March 19, 2009

Chile with Journey Latin America Overview

Teresa and I decided to tour Chile, mainly because we both had always wanted to see Easter Island. We chose to travel with Journey Latin America, a well-respected small tour operator in the UK. The 19-day (including travel) Penguin Tour with Easter Island extension was well organized but a physically demanding journey.

We drove long distances over bumpy roads and through at least one river, climbed rapidly to altitudes of up to 4300 meters (Pikes Peak Summit is also 14,100 feet), cruised in rough waters, walked miles at a time over uneven terrain, often started early (one 4am pick-up), flew often (10 flight segments for me) and far (Easter Island is a five and a half hour flight from Santiago), and our longest stay in any one hotel was 4 nights (only because plane mechanical problems forced us to stay on Easter Island an additional night).

We were advised to pack for “four seasons” and were glad we did as we experienced all climates. At a penguin colony in Patagonia we wore everything we brought and shivered. On Easter Island, we stripped down as far as decency allowed and got scorched. The Atacama is the driest desert on Earth and it rains daily on Chiloe Island. Teresa got blown over during a fierce Patagonia gust (a group of us then clung together to avoid the same fate). Santiago and Valparaiso are temperate and pleasant Spanish Colonial cities.

Chile is 2700 miles long and averages 100 miles across, providing spectacular natural diversity and beauty. Are you a Mountain, Ocean, Desert person? Chile has it all!

We explored the Valley of the Moon, Salar Flats, Lagoons, and high altitude geysers in the Atacama desert.

Chiloe Island was the highlight of the Lake District.

Patagonia provided spectacular geological formations, glaciers, falls, and penguins.
Chile's best example of "culture" was Easter Island.
Will Teresa and I ever travel again together? We have already scheduled a Danube Cruise (Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Germany) this October.
Meanwhile, read the detailed posts to learn more about our Chile travel experiences and tips.

March 17, 2009

Chile Easter Island Tips and Tricks

Easter Island (Isla de Pascua to the Spanish and Rapa Nui to the natives) is the most remote inhabited island in the world. It is 3700 km (~2300 miles) off the coast of Chile which translates to a 5-6 hour flight (on regular jet, not small commuter plane) from Santiago and a bit longer from Tahiti. This is why we are so impressed that the Polynesian seafarers found their way from the Marquesas to Hawaii ~AD200, Easter Island ~AD400 and New Zealand ~AD800-1000.

Luggage Allowance
Everywhere else in Chile, we were allowed one 20 kg suitcase to check and one (or 2) "reasonable" carryons. When we checked in for our flight to Easter Island, we were told we could check in two 20 kg suitcases but a limit of 1 carryon weighing no more than 4.50 kg (~10 lb) would be strictly enforced. Fortunately, Teresa had room in her checked suitcase because mine was stuffed to the gills although it only weighed 16 kg. I dumped a few things from my carryon into Teresa's suitcase and the clerk said no, I had 4.95 kg. I dumped a few more things but was still rejected at 4.55 kg. Finally, I got down to exactly 4.50 kg.

Ice Cream
Hanga Roa has some of the best ice cream ever! Normally I associate flavors such as pineapple or mango with icy sorbets, but this was ice cream! This un-named (perhaps Mi Kafe?) coffee and ice cream shop is located on the cove at the corner of Policarp Toro and Te Pito te Henua.

Easter Island Passport Stamp
Up from the ice cream shop along Te Pito Te Henua road is the post office where for 500 Chilean pesos you can have your passport stamped.

Internet and Phones
Continuing up the road from the post office and across the street was our favorite internet cafe. This internet cafe was especially popular with young couples on Sunday evening. Internet fees were obviously low as evidenced by many of these couples smooching and giggling while their internet minutes slipped away. In contrast, the phone cost was relatively high (~7£ for a 8-10 minute call to London). I had no choice since neither Skype (I could hear but the people I was calling could not) nor my mobile worked any better in Easter Island than they did on the mainland.

Tropical Paradise
Except for our last day (where it rained so hard, the entire town lost power and most businesses closed), it was sunny. Wear a hat and bring (and apply) plenty of sunscreen! I sported a 3 inch crimson ring around my neck denoting where I missed during my repeated sunscreen applications.

Roving Packs of Dogs and Horses
We love animals but were a bit intimidated by the numerous dog packs and amazed by the herds of horses cantering down the streets and across school fields. We started saving meal leftovers and feeding any "single" (non-pack) dogs we saw. We do apologize to the dog we fed leftovers from our free lunch (courtesy of LAN because our flight was cancelled) but we got mild food poisoning too.

Two Days of Tours is Long Enough
We had two half-day tours on Day 1 and one full-day tour on Day 2. We saw everything we wanted to see and in some cases, sites we could have skipped (caves, unrestored areas little to view). We enjoyed Rano Raraku (moai quarry), Puna Pau (red scoria quarry), Orongo (Birdman Cult), Tongariki (15 moai), Akivi (17 moai) and Anakena (beach and moai). We are happy we made the journey, but would NOT have wanted to stay longer.

March 15, 2009

Chile Easter Island Ahu Nau Nau on Anakena Beach

Anakena is 17 km from the main town of Hanga Roa. These moai were found buried in the sand and therefore were more protected from the elements than other moai. By the time we reached the beach, I was sporting a crimson ring of sunburn proving I don't always apply my sunscreen evenly. We admired the moais first - then I ran for cover under the shade of some palm trees while Teresa went swimming with the rest of the tour group.

Chile Easter Island Ahu Te Pito Kura and Henua

The Ahu Te Pito Kura is reputedly the largest moai ever placed on an ahu (9.8 meters high, 82 tonnes) but now lays flat down and broken in half - probably destroyed by missionaries ~1838 (per Bradt Chile travel guide). We didn't even take a picture of the moai - only the sign. I tried to feel the "energy" of the large round stone called Te Pito Te Henua aka "navel of the world" but felt nothing.

Chile Easter Island Ahu Tongariki

These 15 moai were impressive. They (one weighing 86 tons) were knocked down by a tsunami during the 1960 Concepcion earthquake. They were restored in 1992-1994 under the direction of Claudio Cristino and Patrica Vargas with the assistance of the Japanese crane company Tadano.

Chile Easter Island Volcan Rano Raraku

Volcan Rano Raraku was used as a quarry for 500 years until the 18th century. The moai would be carved out of "tuff" (volcanic ash) here and then moved to their final location where they would be raised into place on their ahu (platform). Only then would the eyes (coral for the whites of the eyes and red scoria for the irises) be placed in the sockets. These moai were carved but never moved due to civil strife. The hundreds (almost 400) of moai look buried alive to me, with many actually inside the crater.

The largest moai, still unfinished, is 21.6 meters (71 feet) in height and would have weighed an an estimated 270 (per wikipedia) or 160 (per Bradt) tonnes. The kneeling moai is known as "Tukuturi" and is carved from red scoria found in Puna Pau. Tukuturi may be one of the last moai carved.

March 14, 2009

Chile Easter Island Ahu Akivi

These seven moai were restored in 1960 by American archaeologist William Mulloy and Chilean archeologist Gonzalo Figueroa García-Huidobro. They are unusual in that they are situated inland (instead of by the sea) and face towards the sea (instead of inland).

Chile Easter Island Puna Pau

Puna Pau was the sole source of red scoria used for the maoi topknots (and for the rare kneeling Tukuturi moai).

Chile Easter Island Ana Kai Tangata

Competitors in the Birdman ceremony stopped in these caves by the sea to "prepare" themselves before continuing to the ceremonial village in Orongo. The highlights are the birdman cave paintings but I was more intrigued by the woman fishing and her dogs.

Chile Easter Island Orongo near Volcan Rano Kau

Birdman competitors had to clamber down the sheer cliffs, swim 3 km through shark infested waters to Motu Nui (1st of 3 islets), grab the first tern egg laid, swim back through the sharks and scale the cliffs. The leader whose representative won this competition was appointed leader of the island for that year. This means of selecting leadership went on from ~1580 to 1866.

To me, this petroglyph looks like a creature from outer space.
I could barely fit a leg through these openings but the Rapa Nui natives were typically 7 feet tall. I don't know how they managed to get inside.

March 12, 2009

Chile Valparaiso

Valparaíso is on the coast 116km west of Santiago and much colder than we expected.

Although Valparaiso is the birthplace of both Salvador Allende and Augusto Pinochet, our focus was on the home of Pablo Neruda, Nobel Prize winner for Literature.

After the museum, Nicola led us past colorful houses and murals. We also travelled up on several funiculars.