Hiking Cerro Guanaco – Tierra del Fuego

Given my very limited time in Ushuaia before I headed off to Antarctica, I really wanted to get out for 1 day to the Tierra del Fuego National Park to do some hiking.  There are quite a few trails but after reading some descriptions I decided to do the Cerro Guanaco trail, that promised an “outstanding view of the Fuegian mountain range and its peatbogs”.   Given the day was absolutely perfect (no clouds, sun shining, no wind!), how could I pass up the opportunity!

Tierra del Fuego National Park Map

Got let out of the park transfer bus at the Lago Roca visitors centre, and started walking along the the edge of the lake to get to the trailhead.  Spectacular views and almost perfect reflections!

Lago Roca - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

The description I’d read initially also promised that this was a “strenuous” hike, and signage at the trailhead suggested 4hrs one way.  For 4km?  I hope not!

Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

Turns out, they aren’t fibbing about the strenuous part!  Reminiscent of the Brewster’s Hut trek in New Zealand – the first part is a bit of a scramble up through the shade of beech trees, using their roots as stairs and following yellow poles and red dots.  

Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

After about 3/4 hour I reached a bit of a clearing which I thought might be the first viewpoint indicated on my very rough map, but a little further along there was a yellow marker that said “3km”.    Hmmmm…. now does that mean that I’ve walked 3km and have 1km to go (it sure felt like it!) or that I’ve walked 1km and have 3km to go?     

I was hoping for the former, but unfortunately it turned out to be the latter 🙁

The next 1.5km actually wasn’t too difficult until I hit the peat bogs.   There had been a fair bit of rain a few days prior so it got very muddy on the trail, and this eventually spilled out into the bog itself.  Having not done too badly getting through the mud while remaining essentially clean and dry, I had to give it up as a bad joke trying to get through the bog.   My hiking shoes have long since lost their waterproof protection (turns out that Keens hiking shoes last about 8 months when you wear them continuously and do a fair bit of hiking – even the tread is coming off now), and by the time I’d managed to cross, my feet were soaked.  Oh well.

The bog! Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

The peat bog!

Once across the peat bog, the terrain changed absolutely, from beech forest to scree slope, and yes, the last 1.5km was bloody hard work as well!    Walking up a slope of 45-60 degrees is not easy, especially with arthritic toes – it’s just the wrong angle it turns out…

The scree-slope! Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

But the view from the top – absolutely stunning!   From there you can see the entire Cordillera Darwin, which forms the final part of the South American continent.   And such a perfect day to sit up there for an hour or so admiring the view – it’s extremely rare to not have wind!  

The incredible view! Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

You also get a nice bird’s eye view of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.

The view to Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel - Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

And more spectacular views down into the valley behind.

The view to valley behind - Cerro Guanaco trail - Tierra del Fuego National Park - Argentina

Turns out it only took 2.5 hours to reach the summit and, just like Brewster’s hut, it took almost as long to get back down (2 hours).   Those 60 degree scree slopes without hiking poles are kinda tricky!   

 

Recommendation:  If you have a gorgeous day – this is definitely the hike to do!   But, it is tough and probably not great if you suffer from vertigo, so be prepared.

Cost:  There are transfers from Ushuaia to the National Park each day that cost 400 Argentinean Pesos round trip.  It’s expensive (captive audience) but cheaper than hiring a car or taxi.   210 Argentinean Pesos for the entrance to the National Park.

Time:  It took me 2.5 hours to reach the summit and 2 hours to descend.  Add on about 40 minutes to walk from the Information Centre to the trailhead and back.

 

Easter Island – Part 5

One of the things I wanted to do this time around on Easter Island was head out to Tongariki for the sunrise.  There are excursions offering this for US$60 per person for a 3 hour trip (ouch!), so I decided to rent a scooter instead (even cheaper) to ensure I got out there to see it, and then have the opportunity to go on to visit other places on the island as well.

Unfortunately, the lady wouldn’t hire me a scooter!  I showed her my Victorian drivers license with my motorcycle permit on it, which is indicated by an “R” for rider.  I don’t think she believed me when I explained this, and then she asked if I’d ever ridden a scooter before.  I had to admit “no” (after all, I needed her to show me how the thing worked) and that was it.  She refused on the grounds that riding a scooter is totally different to riding a motorbike.   She wouldn’t budge on this point so ultimately I ended up hiring a (surprisingly cheap) car from her.  Still turned out to be less than the cost of the excursion!

Headed out in the car at 5:45am for the ½ hour trip to Tongariki, and was one of the first there.  The Southern Cross was visible over the Ahu and the sky was already starting to brighten significantly.

Ahu Tongariki and the Southern Cross - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Can you see the Southern Cross?

Here’s another image from a little later – just because it is pretty 🙂

Ahu Tongariki - sunrise - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Due to the cloud, it took quite a while for the sun to appear,

Ahu Tongariki - sunrise - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

but it was truly spectacular when it did.

Ahu Tongariki - sunrise - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Totally worth getting up early and hiring a car 🙂

I also really like this guy who has both an amazing view back towards his home in Rano Raroku

Ahu Tongariki - Rano Raraku- Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

as well as Ahu Tongariki.

Ahu Tongariki - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Ahu Tongariki is the grandest of all the Ahus on Easter Island with a 220m long platform – the largest of its type in all of Polynesia.  Each of the 15 Moai occupying the platform is thought to represent a particular ancestor and is therefore unique in size and shape.

Moais of Tongariki - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The 15 Moai of Tongariki are all unique

Like every ahu on Easter Island, the statues on Ahu Tongariki were at one point toppled by the Rapa Nui people.  In addition, a tsunami in 1960 wrought further damage to this site.   The restoration effort took 5 years to complete at a cost of USD$2 million with funds and assistance provided mostly by the Japanese.  “During the excavations another 17 Moais were discovered to be completely destroyed and were used as a base for the current platform, as was the usual thing to do when an ahu was raised in a place where another had once stood.”  It is impressive whichever way you look at it and one of the most popular sites on the island.

Ahu Tongariki - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Ahu Tongariki - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

After the sunrise, I headed to Anakena (one of the Island’s few beaches and the supposed landing place of the first King of Easter Island) and Ahu Nau Nau, another of the restored ahus.  

Anakena and Ahu Nau Nau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Ahu Nau Nau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Ahu Nau Nau was reconstructed in 1978, and exhibits the best examples of carvings on the Moais to be found on the island.  They were preserved when the beach sand essentially buried the Moai once they had been toppled. 

Ahu Nau Nau - Anakena - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

You can clearly see the fingers on the front of the statues, and around the back, the spine, knotted loincloth and what are thought to be circular tattoos on the butt.

Went and sat on the beach in the shade for several hours reading (you guessed it) Thomas Covenant and waiting for the afternoon light before I visited Rano Raroku – the other site on the island that you can only visit once, and the place where they quarried the Moai out of the rock.

Rano Raraku - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

I remember Rano Raroku being super-impressive last time I was on Easter Island, and it remains so, even though you are now severely restricted as to where you can walk.  It is incredible to see that the Easter Islanders really did just “down tools” one day and never went back. 

You can clearly see the faces of rock where the Moai were “born”, and there are almost 400 fully-carved heads spread all over the side of the volcano (as well as inside the crater), in various stages of “walking” to their places elsewhere on the island.

Rano Raraku - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

In the upper part of the image you can see where the Moais have been carved out of the volcano, leaving rectangular planes

There are also examples of Moai (including these incredibly large ones), that were carved but not yet set free to walk to their final position.

Rano Raraku - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

There is a very famous Moai here as well, called Tukuturi, the only one known to be carved in a kneeling position.  He has more “human” (round) features and may have been one of the last, or first (depending on which theory you like best) Moai to be carved.  He also has an awesome position looking down on Ahu Tongariki.

Rano Raraku - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Spent ages wandering around this abandoned birthplace of Moai – another really awesome place on the Island, and one where you want to have plenty of time to explore.  Here are some of my favourite shots – just because 🙂

Rano Raraku - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

And finally, for my last night on Easter Island, I headed back out to the Tahai Complex to watch yet another spectacular sunset.  

Tahai Complex - sunset - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Tahai Complex - sunset - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

 

Recommendation: I really, really loved both of my trips to Easter Island, and I could easily have stayed longer.  If you have the chance – you should definitely go!   Depending on your style of travel, I would suggest somewhere between 5 and 12 days would be optimal.

Cost:  Easter Island is expensive!  

  • CLP30,000 national park entrance fee.  This is valid for 5 days and allows you one entrance to Raro Raraku and Orongo, unlimited visits to other sites.  Easiest to pay this at the airport when you get off the plane.
  • LATAM airlines has the only flights to Easter Island so they can charge what they like.   If you are on a OneWorld around-the-world ticket – add it in as one of your legs 🙂
  • Camping Mihinoa was a great budget option!   They also have dorm rooms and private rooms if you don’t want to camp.
  • LATAM allows you to take two bags to Easter Island, so another way to cut costs is to take a box of food with you from Santiago (assuming you have a place to cook).
  • There are lots of places to hire scooters, motobikes, ATVs and cars.  Shop around as prices vary.
  • I loved my experience on the e-Bike, but am not sure they are still doing it as I can’t find it on the website anymore!!  You can still hire a regular bike, it will just need a little more exertion from you to get around the island.

 

Easter Island – Part 4

Final day on the e-Bike was a bit of an easier one as I was just exploring the Rano Kau volcano and Orongo, both of which are right near Hanga Roa.

Started out early and was at 90% assistance getting up the volcano.  Everybody who comes to Easter Island visits Orongo at the top of the volcano, but Pablo had told me about a hike around to the other side of the crater to a different viewpoint that he thought was really spectacular. 

Found the Vai Atare track (no cars or bikes allowed) about ½ way up the mountain, chained the bike to itself and dumped it in some bushes on the side of the road, and started to hike.  It wasn’t difficult at all and only took about 35 minutes, passing what looked to be more ceremonial circles of stones, as well as bluffs overlooking the ocean along the way. 

Vai Atare hike - Rano Kau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The hike ended pretty much on other side of the gap in the crater (called Kari Kari – “the bitten part”) to where the Orongo Village is located.   And Pablo was right.  It is the most spectacular view on the island! 

Vai Atare lookout - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

On one side, you have the Rano Kau wetlands down in the crater itself.  More than a kilometre across, 200m deep and offering protection from the winds that constantly blow across the island, the crater generates its own microclimate and is able to sustain cattail plants similar to those found at Lake Titicaca in Peru (another link to South America). 

Rano Kau crater and wetlands from the Vai Atare lookout - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

On the other side, you have the ocean with the islands most important to the Birdman Cult – Motu Nui, the smaller Motu Iti, and the isolated Motu Kau Kau – framed by the gap in the crater.  

Motu Nui, Motu Iti, Motu Kau Kau - Birdman Islands - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Motu Nui, the smaller Motu Iti, and the isolated Motu Kau Kau

I ended up hanging out there by myself (the other nice thing is that few people go there) and with my falcon friend (who was swooping me like a magpie) for over an hour, eating my lunch and admiring the view.   Then it was back the way I came and onto the bike to tackle the rest of the volcano.

Stopped off at the regular viewpoint over the crater a little further up the hill – which is a wonderful view, but not as good as the one I just left.  

Rano Kau crater and wetlands from the normal lookout - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Regular lookout over the Rano Kau crater. The Vai Atare lookout is on the left hand side of the “bite” out of the crater wall. Orongo is on the right hand side of it.

And then onto Orongo – one of the two sites on the island that you can only visit once.  I asked the Guardaparque there why that was and he explained that it was because of the number of tourists that come to Easter Island these days.   If they allowed everyone to come to Orongo as often as they wanted, then there would be many more visitors each day and the site would deteriorate much faster.  Fair enough – so headed out with my interpretive map to explore the village of the Birdman Cult.  

Orongo - Rano Kau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Stone houses at Orongo showing the layered structure and the very low stone door

The 53 “houses” are constructed of stacked slate and are oval in design with double outer walls and a very low entrance. 

Orongo construction - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

This image shows the double walls of a partially reconstructed house. The gap you see here is not the low door but rather a way to allow you to see inside the structure.

The village was used for only a few weeks per year – mostly for preparation for the Birdman competition, where the chiefs of the different tribes or their hopu (representatives) would compete to gather the first sooty tern (manu tara) egg of the year.     Participants would descend the sea cliff and swim to Motu Nui, staying there for days or weeks awaiting the arrival of the seabirds, until one of them found an egg and returned it intact to Orongo.   He (or the Chief he represented) then became tangata-manu – the sacred birdman – and lived in ceremonial reclusion for one year.   Hmmm…. not the reward I would have gone for!

There are also a lot of stone carvings in the village, it is the manner by which the Birdman cult chose to express themselves, but unfortunately the area where most of them are found was roped off to protect it (and visitors) from slippage.

Stone Carvings - Orongo - Rano Kau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

For me, while Orongo is interesting, it is not as interesting as the rest of the island to be honest. Definitely worth a visit though, and if you don’t want to/can’t walk out to the Vai Atare lookout, it has the next best view of the Birdman islands.

Motu Nui, Motu Iti, Motu Kau Kau - Birdman Islands from Orongo - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

View of Birdman islands from Orongo

Easter Island – Part 3

Back on the e-Bike today but not as much riding 🙂  First stop – Puna Pau – where they quarried the red basalt for the topknots (pukaos).  

Puna Pau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

It is thought that these represented hair rather than hats, and seem to be very late additions to the Moais (only a fraction of the Moais actually have them).  It’s also uncertain whether the rolled the pukaos up ramps once they Moai were in place, or whether they were attached to the Moai before raising the statue on the platform.

Puna Pau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The ones here are cylindrical and remain unfinished, lacking the smaller topknot and the mechanism to attach to the Moai’s head.  These would have been added once the pukao was in its final destination.

Puna Pau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The added bonus of this site is the fantastic view back over Hanga Roa and the western coast of Easter Island.

View of Hanga Roa from Puna Pau - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Got a bit lost on the way to Ana Te Pahu (another lava-tube cave) and ended up heading back into Hanga Roa.   Backtracked and found it eventually – thank you e-Bike for making those hills I really shouldn’t have had to ride up a breeze!

From the National Parks checkpoint, the Guardaparque told me I could ride down to the cave, so that’s what I attempted.  Yeah – or not!   Ended up walking the bike most of the way (e-Bikes are not designed for dirt roads!) and had a quick lesson on putting a chain back on the front cog when I got back to the checkpoint.   It is true, these bikes are super-heavy, and NOT fun to push.

Ana Te Pahu Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Next stop was Ahu Akivi for lunch, sitting under a eucalypt reading more Thomas Covenant 🙂   This Ahu is aligns with the point where the Sun rises on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, and is the only ahu on the island that faces the ocean (~10km away), all the others face inland.  The linked webpage posits that this may be due to the location of the nearby village, but as with much about Easter Island, the exact explanation is unclear.

Ahu Akivi - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

From there, I headed for the Ahus closer to Hanga Roa that I had skipped on my first outing with the bike.   Vaihú / Hanga Te’e is a really cool spot near a beautiful little bay.

Vaihú / Hanga Te’e - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The Moais are all lined up face down in the dirt where they were pushed over many centuries ago.

Vaihú / Hanga Te’e - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

And in front of the Ahu, there is a large circle of stones (called a Paina) where ceremonies were enacted.

Vaihú / Hanga Te’e - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Stopped off at another ruined ahu, Hanga Hahave, which had a line of several Moais buried facedown in the dirt leading to it.  Perhaps these were en-route to the platform when the Rapa Nui downed tools, and were left where they were, having never quite made their final destination.

Hanga Hahave -- Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Got a bit lost again (I’m actually very good with directions, but the maps of Easter Island aren’t exactly accurate it would seem) on the way to Vinapu – I seemed to be on a road that didn’t exist…   But it did have spectacular views, particularly with the stormy skies.

East coast - Hanga Hahave -- Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Arrived at Vinapu eventually, after almost having a heart-attack trying to push the bike up an impossibly steep dirt track.  This complex actually consists of 2 ahu (3 if you count the one you can’t access inside the fuel terminal), and Ahu Tahira has the most amazing example of platform stonework to be found on the island.

Ahu Tahira - Vinapu - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

If you are thinking, “Hang on.  That looks like Inca stonework!”   You would be correct!  And this is one of the key pieces of evidence that point to a possible South American origin for the inhabitants of Easter Island, rather than a Polynesian one.  Thor Heyerdahl (another of my all-time favourite writers) was the main advocate for this theory, and even sailed a raft from Peru to Easter Island to prove it could be done.   And if you are thinking that that sounds familiar – it probably is.  It is better known as the Kon-Tiki expedition.

Another theory is that the original inhabitants were Polynesian in origin, but that they visited South America at some point and brought back influences from the Inca empire.   Yet another of the mysteries of Easter Island.

Ahu Tahira - Vinapu - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

The other Ahu here – Ahu Vinapu – has a red monolithic stone standing in front of it, reminiscent of pre-inca statues in South America.  It is thought that this is a female Moai, but, like much else, that is only a theory, especially given its extremely eroded state.

Vinapu - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

 

BTW:   if you haven’t had the pleasure of reading a Thor Heyerdahl book – I highly recommend them.  He has an awesome writing style that perfectly compliments his adventures.

 

Easter Island – Part 2

Decided to give the butt a rest (yes, it was sore!) and hike the west coast north of Hanga Roa.  Started early to try to get good light on Tahai Complex – I was the only person there at 8am!

Tahai Complex - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Continued further north to Hanga Kio’e, and then sat down behind a pile of rocks watching the view and reading for an hour (Thomas Covenant of course).  Passed through a National Parks checkpoint and decided to walk to the furtherst Ahu – Ahu Tepeu, and visit the caves on the way back. 

Ahu Tepeu was a large village, and you can still see some of the stone circles in which food was cultivated (manavais) and the outlines of several elliptical houseboats.  The longest houseboat on the island (40m) is found here and it is thought that this was used to hold meetings, rather than for sleeping.   And, of course, there is the ruined Ahu.

Ahu Tepeu - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Manavai and houseboat (top left), houseboat showing elliptical structure (top right), ruined Ahu (bottom)

The caves along this western side of the island, though much touted, are nothing particularly special to be honest.   Ana Te Pora is a lava tube whose main feature is a bed of rocks.

Ana Te Pora - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Ana Te Pora entrance (top) and two views of the bed of rocks (bottom)

And you don’t want to suffer from claustrophobia if you decide to visit Ana Kakenga, “the Cave of two windows” – the entrance is a very tight squeeze before it opens out.

Ana Kakenga - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Got back to Camping Mihinoa (where I’m staying) with extremely sore feet after hiking about 16km (damn arthritis)!   I have my own little tent here with a great mattress (kinda like a gymnastics mat) and light sleeping bag, a huge communal kitchen with lockers for everyone to store their food (most people who stay here cook for themselves), hot showers with tons of pressure and a nice common area.  And its right on the ocean!

Camping Mihinoa - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

To save money (Easter Island is very expensive), I bought a box of food from Santiago and am eating exactly the same thing for each of breakfast, lunch and dinner this week.  Breakfast is granola, “Greek” yogurt (well, as Greek as it comes in Chile) and cacao nibs from Guatemala (yes I still have some!).  Lunch is a cheese, prosciutto and avocado sandwich (I buy fresh bread each day at one of the bakeries).  And dinner is a masterpiece and surprisingly tasty – a quinoa, cauliflower, carrot, asparagus, mushroom, chorizo stirfry that I take across to road to eat while watching the sunset 🙂

I had the same dinner for a week - always eaten overlooking the ocean. Sunset - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Dinner for each of 7 days – cauliflower, carrot, asparagus, mushroom, chorizo stirfry

Speaking of which … another spectacular one!

Sunset - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

 

Happy New Year! Welcome 2017

Yes, I know I’m in the middle of a series of posts about events that happened a month ago, but just needed to interrupt to say Happy New Year and all the very best for 2017!  

I actually stayed up till midnight for only about the 4th time in my life!   This was largely thanks to the 2 Aussies I got talking to up on the rooftop bar of the hostel when I took an Aussie pie and broccoli up there to eat my dinner.   Nice thing was that we had a clear view across to one of the main fireworks launchpads in Santiago – the Entel Tower.   And it didn’t disappoint!

Happy New Year 2017 from Santiago de Chile

 

And before the fireworks started, some of the Chileans who had joined us on the roof launched a lantern – seemed to be a very popular thing to do as there were heaps of them floating in the night sky above Santiago.

Happy New Year 2017 from Santiago de Chile

So goodbye 2016 – I had an incredible year.   Hello 2017 – which I’m sure will be another amazing one full of adventure.

Happy New Year / Feliz Año Nuevo!

Easter Island – Part 1

I had always had a fascination for Easter Island (Isla de Pascua / Rapa Nui) ever since I was a kid, and made my first trip to the Island back in 2003.  I stayed 5 days on that occasion and could not understand how the majority of people who were visiting said they were bored after only 3 days!

Easter Island Map

This year, Easter Island wasn’t originally part of my trip, but when I rearranged my ticket back in April (which ended up saving me some sectors on my round-the-world trip), there was something that kept calling me to go back – I couldn’t get the idea out of my head.  So I used my “saved” sectors to get a “free” flight there (otherwise the flights are usually quite expensive).

Overcoming the inertia of hanging around in Santiago doing nothing was quite difficult, but I was so glad I decided to go to Easter Island again.  I was there for 7 days this trip, had an absolutely awesome time (even better than last time) and could have easily stayed another week!

I think one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much was that I decided to hire an e-bike (i.e. a bike with a motor that can assist you when you want) from Easybici for 3 days to explore the island.   Having never experienced an e-bike before, it was a little strange at first, but I’m a total convert – especially for this type of touring!   Basically, it has 4 levels of assistance – no assistance (where it operates purely on your own leg power like a normal bike, though admittedly it is a VERY heavy bike), 30% assistance, 60% assistance or 90% assistance.   You have to be in 4th or 5th gear to get the best out of the assistance, and you have to keep pedaling all the time, but it does make a huge difference!

Easybici bike I rented

My e-bike. The motor is in that silver canister under the fork

And definitely gives you the opportunity for plenty of conversations!  Everyone you meet is interested in how it works and what it’s like, both locals and other tourists.  In fact, I think one group of Japanese tourists were more interested in me and my bike than they were with the Ahu they were visiting!

First day on the bike I decided to do the full day island loop (ie, the red loop in the map above).  I figured that I’d get that in before I got a sore butt from the bike, and it would give me an idea on where I wanted to re-visit and when for the best light for photos.

After a bit of instruction on how to use the bike, and suggestions from Pablo about where I was likely to use the assistance and how to conserve the battery power, I donned my helmet and headed out of town.  This day in particular, I was determined to use my own leg power for the majority of the ~45km, so it really did turn into a good workout – especially against the very strong headwind that blew directly against me for the first half of it.  Still, I managed to only use a little assistance for part of the ascent out of town and I benefited from a few quick jabs at 60% assistance for a couple of small hills because, well, why not 🙂

I decided to skip the Ahus closest to Hanga Roa and return to them another day, so the first “popular” Ahu I called into on the bike was Akahanga, where I met my Japanese friends who were fascinated by me and my bike.   This Ahu has not been restored, and is what the sites looked like when the European explorers arrived – Moais pushed over onto their faces and left where they fell. 

Akahanga - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Another bonus of biking Easter Island (rather than hiring a car) is that the slower movement really encourages you to stop more often and admire the views. 

views - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

There are around 11 “key” sites on Easter Island that everyone visits, but there are also a lot of other “ruined” sites that get almost no visitors.   Given I was on the bike and could see them from the road, I ended up visiting almost all of these not-so-popular sites as well.   Along the south-west coast, these included: Hanga Hua Reva, Hanga Tetenga, Hanga Maihiku, One Makihi, Hanga Tu’u Hata  (each map calls them differently it seems!)

Ruined Ahus - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

This meant it was already 1pm by the time I reached Rano Raraku – the site where they carved the Moais out of the mountainside and a place where they limit the number of tourists on any particular day by restricting you to only 1 visit.   I ascertained that the best light would be late afternoon and decided to skip until I could spend a good amount of time there on another day.   Had lunch at Tongariki (another of the most famous sites), but revisited later in the week so will write about that one then 🙂

Used 90% assistance on the bike for first time to cut across the eastern end of the island and blew away two people walking their regular bikes up the hill 🙂   Actually, in the 5 days where I was out and about on the island, I saw less than 10 people on bikes – most hire cars.

Called in at Pu o Hiro – “a carved stone which was considered a talisman for fishing.  According to certain traditions, sounds made by blowing through one of the stone’s holes attracted fish to the coast”, so said the signage.

Pu o Hiro - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

and Papa Vaka, site of stone engravings, or petroglyphs, including tuna fish, sharks, canoes, hooks and octopus (as you can imagine, the sea and fishing was quite important!).

Papa Vaka - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Petroglyphs of tuna (top image, upper left), shark (top image, lower right), canoe (bottom left image), hooks and octopus (bottom right image)

More ruined Ahus: Hanga Taharoa and Ahu Heki’l, before I arrived at Te Pito Kura, the site of the biggest Moai (10m tall, weighing 80 tons) ever placed on an Ahu.  His red headpiece is also one of the biggest ever carved, and weighs in at 12 tons.  This was one of the last Moai knocked down, sometime after 1838.  

Te Pito Kura - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

This site is also home to Te Pito Henua, or World’s Navel with its polished round stones.

Te Pito Henua - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Beyond this, I arrived at Anakena, another of the famous sites in Easter Island and the island’s main beach.   There were loads of people there when I arrived – it was Saturday – but could only stay for about an hour before I had to head back towards Hanga Roa to return the bike (so I’ll write more about it in another post).

I still had all lights showing a full battery on the bike when I left Anakena and “90%ed” it all the way to the top of the rise 4km away.  Then coasted down the other side and through all the stands of Eucalypt trees – a recent effort at reforestation.  Easter Island was essentially completely denuded of trees before 1722, this being one of the theories about why the Rapa Nui culture collapsed. 

Pablo was most surprised when I returned the bike with the battery still ¾ full.  I asked him whether it recharged while I peddled, but apparently not.  Not bad going for 45km, given I rarely ride a bike!  

It was an amazing day of exploring this incredible island, which ended in a gorgeous sunset 🙂

Hanga Roa Sunset - Easter Island | Isla de Pascua | Rapa Nui

Thomas Covenant – the Unbeliever

For those of you keenly awaiting my blog posts on Easter Island and Antarctica – they are coming, I promise!  

The delay has been caused by my absolute immersion in the Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant – the Unbeliever, the final installment of a fantasy series written by Stephen Donaldson.

I have always loved the Thomas Covenant books – ever since reading the First Chronicles probably 25 years ago.   They are unusual in that they tend to polarise fantasy readers – you either love them or you hate them (most fantasy is fairly innocuous) – and while I admit that the lead characters (Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery) can be very, very unlikable/annoying at times, the characters that help them throughout their journeys are incredible!   Donaldson forgoes the usual dwarves, elves etc of regular fantasy and creates completely new characters to populate his world.  There is not a single one that is not interesting, and most of them are downright awesome!

I actually read the first 3 books of this Last Chronicles a few years ago … before I realised that there was a 4th book – one he hadn’t finished at the time!   That book was released in 2013 and one of the few concrete plans I made for this year of travel was that I was going to start from Book 1 of the First Chronicles and read all the way through the 10 books.

I re-read the first Chronicles back in April (for the 3rd time) and really enjoyed diving back into the world Donaldson creates, reuniting with Saltheart Foamfollower (a Giant) and Bannor (a Haruchai) in particular.   For me, the Haruchai are the most awesome characters ever written, and is it just me or does George R. R. Martin’s characters, “the Unsullied”, seem to harken after the Haruchai (at least in the TV series, I haven’t read the books).

1st Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

After a break of a few months, I re-read the Second Chronicles (for the 2nd time) in August, and again was totally taken by how cool the Haruchai (Brinn, Cail, Ceer, Hergrom) are.  

2nd Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

I started the Final Chronicles at the end of my month in Santiago doing nothing, and spent every spare second on Easter Island and La Silla reading (I took a break for 2 weeks while I was in Antarctica – too much else going on).   There I really fell in love with Stave – yes, yet another Haruchai.   He has a “Maximus Decimus Meridius” moment at the end of the first book which sealed him as my favourite character of all time.   I think Donaldson perfected his writing of the Haruchai in this last series – so many awesome moments with this race!

Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant

There is actually a 4th book – The Last Dark – as well

So now I’m feeling bereft – and want to immediately start reading them again 🙁   For me, this fantasy series is waaaaay better than Lord of the Rings (I know, sacrilegious), though I acknowledge that there are similarities between at least the First Chronicles and Tolkien’s epic.

If you like fantasy and have not yet read these books – I cannot recommend them highly enough.   You may fall into the camp of those that hate them – they are very dark after all – but you should definitely give them a go at least.  Acknowledge that Thomas Covenant is very unlikable (at least initially – this will be cemented in the first book in a particular scene that you will recognise as soon as you read it) and read past it – you won’t be disappointed!

 

p.s.  Although I don’t read a lot of Sci-Fi, Donaldson’s 5-book “Gap Cycle” series is also an incredible, unputdownable epic that I really enjoyed.   And his “Mordant’s Need” 2-book series is also awesome.  I guess I’m just a huge Donaldson fan 🙂   

Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 4

Final day of the trip was only a short one for me, given I was crossing over into Chile.  That being said, it started bloody early so we could get to the Sol de Mañana Geysers for the sunrise. This is when they are at their best, and it really is worth getting up early and freezing your arse off to experience!

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

There are two main geyser fields with plenty of boiling mud,

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

and hot water that steams in the very cold temperatures at 4800m at sunrise.

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

And of course the geysers – both small

 

and large

 

And when the sun breaks the horizon – it is truly spectacular!

Sol de Mañana Geysers - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

Just up the road we stopped off at the Polques hot springs for about an hour.  To give you an idea of how much tourism has increased, here is the lineup of cars at this one spot (and it wasn’t peak season yet!)  Back in 2001, we only saw about 2 other cars in the whole 4 days!     

Polques hot springs parking lot - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

Decided to not join the 100 or so people in the hot spring itself (it isn’t that big to be honest) and headed off to the Salvador Dalí desert.   This place is stunning, marred only by those bloody tracks from cars that don’t stick to the marked roads.  Of course they could have been made many, many years ago … but still.   Grrrrrrrrrr…..

Salvador Dali Desert - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

Then we started heading towards the Licancabur Volcano and the Chilean border, stopping off at Laguna Blanca

Laguna Blanco - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

and Laguna Verde

Laguna Verde - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve

both of which don’t have anywhere near as much water in them as they used to.

At that point, I transferred to a minivan that would take me across to San Pedro de Atacama, while others in the group made the ~7hr trip back to the town of Uyuni itself.

Overall, it was a good trip.  But I have to admit that it was not as spectacular as the first time I went.  I think this was for 2 reasons:

  1. there really is something incredibly special about the Salar full of water and the surreal experience you get with that
  2. the increase in tourism and the fact that you were almost never alone and were restricted in where you could go was difficult to come to terms with.  Totally get why it happens, but really appreciated the remoteness the first time I went. 

Recommendation:  If you are in Bolivia, you have to do this trip.  There is a reason why it is so popular – and that is because it is absolutely spectacular!   Though I think that if I were to visit this area for a third time – I’d definitely drive myself.  There is so much to see and you are quite restricted on an organised tour.  Salty Desert Aventours were a great outfit – wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.

Time:  You can do trips from 1 – 4 days leaving from Uyuni – most people do the standard 3-day trip.  Those trips that leave from Tupiza can be up to 6 days.

Cost:  We paid 1200 Bolivianos (USD$175) each for the trip, which included accommodation, meals and driver/spanish speaking guide.  In addition, we each had to pay 30Bs (USD$4.50) for Incahuasi Island entrance,  20 Bs (USD$3) for the Galaxy Caves, 150Bs (USD$22) for entrance to the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve, and 50Bs (USD$7) for the transfer to San Pedro de Atacama.

Salar de Uyuni – Bolivia – Part 3

While we spent the first 2 days of the tour exploring the Salar itself and being blinded by its incredible whiteness, the last 2 days were actually spent south of the Salar visiting incredible lakes and marveling at the altiplano landscapes that I love so much.  This part of the world really is incredibly beautiful!  

Lone vicuña - Bolivian Altiplano

Vicuña in the Bolivian Altiplano. I love these landscapes!

We were going to drive straight through Julaca until I realised that I’d passed through here back in 2001 and I took this amazing picture of a railway water pump with massive icicles hanging off of it.   No icicles this day – but I had to get out and  take a piccy 🙂

Julaca - Bolivian Altiplano

We passed by some amazing bofadels 

Bofadel - Bolivian Altiplano

all of which had llamas grazing.

Bofadel with Llamas - Bolivian Altiplano

The first lake was a little off the beaten path and most tours don’t go there so we ended up having it all to ourselves 🙂

Black lake - Bolivia Altiplano

It was quite close to the active Ollagüe volcano that sits on the border with Chile.   My most touch-and-go travel moment to date was my encounter with 6 men with guns as I was driving alone on the Chilean side of the border out to the town of Ollagüe that sits at the base of this volcano.    It was all good once I realised they were Chilean narcotics police, but when they first blocked my way and got out of the car with their guns drawn – I was panicking to put it mildly!   Apparently the policeman at the checkpoint about 20km from the border thought me driving to the border for lunch was suspicious activity so called them out to intercept me on my way back…

Volcan Ollagüe - Bolivian side

The active Volcan Ollagüe

Lunch was at another lake – Laguna Hedionda – and once again we decided to avoid the other tourists and instead pulled up at a different part of the lake shore.   Very much prefer to have just our little group for lunch, as well as our flamingo companions 🙂

Laguna Hedionda - Bolivian Altiplano

Called in at the famous “Arbol de Piedra” (Stone Tree), but the site has been very much ruined by tourism unfortunately.   Lots of tracks between the stone formations, and what bright spark thought painting a massive “baños” sign on one of the most picturesque formations was a good idea?  It was quite clear where the toilets were, and, unfortunately, they were some of the most disgusting toilets I’ve encountered in 10 months 🙁  None of us were willing to brave them!

Site of the Arbol de Piedra - Bolivian Altiplano

Last stop for the day was Laguna Colorada, which, as the name suggests, is a very vibrantly coloured lake in the Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve.  The pink colour is caused by the cyanophyte algae in the lake, and it is an absolute haven for the 3 types of flamingo found in the Salar de Uyuni / Bolivian altiplano region – the Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and the James Flamingo.

Laguna Colorada - Eduardo Avaroa Nature Reserve - Bolivia

When I visited this area last time, we actually stopped on the other side of the lake, not this side.  And one of the most noticeable changes since 2001 is that there are now a lot more restrictions on where you can and cannot drive/walk.  For example – in order to protect the flamingos, you cannot walk down to the lake from this viewpoint.  This is absolutely necessary of course given the massive growth in the number of tourists visiting, but it’s always a disappointment when you’ve visited somewhere 15 years ago and had free reign, but are now severely restricted in what you can do.   Have a similar frustration when visiting San Pedro de Atacama these days.   I remember back in the good old days…. 

Still – it is an absolutely gorgeous setting and loved sitting there soaking in the view 🙂