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Hanga Roa, Chile

Surrounded by Water

Our second morning on Easter Island we had learned to be quick, so got up before the school children for breakfast. This time we were able to find food at places next to each other and get a fair amount of meat and cheese. We had been planning to go to the main significant moai we had not yet seen, which was just North of town and is the most complete example, including white coral eyes. It had been my intention to get there nice and early, before breakfast, while the light was still great for photography. When we woke up, though, it was torrential rain, so we didn't bother.

We spent the whole morning waiting indoors for the rain to let up just a bit so we could take the moped back. We had it for 24 hours, so any time before about midday was fine. A German guy who had arrived the same day as us, looked particularly depressed that morning; we were rather surprised when he told us he had booked in for ten days and this was the only stop on his trip. We were also very surprised when he told us he had booked a jeep for a week. We had managed to see almost the whole island in one afternoon on a moped, so what he was going to do with a jeep for a week, I had no idea. That morning he looked like he was having second thoughts about all his plans too.

I don't think I've ever seen so much rain, even the beginnings of the monsoon we caught in Asia, and eventually I just had to make a run for it on the moped. I looked out the rubbish poncho I had bought in Laos before our trek. The poncho arms only came halfway down my forearms, but it was the only waterproof I had. At the end of the road I remembered that I was supposed to take the bike back with a full tank, so I turned around and headed up the hill towards the island's only petrol station. All the way up the hill there was water pouring down the road and in no time I was soaked right through my clothes, despite the poncho. At the top of the hill, the road the garage was on, really looked like a river. It looked like it might have been deep enough to get water in the ignition system, but I was more worried about there being a large rock or some other obstacle in the road which I wouldn't be able to see due it being submerged. As I hesitated at the junction and considered taking the bike back without filling up (surely they'd understand) a middle-aged couple standing on the pavement signalled for me to drive along the pavement instead. Excellent idea! So I bumped up onto the pavement and drove along until I was opposite the garage. The water seemed really deep here and I could easily imagine falling right in it. On the forecourt, two guys working there waved me over, clearly amused. I still wasn't sure, but now they had challenged me I could hardly give up. I braved the torrent and managed it across the road no bother, but after filling up the engine wouldn't start. I felt like saying to the pump attendant “see!”, but then I realised I just hadn't put the key back in properly after opening the seat to put fuel in. Back at the hire shop, the girl asked me “Is it full? - no”, clearly not expecting me to have fought through the rapids she must have known would be there.

I walked back to the hostel and got even wetter. A dog followed me all the way from the shop where I had bought empanadas, which was all we could afford to eat on Easter Island; it is much more expensive than the mainland. Guillermo had left, promising that, if he was there at the same time, he would meet up with us in Cordoba, where he had lived for a while and was planning to stay with friends about the same time as we would get there. Another batch of people arrived and Guillermo was replaced by a Brazilian called Raphael, who went straight to bed. More school children had arrived too and their numbers had swollen so much that they seemed like a sea crashing around the courtyard between blocks in the hostel. It rained very heavily all day and we didn't go out again.

The rain continued all night. I couldn't believe how much it rained. It even turned heavier and thunder and lightening kept the dogs outside howling and whimpering all night. One major problem with Easter Island is that there are stray dogs everywhere; they hang around all the takeaways and restaurants begging and they follow you home from the supermarket and wait outside your hostel room. The manager had warned us to be careful of the dogs at night because one or two guests had been bitten.

It rained and it rained and it rained. Apart from running out to get empanadas when it got a bit lighter, we just sat around all day and talked with Raphael, who had finished his heroic fourteen hour sleep. He was jet-lagged after a flight from New Zealand he explained. He was a very interesting guy, who worked for the Brazilian equivalent of the FBI – the federal police – and he had been to 96 countries almost all with work, who allowed him to take his leave in the middle of a work trip abroad; he only had to postpone the flight home by two weeks, so never had to pay for his travel to take holidays. He told us that Brazil has really turned a corner because the government are making real efforts to reduce the wealth gap and they were seeing big changes in the crime figures as a result.

In the evening the rain finally got a bit lighter. We had intended going out to a pub for the game, but the weather was still unsettled and the manager told us nowhere would be open, so we nipped out to get some wine before the Brazil – Chile football World Cup qualifier. Raphael told us that he actually wanted Chile to win because Brazil were already through and Chile winning would mean that Argentina were far less likely to qualify; apparently Argentina are hated on the field by both Chile and Brazil, but not off the field, Raphael emphasised. It was the only one we could afford, so we had gone for the cheapest wine available: we each had two litre cartons of Gato Negro. It wasn't very nice.

As soon as the game started Raphael was shouting for Brazil. Apparently he couldn't stick to his plans to support someone against his own team once the game was actually happening. The school kids were Chilean, so they were all supporting Chile. The kids had been quite noisy in the evenings and at night, and Colette, who was very friendly, and some other people sleeping in the rooms adjoining the courtyard were not pleased with their behaviour. Quite soon it was clear what the problem was: they were all getting wrecked on tequila and pisco. Appeals to the teacher in charge of them were met with total indifference and we soon realised that he was getting just as drunk with the children he was supposed to be looking after. Furthermore we found out that the owner of the hostel was friends with the teacher (or was it headmaster of the school, I forget), so there was no way any complaints were going to be paid any attention. Oh well, if you can't beat 'em... by the end of the 4-2 drubbing by Brazil over Chile, the kids were far more talkative and wanted me to taste their pisco while they practised their English. Oddly, they were attending a German school, but none of them could speak German, only English. Both the pisco and the kids were surprisingly nice. I suppose I would have been exactly the same if I had been on a school trip where the teacher did nothing at all to maintain control. The only pisco I had ever tasted before was Pisco Capel when my local off-licence in Glasgow was selling it off at £5 a bottle, because it was so disgusting they couldn't sell it for any more. The stuff the kids were drinking, Mistral, was obviously much higher quality and had been aged in wooden casks for several years.

Many drunken conversations and not quite two litres of horrible wine each and we were probably contributing to the noise which kept the others awake, although I'm pretty sure we were much quieter than the kids. Near the end of the night I remember Raphael talking about the recent problems with shenofabee in South Africa. Joanne and I were both staring at him, clueless. And he said, you know when people were attacking foreigners. Xenophobia – aren't other languages a laugh?

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on September 9, 2009 from Hanga Roa, Chile
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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