January 29th: Easter Island
Wahoo! We made it on to Easter Island. The winds set fair, the swell eased, and everything looked great for an early departure to the island. The old hands were shaking their heads and declaring that never in their last six visits to the island had they been able to land.
THEN: Bureaucracy. The Chilean port person decided not to turn up on time to formally clear the ship to enter port. Then they wanted everything on the ship examined, and kept us all waiting in the lounge for two hours while we chewed our fingernails and watched the swell rise on the water and the winds increase.
It turns out that we had arrived during a festival, and that the officials in question were simply not prepared to get out of bed early and attend to us. Maybe they celebrated too freely the day before. Also, it was a Sunday, so I suppose they had to attend mass first.
Finally, the ship was cleared, and we got the tender to the island. The swell made the transit from ship to tender rather treacherous, and we were all grateful to the crew who steadied us as we stepped across. The boat was bucking up and down on the waves, so timing of that step was critical.
It was immediately apparent that landing on Easter Island is a very tricky business indeed. The wharf is within a VERY small harbour area which can only hold one tender at a time. The entrance to this harbour is guarded by vicious rocks, many just beneath the surface of the waves which make it a dangerous place to be operating, even though each tender has a local pilot on board to direct the Princess crew member through the maze.
Friends of ours reported that their tender got swept sideways by a sudden gust of wind and nearly ran into the rocks. It was a close call – the local pilot was shrieking abuse, and they only managed to turn inside of the rocks at the last minute. It wouldn’t be a nice place to wreck the tender.
Easter Island itself was magnificent. Moai everywhere - I hadn't realised they were in such profusion, and right in the middle of town as well as in the tourist spots. We took a tour into the Orongo volcano, saw where the Birdmen climbed, dived and generally did dangerous things to become ruler, and then had a spot of Moai and ahu watching.
It’s a surprisingly beautiful island, and not at all what I expected. I had been prepared for a bare, blasted heath kind of place, not this gently rolling, green and fertile land. There are horses everywhere. They seem to have right of way on the roads which are all unsealed and exceedingly bumpy. There are signs that reforestation has started, although I wasn’t convinced that the ubiquitous Australian eucalyptus was necessarily the best tree for the job. In fact, given that our bags were inspected as we landed on the wharf to ensure we weren’t bringing in any exotic plants, the number of non-native species growing on the island was remarkable. I felt they might have been shutting the stable door a little too late.
It was very satisfying, and a great relief to have made it onto the island. It’s such a unique environment, and so remote, that I fear I could not have been relied on to act like a lady had I been denied this experience. The tantalising mystery of the remains is so intriguing. Even more so is the written language they’ve discovered but haven’t been able to translate yet. I doubt if circumstances will ever have us back in this part of the world again, so Cavan and I were very lucky.
It's a sea day tomorrow and I give my next workshop. The final one is on the first of Feb. The weather is still warm and wonderful, and the next stop is Valparaiso. From now on we head south and towards the cold. We've dug out our winter woollies in readiness.