1. Easter on Easter Island March 31, 2002
Updated: Jul 24, 2018
There are times during your childhood when dreams are just that. Dreams. Being young and innocent allows a child to dream about a future that is magical yet real. For me that was reading a book called the "Kon Tiki" and "The Ra Expeditions" by Thor Heyerdahl in the 1960's.
Looking back into my memory folders that are tucked away deep into my mind, I cannot recall when or how I obtained these particular books. All I do know is that I was younger than 9 years old, I was overweight but happy and living in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas. What I do recall is that reading this book left a lasting impression on me. So much so that as I continued through my formative younger teenage years in South America, I kept dreaming about this beautiful artistic boat made of balsa wood that traveled miles into the unknown across the Pacific ocean and came across an island called Rapa Nui, aka Easter Island. On this island there are large statues placed along the water's edge on the coast where they stand eyeless looking inland.
Fast forward to 2001 where I find myself back in my birth place of Dallas, Texas for my twentieth high school reunion. My high school being The Alliance Academy in Quito, Ecuador. Our small graduating class of around forty nine all gathered in Dallas, Texas, the most central location.
I never pass up an invitation, so the plans to head to South America and my dream trip to Easter Island began in earnest.
The reunion was a mixed emotional bag of happy greetings and puppy love throwback moments. You know what I am talking about. That moment when you see your childhood love staring you in the eyes, and you are right back years ago recalling the anticipation of that first kiss. Those memories come flooding back like as if they were just about to happen all over again. The only difference is that spouses are just a few steps away and children are running around getting to know each other.
After a few days of wonderful talks and stories of what happened over the years, reality hits. Life has moved on, that childhood crush is just a memory and now we are headed to our farewell dinner where our goodbyes would be said.
During this last farewell dinner, I sat down with a friend I really had little to do with in high school. During our high school days, she had been involved in a car wreck that left her in the hospital with brain surgery and half paralyzed face. Our lengthy conversation took us to moments of emotional tears and laughter and ended up with an invitation to come and visit her family in Santiago Chile. I never pass up an invitation so the plans to head to South America and my dream trip to Easter Island began in earnest.
All this happened in June 2001. Months later, the terrible 9/11 terror attacks in the United States would rattle the world and leave many not willing to continue traveling for the immediate future. Not me. I saw this as the safest time to travel as security had really gone into full throttle around the world. I proceeded with my travel plans for Santiago, Chile and then onto Easter Island.
By March of 2002, my tickets were purchased and my bag was packed. Off I went for a two week trip all on my own. After five days in Santiago, Chile with my high school friends, I set off for my Easter Island Adventure.
As Easter Island is part of Chile and very remote, Chile had the market cornered for flights. Only twice a week and on LATAM airlines. It was a six hour flight and this was the first time I experienced on demand in flight movies on a seat back screen. I was thrilled by this new experience. The six hours went by very quickly over the vast Pacific ocean. Finally, land was in view. As we descended over the island, there on the outer edges you could see the large Moai statues standing. My heart raced as we began our approach into the Capital of Hanga Roa and the airport runway which was extended back in the 1980's as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle financed by NASA ( U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
Upon landing, we exited the aircraft and proceeded to the open air covered luggage area. A driver with my name was waiting for me just outside the terminal. Off we went to the Hotel Vai Moana. I had picked this particular hotel as it was rustic and situated just up the hill from the sunset side of the ocean. Excited about the adventures awaiting me, I wasted no time unpacking. I made arrangements for some guided excursions for that afternoon and then walked into town for lunch. I went down the grassy hill toward the cemetery which sits along the water front. Great views for people who can't see.
Walking on the dirt path, the wild local horses were enjoying their strolls. This raw rustic feel was so magical. Hearing the Pacific waves crashing on the shoreline and seeing the natural way of life was heaven. I continued on towards Playa Pea which is a very small beach and bay where the fishermen come in with their live catch for the restaurants. I sat down at the rustic restaurant, ordered my fish dish and sure enough, my fish had just been caught. My tummy satisfied with a delicious meal, I wondered up Te Pito o Te Henua, a main road and then started getting lost on the dirt paths that veered off this road. As I walked, the dogs and horses were a constant. The rain showers were an added feature I was not prepared for. Blue skies with a distant cloud. Suddenly from behind me and unaware of what was happening, rain began to shower down heavily, the skies got dark and I ran for cover. As soon I found cover, the showers stopped and the blue skies appeared. This happened several times during my stay so I stopped running for cover.
Back at Vai Moana, I prepared for my afternoon excursion by jeep with a few other travelers to visit some of the Islands famous sites. Our guide was named Walter and he was a character. Full of stories and laughter. Our thirty minute ride took us past a few stops including Ahu Akahanga and Ahu Tongariki. As we approached the Moai quarry at Rano Raraku, we were given instructions to stay on the path and to not step on the Moai. Easy enough. The dirt path was clearly marked and the stone Moai heads and bodies were visible against the green grass. No problem.
As we walked along the dirt narrow path, taking photos and being mesmerized by these statues, Walter our tour guide started waving at our small group and frantically saying to get off the Moai. We all looked at each other with that question mark look on our faces and looked down at our feet. What on earth was he talking about. We were standing on the rocky grassy ground. There was nothing unusual or different about our surroundings than where we had just been a minute ago. As we moved towards our tour guide Walter, we turned around to see that we had in fact been standing on the belly of a Moai that seemed to be growing out of the ground. We all felt like we had deceived the Gods and that we had broken the most sacred rule. We apologized to Walter and he just laughed. "It happens all the time," he said.
As we stayed on our small little dirt path, the Moai statues continued to impress us along the way. Our small group exchanged stories of travel and the reason we had chosen Easter Island. Not a go to place in the world for many so our unique reason for being on this remote island gave us some fantastic tales we all were eager to hear about. As we shared our travel adventures over lunch, our tour guide Walter asked what we were planning on doing the following day, Easter. We all looked at each other again with that question mark look on our faces. None of us had even put two and two together that we were going to be spending Easter Day on Easter Island. The day was March 31st, 2002.
Whether or not Walter our tour guide had a great marketing plan to take us out on another excursion or not, it worked. We had no plans made. Walter suggested we take another jeep ride, but this time to the crater of Ranu Kao and the ceremonial stone village of Orongo overlooking the islet of Motu Nui where the annual race of the bird man takes place. The race consists of climbing, swimming and running to bring the first manutara (sooty tern) egg back undamaged from the nearby islet of Motu-Nui to Orongo. The sites were spectacular. The Pacific ocean was deep blue and the challenging image of climbing and swimming with an egg in tacked just seemed impossible. Our Easter day on Easter Island was an unforgettable experience.
Having a tour guide like Walter, a European explorer, navigator and lover of life made all the difference in the world. During my short four day stay, I enjoyed several more excursions around the island. Swimming at the beach at Ahu Nao Nao on the northern shore, exploring the caves at Ana Te Pahu and Cueva de las Ventanas were some of the many adventures I experienced.
The mystery of Easter Island and the Moai statues continues to unfold. Questions still being asked range from why they were built, how were they moved, what is their meaning and who carved them. With ongoing research and new technology, some of the questions now have some help from some recent findings. In 2012, excavation of the iconic Moai statues revealed that the renowned heads sticking up out of the ground are not only connected to giant bodies, but the bodies are covered in mysterious designs and symbols. Maybe in time we will learn more about these fabulous statues and this little Island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
I returned home on April 7th, 2002. Sharing my Easter island adventure with family and friends through photos and stories and absorbing all that I had experienced became even more of a reality check a week later. My story and life long dream had come full circle. The man behind the books that inspired me and my recent adventure, the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, had died of a brain tumor in Colla Micheri, Italy, April 18, 2002 at the age of 87.
Thor Heyerdahl inspired me to go in search of my dreams and to go out into the world in my own way. To him I am forever grateful for his stories that challenge me to travel the world.