all this space, just for me!IMG_8735

Santiago airport has a Latam lounge but only in the international terminal behind security. As we needed to find the domestic terminal and our gate, we just went ahead with that. We had to go through security for the domestic flight and I took a quick nap on two seats before boarding. When we did finally board we were excited to find we did have lie flat seats again! Being sleep deprived and not hungry for another breakfast, we spent most of the flight stretched out flat on our beds. This trip was a bit chilly so the comforter provided came in handy, along with the pillow, which we also had on the prior eight hour flight.

As we approached Easter Island I was thrilled to see the small bit of land out there in the South Pacific Ocean. I couldn’t see any moais from the air, though. Right after the landing and walking the tarmac to enter the building, we bought our tickets to enter the National Park areas for $80 each. Then we exited the building and after a bit found a sign with my name on it. The owner of the hotel gave us each a flower lei and drove us to the Tiare Pacific. After explaining the tour and car rental offers, we were greeted with a fresh fruit smoothie, and taken to our room.

After settling in we walked into town to see what it had to offer for restaurants and car rentals. We decided to go ahead and rent a car for the five days as the distances were too great to walk, the sun is really intense, and tours to see everything would have quickly added up. Insular car rental delivered our clunky Suzuki Jimny to our hotel that evening and we were ready to enjoy the island with freedom of movement the next day.

Belfast and the Titanic Museum

Even though the next morning was rainy, we geared up after a bit of breakfast and walked over half an hour to the Titanic Museum.  The drizzle picked up a few minutes from arrival, but it was not bad at all.  The night before I had bought tickets online for 9:30, which was for early risers.  They were discounted saving us 5 pounds each and eliminated waiting in line to buy them.  The kiosk dispersing them was being updated so we were given personal attention at customer service.

Immediately upon getting into the queue area we were told to stand in front of a stack of suitcases for a photograph of us with the Titanic in the background.  Later, they wanted ten pounds for the 8X10 glossy….um, no thanks!

The entire museum is high tech and numerous people must have taken advantage of the discounted tickets!  The displays began with the industry in Belfast, mainly the linen business which greatly contributed to the city’s growth.  Children were put to work extracting linen fibers from the machinery without turning off the internal workings!  Yikes!  The museum showed the construction of the ill-fated ship, including over three million rivets mostly driven in by hand!  Two people pounded in one rivet so as one swung back the other made contact.  They alternated many times until the rivet was in.  The situation of the three classes of passengers was shared as well as the famous passengers on board.  At the end they showed a video of an undersea exploration of the sunk ship with its rusticles and such.  After some nourishment and time off of our feet, we visited the Nomadic, which was the tender ship which transported the passengers out to the Titanic where it awaited them in deeper water.  Some of the furnishings were original, though some had to be regained from having been removed during its time as a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower and other endeavors.

Despite the wind, the rain had stopped so the walk back home was much drier.  After a rest we returned to the same restaurant, Bennetts, where we dined the night before.  The walk was brief and the food well-prepared.  Bill had his last Guinesses as they should taste until we next return.