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We are more excited about this trip than the others because this is the first time my daughter has her own seat on the plane. For parents who have children under the age of two, children can fly free, but only as a lap baby. This means that as lucky parents you get to hold your child the whole time. If it’s a short flight, there are no worries, but by the end of long flights, you end up a black and blue, sweaty mess, with drool stains covering your shirt. Since my daughter turned two in December, this was no longer an option, and we relished the idea of having our own space and maybe even getting the chance to watch a movie. Happily we all fell asleep. Unhappily, we missed watching movie.
Wednesday morning, 9:30 a.m.
We arrived at Rapa Nui Airport around 9 a.m. and the owner of the cottage where we were staying, Paul Pownall, greeted us with a lea and a paper sign with our names scribbled on it. Paul came to the Rapa Nui as a student in 1968 to help with the archaeological digs of the Moai and Ahu (altars). He returned to Wyoming where he stayed for forty years, but Rapa Nui held him spellbound and he returned and married a former island beauty queen. Together they started their tourist business and right off the bat, Paul, who also operates as a tour guide, gave us a brief tour of the island. The main town on Rapa Nui is Hanga Roa, a café and shop lined street, and this is where all of the restaurants and nearly all the hotels and cottages are located.
Travel in Peru with kids
Read Sonia's story about a trip to Oxapampa
After an hour at the café, spent gazing at the ocean and sighing, we decided to take care of logistics. Our first order of business was renting a car, but when we arrived at the rental office we were told that one wouldn’t be available until the next day. This was disappointing news because we desperately wanted to visit Anakena, a postcard perfect beach, located about 20 kilometers from Hanga Roa. The owner told us not to worry, however, because she could call a taxi to take us there. Gary, our taxi driver, arrived in a record two minutes and shuttled us to the other side of the island where we indulged in our beach fantasies.
Before we got down to the serious business of sun and swim, however, we decided to have lunch at a local shack about 50 meters before the beach. There, we ordered kana kana (a local fish) grilled to perfection, salad, and Cristal beer. The owner of the lunch shack, a tall, heavy-set Rapa Nui woman, seemed to take a liking to my daughter. While we were eating, she sat her imposing frame next to us and to our shock and surprise began feeding my daughter. At first, Zoe was befuddled, but after a few minutes she warmed to this odd, but kind woman, who shed a tear when she said her goodbyes to us.
After an afternoon spent on the beach, we returned home relaxed, replete, and ready for bed.
Thursday: A Visit with the Moai
After a good night’s sleep and a simple breakfast of bread, cheese, and yogurt, we headed to town and picked up our car. Quickly grabbing picnic supplies at one of the local mini-marts, we prepared for our first adventure. Our trip began on the South Coast where we visited Ahu Akahanga, a fairly impressive Ahu with several fallen Moai littering its steps. Driving along the South Coast, we encountered several more of these archaeological sites, but were ready for the big guns: the Moai at Rano Raraku. By this time, my daughter had woken up and was begging to go outside and “walk.” At this historic volcanic site, we ambled around the Moai at various stages of progress, but the most interesting part of the volcano was the back side, on the road less traveled, where several Moai frame a lake-filled crater, casting their enigmatic gazes over the water. Spending a couple of hours exploring this archaeological wonder was definitely worth it, despite the hefty entrance fee of $60 per person. My daughter, at first entranced by the immensity of the Moai soon lost interest, once she realized wild-horses liberally ran around the island. The sight of these four-legged creatures juxtaposed against the grandeur of the Moai was awe-inspiring. The visit left us exhausted and thirsty, so we cooled off with an ice-cold orange Fanta.
Nothing comes closer to Nirvana, at least in my husband’s estimation. Heading home for showers, to wash the dust (which I swear was nearly an inch thick) off our bodies, we closed our day with dinner at La Taverne de Pecheur, an over-priced restaurant that sells itself as haute gourmet. Don’t waste your money. Choose the charming, rustic, La Kaleta, which overlooks the bay, instead.
At the end of this thoroughly dissatisfying meal, we walked to the main stage at the town’s edge for the inauguration of the Tapati Rapa Nui Festival, a yearly cultural event that pits two rival clans against each other through contests in music, dance, and sport. The inauguration was spectacular, but we could barely make it through the first act since we were so exhausted. Moai hunting will do that to you, so we returned to the cottage to sleep.
Friday: Another Volcano and the North Coast
On Friday, I am awakened by high-pitched crow of a rooster, yet again. It seems that everywhere I travel it is my destiny or ill-gotten luck to be woken up by these feathered, two-legged creatures, with silly little crowns. I hate them. My daughter loves them. The sound of them prompted excited running around the cottage as she screamed, “Chicken, mommy, chicken.” I was seriously debating having it for breakfast. But my husband and I pulled ourselves out of bed, threw on some clothes, and got ready for our visit to the the Rano Kau Volcano, the Orongo Ceremonial Village, and the North Coast. The first glimpse of this boggy, marsh-like lake, left me breathless. We decided to take the 30 minute hike on mostly flat ground around the crater to get the Orongo Village. Overlooking the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean, it was easy to see why the Rapa Nui believed this part of the island to have special significance.
After we had lunch, we drove to the North Coast. Rugged and unpaved, this road is for the real explorer and is worth a visit. Pack a lunch and prepare for four to five hours of fun. This rough, dirt road took us to Ana Kakenga, two caves that opened into the ocean. From there we drove to Ana Te Pahu, the site of former cave dwellings. A magical place, my daughter began an impromptu game of hide and seek among the garden of banana trees, taro plants, and sweet potatoes. Two hours and many Moai and Ahu later, we watched the sunset on the waterfront over two glasses of white wine, an octopus salad, and pasta at the superior La Kaleta.
Saturday: A Triathlon
On our last full day on Rapa Nui, Paul, the owner of our cottage encouraged us to attend the Triathlon held at Rano Raraku. We arrived there at 2 p.m. and foolishly found an un-shaded spot on the side of the crater. In the first part of the triathlon, contestants ran a simple lap around the crater. The second part consisted of a tougher run followed by swimming across the lake on a handmade cane boat. This was followed by another run around the crater with bunches of bananas tied to their backs. Every observer got into the action and by the end of the race, we didn’t care who won, just as long as somebody did. Even my daughter couldn’t contain her excitement because she kept yelling at the top her lungs. This hodgepodge of personalities from all over the world transforming into a singular community rooting for some (super hot) guy in a loincloth to win a race was a definite sign of chest-pounding masculinity. To be frank, I felt myself starting to morph into a cave woman, rooting for her man to win. I am woman; hear me roar. When I returned to the present, I realized that the race was over.
Spent, we decided to drive down to Anakena for a last foray onto the beach. I had fallen in love with La Kaleta because of its spot next to the sea, so afterwards we had drinks and dinner there to watch our last sunset on Rapa Nui. When our daughter had fallen asleep, my husband drove out to Ahu Tongariki, the site of 15 massive, re-erected Moai, where we stargazed for a while.
Sunday: Going Home
As our trip drew to a close, we spent our final few hours walking around town and letting my daughter play at a park. We finished our trip with a glass of “the best maracuya juice” my husband has ever had and a cheese and mushroom crepe at a panqequeria. When we climbed onto the plane to leave Rapa Nui, I could hear the sounds of the sea waving goodbye and I imagined the Moai, their normally unblinking eyes winking at us, wishing us a safe trip home.