New Year’s On Easter (Island)

This blog entry about the events of Thursday, December 30, 2010 was originally posted on January 05, 2011.

DAY 15 (NEW YEAR’S EVE): On the lonely day before Christmas Eve, I wondered if I would meet anyone to have a Feliz Navidad with, but I had totally lucked out in gradually assembling a motley crew with non-Die Hard-related John McClain.  When I woke up alone in Santiago on that December 31st, 2010, I again wondered if I would meet anyone for the next red-letter day, someone to kiss and ring in the New Year with. 

“Looks like the plane is full,” I said to the striking blonde sitting next to me on LAN Chile Flight 841, bound for airport designation “IPC.”  I had noticed her by the gate in Santiago’s airport; she stood out from the crowd of what appeared to be mostly American, British, French, and Chilean family groups, plus one big middle-aged/senior tour group from high-priced luxury outfitter Lindblad Expeditions.

“I thought no one would be here,” she answered me.  Both of us had wondered what type of people would fly to IPC on the morning of New Year’s Eve.  With the ice broken, we hit it off in a conversation for the upcoming flight across the Pacific to Isla de Pascua — translated in English as “Easter Island” — as I sat comfortably in Seat 32L. (“L” is for “Lucky.”)

“EASTER ISLAND” GOT ITS NAME FROM Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, when he “discovered” it on Easter Sunday of 1722.  At the time, the natives there had no idea what the Christian holiday was; for them it was and is still known as Rapa Nui (“Big Rapa”), which gives it a bit more island cred being an island in the South Pacific.

After a long and bloody history of European settlement which nearly decimated all indigenous resources and population, the Polynesian island was annexed as a specially governed territory of Chile in 1888.  Not only is it now given support from the thin South American country, it also receives funds from UNESCO, who designated it as a World Heritage Site in 1995 for its 887 head-like statues known as moai — statues that hundreds of tour groups come to see per year.  In addition to tour groups, a handful of independent travelers make the journey.  However, with hefty flight price tags from mainland Chile (I paid $1,100 USD), it attracts a certain kind of indie traveler, the type that’s been almost everywhere already, the ones that are usually older and employed, and saved the brag-worthy but more expensive trip as a one-off.

“So are you traveling alone?” the blonde asked me.  Her name was Kati, from Finland, and she was on an extension trip at the end of her round-the-world tour.

“Yeah,” I answered before going into it.  “Well, I always invite my friends, but they’re always busy, or they have some excuse, some of them have kids now…”

“I have the same problem.”

“I learned a long time ago that you’re never going to go anywhere if you wait around.”

“Oh, I know,” she said, sighing.  “I waited for four years.”  But Kati was on a roll now; she would head to Antarctica after her time on Easter Island, which gave us more in common to talk about. 

The plane sped down the runway and up into the sky, leaving the South American continent behind.  “Here we go,” I announced to my latest traveling companion.

EASTER ISLAND IS HOURS AWAY BY AIR from any inhabited island or continental land mass, giving it the honor of being one of the World’s Most Isolated Inhabited Islands on Earth.  Some go as far as calling it the “Navel of the World,” being in the center of a huge span of empty Pacific Ocean.  Being quite geographically in the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t help but make parallels to the show Lost (which I never really followed), that mindbending show were a plane crashes on a deserted Pacific Island before a bunch of weird shit goes down, spawning countless speculatory theories on the internet.  With Easter Island’s population of about 5,000, and a Boeing 767-300 with a passenger capacity of 325 people flying in only four times a week, it was safe to say that most of the people traveling to the island for New Year’s were on the same plane as us, if they weren’t there already. 

Five hours since takeoff, we started to see the tiny triangular-shaped island, about 15 miles (24.6 km) by 7 1/2 miles (12.3 km) at their longest and widest points.  As much as we tried from the right side of the plane, Kati and I couldn’t find any moai statues from above, even as we approached the runway.  The only thing we noticed were cows.

It was a bright, sunny day in the 70s° F when we landed, and everyone was excited to be there — you could tell by the applause at touchdown.  Before we even entered the airport from the tarmac, people were taking pictures left and right of the statues in rock and wood, and posing by the Easter Island sign.  Upon walking into the terminal and hearing the Rapa Nui musicians welcome us, I realized that Easter Island wasn’t just an archaeological preserve, but a vacation destination — Chile’s Hawaii, if you will.  A sign with my name on it was held by a native when I arrived at the baggage claim.

“Hey, that’s me!” I told the island girl excitedly, who put a fresh and fragrant lei around my neck.  Maria Jose led me to a transport van that would take me to the Kona Tau hostel where I had my reservation.  Kati had a reservation at a place two blocks away.

“I’ll find you later,” I told her.

“Yeah, we’re neighbors!”

HANGA ROA IS THE SOLE TOWN ON RAPA NUI, where most of the island’s population lives.  I accepted Maria Jose’s offer for the “city tour,” a phrase that definitely belongs in quotes because it was hardly a city at all.  Hanga Roa’s sleepy downtown area was only about three blocks long and one block wide, and there wasn’t much bustle at all in the handful of shops, restaurants, and vehicle rental offices, many decorated with wooden and stone renditions of moai.  Such is relaxed island life on an isolated subtropical island, which was epitomized by a quick stop at the little port near Plaza Hotumatua.

A gentle island breeze swept through as I checked into my room at the Kona Tau hostel, surrounded by palm and banana trees.  I merely dropped my baggage, put on a pair of shorts and went over the Kaimana Inn to find a familiar face.

“Kati!” I called out to her.  She was already on her way out of the B&B to explore, but she was not alone; with her were the new friends she made at check-in, who were all on the same flight as us.  I caught them as they were going across the street to a rental car office.

“I’m Erik,” I introduced myself.

“You in [on the rental car with us]?” a woman briskly asked me in her American accent.


And just like that, I had binded myself in a car-sharing contract with Kati and four complete strangers I’d only known for a few seconds, who I’d come to know over time, like characters on a deserted island program:  Pattey, from Los Angeles USA, who worked in Hollywood in production, casting, and wardrobe for various clients, including HBO and William Shatner; Renee, her partner, a realtor also from L.A.; Leigh-Anne, from Calgary, who had also recently done the Torres del Paine trek; and Shirley, a multilingual Swiss Miss-turned-cop of Chilean descent, who spoke English in a Swiss-French accent.  All of them were like-minded people, wanting to celebrate New Year’s in such a unique setting.

“I heard you have to wear a certain color of underwear to get [luck in the new year,]” Leigh-Anne told her new friends.  “Yellow is for sex, green is for money, and red is for love.”  She said she was thinking red.

“I need red,” Kati seconded.

“I need rainbow panties,” Shirley chimed in.

Our car rental wouldn’t start until the next day, so we went on foot to explore the town and look for drinks.  We walked over to Playa Pea, the city’s little beach, where a moai stood next to a sign with icons warning not to disturb it. 

“This one says, ‘Don’t be Finnish and steal stuff,’” Pattey said, citing the incident of a Finnish tourist who got caught trying to steal a sacred stone.

“[This one says,] ‘Don’t stare at the moai’s crotch,’” Leigh-Anne wisecracked.  I was starting to realized I had met my kind of people — people who had no qualms about taking jumping photos or pictures where “I squish your head.”

Beer was actually hard to find with all the bars closed early for New Year’s Eve.  We settled on getting ice cream at a local shop near the three scuba diving outfitters in town — all of which were closed all weekend, much to my dismay.  “Man, [diving] was the one thing I wanted to do here,” I told my compadres.  I’d live of course.

Taking funny ice cream photos made up for it in the meantime, while a turtle made an appearance from underneath the boats tied to the docks.  Kati was as snap happy as I was, shooting pictures left and right, while Pattey used her charm to make friends with Rodrigo, the off-duty divemaster there, who offered up beers

“[Are you all traveling together?]” he asked.

“We just met on the plane,” she answered proudly.

THE SUN RAYS KEPT THE WEATHER WARM as we made a leisurely stroll along the shore towards the picturesque Hanga Roa Cemetery.  On the way, we saw other sculpted artifacts from the Rapa Nui civilization, some more racy than others.  We were careful not to step on all the stones on the ground; even some of them had carvings.  Of course there were also a couple of moai on the way, which have no confirmed reasoning behind them since all records of the island’s culture isn’t available.  Scientists believe the moai were erected as symbols of the deceased, or to honor chiefs.  Some have eyes in them, some wear headdresses.  There are different theories about what those adornments signify, although for the stray dogs on the island, the most significant thing about the moai is that they can definitely provide good shade from the sun.

“Look, a see-saw!” I pointed out as we walked past a playground.  Like children at recess, we mounted the wooden unbalanced logs for a ride — something most of us hadn’t done in years.

“I looove Easter Island!” I proclaimed.

“Erik, this is the best time ever,” Pattey said to me, as the girls and I went up and down.  Renee caught the moment on video.

“It’s Erik and his harem!”

It was quite the bonding moment, at only about an hour and a half into our acquaintance. 

“ sauce, wasabi, and everything hot, including you,” Pattey told Leigh-Anne.

“You’re my long lost sister!” she proclaimed.

“Erik’s wondering how he met up with these crazy bitches,” Pattey joked.

Amidst the craziness, it was Renee who was quite composed and relaxed, happy to be there; she had done a lot of research about the archaeological history of the island before her arrival.  She had seen a bunch of documentaries and films, read books and articles, and even contacted experts of moai and Rapa Nui culture at UCLA.  “[I’ve seen all the videos about Rapa Nui on Youtube,]” she told me.

“Are there any see-saw videos?” I asked.

“Ha ha,” she chuckled.  “No.”

“Well, there will be!”

I WAS ENJOYING THE COMPANY of my newly-formed “harem” because, like me, they were all about the beer.  We had finally found drinks for our official first toasts together at the Miro restobar near the cemetary.  Pattey and Renee chat up two local guys at the table near them, proud to be Rapa Nui.  (It’s not only the name of the island, but the name of the local dialect and the nationality.)  I was quickly discovering that Pattey had quite mastery of The Art of Making Friends with Strangers with her wacky and witty personality.

“You’re the sheik with a harem five deep,” she told me. 

I ordered another beer, which Leigh-Anne definitely approved of.  “You’re my brother from another mother,” she told me.  She was already ready for some more drinking after we’d left the bar.  “Want to come to our living room area and have some beers?”


“Come on, I’m Canadian!”

The only thing that sidetracked us from getting more beer at the local grocery en route back to the inn, was another playground with yet another see-saw.

“Rapa Nui See-Saw Two-Thousand Eleven!” Pattey declared, riding on the other end.  “Forget the moai, come for the see-saw!”

MAHINA IS THE ONE MICROBREWERY on the island, whose stout was quite tasty, rich, and flavorful — something I didn’t expect since most local beers are usually cheap shitty beers.  “Cheers,” Pattey and I said as we clinked our bottles.  “It’s actually pretty good.”

Adding to the beer was a bottle of sparkling wine, which Pattey popped open in celebration, not for New Year’s (even though she hung up some New Year’s decorations), but for the fact that it was Renee’s birthday, and Kati’s birthday the day before.  Joining us was the French couple also staying there, Tom and Sandrine, who toasted their beers as well. 

“[Are you a local?]” Tom asked me in his French accent.  I was quite dark with all the sun exposure I’d had everywhere I’d been the past two weeks.

“No, I’m from New York,” I said in American.

We clinked our glasses for the birthday moment, which would continue later on that evening at the next door restaurant.  I put on the of my best clothes I could find, while the girls casually dolled up.  Leigh-Anne stuck the disproportionately-sized flower that was on her bed on her ear.

THE DINNER SHOW WAS A BIT TOURISTY, but when the shoe fits, wear it.  We made it better than they could have planned, for Pattey had tons of props up her sleeve, bringing little disco balls and noisemakers for the triple celebration.  Despite the others not having a birthday, Pattey, Leigh-Anne, and Shirley were smiling as well — unlike the couple of women across the way (who were staying at my hostel), looking bored out of the mind when the show started.

The dinner courses started with bread and pebre, followed by ceviche, and a choice of turkey or beef.

“They have beef here?” I wondered aloud.

“We saw those cows from the plane!” Kati reminded me.

“I’ll have one of those cows then.”

The lights dimmed and the music started, and before us Polynesian hardbodies gyrated their asses on the dance floor in grass skirts, bare chiseled chests, and headdresses.  Some numbers called for audience participation, which I was happy to do when a Rapa Nui girl pulled me on stage and unbuttoned my shirt.

“Okay, so we’re doing this now… okay!”  I took of my shirt and shook what my momma gave me, which was apparently not fast enough for her liking.

Kati took to the stage as well, and eventually the others for a group photo with the dancers.  Thankfully, I had my shirt back on.

The show wasn’t over until a birthday toast, and a birthday cake, which the waitress brought out.  The entire restaurant sang happy birtday to Renee and Kati in English and then in Spanish, all before the birthday duo blew out the candles.

“I don’t think any of us would have thought our night would have ended like this,” Pattey told me.

“Yeah, we were all groggy-eyed in Santiago this morning,” I told her.

PATTEY HAD MORE IN HER BAG OF TRICKS as we were soon approaching the final hour of 2010.  She had Ring Pops to give local children, and wigs and hats for the rest of us to wear for the townwide New Year’s party in the outdoor area by the beach closer to the cemetery, where we’d seen a band set up near a moai earlier that day.  We got there with just twenty mintues left in the old year, and the excited feelings were grand and contagious.  We reveled in wigs with our noisemakers and our own inebriated voices, as the minute hand rapidly approached twelve.  The live band played reggae on a stage of ever-changing lights (picture above) as we celebrated and smiled, and lived in the moment. 

I’m on fucking Easter Island for New Year’s, I thought to myself; it was sinking in.  It was the opposite of all the tiresome parties back in New York.

“Cinco… quattro… tres… dos… uno…  Feliz año nuevo!”

And 2011 began.  The first of many fireworks exploded in the sky as the band continued to rock out on stage for everyone in town to dance to — tourists and Rapa Nui locals together.  Even all the security cops got into the moment and shared hugs.  And as for me having wondered if I would find someone to kiss and ring in the New Year with, I not only had one, but five in my “harem” to do so (even in black underwear), plus Sandrine the French woman from Kaimama Inn, who was there quite drunk and planted a nice wet one on my mouth.  “Hey, Happy New Year!”

We danced the first moments of 2011, and Leigh-Anne, Shirley, and Kati couldn’t have seemed happier.  At some point in the night we’d lost track of Pattey and Renee, who had gone off when meeting even more locals, but they found their way back to us when they looked up and realized we had gone up on stage to party with the band

It was a New Year’s for the ages, on the shores of Rapa Nui, which could only be improved by one thing:

“Late night teeter-totter?” Pattey invited me as we walked by the playground on the way back into town.


Next entry: From Head To Wed

Previous entry: It’s Always Sunny In Patagonia

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Comments for “New Year's On Easter (Island)”

  • nice way to ring in 2011.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  04:37 AM

  • great entry.  thanks for the mahina beers!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  03:00 PM

  • “Most Isolated Island in the World” is open for debate.  Easter is further from other settlements than anywhere else, but has an airport with frequent scheduled service and lots of visitors.  Tristan da Cunha is admittedly 1000km closest to the nearest settlement in St Helena, but the nearest airport is in South Africa, which isn’t much closer than Santiago is to IPC.

    Sounds awesome, though.  I’ve been contemplating a trip to Chile and Easter Island for a few years, and it definitely sounds worthwhile.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/06  at  04:01 PM

  • Neil:  Ha, did you read this too?

    The debate is in the comments.

    That’s why I wrote “one of the World’s Most Isolated Inhabited Islands on Earth.”  It’s debatable if it’s #1 or #2.  Either way, it’s pretty fucking far. wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/07  at  01:44 AM

  • like i said, you have reached new levels of coolness, my friend. that dos equis guy has nothing on you!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  01/07  at  05:19 PM

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This blog post is one of nineteen travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip: Chill Out in Chile," which chronicled a trip through the country of Chile, from the central and coastal cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (plus a quick jaunt to Argentina's nearby wine region of Mendoza), followed by a trek through southern Patagonia, and a journey to Easter Island.

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