There was actually a moment when we were the only two people here at one of the most isolated spots on earth. What an amazing concept.
For Mutiny on the Bounty fans, it’s a mere 1,193 miles to Pitcairn Island.
Santiago, Chile is 2,338 miles away.
You have to travel 2,641 miles to get here from Papeete, Tahiti.
From our hometown of McKinney, Texas it’s 4,251 miles.
Hollywood checks in at 4,266 miles.
Honolulu is 4,658 miles away.
And Angaston, South Australia, our home away from home, is 6,264 miles from Easter Island.
Truly one of the most isolated spots on earth.
Yeah, I know we are supposed to gush about ancient cultures and believe they were all pure and unspoiled before the arrival of the evil Europeans.
But that brings up a question: Take a good look at this traditional wood carving and explain to me just exactly what that unspoiled Polynesian warrior is doing to that unspoiled chicken?
I believe it’s a felony in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Well, maybe not in the District of Columbia because it’s full of politicians, but in the words of Joe Biden, “C’mon, man.”
Please be introduced to Markus and Hannes, two Swedes we met on our tour ‘round Easter Island.
When I asked where they were from, Markus said, “Sweden. And you’re from Texas?”
“How do you know we’re from Texas,” I asked.
He pointed at my cap. I had to take it off to look at it before I realized it features a big white heart with a bold TX inside.
“People from Texas are very proud,” Markus said. “Everything is bigger in Texas.”
“Did you know,” I replied, “that our tour guide refers to the two of you as The Vikings?”
“People only know three things about Sweden,” Marcus responded. “Vikings. Women. And Zlatan Ibrahimovic.”
I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea who Ibrahimovic is. Turns out he’s a soccer star who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. Hell, I know so little about soccer that I barely know what the L.A. Galaxy is.
Dutch explorers discovered Easter Island in 1722. They clear left behind some very powerful DNA.
It’s called Easter Island because the Dutch explorers discovered it on Easter Day, 1722. In Spanish it’s called Isla de Pascua. And in the local Polynesian dialect, it’s called Rapa Nui.
It’s tough to say the Dutch really discovered it because it was first populated by Polynesians in about the year 1200.
They think the population was 8-10,000 when the first Europeans arrived, but by the 1880s a mere 111 Rapa Nuians remained. Blame disease, civil war, famines, cannibalism, environmental collapse, and slave raids from South America.
There are about 800 statues in various states of completion (completed and standing, completed and lying on the ground, completed and partially buried, broken into pieces, still embedded in the quarry, etc) scattered around the island.
Fewer than 6,000 people live on Easter Island. Virtually all of them live in Hanga Roa, the island’s one town.
Almost 7,000 wild horses roam the island. They are everywhere, even on the closest outskirts of the town.
(Consider this one an assumption on my part: There have to be at least 10,000 wild dogs roaming the island. But the weather is temperate and the tourists are generous, so they seem much happier and healthier than the wild dogs found in the rest of Chile.)
Easter Island was once a lush paradise like Hawaii or Tahiti, but it is now virtually barren. The island’s resources were limited and when squabbling chieftains put all their people to work carving and transporting hundreds of 80,000 pound statues, everything else slowly died. Everything. (Consider this to be an ancient tribal warning against all-powerful central governments who think their needs supersede those of the individual. At least that’s my interpretation.)
In the civil war that ensued, all the moais were gradually pushed over — virtually all of them face down. A German ship sailed past the island in 1835 and noted that only one remained standing. It was soon tolloped, too.
There’s only one beach on the island. Well, they say there’s a second beach, but our guide said, “It’s too small to really count as a beach.”
It’s just the merest speck in the ocean. Easter Island covers 63 square miles. By way of comparison, Catalina Island, twenty-six miles off the coast of Los Angeles, covers 76 square miles. Hawaii is many times larger at 4,028 square miles.
Landed on Easter Island after six hour flight from Santiago, Chile. Some say this is the most isolated place on earth. Whether it is or not, the internet is weak and a bit spotty, so we may be out of touch for a few days.
Talk to you when I talk to you.
How bad was our day? I asked Jamie if this headline was too offensive and she said, “No. Go with it.”
We are pretty easy going people. We know that the world is an imperfect place and sometimes things just don’t go as planned, and when something goes wrong we try to laugh it off and move on. That being said, there’s usually one stop that we just don’t like on each of our trips. Like Moscow, Russia. Or the whole damn country of Madagascar. Or Port Hedland, Western Australia.
To that list you can now add Santiago, Chile.
We have friends who have loved it here. Who’ve raved about it. Who can’t wait to come back. And we fully acknowledge that they may be right and we may be completely wrong. But everything has just been a little bit off since we arrived. Maybe we’re in the wrong neighborhood. Maybe we’re in the wrong hotel. Maybe we’re just in bad moods because it’s so smoggy that we can’t even see a hint of the Andes. Maybe it’s because it’s turned so cold after three weeks of pleasant weather. Maybe our expectations were just too damn high.
Whatever the explanation, we can’t wait to move on to Easter Island tomorrow because Santiago is just not doing it for us.
I have wanted to visit neighboring Valparaiso, Chile since I was a little boy. Its name has always conjured up poetry and romance and adventure. Well, that fantasy was fulfilled today and it was a huge disappointment.
I had envisioned a picturesque little seaside village just a few miles down the road from downtown Santiago. Maybe Laguna Beach with a Spanish accent.
Instead, it started with a fifteen minute walk to the central plaza followed by a twenty minute ride on the crowded subway followed by a ninety minute bus trek. And when we finally arrived in Valparaiso, instead of finding Laguna Beach with a Spanish accent, Jamie accurately called it a cross between Moscow, Russia and Venice Beach, California.
I just looked up the population of Valparaiso. A quarter of a million people live there and as far as I can determine, every single one of them was either walking down the street or trying to sell something to everyone who was walking down the street. It was noisy. Crowded. Smelly. We didn’t like it and question the sanity of our friends who do.
But we like to think we are glass half full kind of people, so we decided to take another twenty minute train ride further up the coast to Viña Del Mar, which had been described to us by our hotel concierge as “a lovely seaside town.”
She must have been on drugs. It was even more crowded. Noisier. And, believe it or not, smellier.
We said, “Screw it. Let’s go back to Santiago.”
That, of course, had to begin by backtracking twenty minutes on the train from Viña Del Mar to Valparaiso, which was followed by a twenty minute trek back up the hill to the bus station.
The bus, I must admit, was very nice as far as busses go. It even had a bathroom. A bathroom that I very much needed after the day’s frustrating series of misadventures.
As the bus started weaving through the crowded streets of Valparaiso, I decided to avail myself of the on-board baños, as they say in Spanish.
Ahhhhh, I thought as I seated myself on the tiny toilet, this makes up for everything else that has happened today. What could be better than taking a long-needed crap while hurtling down a lovely South American freeway on my way back to Santiago?
And then I noticed something very important. Something so damn important, in fact, that it just plain freakin’ capped off my lousy day.
There was no toilet paper.
There were no paper towels.
There wasn’t even a copy of this morning’s El Mercurio that I could tear up and use in an emergency.
The only good news is that I noticed this before I actually needed any of the above. If you know what I mean.
I hiked up my pants, trudged back up the aisle to the front of the bus, sat down next to Jamie, and pouted for the next 90 minutes.
So how was your day?
We may be ten days into Spring here in the Southern Hemisphere, but it was very cold and windy today in Santiago. Too cold to comfortably walk the streets and see the city. Even sweaters and heavy jackets were not enough to keep us warm. So I hunkered down in a coffee shop with a strong wifi signal while Jamie ducked in and out of toasty boutiques up and down fashionable Calle Italia.
The owner of the coffee shop showed me to a table and introduced me to a very pleasant young woman seated at the next table. She told me she takes an English class once a week there in the coffee shop and was happy to practice on me.
“Your wife,” she said, “has the face of an angel.”
Some things transcend mere language.