Rapa Nui, Polynesia
Day 13 (part 1)
Driving a car around Easter Island on a Monday morning. Haha, that's something I never expected to be saying. This is one of the most mysterious and enigmatic places on Earth and we seem to have it almost to ourselves. The population of this 'country' (it is still part of Chile but not, I suggest, for many more years) is just 6,000 and with almost no tourists here because of three days of grounded international flights, this wild, 120 square kilometre desolate rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean appears deserted.
The at-times-bleak and raw landscape, with barely a tree in sight, is reminiscent of the Scottish isles, especially with endless rocks dotting the landscape and the rolling grassy fields. In fact, if I am honest, the first hour of our Rapa Nui tour has proven to be a massive anti-climax. With one exception, the first moai we see are on their faces or are nothing more than platforms (ahu) missing the moai themselves.
Things hot up shall we say when we come to a sudden halt with a rudimentary road block stopping our progress. For many years, all visitors to Rapa Nui have been charged a visitor fee for accessing the moai, ahu and petroglpyhs. The fee was 30,000 pesos - around $60 - with the money collected by the Chilean state and, I guess, most of it going to Santiago, rather than the local economy. But in recent months the locals have been very restless and have been pushing for more autonomy and self governance. The Rapa Nui Parliament, I understand, voted to close the park in late March. One of the biggest concerns of the 2,500 indigenous islanders is that Chileans are moving to the islands to exploit its tourist potential (80,000 tourists per year). This, they argue, is drastically changing the culture of the island and, understandably, this has accelerated the indigenous islanders' claims for independence from a government in Chile almost 4,000 kilometres away. It is said that only 500 Rapa Nui still speak the local language fluently. You can see why they are panicking. If they don't push for independence now, it ain't never gonna happen.
And so, the national park has been closed and a road block is preventing us from continuing east to see what we came all this way to see. I am fully in support of the locals...but this could be an epic fail for myself and Hannes.