Rapa Nui – Relaxing

 

One thing that makes this island so special is the layed back and relaxed vibe everything has. A lot of time was spent idling at the coast, looking into the distance. Enjoying the view, taking pictures of sun rises, sun sets and the moon. Driving around the island. Visiting and revisiting the sights I particularly liked. There is one lovely beach, but it is on the other side of the island, unfortunately. My attempt to swim in one of the natural pools close to the town ended with a lot of bruises, as I ran into rocks in all directions. The weather permitted for some nice tanning though, as did the large garden in which our tents were pitched. Add to that a nice beer in the evening and eating your self cooked dinner with a view onto the waves breaking, quite spectacularly, on the rocks and life is just perfect.

And then comes the sun set…

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Rapa Nui – Hiking

 

Rapa Nui may be a small island, but it consists of a good dozen individual (now extinct) volcanoes. Plenty of ‘mountains’ to climb onto then. The most spectacular is easily Rano Kao, the volcano right next to the only town on the island. It has a huge crater of almost 2km of diameter and a lake has formed inside the crater, with plenty of little islands.

From here the view onto the Sea and the islands relevant for the bird man cult can be seen. Turning around, one can see the entire island with its volcanoes and the green-golden grass. This is a lovely 2-3h hike that ends at the Orongo village. Main cultural site for the bird man cult, it happened to be booked for a documentary on said cult on the day we were visiting. Therefore we got to see plenty of people in the traditional… well, it’s hard to call it clothing.. make-up maybe? A really cool sight! A part from the actors, I really enjoyed seeing the houses. They’re barely chest-high and were only used for sleeping as day to day life happened outside.


The second hike I did, was up to the highest volcano of the island, Maunga Terevaka. From there you can look over the entire island and enjoy watching wild or semi-wild horses. It is also a popular spot for guided horse back riding tours. This allowed us to see the wild horses trying to mess with the tours.

Once they got too close, the guide chased them off,only for them to make a big circle and come back from the other side.. Very amusing. The way back to town from the volcano can almost be considered its own hike. It leads along coast past some fascinating caves. Such as the banana cave, named for its little sheltered garden with banana plants and the window cave, named for its two openings towards the ocean. Most of these caves formed as lava tunnels and in case of the latter, the lava ended up plummeting into the ocean. The path also leads past several Moais in more or less restored states.. Some of which we were unable to identify at all.


The final hike I did was up the oldest volcano of the island: Poike. The hike is obviously rarely done. I had to fight my way through bushes on several occasions and would’ve enjoyed carrying a machete numerous times. I wanted to do this tour as a guided horse-back ride, but couldn’t find an operator willing to do this for a single person.. Luckily I had maps.me with me, so that I could find a number of the advertised and sometimes hidden sights anyways. In particular the Make Make deity, carved into the stone with an open mouth to collect rain water was really cool. I did not figure out how to get into the virgin cave, as the path got treacherously close to the cliffs and I didn’t see the path leading to the cave. But that is part of what makes Poike so nice: It feels like you have the island to yourself. Nobody will cross your path, especially since there is no path for large parts.

Rapa Nui – Easter island

The Easter islands, creatively named like this as they were “discovered” on Easter were not uninhabited. Therefore they had a name before being named and this name is today regaining popularity. After almost being wiped out due to several reasons, among them their own megalomania and slave ships.


It is believed that the original inhabitants of Rapa Nui arrived any time between the 8th and the 13th century from Micronesia. They started building the Moai, the gigantic statues shortly after, slowly killing off the entire forest on the island. By the 15th century things started to get dire. There were only a few trees left, land went dry and people started killing each other for food. The Moai culture started to decline and a new cult emerged: The birdman. The leader of the clans was now elected by a competition: People would swim over to a small island in front of Rapa Nui and camp there. Whoever could bring the first egg from the migrating birds back got to be leader for a year.


Nevertheless the Moai remained important in their culture. The statues look onto their people and transfer their energy to their descendants through their eyes. So every time there was a war going on between different tribes, they would go and destroy the Moais of their opponent, weakening them in a way. This is the main reason why almost none of the Moai were still standing when Rapa Nui was “discovered”.


This discovery did the rest, European traders brought the flu and other illnesses, killing many. Then the slave ships came and took about 1500 people to Peru, leaving behind less than 100 people. Chile complained about this theft of their people and eventually the view surviving slaves were returned to Rapa Nui, bringing smallpox to the island. At the end of the 19th century only 100 people survived.
It took until the mid of the 20th century before some positive developments happened in Rapa Nui, but today the culture is alive even if a lot of the (oral) history has been lost. This is particular unfortunate, as the Rapa Nui are the only culture to have developed their own writings in the pacific. It was not used to write down their history and myths.
The Rapa Nui have their traditions and their own language and as of a few years ago, they are also in charge of the national park and decide which parts are accessible to tourists and which aren’t. (Much to my disappointment.. One of the hikes I wanted to do was closed off, because of that.. The park ranger made it very clear that if it was up to him I’d be more than welcome to go, but he really didn’t want to put up with the complaints he’d get if the locals saw us walking on that path)

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Today the island mostly lives of tourism and for a good reason. It’s a very relaxed little island, with the intriguing statues to see, the stone carvings and a few very cool caves. I also ran into one of my childhood heroes on that island, at least indirectly. Thor Heyerdahl, Norwegian archaeologist and adventurer, spent some time there exploring the Moai and came to the, now considered unlikely, conclusion that the Easter Islands were populated from South America.

Valparaiso

I did an organized trip from Santiago, which was probably a mistake. The tour advertised walks around the most famous parts of town, plus driving to around the upper parts and visiting several viewpoints. But, since we had to wait around for a few people to show up then search for a toilet and have lunch, in the end there wasn’t much time left for Valparaiso.


The little of Valparaiso that I did see, made me want to explore more in depth.. Maybe another time. Valparaiso is famous for its street art and for its steep roads. The former made me regret taking a driven tour, the latter certainly made me appreciate the car. If one wants to walk around the city, but avoid the steep roads there are plenty of cable cars to use. Ironically those cars were built to be plane, so they look quite experimental, with one end being on high stilts while the other end sits on the ground. For just a few pesos they’ll take you up or down.


Valparaiso has a long german tradition which shows itself in the German churches, German construction styles and the “Bomba Germania”, which isn’t a German bomb, but rather the German firefighters who were founded back in the 19th century here. Their fire trucks also still say Feuerwehr and have the little German eagle on the side. But Valparaiso clearly has other influences as well. There are anglican churches built by the English. There’s an Italian square with four statues representing the different seasons, which were donated by the Italian state.

There’s Spanish, Dutch, and so on and so on. Everyone seems to lay claim to some part of Valparaiso. And finally there’s something that reminded me a lot of home:


But since the city is so separated into the different hill sides, it’s not like there’s a lot of dispute. Everyone seems to have their own little mountain top and is satisfied with that. The thing that unifies the city then are the graffiti which are present everywhere.. The story goes that the artist will ring your door bell and explain to you the idea he has for your boring white wall and if you like it, he’ll paint it.. If you don’t, he moves on and another day another person may come with a new proposal. Quite different from graffiti on his side of the pond.

Santiago de Chile

I came to Santiago not expecting much. People that had been to Santiago and Buenos Aires told me that Santiago couldn’t compete with the liveliness and offers that Buenos Aires had .. and I had already not liked Buenos Aires much.. It might’ve been the temperature, a nice 15 degrees rather than 36. It might have been the fact that I was coming there completely relaxed, rather than from the stress predating the start of my trip. Either way.. I really liked Santiago.. I like the way it bustled with people, the noise level in the market and being pushed round in the main streets.


I also got quite lucky with the one day I was visiting. I had just started walking from my hostel towards la moneda, when the exchange of the guard happened. Now I’m not a big fan of military (or in this case police) parades, but if it’s free and you just happen to be there.. Why not? So I watched the guard walk into Moneda and noticed that everyone had their best uniform on, including the horses and the dogs.. As I would realize later, this may not have been because of procedure but rather because people in Santiago seem to genuinely believe that a dog will be cold otherwise. I saw many dogs that day, all of them wearing some kind of cover to protect from that 15 degree (Celsius) cold.

Next I made may way onto the main plaza and there I was greated with a lot of people in indigenous clothing. It turns out that that day was the national meetup of the Chilean (? or maybe just local?) tribes. So plenty of people in all kinds of traditional clothing had met up and were talking to each other and to the police. Very interesting to watch.

After that the tour of the main sights was quickly done, the cathedral and some of the buildings I noticed here and there. And, of course, graffitis.. Valparaiso is the city famous for it, but it has spread over to Santiago and you can see some truly beautiful pictures along the way.

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Another thing that Santiago has to offer is museums. In more or less historical order, I visited the pre-columbian museum, the national history museum and final the museu de la memoria, retracing the dictatorship of Pinochet and its ultimate demise. I learned much that day, although a lot of it was really quite depressing.

Volcano Villarrica – Rucapillan

The main attraction in Pucon is the volcano. Villarrica for the lazy, Rucapillan for the most ambitious.. The latter being the local name for the former. The ascension is advertised as “easy” and accessible to all, but it also states that you may not use your own equipment and from the backpack to the crampons everything will be provided to you. Including shoes and pants. While there was a lot of fretting originally about the fit of the gear (and the fact that it does really look quite worn), none of us ended having problems with it.. Apart from the fact that the zipper of my jacket wouldn’t close, something I failed to check initially. It didn’t matter, the weather was good enough.

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We set off early enough and soon were at the foot of the mountain. There you have the option to either do the first hour of hiking on foot or take a chair lift.. First we wanted to take the chair lift, to arrive before the other groups. Then we realized the chair lift wasn’t open yet and opted to hike after all. To the credit of our tour guides, they were super flexible. Even though some people had already left on foot and others wanted to take the chair lift, they sent of a third tour guide to hike up with us.. That tour guide knew no pity, he was intent on catching up with the other group of hikers. We suffered quite a bit, but eventually made it up and also ended up catching up with the guys taking the chair lift.

We had gone with the local agency of the kiwi chili hostel and felt very well taken care of the entire time. The guides all spoke English, there were 4 guides for 12 people and at all times they were friendly and open to cater to our wishes (if they were safe).

While we started hiking in the dark, the sun soon started coming out, painting the clouds in all shades of pink. Soon after, we realized that the mountain was casting its shadow onto the clouds. It took as a while to understand what was happening.

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For a long time, it was a really nice hike. We did come to realize that it’s more than just a walk in the park when we reached the ice. Suddenly ice and rocks started falling down and the danger of being injured got quite real. We saw one person (from a different agency) get hit in the leg and unable to get back up after. Just 25min from the top. The guides, however, where well prepared and once she had accepted that she needed to turn around, they carried her down.

We continued on, at a much faster speed until we’d left the dangerous zone. The ice was showing the most amazing formations, the sun was out and the volcano fuming at the top. About 10 minutes from the top we were instructed to put on our gas mask, also part of the gear given to us at the bottom and of we went into the fumes. The volcano was going crazy with fumes, we couldn’t see each other, the mountain or the surroundings for most of the time at the top. Billowing of burning gas waved around us, making my eyes tear up and, when I pulled in the air too strongly, burning through my throat.. For some reason we weren’t supposed to stay up for more than 10 minutes. Luckily 10 minutes was just enough to see the lava appear and the view to clear up enough to have a look around. Mission successful.

Then came, what we’d already been told was the funnest part of the day: Sliding back down. We’d been carrying giant diapers, that were now wrapped around our behind, then we sat down and off we went. The ice pike serving as a break where necessary.. What had taken almost five hours to climb, was descended in a little over 90 minutes. Down at the car some savy business men stood with a cooler full of beer.. It’s never tasted better!

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Hiking in Pucon

Another thing we thought we could do while waiting for better weather was hiking.. We were wrong. Some rain was falling, but the weather forecast optimistically predicted sunshine in the afternoon. Enough to tempt us into a day hike. The El Cañi preserve is right around the corner and supposedly quite pretty. I say supposedly, because we never saw more than a wall of white. We also never saw the sun. What we did see after a while though was snow as we climbed up the mountain, braving the snow. And while the muddy path was already slippery at the bottom of the mountain, that was no comparison to the sliding we did at the top where we had neat layers of mud under snow under rainy sludge.. We fought on, more out of principal than anything else. But gave up some 500m from the top. Supposedly because we were no longer able to make out the path under the snow, but really we were cold, wet and fed up. I would stell tell anyone interested to go and check it out for themselves, because I simply have no clue what the preserve looks like.

I did do another hike the day after we climbed the volcano. There’s a second national park a bit further away which offers a few hiking opportunities.  It’s unpronounceable and nearly unspellable: Huerquehue National Park. Among which a 4 day hike to another set of hot springs.. Sounds great, but.. You know it.. The path was closed because I was too late in the season and some parts were snowed in. So that left two day-hikes: One up the mountain, the other leading up to a pass and then around a few lakes. Since I’d grown heartily sick of the entire up – viewpoint – down hikes, I was tempted to do the second. However, the former supposedly had some extra-ordinary views of the volcano.. and while I was driving to the national park, I was still debating which hike I should do… The decision was made for me, when the national guard announced that anyone attempting to do the mountain-hike would be arrested for trespassing by the police. So don’t even think about it…. That almost made me go check if there truly was police on the way..

But I did think better of it. Instead I did the lake hike, which is truly stunning. You walk up a rather steep ledge until you reach a plateau on which there are six lakes of very different sizes. A path leads from one lake to the next in a more or less clearly defined fashion. This is what a perfect hike looks like to me. Nice view, lakes and a hike that’s actually a loop and even contains some flat parts. Added in for free where two nice waterfalls on the way up.

 

Although sometimes, the path was not quite as clear as I would’ve liked. For example this bridge really had me doubting for a while:

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For some reason I no longer quite recall I had decided that the hike needed to be done by 2pm. So it turned out to be a bit of a rushed hike… But on the way back, I no longer had any memory of why I needed to be back so early. I really didn’t. So I added another stop and visited the ojos del caburga. The hostel had mentioned it, but also pointed out that it was seriously overrun and probably not so enjoyable because of it. While it was full, I felt it was in no way packed (but I also arrived at 4pm so not at peak time). My initial plan had been to get off at the bus stop with the longer access road (3km) and catch the bus from the closer bus stop to return into the city.. I did, unfortunately, not account for a lack of bridge over the river and while I did see people crossing the river on stones, I only saw myself falling down the waterfalls when attempting the same. So I only enjoyed the view of the ojos from one side, which I’ve been assured is the prettier side anyways and made my, at this point very tired, way back into civilization.

Termas Geometricas

The main attraction in Pucon is the volcano climb. Most people come here for this and stay for the bad weather, because you can’t climb the volcano unless the weather is good. The same was true for us, we arrived on a Tuesday and would actually wait until Saturday for the weather to become good enough to attempt the climb. In the mean time, there are other things that can be done. The already mentioned hydrospeed is one. It doesn’t matter if there’s rain from above since you’re already completely drenched and the view is also irrelevant because: No glasses. Another activity that is actually recommended to do on a rainy day are the hot springs. Now, this being a volcanic area, there are many hot springs from very cheap to very expensive and from very close to very far. Unfortunately, the very expensive one had the best pictures and came with the highest recommendations. So we chose to treat ourselves to a day of spa and relaxation.. What we didn’t know was that this “treat” included a two hour trip, one way on bumpy roads. Yes the most expensive one is also the most distant one. We sure know how to pick them.

This being said, the Termas Geometricas are absolutely worth a visit. Located in a very narrow, very green canyon, it has a slightly surreal appeal. Vapor billows through the canyon, occasionally hiding and revealing different parts of the hot springs. The name, geometrical hot springs comes from the different shapes the hot springs are in. The first few pools we walked past were labeled 35, 36 and 39.. We were impressed: So many different pools? We would never be able to try them all! After a while we realized those numbers actually indicated the water temperature. Silly us.

So we tried all the numbers. Really all of them, I had a foot in the 45 degree pool, but barely more. However I did stand under the 7 degree waterfall.. Even if the pictures of that incident will never be released. I may have been able to stand under the waterfall, I definitely had no control over my facial features though.

Relaxed and tired we returned to the bus at 6pm to have it undo all the nice relaxation we’d achieved.

Pucon

We arrived in Pucon at 6am and knew exactly where we were going to stay. Throughout our travels everyone had been recommending the same place in Pucon. The kiwi chili hostel. Located almost directly on the shore of the lake (only separated by a small road), it is a lively and active hostel, even though the bar closes at 11 and no noise is allowed after midnight. Perfect for the person that enjoys a drink and a good nights rest. The small and cozy wood-heated kitchens and one of the best showers I’ve had so far just add further to the charm. It’s no wonder the hostel has been named “best hostel in south america”. Another thing they do really well is sell you their activities.. There’s no pestering, it’s a single, optional, introductory talk about activities offered around Pucon. But it is given by the volunteers working at the hostel who’ve recently done these activities and you can see the enthusiasm and excitement in their eyes, while they recall each activity.. It’s very effective and I imagine I would’ve done much fewer activities without this sales pitch. Including for somewhat expensive items such as sky diving!

One thing I definitely hadn’t been planning on doing before hearing about it in the hostel was hydrospeeding. In fact, I didn’t even know what hydro speeding is. As it turns out, it’s like rafting, just without a boat. You’re given a (generously padded) wet-suit, a swimming board and some flippers. Then you are thrown into the rapids to fend for yourself. Ok, maybe there was an extensive safety lecture and a guide telling us where to head, but honestly it didn’t do me a lot of good. The first couple of minutes, I seriously struggled. In fact we all did. I’m pretty sure more than one of us was convinced we wouldn’t make it through that experience alive, while the guide was super optimistic and told us we were doing great.. I don’t want to know how it would’ve looked if we were doing badly.. We went under water, lost our swimming boards and just generally had serious difficulties just keeping up with the guide and avoiding major collisions with rock. We didn’t always succeed.


I don’t know if it got easier with time or if we just became that much better in such a short time span.. But by the fourth set of rapids, it became much easier and we started enjoying ourselves.. The adrenalin kicked in, the waves got larger and we launched head first into the waves. Only occasionally interrupted by “Oh shit, I’m going to die” when the guide yelled left, you paddled left and the current carried you right.
In the end we all made it out alive, but it’s not something I’m considering doing again unless I become a much better swimmer.. Even if our guide insisted we were doing great.vlcsnap-2017-06-10-20h57m03s626

Futaleufu

We reached Futaleufu in a slightly sleep deprived state. But the bright sun and the lovely city soon reanimated us. City is saying much, it’s more of a village, with a giant town square with a lawn to lounge on and banks to sit on. It has a very relaxed vibe. We also got incredibly lucky with our accommodation, the hospedaje Cañete. Run by the stereotypical (grand)mum. She’d make sure we each got our own room and that the included breakfast featured eggs every morning. On the third morning, our group split and we lost our first travelmate to the bus to Pucon. Even though the bus left at 6am, our hostess insisted on getting up and making breakfast for him. She then used the extra time in the morning to bake a cake (for us?) for breakfast. The next day we were treated to fresh fruit from her garden and finally to fresh home-made rose hip jam. It was just great and oh so difficult to leave.


While we were in Futaleufu we got lazier and lazier. While we did go rafting the first day, we only managed a small hike the next day, a walk around the lake the next and finally we just barely made it to the river for a swim. Though I’m sure that swim burned almost as many calories as a hike since the water was absolutely freezing.

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The beach at the river was absolutely beautiful, small pebbles, a bit of sand and water that covered all shades of turquoise. What wasn’t so nice was a dog that seemed to be the local resident of the beach. Whenever I went into the water he’d swim after me, then try to climb on top of me, while I was swimming. Disregarding the non-negligible amount of bruises and scratches this brought me, it’s also somewhat scary to suddenly have 40lbs of wet dog on top of you while swimming. No matter how violently I pushed him back, he’d just look hurt, swim a round and then come back again. Ultimately he won and we left. Luckily we didn’t see him again after the first day.

(some nice pics to distract from the bloody history)

On that day we also learned about the bloody past of Futaleufu. It was originally founded by a family 150 years ago, that arrived first into the area of Futaleufu und basically declared the entire Chilean side of the valley as “their property”. This didn’t sit well with other people who’d wanted to live in the same valley. After a number of discordances between neighbors a solution was found. The neighbors set out and killed the entire family, so that nobody could put claim to the territory anymore. As the Chilean barkeeper put it “This crime goes unpunished until today because at the time there were no Chilean authorities in the area and they had to rely on Argentinian police”.
With the decrease in day activites, the night activities increased. Seeing as to how Futaleufu is such a huge city it has exactly one bar, which we visited of course. I’m not sure who brought up the idea of Tequila shots, but it certainly wasn’t me. After the first, I was surprised how nice Tequila can taste. After the second, I was worried about where this was heading.. After the third I realised he was giving us double-shots not single shots and I stopped worrying, I was way beyond worrying. This was the time we decided it was time for dancing. We’d seen the Scorpion’s Pub earlier. One of us had heard from one of the rafting guides that this is a place where one can go dancing. When we asked at the bar for confirmation, the guy laughed and said “No that’s the local brothel”… So we had another shot of Tequila instead. We stilled wanted to do dance, so we asked one of the locals where to go. He recommended the Scorpion’s and when we pointed out it was supposedly a brothel, he laughed and said “No, no.. They even have a pool table. You should totally go there”.

(some more nice pictures that have nothing to do with the text)

So we went… and what do you know.. It was a huge dancing hall with four barely dressed ladies sitting in a corner waiting for their opportunity.. Not quite a brothel, not quite not a brothel either. Not wanting to be rude we ordered a beer and sat at a table.. Nobody but us, the scantily dressed ladies and a giant disco ball revolving above us. Definitely one of the most cringe worthy experiences so far.

When we went back to the first guy recommending the scorpion’s to us the next day, he doubled over laughing and clarified “I only told you it exists, I never recommended you go there!”. Well now we know.