There’s only a beach on Easter Island: as it’s to be expected, it comes with a bit of tourist infrastructure. But stop that image that’s forming in your mind, the one with all-inclusive resorts and a W Hotel with unz-unz-unz music blaring out of the lobby. Ditch the banana boat too. What is there are a couple of shacks with potato sacks as sun screens, Mahina beer by the bottle and heavenly pescado del dia cooked in coconut milk. Coffee is available too, but only mocaccino flavoured Nespresso. “No llevaran en el avión” is the smiling answer when you enquire about a normal flavour pod. Still, there’s instant coffee to be had while chickens and cats stomp around in a strange feathered-feline alliance. And Rapa Nui’s answer to Jack Johnson schmoozes out of the speakers. Intermittently, Anakena beach is lashed by rain showers that chase the few sun-bathers away.
Click on any photo to start the slideshow.
Sunsets are a heart-warming spectacle everywhere on the island, but Ahu Tahai is the hotspot. A selected few – even a dozen makes a crowd here – come to witness the event, including two Rapa Nui chatting in their aboriginal language and another couple playing music. Not even two stray dogs having a very public romp can break the idyll. But what about sunrises, we wonder?
We drive through the night on the coastal road, swerving to avoid pothole and the occasional sleepless equine. A soft mist hugs the low bushes, a salty mist that can only be made of sea spray.
Photos taken – obviously – during the day, but you get idea. Just think it’s dark and you have a 10-watt torch in lieu of headlamps
I’ll cut to the chase. Sunrise at Tongariki is a failure. Besides Poiké mountain lying unhelpfully between Tongariki and the sun, the place is swarmed by noisy campers who never got the “silent contemplation of nature’s beauty” memo. Yet what happened before will forever remain in our hearts and there only because, unfortunately, I’m too ignorant to photograph it properly.
It was still dark when we parked some way off the entrance to the moai. There’s only one light around us, oozing from the gatekeeper’s lodge. A beacon flashes intermittently from a small lighthouse; besides that, it’s dark. Yet we can see where we’re going.
The Milky Way is above us, arching from horizon to horizon. The sky is dotted with stars, twinkling planets and slow-moving satellites; then there’s that massive white band, a streak of iridescent white caviar stacked against that absolutely dark dinner plate that is the sky. I’ve never seen such a spectacle. Standing against the spare wheel of our washing machine on wheels I had my own Pale Blue Dot moment. I’m not looking back in but, even from the other way round, I can just begin to understand the enormity of what’s out there. Cast against such a backdrop everything I know and see – the low rock wall, the silhouettes of the moai, the crashing waves – is irrelevant like a bee’s fart in a hurricane. It all matters shit and it’s such as refreshing thought: you, me, Trump, China, the Mueller report… it all equates to precisely the square root of diddly squat. Ah, it’s so nice.
We give up on Tongariki and drive on in the aurora. Te Pito Kura – once the tallest moai – appears like an unhoped-for saviour. We’re alone but for a few horses we can hear huffing nearby. The sun paints sky and clouds red before the rotating horizon reveals it, us and a swaying palm as the only witnesses. The wind smells of yellow-flowered bushes whose name I don’t know, and of eucalyptus. Today we will be leaving and there’s regret at that notion, but there’s also undeniable satisfaction. Satisfaction for having made it here and for the big trunk of experiences and memories we’ll be bringing back home. Thank you Te Pito o Te Henua, the Navel of the World.