Easter Island on a Shoestring

Faced with the end of holidays and return to work, a few friends and I booked flights to Easter Island on an impulse.  At the time, we were working in the Chilean capital, so were relatively close to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the world’s most isolated inhabited island. Given our precarious student finances, the trip was the result of haphazard planning, budgeting and pure luck.

The first budgeting decision we took was to camp.  Fortunately, the only major issue encountered was the freak storm that arrived one morning and flattened every single tent on site, forcing us to shelter in the kitchen for the day, eating foraged mini bananas and guava berries. When the storm cleared, it revealed a crimson sunset and ideal BBQ weather. Given that food can be brought from mainland Chile, we had already stocked up on (frozen) chorizo, beef joints and cartons of wine. Easter Island has an area of around 63 square miles, so the majority of meat, dairy and grains are imported and expensive, so it was worth using all 23kg luggage space to carry it over.

We befriended the local diving instructors by feeding them steak, and managed to swing several lifts in the back of an old-school Volkswagen camper van.  A few hours after the BBQ ended, it was an hour before dawn.  Our tyres rolled off the tarmac road onto the red dust track.  As we jolted over pot holes towards the east of the island, storm clouds raced in across the Pacific from Tahiti.  Behind us, lightning forked across the ominous sky; an hour later all that was left was a stunning sunrise behind Ahu Tongariki and the beginning of a perfect day in paradise.

As we headed back to our battered, mud-covered car, it began to rain. Behind the ahu (burial mound), a double rainbow framed the silver sky between the ahu and Ranu Raraku, the birthplace of the moai statues, to the West.  We followed the rainbow to Ranu Raraku where all moais were created; the result was better than finding a pot of gold.  Hundreds of moai, up to 21 metres tall, are littered across the sides of the extinct volcano crater, slowly sinking into the spongy ground. Across the ridge, a fresh water lake is circled by deep orange path carved into the hillside, green reeds shoot up from the edges. Further to the northwest, at the tip of the island was the highest volcano, Terevaka, from which the entire isle lies stretched out before your eyes.

We circled back around the island towards the epitome of perfection: Anakena Beach.  Through the palm trees and grass, we emerged onto a white beach on the edge of a calm bay of clear water. The backdrop? Another set of moai statues.  The foreground?  Semi wild horses, occasionally galloping across the beach. 

We finally left Anakena at sunset, the temptation of fresh cerviche proved too much to ignore.  The underappreciated Caleta Hanga Piko harbour, home to fishermen, diving schools and turtles was a minute walk from our campsite.  At sundown, the basic cerviche restaurant, a 5m2 concrete jetty over the dark waters, hidden beneath a tarpaulin roof, is lit up with fairy lights. 

“Can you wait?” asked the matriarchal owner-chef. “We’ve just run out of fish…”

In the distance, a light bobbed into focus, slowly heading into then across the harbour. Within half an hour, the fish was freshly caught, bought and served up in a lemon marinade.  Simple, swift and stunningly good.

Having previously explored the Orongo crater, we decided to return later that night by car. One of just three fresh water lakes on the island, the crater is only protected from the ocean by a soaring cliff, a few metres wide.  At the tip, a small settlement of stone huts and petroglyph-covered rocks are all that remain from the bird man ceremonies which used to take place here in the 19th century, before the hard years of famine and cannibalism really kicked in.

Our beloved 4×4 wheezed its way up the path to the rim. As we stood on the summit, buffeted by wind and headlights switched off, the jet black sky came into focus, constellation by constellation, shooting star by shooting star.  From dawn through to dusk and beyond, Easter Island didn’t disappoint.

Photos sourced from Jim Richardson, Monica Di Carlo and Rodrigo Chandía González.