Saturday, January 03, 2009

I'll have a Moai Christmas without you...

I love Christmas in Canada. I know it's over-commercialized and kind of stressful at times, but the decorations, excited kids, xmas baking... can't get enough of that festive spirit. I usually start listening to Christmas tunes in November to ensure a full month of it all.

However, this year I opted to stay in sunny South America for a warm winter and it's just so expensive to fly home. In fact, Santiago has been so hot and summery, that when I noticed Starbucks serving gingerbread frapuccinos and playing Bing Crosby 'Let it Snow', I almost fell over. The next few weeks continued to show American-style decorations, including an enormous Coca-Cola Christmas tree across from La Moneda, the government building (chileans are the biggest coke consumers in the world), but nothing felt like Christmas to me. I knew it was going to be difficult without family at that special time and there wasn`t much work for me, so I booked myself a ticket to Rapa Nui, otherwise known as Easter Island... 4000 miles west in Polynesia, though considered part of Chile.

I arrived Christmas eve, after a long week of work and saying good-byes to students, etc. The only thing in the town open was an internet cafe so I called home where they were watching old home videos, and, I suspect, eating mom`s fudge, Chandra`s cookies, or Aunt Lorraine`s poppycock. What I would have done to be there with them... munching on one of mom's butter tarts... despite it being -30 in Saskatchewan.

After crying myself to sleep, I woke up remembering I was on a beautiful island and probably saved myself 20 extra pounds this year.

I stayed in family-run hostel, where there was only one other guest. At breakfast we were invited to go the beach with the family. The island isn't that big.. only 30 km long and 12 km wide, but the beaches are at the other end of the island so we took the opportunity since there wasn`t much else happening Christmas day. I had forgotten to bring a towel, so searched the few shops that were open for a sarong to use. The island is super expensive.. they really know how to capitalize on tourists. I finally found one fairly reasonably priced and just the right size in a bright shade of sky blue.

Unfortunately, the hostel owners,who have four little girls all under 4, were in the midst of a domestic dispute when the the time came to leave. My fellow traveler and I waited uncomfortably nearby and eventually went with only the disgruntled dad.
My new friend, Kaethe, is sitting in front of my first-seen set of moais on the ahu platform near Anakena beach... what an amazing thing to look at when floating in the water. It was terribly hot that day so spent a great deal of time in the water then laid on the beach with a good book. Ah Christmas! After a couple of heavenly hours, while reapplying sunscreen to my gringa skin, I discovered a strange shade of blue on my stomach. Upon further inspection, it turned out my whole body and clothes were covered in blue dye from my reasonably-priced sarong. It certainly didn't spoil my day, but I did spend several hours later trying to rinse out the sarong and scrub it off myself. In fact, it took 3 days to lose it off my hands. I literally had a 'blue' Christmas.

I went to church, but missed the mass later on. There were beautiful wood carvings and fresh flowers making it smell wonderful.

There is still a lot of mystery pertaining to these gigantic statues, including how they were erected. They're made out of volcano rock and the tallest one is 33 feet and weighs almost 30 tonnes.
Kaethe had rented a car so invited me along the next day to tour the island and check them all out.

This one is my favourite. It's been restored to what they believe was a finished product, with large white eyes and top knot, possibly depicting the hairstyle of the 10th century. Most of them are right along the coast, but facing inland, maybe protecting their villages.

I bumped into a couple of my buddies from work who were also enjoying Christmas there. Not too tough to spot these gringos.

The quarry where all the moais were made is a mystical place - almost like a graveyard with so many different, unfinished moais. It felt like they were looking at my while I wondered around them.

Maybe this one is my favorite. I like his lips.

The ahu on Topanagi is very impressive. It's named after a Japanese company which restored them... most of the moais were damaged from tsunamis and war. My plane was filled with Japense people... apparently it's been a hot destination spot for them for the past two years.
See the horses? There are over 6000 horses on the island which are all branded, but most run wild.. getting into people's gardens and on the highway. Some of them aren't doing so well, and sadly, I saw two dead ones. Apparently, because they don't have enough water in the summer, and all they eat is grass, there's too much of chlorophyll which causes them to commit suicide.
Aren't they important looking!

More than horses and moais, the island has a lot to offer, including a site of an ancient civiliazation complete with petroglyphics, caves, and this crater lake, which has fauna of citrus trees, olive trees, and rumour has it, sweet-tasting water. Lonely Planet said I could hike around it, but I had to turn around at the edge by the ocean. No worries, was a lovely view and at one point, I could see the pacific ocean in three different directions.

I had the privilege of meeting some local Rapa Nuians who were having a fish bbq near this spot. I was even serenaded by a few guys while watching this amazing sunset.
Most of them are pretty friendly, seeming to appreciate the tourism, although a few of the women weren't too keen on me. I won't speculate. On my last night, I was invited to a farewell party of a guy who is going to Paris to participate in an exposition, showcasing Rapa Nui dance, music, and wood-carving. When we arrived, they were listening to Bryan Adams and getting high. Later on, when the party really got going they put on some Don Williams. They love country music here.

Anyway, can't say enough about this magical place. I'd love to go back some day, and, though it didn't feel much like Christmas to me, there's definitely a spirit in Rapa Nui of it's own. Iorana and peace be with you.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

San Pedro de Atacama

Here`s one I've been forgetting to post...

Winter holidays in July gave me the opportunity to go to Atacama desert in the north of Chile, the driest desert in the world.

Some of my work collegues had planned this trip and asked me to come along shortly after I arrived in Santiago. Closer to the time, I was wary of spending eight days with all these 'crazies', but eager to get away from the pollution and bleakness of Santiago's winter.

We stayed in San Pedro, a small town, seemingly made solely for tourism. After eight days, we knew everybody in town and saw pretty much all there was to see, but I certainly could have stayed longer. It was so nice to see the big sky again. The scenery was stunning, and I managed to get some time out on my own, too.

So long ago now that I can't remember the reason behind this thermal spring, but it was very deep and only the top part was hot and from my waist down, it was freeeeezing. Very strange. Although it was salty enough to float, we had to keep treading water to stay at a nuetral temperature.
Jen made us these crazy hats and scarves... we stood out, but they certainly kept us warm.
Geysers... springs shooting out of the freezing cold ground... at least my feet were freezing. We had to leave at 4 am to get to the site and see the steam.
A couple of hours later... geysers still very cool.
Vicuña.. endangered and lovely to see, but they blended quite well into the rocks.

Me gusta flamingos!!

Small community where we stopped for a llama bbq. Poor llama... but tasty!

Karen, who is somewhere around the 65 or 70 mark (she won't say for sure) was more active than the rest of us... even taking a side-trip in a 4x4 to Bolivia. Where that girl gets her drive I`ll never know.

When I saw these horses galloping in the desert, I knew I had to do it too. I went to tourist agency and said in broken Spanish 'I want to gallop in valle de muerte'. When I arrived the next day, I saw the team of old, almost dead horses and one very spirited horse. The other riders were beginner's, not unlike myself, but they had saved a special horse for me. This horse did not like being behind any other horse and often took off despite my pulling on the reigns. There was no galloping, it seemed more like it as running for it's life. At one point, I had to be saved by the guide as my saddle was falling sideways and my foot loose... must have been a site. No wonder it's called 'Death Valley'.

Sandboarding is all the rage with the young hipsters. Most of them couldn't get down the hill without falling... like in slow motion. Funny.

I really do love flamingos!

Valle de Luna, Moon Valley, really does look like the moon.

Did I mention my fondness for flamingos?

Not sure I've ever seen such beautiful scenery as in the Atacama desert. It was good to get to know my colleagues, despite my inability to kep up with them as far as drinking goes anyway. Amazing scenery and memories to last a lifetime.