The trip was unleveled, fragmented in three legs. First part we spent in Santiago, the capital of Chile. We rushed from left to right and we climbed and descended for two days its streets, minute ants part of a tokyoesque continuous flow of its five million people preparing for the Christmas holiday.
Vina del Mar, was an oasis of tranquillity, an upscale beach resort, displaying luxurious mansions and exotic gardens strategically placed on hills overlooking the ocean. Valparaiso, connected to Vina, just a reminder of its former glory is still the second city and Chileís main harbor. Old rusty elevators connected the residential hills with the ship repair yard and the commercial port.
I enjoyed very much the first four
days, even the dried-out Laguna Verde, but all was only a prelude of the
magnificent discovery of the Easter Island.
My lucky Aku-Aku arranged the disposition of our seats in the plane and we ended up next to a group of cheerful Easter Islanders. We got in a chat with them, displaying our rudimentary Spanish vocabulary and we ended up being offered accommodation in the house of one of the Polynesian looking girls. Her name was Maria Rapa Nui, the same as the native name of the island. A good omen as we were going into a land of mystique powers, where Mana made the large statues, Moai, walk to their Ahu platforms.
Mariaís family received us like old acquaintances, with flower necklaces. From the airport we went straight to the church for the Christmas mass, the first that I attended in my life. A first also in its uniqueness, we were part of a crowd singing religious chants in Rapa Nui language on the remotest island on Earth.
Maria, we discovered, was a descendent of the long ear tribe, the builders of Moais and rulers of the land. Her mother, Olga, was the niece of the last king of the island, ill remembered for his agreement to concede the island to Chile in 1888. I discovered her father in the pictures and pages of Thor Heyerdahlís Aku Aku book. Juan the Wizzard, "el brujo", as he is referred to by Heyerdahl, was a powerful character, one of the few people on Rapa Nui that possessed knowledge of secret ways and mystic rituals.
Every minute of the seven days that we stayed in that paradise, the island unveiled its uniqueness before our eyes. Beginning with the Ahu Tahai, some fifty meters from Juanís house, the first one that we discovered and the one that we returned to every evening for magnificent sunsets, followed by numerous mind numbing monuments that filled the tiny island. We saw the ceremonial village of Orongo, situated on the edge of the Rano Kauís crater, place from where every year young strong men competed for the glory given by the first egg brought back from the Motu Nuiís rocky island. Being on that slope I could discover the essence of the island just by looking down to the foamy waves breaking on the jagged shoreline, seeing the three Motu, boulders in a ink violet blue water, or the once mighty fiery crater now filled with water, sheltering trees with exotic fruits from the omnipresent wind.
There are hundreds of Ahu platforms on the island. Seven days are not enough to see everything, it is more like a taste. The ones that we saw, most of them had fallen broken Moais, vestiges of a tribal war that took place in Paradise. But the well known silhouettes of the Moais are not the only mystery of the island, other statues no less puzzling can be found lying around. Some are made of red stone with rounded faces closer to human likeness than the long face of a Moai. One, in Rano Raraku, is of a kneeling man with a goatee beard. It is the "Moai Tuturi" discovered by Thor Heyerdahlís 1955 expedition. Unexplained also is the Ahu wall in Vinapu, and the squared column-like Moai that would make more sense in the high altitude Inca cities.
We discovered a bit of the underground
of this volcanic world. Maria took us to the cave of
the Neru virgins, where young girls hid from the sun for months, whitening
their skin in the depths of the mountain before being wed. We admired the
petroglyphs carved in the stone next to the entry and looked down to the
sea, a precarious drop of more than fifty metres.
On the third day we planned to take a small tour to some sights that could be reached walking. A rain came, changing the plan and we visited the local museum instead. After we went to the sea shore. I wanted to find some of the many hidden caves, keepers of secrets and magic from the time when Mana was on the island. We stopped in a place that looked like all the others, a high rocky shore ending in sharp edged rocks covered with sea urchins at the water level. I climbed down, turned left and discovered a small entry, carefully hidden by some grass. Inside the cave, a human skull appeared in the luminous beam of the flashlight, its mandible crooked in a macabre grin. I photographed and filmed the incomplete skeleton and soon after that I discovered another cave, with a smaller entrance. Its interior, with a low ceiling, had the shape of a horizontal eight. It was much darker in here but the booty was richer. Two skulls were inside, facing whom ever dared to enter their realm. One of the skulls was broken in the occipital region and covered with a dark fungus-like growth. The other of an impeccable ivory color, had a red vertical line on its forehead. I asked Juan about the meaning of the red sign, but he didnít give me any answer. Maria told me, that it is forbidden for them to enter such caves, but she reassured me that I had nothing to be afraid of, I was a foreigner bound to leave soon.
the fourth day we continued our trip around the island. We crawled into
the narrow entrance of the La Cueva de Dos Ventanas, just a hole in the
ground, marked with pebble pyramids. It opened up soon and we followed
the darkness to the explosion of blue light of two windows overlooking
the ocean. Next were Ahu Tepeu and Ahu Akivi, different
in style and position in spite of their proximity. The first is the typical
Ahu with the fallen broken Moais. Somebody put white coral to make up for
their lost eyes. Ahu Akivi is inside the land,
also the only Ahu that displays erected silhouettes of seven Moai facing
the ocean. The legend talks about the seven explorers, the first to set
foot on this island and prepare it for the landing of Hotu Matua, the first
king of Rapa Nui. The place of landing was Anakena beach,
the favorite and largest beach of the island. There are two Ahus with Moais,
their backs turned to the blue ocean. One of the Ahus displays a single
Moai raised by Thor Heyerdahl during the 1955 expedition.
Everyday was too short on the island. The remaining days we spent doing some more exploring, I found another partial skeleton with a skull inside a cave facing the ocean, near Vinapu. We had a boat ride to the three Motu islands, but a rough ocean destroyed our hopes for a landing. Instead we caught a 10 kilos tuna fish that went straight into the "curantoís" earth oven prepared by Mariaís sister-in-law Lucia in our honor.
The last night on the island was New Yearís Eve and we spent it between Moai, tourists and Pascuani in Hanga Roa. A show was on and we watched the dances and listened to the strange sonorities of ancient Rapa Nui songs. The more modern hula-hula tunes had eight odalisques performing the luscious dance.
The departure was quiet, I felt sad to leave so soon the Paradise I had discovered. We boarded the plane wearing beautiful necklaces of shells, our new friendsí way of saying good bye.
In the third leg of the trip we targeted the southern region of Chile filled with postcard-like landscapes of volcanoes and lakes. The first stop was Rancagua, some 85 km South of Santiago. Entering the city we saw with dismay that the map in our guide book was totally useless. Being almost midnight the passers-by were scarce. I spotted a fellow, owner of a small shop, about to close-up for the day. The directions to the Hotel Espagna were complicated, and as I got into my car he pulled next to me and told me to follow him. I followed his car through the maze of narrow streets and we got in front of the Rancagua Hotel. We stopped and I told him that this hotel could do, if not I knew how to get to my initial target. He wished to accompany me to check out the room prices. As they were more than I wanted to pay for at the moment, he insisted to lead me to the Hotel Espagna. When we got there I thanked him for his help but he was already outside of his car ready to check the quality of accommodation of this hotel. I told him that it wasnít necessary and that what he did until then was more than anyone could expect. He accompanied me to the room and on the corridors of the hotel, and told me that he didnít sleep for a second in the past two nights, working the first and celebrating the New Year the next! He said that if this hotel was not convenient he knows a good quality motel with low prices. The rooms were plain but clean and the price being reasonable we parted with the obliging Chilean wishing him all the best in this year. This was an unusual event but there were many occasions when we discovered with pleasure the good nature of Chileans.
The southern region was superb, with snow covered smoking volcanoes reflected in the cold blue of big lakes. We saw two of the small ones. Villarrica overlooking with its 2850m a picturesque region where the German word Kuchen is part of the Spanish vocabulary. The Llaima volcano, peaking at 3125 m, is surrounded by forests in which the umbrella shape of the magnificent Araucaria pine can be seen. We had five days that we spent doing more than 2000km on a mixture of two lanes highways and dirt roads.
Before taking the plane form the International Airport of Santiago I got to photograph the most spectacular sunset of the entire trip, right from the departure platform.
return to Montreal was as sad as the abrupt passage from sunny summer to
winterís deep cold can be. Right now I have many things to do and some
of them, from the film editing to the writing of a travelogue, will take
me back to the Paradise where I dwelt for seven days. And if my Aku-Aku
is lucky, I will return one day to Rapa Nui.