Easter Island

    
By chance we had been in South America for exactly a year when we jumped on a plane to change continents, or did we, I am not exactly sure? We took a 5 hour flight due west to the tiny volcanic blip in the middle of the huge Pacific Ocean: Easter Island or Rapa Nui. Although it belongs to Chile it is closer and more aligned to the Polynesian islands, so I never really worked out which continent we were actually in. Whatever it is it definitely felt like it was somewhere different and in the middle of nowhere. 
There is just one village on the island, Hanga Roa, where most of the 7000 or so people live. The rest of the island is made from three extinct volcanos making the island roughly triangular, there are also of lots of different smaller craters. It’s only 23km long at longest point. The ground is covered with rocks and grasslands. We were really surprised to see a few thickets of trees on the island. From what we had read we thought that there were no trees at all.  
   

         

 

We spent our 6 days exploring the island by foot and car. At our cabana we were lent a copy of “A Companion to Easter Island” by James Grant-Peterkin which we found an excellent guide to what we were seeing. Steve said driving the tiny Suzuki Jimmy was like driving a toy car after nearly 2 years of only driving the truck. Of course what had drawn us to the island were the Moai (stone heads), there are about a 1000 scattered throughout the island. Built between 1000-1600AD they were carved to represent an ancestor and were placed inwards protectively looking over their village. The Moai were all carved from compacted volcanic ash, called tuff, found on the side of a volcano called Rano Raraku. There we saw so many Moai, some half carved, many complete and lots starting their journey to other parts of the island. It would have taken up to 2 years for a Moai to be carved using harder basalt stone tools to chip away the softer tuff. It really felt at the quarry that the workers had just downed tools one day and never returned. 

   

     

   

     

The  Moai were usually carved horizontally before they chipped away underneath and carved the back. 

   

 We had read up about the different theories of why the Rapa Nui people had almost been wiped out in the 19th century. There are so many conflicting ideas about the whole island’s history. It looks most likely that the people came from the Polynesian island sometime between 600-900AD, and formed a successful society on what was then a  lush, forested island. One theory was that the people’s obsession with creating Moai (stone heads) had lead to mass deforestation causing erosion, poor crop growth, then starvation and tribal warfare. But other theories are that it was the European arrival in 1722 and onwards that caused the most problems bringing disquiet and disease. Although the first explorer was only inland for a day, the second expedition was 50 years later and then another 4 years later. It was around that time that things got really bad for the islanders and there was inter-tribal warfare caused by a lack of natural resources. At this point all the Moai were toppled, the ones now standing have been put back up recently. A huge slave raid and disease decimated the population in the 1860’s reducing the population to just 111. The population slowly increased but had a hard time as the Chileans gave control of the island to a private sheep company who confined the people to Hanga Roa. It wasn’t till the 1960’s that things improved and the Rapa Nui were given full Chilean citizenship. Now there is a strong cultural identity and calls for increased autonomy. In fact an ongoing dispute with the Chilean Government meant that the park fees are no longer being collected and we had to sign in at checkpoints manned by local people. However, the Chilean government has recently invested a lot of money in the island, so I think there are mixed feelings. 

   

 Toppled moai

  

               

   

     

The only beach at Anakena, would not look out of place on any Polynesian island with its beautiful golden sand. But the row of 6 Moai, 3 with red topknots behind it made it a very special place. 

   

      

 

From the front of our Cabana was a hike up to the crater of Ranu Kau filled with a lake and reed beds. Nearby was the ceremonial village where the tribes used to compete in the Birdman competition, a dangerous task to collect the first Sooty Tern egg of the season. The path between them was rather overgrown with bushes, the girls had great fun swishing their way through them.

   

     

Has anyone seen Lucy????

  

   

We also got to see the kindness of the islanders on the way down, as three cars stopped on the way down to offer us a lift. Even with the all tourists visiting people are still really trusting, we weren’t even given a key for our Cabana, as the owner said there was no need. 
On our last night we met up with some fellow overlanders, Michel and Ursi who we spent Christmas with, and her Mum. It was great to see them again and have a fantastic meal in a fish restaurant overlooking the crashing surf.  

 We’ve had a great time in Easter Island, relaxing and learning about such a different culture. It has felt very different from South America, more like Polynesia. Now it is back to the truck and hopefully if all the work has been done, back on the road again. 


Reflections on Chile

 
Lucy
We went to Easter Island.  It sometimes rained but not for all of the 6 days.  We saw lots of Moai and I liked them.  We hired a car which was much smaller than the truck.  At our cabana there was a black cat that I called Midnight, I played with it a lot. I also like watching the movies on the plane.
I like the bread in Chile.  I think it looks like people’s lips.  We call it Lips Bread.
We also met some other English children which was fun.  We dressed up a lot.  It was Easter so we got to look for Chocolate eggs.

Alisha
The Carratera Austral was beautiful. I got to go fishing with my Daddy in my nightie, when I was supposed to be in bed. I can wrap daddy around my little finger if I talk to him about fishing and I can wrap my mum around my little finger if I speak in Spanish. My Daddy caught a big fish that we ate. I picked blackberries for the first time in Chile and Mummy made blackberry crumble for tea. I broke my own world record for hiking by walking 22km in Torres del Paine, we got to eat lots of chocolate that day.

DSC04752-0.JPGGilly

Being so long, Chile is a country of extremes from one of the driest deserts in the north to the very wet South, the high Andes in the East to the dramatic Pacific Coast just a few kilometres away. Over our three visits to Chile we have been here for nearly 3 months. We’ve found it to be the South American country we could most easily live in. The people have been friendly, but quite reserved. I particularly loved the South on the Carratera Austral and around Pucon. It was so green, lush and otherworldly, all the trees were twisted by the elements and dripping with lichens that looked like “old man’s beard”. I’ve fully fallen in love with the Andes and Chile was no exception. The mountain passes we have driven and the hikes we have done have been fabulous.

Chile might be first world but one aspect that isn’t is the amount of dogs: stray or pets just left to roam. They are everywhere, often in packs. I know I’m not going to endear myself to my canine-loving friends but I am well and truly fed up with Chile’s millions of mutts. They are everywhere pooing, shagging, annoying my children and always, always spreading rubbish from bins however well we think we’ve disposed of our rubbish.
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In our nearly 3 months in Chile, with the exception of the far North we have travelled it from top to bottom. We even made it out to Easter Island which is Polynesia not South America. As you would expect from such a long country the scenery is very varied but was at its most spectacular in Patagonia. Torres del Paine may be the most famous park and it is certainly amazing but for me the best bit was the drive along the length of the Carratera Austral. The scenery was amazing at every turn and in the far South you were so far away from civilisation. I know the country is developing and things will change but I hope they have the foresight to preserve this beauty as places of such pristine wilderness are rare.

It has also been good to meet up with fellow overland travellers. Some we had heard of before or met electronically but it was great to spend time with people both in Pucon and then again on Easter Island. Everyone has their own stories and experiences to tell and it’s great to hear what other people are up to. It certainly helps make us feel that what we are doing is not that unusual.
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Easter With Fellow Overlanders

The bad weather continued as we headed North.  This was unfortunate as the scenery was all mountains and lakes.  After stopping in Osorno to fill up on supplies we found a spot right on the lake to camp.  Not that we could see much of the lake because of the pouring rain.
The next morning it was still raining so we had to think of something to do in the rain.  Hiking or admiring the views were out.  Mind you we thought if we are going to get wet we might as well do it in warm pleasant surroundings so we headed to some Thermal baths for a good old soaking.

  

The seasons are changing here and you can start to see that Autumn is arriving as the trees change colour.  That evening we found another lake to camp beside and the weather had improved so we could see both the lakes and the Autumnal colours in the hills.

   

  

 

That evening and the next morning there followed a chain of events that led to us having a fantastic Easter weekend in the hills above Pucon with some fellow overlanders.  It all started when we were looking at facebook.  Rene, a Chilean with a large truck similar to ours posted that he was in Pucon just a few Kms away from where we were camped.  We had met Rene and his wife before in Bolivia.  We had also seen them in Punta Arenas but had only waved as we were dashing to get our new tyres.  We felt bad we had not stopped so sent him a message saying we hoped to meet him in Pucon the next day.  He was then also contacted by a Dutch overlanding couple, Joop and Adrie who said they were also near Pucon and suggested we all meet up at 11 the next morning.
Then we were contacted by an English family who also had an Overland truck.  Interestingly I had followed the build of this truck on an Overlanding forum while we were planning our own trip. They had bought a piece of land near Pucon and invited us all to comes and park up there.
So the next morning 3 trucks and their occupants met up in Pucon.  After a nice lunch we all headed up into the hills to meet Jago, Lucy and their 3 children aged10, 9 and 8.  They had started overlanding in South America but had had some mechanical problems and whilst waiting for the truck to be repaired had bought some land.  They were now building an Eco house all from natural materials.  It turned out that Joop and Adrie had turned up 3 weeks ago and had liked the place so much that they had bought the adjoining piece of land.

   

 It only took a couple of seconds for our children to hit it off and off they went exploring and playing.  They spent all weekend playing together and had great fun.  Most of the time they were dressing up and the girls loved having some different costumes to wear.

   

  

 The next day was a very slow one and the weather still had not improved so we still could not see the wonderful views from where we were parked. The girls though were happy playing with their new friends.

Easter Sunday saw the kids first going on an Easter Egg hunt.  The weather had also cleared and we were now able to see the wonderful volcanos.  Volcan Villarica had erupted only a month before and whilst we did not see a full eruption, it was still pouring out smoke while we were there.
   

     

Later in the day we decided to go for a walk up the hills to find a waterfall.  First we stopped off at the neighbours farm to feed the pet wild boar.  The kids could not be bothered getting changed for the walk so did it in their dressing up clothes. Quite a sight.  Then it was back to camp for a treasure hunt around the property.

   

   

It was a lovely weekend with people doing something similar to us and we had lots of stories and experiences to share.  We can not thank Jago, Lucy, Joop and Adrie enough for inviting us and Alisha and Lucy were very sad to leave having made such good new friends in the time we had spent there.
We needed to start heading North though as the truck was booked in for a service at the MAN garage in Santiago later in the week.  As we headed North the scenery changed and we left the beautiful mountains and lakes behind to be replaced by fairly boring flat farmland and a busy main road.  We just were not used to all the people and traffic.
We were planning to stop at some waterfalls, Saltos Del Laja.  Unfortunately they were a big disappointment.  There was not that much water in them and the area around them was dirty and fully of tacky souvenir stalls.  We did not fancy staying there for the night so kept heading North eventually spending the night at a service station which was pretty noisy.

  

We had one last stop we wanted to make before reaching Santiago.  The Colachuga Valley in Chile is a famous wine growing area and as we approached the pleasant little town of Santa Cruz we could see the vines full of grapes ready for picking.  We arrived too late that afternoon to go on any wine tasting so instead looked for somewhere to stay.  This was proving difficult and the only place we could find was some parking next to the rodeo stadium.  We did not fancy another disturbed night and had been hoping to have a nice dinner out so did not want to drive too far out of town.
Then we decided to be a little bit cheeky.  We drove to the lovely restaurant we were hoping to eat in that night.  It was in a beautiful setting overlooking the vineyards.  We made a reservation and then asked if we could just stay the night in their car park after our dinner.  After all, that way I could enjoy a bit more wine!  They did not have a problem.  They just explained that they locked the gates between 2am and 9am which was not a problem for us.  We had a lovely Italian meal there and a very peaceful night.

   

  

 

The next afternoon we went and did a bit of a wine tasting tour.  The only problem is that the wineries are quite spread out and you need to drive between them.  As I am the only one who can drive the truck I was the designated driver while Gilly enjoyed 2 wonderful wine tastings.  I did sneak a few sips just to ensure we bought the right bottles at the end of each tour.

  

We also visited a third very fancy winery in the hills. It was up a long drive and had the most amazing winemaking building.  They were not doing tastings when we arrived and as we had not booked we were out of luck although the I am not sure how Gilly would have managed a third tasting. Still we had a little look around and managed to buy a couple more bottles.

   

 

Heading up the motorway that evening we decided to make it as close to Santiago as possible so ended up spending the night again in a service station.  The next morning we were up early and headed to the MAN garage in Santiago where we were warmly welcomed back having spent a few days there about 7 months ago.
It’s time for the truck to have its annual service and a few other minor repairs.  Whilst the garage will take care of this we are going to go on a little holiday to see one of the few parts of Chile we have not yet seen.