26.07.2010 - 07.08.2010 18 °C
26th July 2010 – Arriving into South America and touching down in Santiago at 1.30pm, as we walked through the arrivals gate we were immediately accosted by ‘airport information staff’. Quickly realising they were trying to hustle us into an expensive waiting taxi, we 'politely' declined and due to our early flight to Easter Island in the morning, had splashed out on an expensive airport hotel (the only one around) and proceeded to find the free Shuttle. Checking into our luxurious, mountain view room, feeling the effects of the jet lag we had a few hours snooze before a late dinner in the hotel restaurant.
27th July 2010 – With the wakeup call at 4.30am and after ploughing our way through the buffet breakfast, we made our way to the airport for our 8.20am flight to Easter Island. 5.5 hours later we touched down on the most remote inhabited island in the world, known to the locals as Rapa Nui. Stepping out onto the tarmac, it was strange to see cows and horses running free next to the runway and with only one flight a day, the rest of the airport was deserted. With no immigration, we walked straight into the arrival ‘hut’ where we then bartered with various eager hotel and hostel owners before bagging ourselves a cheap room for a week. At 20,000 pesos (25 pounds a night!) it was much more than we were used too, but we knew Easter Island was renowned for being expensive and this was by far the cheapest room we could find.
After unpacking into our rustic room in the Hotel Alpine (don’t be fooled by the name, it was far from a ‘hotel’ as you or we would know it!). With no curtains and paper thin walls, every time the neighbouring room closed their door, the large, surrealist painting fell crashing to the floor.
Still it was close to town, had a communal kitchen we could use and a great breakfast!
Deciding to take a wander into Hanga Roa centre, being the one town on the entire island, we made it to the main stretch in 5 minutes and had walked around the ‘town centre’ in 10.
Again taken back by the cost of food, we eventually sat down to a cheaper alternative and ordered a couple of local seafood empanadas. Back to the hostel after a little more exploring, we joined fellow guests in the lounge area to discover more about the island.
28th July 2010 – After a nice leisurely breakfast, we joined a couple staying at our hostel, Sue (Italian) and Ian (Irish), for a trek up to the volcano crater and onwards to Orongo; a ceremonial village now in ruins.
After an hours’ solid uphill trek, we reached the craters edge and were left speechless by the sheer size and depth of the crater and lake formed within.
With an 1800m diameter and at 300m deep, it was very unexpected but an amazing sight to behold.
Walking around to Orongo, we wandered through ancient ruins of the former tribal leaders and talked to the local Ranger about the history of the area. Luckily Sue spoke enough Spanish to translate for us as we were quickly realising that Spanish was a necessity in South America.
Just off shore, is a small island (Moto Nui) which in ancient times was used in a contest to become the Chief of the Island. This ‘Birdman’ competition held every year, required the competitors to scramble down a steep rocky face, swim to Moto Nui, avoid being eaten by the man-eating sharks, retrieve a rare birds egg (sometimes waiting for weeks for it to be laid) and bring it back to Orongo safely and intact. The winner would then be crowned Chief of the Island and be given a Virgin girl as his prize, who herself had been kept in a cave for 6 months prior to ensure pure white skin!
The guide also told us many other tales including how the rival tribes would also perform cannibalism on each other when they fell upon hard times. Feeling a bit peckish after that, we made our way back down the volcano to the village, after a quick empanada, we walked along the rocky coastline, spotting numerous volcanic carvings and eventually settled on the grass infront of 5 standing Moai, where we relaxed to see the sunset.
Looking for a cheaper dinner, we came across a green ‘hut’ serving cheap local food. Opting for a Churassco; a huge steak sandwich we left very satisfied and wandered around some of the local craft and souvenir shops. Heading home we sat and chatted in the communal area until the early hours.
29th July 2010 – After breakfast, we decided to again spend the day with Sue and Ian, exploring more of the island. Stocking up with some essentials in our backpacks, we made our way firstly to some underground caves, 2.5 hours walk away. Passing various Moai en route, we reached Ana Kakenga and made our way with our torches below ground until we reached the exit, which led out over the sea.
Back on the surface, we basked in the beautiful sunshine before Ana Te Pahu where two more, larger caves awaited. After squeezing down a very tight entrance, we entered the huge lava chamber and explored the long, dark tunnels before finally finding a rocky exit tunnel through the ceiling.
Next up on our exploration of the island, was Ahu Akivi – the only seven Moai to be built inland and facing the sea.
These volcanic stone figures were carved on the island to represent dead ancestors and were normally placed overlooking and thus guarding the village. However, these particular seven are believed to represent the seven founders of the island and were placed so that they face the sunset at solstice.
With the afternoon setting in, we knew we had a lot more walking to go to make it back before dark so looped our way back through the rugged landscape to Hanga Roa; where we were staying and the only village on the island.
Feeling tired and having worked out we had walked 20km, we went and rested while eating some local seafood.
30th July 2010 – Deciding to have a leisurely day, we spent our time browsing the market stalls and local gift shops, after which we sat by the pier watching the huge green turtles, floating in and out with the tide.
We then decided to sort out some plans for the rest of the week including a scuba dive and an organised tour for part of the Island we hadn’t yet visited. On our way around town we passed the villagers going about their daily chores, many of which used horses as their preferred mode of transport and with more wild horses than people on the island, it was understandable why. With dinner again in the ‘green hut’ with the usual Churassco meal, we then stopped to star gaze along the front with little sound around us apart from the sea.
31st July 2010 – Down to the Pier for 9am, we got kitted up with our diving gear and boarded a small motorboat along with Pierre and our Dive Master; Christian.
After a short boat ride, we rolled in backwards and made our descent. With Rach having problems with her mask and tank, she decided to give the dive a miss and headed back to shore with Pierre’s wife Alice. An hour later, the divers returned to shore, sharing their dive experience with the girls. Diving to 21m, Si and Pierre came across a sunken Moai, sadly just a replica of a real Moai which unfortunately is inaccessible at 83m deep! Back on land we watched some more turtles before heading for lunch at one of the shacks overlooking the only football pitch on the island – luckily there was a match!
Surprised they had kits and enough members to make up two teams we relaxed into the evening before heading to find a restaurant with Wi-Fi and met up with Pierre and Alice for dinner. Ordering up the local specialty of Ceviche – raw fish marinated in lemon juice and spices as well as ‘lomo’ – beef, we washed it down with some pisco sours and headed home after a very enjoyable evening.
1st August 2010 – With our tour leaving at 9.30am, we made our way to the office and met our guide. First stop was the Ahu Akalanga where there were three fallen Moai’s, lying face down having been pushed over by warring tribes many centuries ago.
This was done to break the ‘necks’ of the Moai and in doing so - kill the spirit. They then removed coral; set in the eye sockets to represent the soul of each ancestor. This happened to many of the Moai on the island, but fortunately a lot have now been erected back to their original standing positions. Nearby Ahu Akalanga, we wandered around the remains of a house, pointed to the outlines of the kitchen and living area – both of which were very small.
With the rain upon us, we made our way to a cave and waited until it passed before heading back in the minivan. We then continued on to Ahu Tongariki, a site with fifteen Moai lined up alongside each other, the tallest of which measures 10m.
Next we drove up to volcano Rano Raraku – the quarry where the Moai were carved from the volcanic rock. With 394 Moai still scattered around the quarry both in the crater and on its outside slopes, we walked amongst them, many of which, over time have been buried up to their necks.
Although no one is 100% positive on the reasons for the Moai, walking amongst them was still fascinating along with the theories we had been told. Amongst the theories of how these 75 tonne statues were transported, most believe they were ‘walked’ upright by a rocking motion using ropes and man power. Once in place, the eyes were carved and coral inserted and only then would the statue have a soul and therefore able to watch over the island.
After walking around the crater both inside and out, we drove to Ahu Te Pito Kuri to see the largest standing Moai.
Here we were also shown to a large round rock with a magnetic force which causes compasses to spin in circles when placed on its centre. It is also believed by the Rapa Nui people to have mystical powers, including the ability to get pregnant just by putting your forehead on it.... placing our hands on it was quite enough for us!
Finishing the trip at Ana Kena, we walked amongst a collection of Moai set on the banks of a golden palm tree beach.
Some of these Moai are the best preserved on the island due to being buried by sand over time.
After a sun bathe on the beach, we were dropped back into Hanga Roa in time to grab some late dinner.
2nd August 2010 – With the tropical rain lashing down on us on and off throughout the day, we spent a lazy day around town ducking in and out of shops souvenir hunting!
3rd August 2010 – Loading our large (and ever increasing!) rucksacks on our backs, we walked the 30 minutes to the airport, accompanied by some of the familiar local, wild dogs which populate much of the island.
At the tiny airport, we checked in and to our surprise and delight, we had been upgraded to Business Class!
Taking our luxury, fully reclining, flat bed seats, we were immediately served Pisco Sours and Champagne. Over the next 5 hours we enjoyed the leg room, food, drink and general pampering we were not used too.
Touching down at 7.30pm we really didn’t want to leave! Unfortunately, we had no choice and so collected our bags, fought our way through the taxi touts and grabbed a local bus into the City centre where we checked into Hotel Londres – a cheap backpackers which had been recommended to us by Danny, another guest in Easter Island.
4th August 2010 – After an awful night’s sleep due to the lack of heating in the hotel and the freezing outside temperatures coupled with a group of pigeons cooing all night long, we only managed to crawl out of bed just before 10am to make it in time for our free breakfast. Requesting to move rooms, we were allocated another breezy room however away from the pigeons this time! Heading out to explore, we walked up to the Plaza de Armas before visiting the pre-Columbian art museum which housed a massive collection of various statues and carvings.
Next up we walked to the Santa Lucia Hill to take in the great views across the city, stretching as far as the surrounding Andes. Unfortunately, the thick layer of smog which hung over the city was like a white blanket, covering everything below it.
Stopping to view the Bellas Artes Museum and its impressive collection of Chilean Art we then took a bridge across the river to the Bella Vista district where we wandered the streets all afternoon.
With the area being known for its nightlife it was a little quiet this early and fairly run down in places, so looking for more life we headed back across the river to grab some dinner in a small buzzing cafe. Luckily due to the eagle eyes of the waiter, Rach narrowly avoided her bag being stolen by a ‘customer’ who was chased out by the waiter after he was spotted making a move for it! After spending the last four months in Australasia, we had become a lot less aware of being targets of theft. Now in South America we realised we had better be much more vigilant.
Strolling back to the hotel, we used the Wi-Fi to research Santiago and its surrounding area which we had only 4 more days to discover!
5th August 2010 – Up and out by 10am, we made our way to Mercado Central Market – a massive fish market holding a variety of seafood restaurants in the middle, all under a roof designed by the same architect who designed Smithfield’s in London.
After watching the fishmongers in action, we made our way through the fruit and veg market out the back and across the river, back to the Bella Vista area.
Discovering a huge amount of colourful and eclectic buildings this time round, it didn’t feel quite as unsafe with the sunlight streaming down on us.
Taking the Funicular up the mountainside, we rode it to the top for amazing views across the City and the surrounding snow-capped peaks, again with the smog smothering the city.
After a steep walk to the Virgin Mary statue perched high on the peak, we explored the park before taking the Funicular back down to street level.
Making our way through the streets of Bella Vista, we came across many outdoor bars and restaurants, all starting to fill up as it reached lunch time. Wanting just a cheap snack for lunch, we grabbed a Completo from a street vendor – these hot dogs are topped with avocado, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup and tomatoes and have become a national dish in Chile and at only 70p each, they were a bargain!
Next up we walked to the Museum of Visual Arts which unfortunately was not to our taste; the ultramodern art contained in it didn’t live up to the amazing building which surrounded it. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the City on foot before grabbing a cheap Empanada for dinner (most restaurants we came across were fast food but this didn’t seem to bother the locals who all crammed into the many restaurants every day).
Having felt we had seen most of what Santiago had to offer (we had been slightly disappointed by the lack South American flair and flavour), we decided we would take an 2 day trip to the coastal town of Valpariso tomorrow so headed back to pack.
6th August 2010 – Up early and after a quick breakfast, we left our large rucksacks with the hotel so we could take a small overnight bag on the Metro, across town to the University of Santiago stop. Here, we walked to the bus station and boarded the 10.15am luxury bus to Valpariso, arriving to the outskirts of the town at midday. With our Lonely Planet in hand, we walked to the end of town with the most accommodation and nicer area. After checking out some prices we bargaining ourselves a lovely room in the very homely La Maison de Filou – owned by a very friendly Frenchman.
Perched on a hill and with sweeping views across the harbour, it was a great find! With the sun shining, we dumped our bags and went wandering through the old, cobbled streets, adorned with pastel coloured houses, stacked as far as the eye could see up the hillside.
It was a lovely, colourful city and as we walked down to the Plaza Sotomayor we saw the impressive Naval Headquarters and grand buildings around it.
Making our way to the Harbour, we tried to get ourselves onto a boat trip, but being the only tourists, we were quickly pounced upon and given only rip-off ‘tourist’ prices (20 pounds per head instead of the 2 pounds it should have been!). Annoyed at the blatant lying of the locals, we decided not to bother and after spotting an opportunist thief sneaking up to steal our bag whilst we window shopped, we soon left the harbour area and headed back into town. There was a definite undertone within the City of crime and after being told by a local to ‘keep cameras out of view’, we followed her instructions and made sure we were on the ball at all times.
Taking the stairs up to the Naval Museum, sadly it was closed but gave a brilliant viewpoint of the surrounding hills and city.
After a cheap lunch and spotting a cheap hairdresser, we decided it was time for a well overdue trim! Sadly, the trim was more of a hack and with Si looking like a Marine and Rach in tears, we wished we hadn’t bothered!
Taking the ‘Ascensor’ (small Funicular lift) to Reina Victoria which with its colonial buildings and pleasant surroundings we stood and took in the sunset over the town.
On the way back to our hostel we spotted a lovely looking pizza/pasta restaurant so decided to treat ourselves (and cheer ourselves up!) to make a change from the hot dogs and burgers!
7th August 2010 – After tucking into a French/Chilean breakfast and chatting to our host (with as much French as we could master!), we took a walk up the hill and to the vast cemetery, passing various colourful buildings and graffiti streets, we were really enjoying the city.
Like every wander in the City, we were accompanied by some stray dogs, hoping for a feed or just some company. Having taken in the views of the City, we walked across to the ex-prison but were disappointed to find it was being gutted and flattened to make way for a 21st Century Cultural Park.
With one of the ex-Prison Guards on site, he gave us a ‘Spanish Tour’ around the officer’s quarters which we did our best to try and understand. Back down at City level and now with just one of our furry friends in tow, we decided to try and get some lunch in the ‘fire station’ where everyday cheap food is served to both the firemen and the public.
With four different fire stations within the tiny City, each one was of a different nationality and kitted out with that country’s uniform and fire engine. Sadly, the English fire station was closed and so was the nearby Italian, so we decided instead to sit out in the Plaza Sotomayor and eat lunch while relaxing in the sun.
Continuing to explore, we soon made our way back to the hotel via Ascensor El Peral to Paseo Yugoslavo and its incredible views for one last glimpse of the sprawling City.
Making our way back to the bus station with our bags, we were back in Santiago and Hostel Londres just before dark.
With the only available rooms with bunk beds (despite having pre-booked a room previously) and with a 35 day overland Tour departing from the other side of town, we decided to grab our things and head to the other side of town ready for our early meeting. Checking in to Los Arcos, we were given a 7 bed room, en suite with satellite TV and breakfast at the same price as Hostel Londres! Exploring the new area with a nearby bustling square and streets, we settled in a restaurant serving Chillianous – another Chilean dish of chips covered with steak, onions and fried eggs.
Like a heart attack on a plate, it wasn't exactly healthy but it was very filling and good value! Completely full, we headed back in readiness for our 35 day overland adventure through South America!