I’d eaten at the waterfront food trucks last night, then walked back to my budget lodge to prepare for this morning’s round-Tahiti day trip with a tour operator, a local guy named Dave who was originally from Hawaii.
His tour was sold out, so – bonus – I got a tour of Tahiti’s expensive hotels as he went around and picked up other clients.
Of course, most hotels in French Polynesia are expensive, but the people staying in them are not any more well-off than tourists in other destinations. They just hadn’t found any other options. I'd spotted my pension in Lonely Planet, and had chosen it over the other few budget digs because it was in the city of Papeete rather than along the coast, and I'm a city-dweller who likes to walk or take buses.
Mister "I'm Here to Buy A Yacht/Isn’t Easter Island Just Stone Heads" from the plane ride over from Auckland was on the same tour. We picked him up at the Radisson.
Surprised to see him, I blinked a few times and muttered a pleasantry back. I thought I’d left my seatmate behind after the Auckland-to-Tahiti leg of my round-the-world trip.
The tour took us to five sites – Maraa Grotto cave (where Tahitians quit bathing in the waters for ages after Gauguin bathed there for two hours in hopes of curing his syphilis), the Paul Gauguin Museum, the pretty Faaruumai Waterfall, a blowhole where water spewed up through a lava tube and created a giant tea-kettle effect, and the Point Venus Lighthouse, which was designed by Robert Louis Stevenson's father and has grounds full of monuments to Bounty survivors and Captain Cook.
At the end of the day, I quietly asked the driver/guide to drop me off at the food trucks, down by the water in Papeete, but Mr Yacht overheard, then invited himself along.
I didn't want to join him. He’d actually turned out to be all right in spite of his mockery of my next destination – Easter Island – but I just wanted some alone time after being crammed into a van all day with 11 others. I made a weak excuse and fled, carefully choosing a food truck far away from where he sat down to dinner.
I spent the next day alternating between working at my Kuwaiti comic book job on my laptop and being savaged by mosquitoes on the terrace while waiting for my evening flight from Tahiti to Rapa Nui.
Finally, just before Beni of Fare-Suisse guesthouse drove me to the airport, I went into the hotel washroom.
Where I noticed a big spot right on the tip of my nose.
And here I had a date with giant stone heads.
I hope they wouldn’t mind.
* * *
I spent my first few days on Easter Island being completely disoriented. How could it be the same time here as in New York? How had I been yanked back to real-time exchanges with my own city when I knew home was far to the east? And if I hadn't had a map, I had the sun. Time seems wrong on Rapa Nui, because it’s on the same time zone as Chile, though there are 2,300 miles separating the two. It’s as if London and Beirut had their clocks set to the same time.
And that just adds to the quirks of this enigmatic enclave, part-worldly tourist hotspot and part family-oriented small town, which just happens to be in the middle of the world's largest ocean.
Breakfast with the family that owned my guesthouse happened every morning at 8:45 am. Accommodations (and everything, really) are almost all homegrown on Rapa Nui, with the hotels being family projects and the guesthouses being in small cabins behind homes. There is also a hostel/backpackers/campground, but I'd run some calculations and quickly realised that a charming family with the fantastic little room and terrace with included airport transfers, free wifi, and breakfast for $50 a night beat all other options, even though I did get tired of people asking me what I'd done today.
This was like having a normal family back home, I realised. I'd been living alone too long.
The neighbours had a party the first night, and I'm quite sure I heard the Benny Hill theme, but the noise didn't keep me awake – I was already awake, being on Tahiti time. Plus, I'd slept all morning after arriving on an overnight flight.
On my second day, I toured the town and visited the Moai (the giant stone heads the man on the Auckland flight had mentioned) at Ahu Tahai, the site closest to town and right down the road from my guesthouse.
On my third day, I took a horseback ride (without caffeine in my system, miraculously) up an extinct volcano to the highest point on the island. We didn’t stop for photos until we got to the top, so I was not entirely thrilled with the trip, but I got to wear a cool hat.
And learned I could barely climb on and off a horse. This shouldn't have surprised me. I've always had a problem with that. Horses are tall and saddles are a long way up. I think I'm done with riding horses. Until the next time an opportunity for horseback riding comes up, at least.
On day four, I climbed a sendero to a crater at the top of an extinct volcano and checked out some ancient homes at Orango. I'm a sucker for open houses at home too, but these weren't for going in and out. I had to admire from the path.
I sat with a Polish-American man on a log halfway back down the volcano and watched the plane take off from the Easter Island airport.
"That's a long runway," he mused.
"Long enough for the space shuttle to land here in an emergency," I said.
I took my leave, while the Polish-American remained there on the log. I wanted to get back down the hill to see the locals dance at the street fair.
Which is where I saw a total shock, not in any guidebook.
Easter Island’s Elvis impersonator.
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