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Archive for the ‘Chile’ Category

Food daydreams

With barely a sou
You’ll make do in Peru;
But to stay with a Chilean
Will cost you a million.

Literally so, in our case; I have now withdrawn just over $1,000,000 Chilean Pesos on the island to see us through this past week. (That’s pretty well $2,000 in US Dollars.) 70% on accommodation, 10% on a full-day guided tour (plus admission), perhaps 8% on eating out, 8% on food shopping and 4% on car hire and petrol.

So renting a jeep is a bargain, and where you stay has the most significant impact on your budget. We could have camped at Mihinoa, but with particularly heavy rain again last night we’re glad we didn’t. Privacy, security, comfort, cleanliness, tranquillity, with secluded gardens and breakfast thrown in – Hostal Aukara at least ticks these boxes, although it is decidedly no-frills. And there are plenty of other hotels/hostals here charging more and offering grottier rooms/unsafe safes/etc.

Worth it? Well, Easter Island is on the way for us; stopping here costs no more in RTW flights or taxes than hopping across to NZ in one go, and (in the words of Eccles) ‘everybody’s got to be somewhere’ – we’d be paying a certain amount anyway to stay elsewhere, so what matters is the incremental cost for this location. And that is perhaps around £150 for each of us. The chance to stay on Easter Island for £20 a day extra? That sounds more reasonable.

How long? Three days would be a bit short; eight days too long. Five or six days, perhaps, so you’re not dashing around desperately hoovering up the sights and you can have some rest time (especially if the weather is fickle). We have another 32 hours left here and we’re already into ‘waiting for departure’ mode, sitting around reading, Zenning, typing.

A week after our arrival, four more tourists have just been collected from the airport, garlands fresh around their necks. Two are staying next door to us so we’ll lose some of our privacy and patio space… Already here is what we took to be a French couple, but he is an exiled Chilean artist and she is originally from Germany – they met and still live in France, however. Earlier, a young woman from Darwin – started off travelling with friends, but now solo. Hers was a two-day flying visit – hire a Jeep and go everywhere, even the poorest roads you’re not supposed to drive down.

What of today? This morning, various ‘to-do’s – another batch of washing to the Lavanderia, the car to fill up with petrol and return to the hire place. Sounds straightforward, but an island such as this has one church, one ATM, one petrol station… and so when this station is closed for a tanker delivery you just have to wait. We queued, and eventually we could refuel – we used about £4 of petrol yesterday – and we were just in time to drop off the car. A quick visual inspection and a check of the fuel gauge, then we were signed off.

Breakfast at the Hostal.
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Once in town, the next jobs; get more cash out, check emails, get things for lunch and call in at the LAN office to try to reserve four seats together for the Tahiti flight tomorrow (success here).

Half way through the afternoon we walked down Atamu Tekena (the main street) yet again; ice creams for the girls (four times the San Pedro price), then a look around the church. I was expecting a more traditional structure, but this had a garish facade with bright green petroglyph images, and inside the wooden carvings mixed Catholicism with the Bird Man cult – sort of Ave Maria (sorry). And to one side of the main entrance an angel, to the other a Tanga Manu (bird man) statue.

Hanga Roa church.
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Mary with Bird-man plinth.
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Carved pulpit.
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Tanga Manu.
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Down the road to the beach where the girls found a friendly puppy
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and three large turtles cruising the shallows (here are two of them).
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Next to the play area – probably for the final time as tomorrow may well be wet. Then back along Atamu Tekena, stopping for supplies for supper – mashed potato, sweetcorn and ham with tinned peaches for dessert – (having just a gas hob, one pan and no fridge does limit one’s culinary options) and searching in vain for pastries for tea (all the pastelerias were closed).

After supper we shared food daydreams – French Fancies, little sausages on sticks, Hot Cross Buns dripping with butter, minty Kit-Kats, coffee and walnut cake, an assortment of Waitrose pastries, roast potatoes, spinach in cream, Victoria sponge cake, chocolate fingers. Every last one of them high in fat, sugar or both. So I suppose this means that we’re eating healthily – we’re not craving fruit salads or grilled salmon (thanks to fresh juices and tuna steaks). But we’re pretty sure that we adults have lost weight, more through the regular exercise that a trip like this entails than through an inadequate diet. To answer one of our pre-departure questions, we’re fitter, not fatter.

It is getting chilly this evening – time for Tahiti’s 30-something degrees. We are all quite physically tired despite a gentle week here; maybe we simply need rest after the adventures of mainland South America.

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Too much choice

When we arrived in Santiago de Chile (14/11/09) I wrote down a few thoughts in my diary. I think I’d like to share them with you …

When we arrived at our hotel we had a 1 1/2 hour wait before we could check in so we headed out in search of lunch and a supermarket. We found a shopping mall (small by North American/European standards, but a good size for South America) with on the second floor a huge food hall with in the centre lots of tables and chairs and all around different food outlets like KFC, Pizzahut, Subway, Burger King, some Chinese takeaway and lots of others.

It completely threw us, the choice was so huge that for over half an hour we couldn’t decide what to choose! For the last 8-9 weeks we were content with a choice between two, maybe three good eating places in one town/city and suddenly we were put in this situation. It did affect me more than I anticipated and I ended up not chosing anything at all but helping Ellen & Tim out with their meals.

It made me realise that I really don’t need a big choice and we had become quite used to a more simple life with fewer choices.

We have countries like New Zealand and Australia ahead of us where again there should be plenty of everything. I wonder how quickly we would get used to this situation again, knowing everything will be availabe everywhere and every time.
Would we take everything for granted again or would we remember that this is not the same for everybody?

I want to take home with me this happy, contented feeling of having a limited choice. I want to remember what it was like to have only one or two eating places to choose from, only market stalls to buy less than perfect fruit and no supermarkets packed with identically sized/coloured apples…

I want to carry on only replacing those items that really do need replacing, and not just because I want something new whether it is clothes or household products.

I should stop and think like the Amish people and ask myself whether the item/product/service would improve my family life… and if not, simply learn to be content with having less.

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After breakfast I tried the solitary cashpoint in town to see if it would let me have some pocket money. I came away with another $300,000 (apparently my daily limit) and on the way back I stopped to check the weather forecast on the internet. Today and tomorrow dry, but more sunshine today. Wednesday is wet again, but the following two days look good for Tahiti (if a bit hot at 33C).

Once back I looked for Ana Maria, the owner. I asked Fernando (who does the cleaning and gets breakfast ready) whether his wife was there, and he replied with much initial bafflement ‘My wife? Ah… you mean my seester!’. Anyway, I handed over two-thirds of my cash and asked about good car rental companies. Ana Maria recommended ‘Insular’ and even phoned them up to see if they had a vehicle available for today. They did, and furthermore they would bring it round to Hostal Aukara.

So by 10.30am we had temporary possession of a newish Suzuki Jimny, bright red, four-wheel drive but only two doors, a kiddy version of the big Landcruisers that cross the Bolivian salt flats, this one only just accommodating the four of us plus our bags for the day.

In truth, one of the main reasons for renting a vehicle here is to get used to driving again after nearly three months of not being behind the wheel. And these roads provide a suitably quiet introduction, albeit with more potholes than we would normally encounter. Fortunately, we remembered which pedal is the accelerator and which is the brake (plus the fun of a manual gear change – we were automatic in the USA).

Our Jimny.
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Just a quick note here to thank C.R. Jaggar, Esq. (whose birthday must have arrived in the UK as I write) for his foresight in providing me with 4WD training during his Stag Day quite a few years ago…

We first ventured towards the south-west corner of the island to visit Rano Kau volcano (nearly a mile in diameter) and the ancient village of Orongo. This latter site is where the Bird-Man competition used to take place; teams would compete to be the first to swim out and retrieve a Sooty Tern’s egg from one of the nearby islands, the winner being crowned ‘birdman’ for the duration of the year. Many petroglyphs here show a bird-faced man grasping an egg, and this image is common on souvenir items and publicity material here.

Rano Kau volcano.
Rano Kau Volcano

Cut-away boat-house at Orongo.
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Birdman petroglyph.
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Islets off Orongo.
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It was now lunchtime so we descended the rutted roads back into Hanga Roa and got a bite to eat near the beach. (This is the best option we have found for budget travellers eating out; we shared a chicken and a tuna steak sandwich – each stacked so high it required a stake through its heart – along with two fizzy drinks for around £10; a bargain by Easter Island standards.)

Quickly back to our room to get extra fleeces, and then north-east along the one paved road to traverse the island. We stopped at the small volcano where they carved out the red top-knots for the Moai; once again, there are dozens of abandoned cylinders littering the slopes.

Scattered top-knots at Puna Pau, like petrified hay-bales.
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View of north coast from tthe top of Puna Pau.
Rapa Nui north coast

We also bumped along 10km of rough track to visit another Ahu with re-erected Moai, Ahu Akivi. Seven of them, some distance inland, and the only statues to face the sea (entirely coincidentally, since they simply overlook the ceremonial area in front of them). The benefit of travelling independently is that we have had some sites entirely (or nearly) to ourselves; a crocodile of at least 20 tourists was leaving Orongo as we arrived.

Ahu Akivi.
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Three new Moai…
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By mid-afternoon we made it to Anakena beach for a return visit. Swimming things on, then down to secure a spot at the far end of the sand. Except that Ellen then needed the loo on the far side of the car park… Eventually we settled (next to a group of Japanese tourists who continually posed for each other’s photos) and Hannah and I braved the Pacific waters. About 20C, we were told the other day, and it wasn’t too bad once you were in.
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But by some strange quirk we never got any proper sunshine despite over half the sky appearing blue. A succession of clouds conspired to deprive us of those solar rays, the wind pushing the white fluffy jobs neatly into position one after another. Elsewhere on the island I’m sure they were enjoying a warm spring afternoon (and indeed there has been no shortage of sunshine since we’ve been back in Hanga Roa) but in the end we admitted defeat and shivered our way back to the car.
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In Hanga Roa we bought a few things for supper and then parked up for the night. Rice with sweetcorn and a beefburger (about the only meat you can buy here), then yogurt for dessert.

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Palm Sunday

A calm Sunday resting, relaxing in the garden. reading Paul Theroux’s train travels down to Patagonia, peeling a coconut (this is keeping Ellen busy for hours), running a clothes shop in our room (Hannah). Some sunshine, some cloud; chickens pecking in the undergrowth, wind rustling the palms, nasturtiums flourishing to one side, green bananas ripening on the other. No immediate rush to do anything – this is what we need.
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Distant traffic droning, cockerels crowing belatedly (it’s 2.30pm), a workman banging away at something a couple of doors down the road. And just now, an aircraft manoeuvring on the airstrip, then the geyser roar of take-off.

Empanadas for lunch from a shop just around the corner – we also bought a ‘mil hojas’ (millefeuille) for tea. No eating out today – we’re down to our last $8,000 Pesos (£10) after paying the first instalment of our accommodation (cash only, and we hit the ATM daily limit). We might hire a car tomorrow to see some of the rest of the island – money and licences permitting. But for the moment, a lack of cash is liberating; a good excuse to do not very much.

Theroux is rightly scathing about travellers who go on about the price of everything (guilty as charged); my only defence is that the information might come in useful for subsequent visitors. (And, sadly, for most of us a trip such as this must be subject to tight financial constraints.)

But our moods are such minions of meteorology. Had it poured for the last three days as well, we’d have been losing our heads by now, desperate to depart. Fortunately, the sun has put his Easter bonnet on and we’re happy to hang around in Hanga Roa.

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Coconuts and cucumber

A slightly broken night, probably because I feel I have caught up on sleep by now.

After our usual breakfast of rolls, pineapple jam and strawberry juice we crossed the road to pick up our laundry and then got ourselves ready to try and find the Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert.

A wild-haired Ellen…
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Main street in the sun.
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The walk along the road took over half an hour, most of that time we were accompanied by two dogs who felt we needed protection or company, often they just got in the way! (After our little incident in Copacabana, Bolivia, where Hannah was knocked down by the hotel’s dog, the girls have had to rebuild their confidence around dogs, they still feel a little anxious).

We finally found the entrance and were pleasantly surprised when we were told it was free. We were given two ring-bound books with information in English – far too much to read all of it, but handy just to dip into if we needed an explanation on any of the displays. The museum houses a small, but significant, selection of spearheads, fish hooks, photos explaining the history and culture of the island, moai, little wooden carvings and Rongo-Rongo tablets covered in tiny rows of symbols resembling hieroglyphs.

A Rongo-Rongo fish.
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We spent a good hour in the one-room musuem and there were enough displays to keep the girls occupied and quiet. We ended our visit by looking around the gift shop, but didn’t feel like purchasing anything.

Once outside we decided to follow the path along the coastline that leads to Tahai, another series of Moai.

Moai with restored coral eyes (they all looked like this originally).
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We had only been walking for a few minutes when we were joined again by the same two dogs. Our walk offered magnificent views of the ocean and waves crashing into the rocks.
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Coastal panorama.
Sea view panorama

Anyone recognise these flowers? We’d like to know…
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We carried on past the colourful Hanga Roa cemetery (what a place to be buried!)
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and before we knew it we had reached the playground and let the girls have a good run around before heading back home for lunch. We stocked up on crackers, salami, sausages, tomato and cucumber on the way.

After lunch the adults had a rest while the kids had no limits to their energy. It’s nice for us to know that they can run around free in the garden and also great for them to enjoy this freedom without us constantly watching over them.

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A couple of hours later we enjoyed a shop-bought ice cream and spent time at the internet place checking our messages from home. Tim stayed on to update our blog (we’re now up to date with entries AND photos) while I took the girls back to our hostal.

Pasta (with butter and cheese) and salami for supper, followed by fruit and biscuits for dessert.

We have decided to delay the girls’ bedtime over the next few evenings to get them ready for Tahiti when the clocks go back not one hour but six (6)! We’ll probably take them out later to (hopefully) enjoy a beautiful sunset.

Too cloudy for a good sunset…
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Jammy Dodgers

It’s been wet here for the last two months (that’s the latest estimate); we book a full-day tour of the island and we get sunshine! Jammy or what? So that internet forecast turned out to be reasonably accurate – rain overnight, but blue sky alternating with non-threatening clouds for most of today. (A fair breeze, too, but we didn’t mind.)

Our guide, Esteban, picked us up just after 10am, then collected a Swiss-Spanish couple from the main street. It turns out that they are doing our world journey in reverse: South-East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Easter Island, then Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador to finish. They are into their final month having been on the road for nine months so far. The good news – you can eat out well in South-East Asia for a dollar a head. The bad news – Tahiti is horrendously expensive (well, we thought as much). Just as well we’re spending ten weeks in the former and two days in the latter, then.

We headed off on what is pretty much a standard circuit of the island for all tours. And initially we stopped alongside about three coaches, two minibuses and six 4×4 vehicles at every point of interest. But we gradually lagged behind, allowing us more welcome solitude in each location (good for photos and also good for appreciating the remoteness of this island).

In brief, we visited Vaihu, Akahanga, Rano Raraku, Ahu Tongariki, Te Pito Kura, Ahu Nau Nau and finally the beach at Anakena. Okay, so this means little. To start with, we saw several Ahu, or stone platforms on which the Moai (or stone figures) used to stand. For despite the famous pictures, very few Moai are still standing on the shores of the island; most have fallen and are lying near their erstwhile platforms, either entire or in pieces. So much of the first part of the tour consisted of approaching piles of small stones and looking at a few badly-weathered larger stones which used to be upright. Oh, and stones marking the bases of ancient inverted-boat-shaped houses, cooking areas and funeral sites.
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However, we started to get the Real McCoy at Rano Raraku. This is a volcano and also the main quarry for the entire island, and here there are dozens of upright Moai, half buried in the ground, in a workshop area where they were finished off after being crudely hewn from the rock face. The rapid decline of the Rapa Nui civilisation meant that they were never completed and moved to their ceremonial sites by the sea. There are yet more (fallen) Moai left in transit from the volcano to the shore.
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Over the years, the Moai evolved from short, fat, crude carvings to the tall, slim, chiselled features that we all know. The very last ones – still in the quarry – reached a height of 21 metres and a mass of over 200 tonnes. Why there was this drive to produce larger and larger figures we do not know; competition between different groups, improvement in transport techniques, a culture in pursuit of bigger and better monuments? Anyway, the littered stonework in the middle of nowhere gives something of an Ozymandias feel to the place.

Down to the sea again, and one of the few restored sites where in the early 1990s a Japanese company re-erected 15 Moai on a raised Ahu for the sum of $1,100,000 (US). The money then ran out so only one red top-knot could be put in place. But it is an impressive sight, nevertheless (and today’s sunshine was the icing on the cake).
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And the heads all face inwards from the sea, not outwards. I got that wrong a few days ago, didn’t I? It’s the idea of one’s ancestors casting their benevolent gaze over the community. Not that they were oversentimental about their forebears; there was a vigorous programme of renewal and replacement – out with the great-grandparents and wheel in the newer generations of departed.

Wheel in? Was it all rollers and levers like Stonehenge? It seems that there is evidence for the upright stones being walked down into position – a bit like moving a wardrobe. Ropes at the top to lean it from side to side, ropes at the bottom to pull the corners forward. The base was made extra wide for stability, then once at the destination it was tapered and the rough bottom (battered from the journey) smoothed off.

After Ahu Tongariki we headed up to the north coast for some more unrestored sites as well as some large petroglyphs – rock carvings of boats, turtles, fish, an octopus…
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The blue, blue, ocean.
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Also a smooth, rounded rock which allegedly imparts energy/mana to those who touch it (a touch of the Aveburys there).
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At around 5pm we made it to the beach – the girls’ favourite spot of the day.
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At Anakena there is another reconstructed row of Moai; these were buried for years beneath the coral sand and hence are remarkably well preserved.
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Also one earlier ‘model’ on its own which was put back into place by Thor Heyerdahl and a team of locals using no artificial aids.

Just time for a quick paddle in the Pacific before heading back to Hanga Roa. We were dropped at our Hostal and soon walked down to the shore to eat at a beachside shack. No empanadas available (our first choice) but the huge tuna steak sandwiches did the job – probably our first tuna steak since St Helena nearly 14 years ago… And delightful to sit out watching th evening sun over the sea, rather than huddling against sheets of wind-blown rain.

Back to our room, wash sand off feet and collapse.

P.S. Please check our past posts for added photos – including the salt flat trip…

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Kirsten’s thoughts

Easter Island – I had read up on it a little, looking at pictures of Moai and blue, sunny skies.  But still … it looks different than I tried to imagine.  After dry, dusty countries like Peru, Bolivia and Chile it is a very welcome change to see so much green.  And to smell the sea air!  We hadn’t seen the sea or a beach since Maine (late August) and the girls just love running around the tiny beach or the beautiful wooden playground with sea view! 

It’s funny you don’t actually realise how tired you are until you’re given the opportunity to have a good sleep.  I reckon the first night I almost slept for 12 hours, was up and about for a good 3 hours and then I felt I needed to have another 2 hour rest.  You just keep going, thinking this might be the only time in your life that you’re here so you want to make the most of, even if it means wearing yourself out.

That’s why we sometimes might spend more time than necessary in one particular place – not necessarily because it is a very interesting or  beautiful place, but just because we need to recharge our batteries and keep ourselves healthy.  Okay, it would have been nicer if we did get the sunshine and blue skies, but I’m not complaining.  I feel lucky and privileged to be here and to have this chance of seeing the world, meeting other people, sampling other cultures and cuisines together with my family.

The girls never fail to impress me, how well they cope with travelling, different cultures and landscapes, altitude, …
They always find something to do, invent a game or make up a story including aspects of things we’ve encountered in our past travels.  I wonder if this trip will indirectly shape their future, will they study archeology, anthropology or simply enjoy travelling?  I think by taking them on this trip we’ve shown them that borders are there to be crossed, that you “can” get to more remote places and hopefully this has increased their curiosity to visit different places (like Japan, China, …)

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