Red-Eye Flight to Easter Island
Most of Easter Island was still asleep when our plane touched down on the single landing strip of Mataveri International Airport. In fact, the airport itself appeared to slowly awaken only minutes after the airplane hatch swung open, with a handful of airport personnel quietly making their way to their respective posts adjacent to the open runway as the first passengers began to disembark.
We had just arrived at the remotest airport in the world.
Welcome to Easter Island, land of the iconic moai statues and home to an age old mystery that continues to intrigue and stump modern day history buffs. Who were the Rapa Nui? How did they come to the island and what led to their societal collapse? Or, more pressing to the average tourist, why did they build those huge monolithic statues strategically placed throughout the island? So many questions, so few answers, none of which we were likely to answer in the 30 hours we had to explore the island.
In an ironic twist to our mostly well-researched 11-day 7-city South American travel itinerary and for reasons still slightly inexplicable to us, we decided to “wing it” in Easter Island. With the exception of a last minute internet booking with a local guesthouse twenty four hours prior (which included an airport pick-up), we had nothing else scheduled and planned to book something either on arrival at the airport or with the guesthouse. Worst case, we figured we’d walk into town and talk to a few tour operators.
We miscalculated on all accounts.
Best Unlaid Plans Unraveled
The airport arrival area was completely deserted of all travel vendors. The stalls touting local excursions and tour packages were there, they were just unmanned. Completely empty.
The guesthouse airport pick-up was on time, but the driver (the high-school aged son of the guesthouse owner) did not speak English. When we arrived at the property we discovered that the one person who spoke English (the owner) had been called away on business (she’s also the island’s meteorologist) and no one knew when she was expected back.
Finally, it was suddenly unclear whether the town even had a travel company open this time of year since it was still low season for tourists.
The three of us could only look at each other and wait for the sunrise, hoping that the light of day would bring us better travel karma. We decided to settle into our accommodations and regroup at breakfast.
Fortunately for us, breakfast was just what the travel doctor ordered. The food itself was forgettable, but it was there that we met our “Easter Island Angel”, Patricia from Brazil. In one fell swoop, she would quickly turn what was quickly becoming a comedy of errors into an enchanting day of delightful exploration.
The Kindness of Strangers
Minutes after we arrived in the communal dining room, Patricia, a blond, statuesque beauty from Brazil sauntered in with a dazzling smile and friendly greeting. She introduced herself as a fellow guest who had spent a week exploring the island on her own and was catching an afternoon flight back home later that day. Our breakfast was interrupted by a call from the guesthouse owner who confirmed that she would be waylaid at work for the entire day and suggested that we head into town to see if we could find a local taxi to take us around the island. Upon hearing of our predicament, Patricia immediately volunteered to walk us into town and help us flag down a taxi. Taxi drivers on the island, she told us, didn’t speak much English.
Apparently my high school Spanish classes would come in handy after all.
The first taxi we flagged down turned out to be a dud. After exchanging a few words with the driver, Patricia quickly said, “Adios” and waved him off. Instead of giving us a straightforward price, he wanted us to follow him home and negotiate something there. No thanks.
The second time was the charm for us, however. Sergio, a cherubic faced Chilean in his early 30s was just nearing the end of his shift and heading home when Patricia hailed him down. She told him we wanted a driver for the day who would show us around the island and help explain some of the famous sites. Without hesitation, he quoted us a reasonable all-in price. Despite some reservations about the fact that Sergio didn’t speak any English, our scheduling mishaps of the morning quickly tipped the scales in favor of quick acceptance.
Once we reached town, we parted ways with Patricia after exchanging hugs and contact details (we’re now Facebook friends and continue to be inspired by her beautiful energy and adventurous spirit). She not only helped lift our flagging spirits after a series of initial disappointments, but also helped us connect with a stellar guide that would end up making our day on Easter Island one of the highlights of our entire South American trip. Muchas gracias, Patricia!
Easter Island Photo Tour
English or no English, our day on Easter Island would turn out to be spectacular. Without further ado, I present our full day exploration of the sublime and mysterious Easter Island:
Despite the initial hiccups on arrival, our Easter Island experience turned out to surpass even our moderately high expectations in large part because we had the good fortune to meet kind and helpful strangers. Just when we were ready to beat ourselves over the head with remorse that we hadn’t locked in concrete plans, fate managed to show us that it’s okay to veer off the beaten path every once in a while to see where it might lead.
In our case, we were rewarded with a full day of eye-opening exploration in the company of a kindhearted soul who introduced us to the many wonders of Easter Island without speaking more than a handful words of English.
Come with an open mind and you will leave with a heart full of appreciation for the magic of endless possibilities.
P.S. I couldn’t end this post without noting that I have never seen my mom more talkative than when she is conversing in a language that requires her daughter to translate. I had to remind her more than once that high school Spanish means having to keep it simple. Just the basics, Mom, just the basics….
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