Sunday, June 21, 2015
The flight to Easter Island has been cancelled.
This is not good news. Apparently the weather has been so bad out in the Pacific that a LAN 767 jumbo flew two hours west on Friday then had to turn around and come back due to severe turbulence. Since then the three-flights-a-day that connect the island with the outside world have been cancelled and we are told more than a thousand passengers are on waiting lists, many of them residing in the airport hotels playing endless games of I-Spy.
This doesn't sound at all optimistic. The word at 8am is: next update at 2pm, so we have got 6 hours of sitting around Santiago airport, expecting to be told our three-night trip to the mysterious Easter Island ain't gonna happen. Added to this a grey smog has descended upon Santiago as the city reels from a massive pollution scare which is deemed so bad that many people are being told not to go to work or school or play sport outdoors today.
Hannes and I both have that sinking feeling that Rapa Nui and its Moai isn't on the cards and, let's face it, Easter Island is so far from Europe; so damn remote with only two airports in the whole world servicing it, out there three thousand kilometres away in the middle of nowhere, that this opportunity might never present itself again. We are looking at plans B, C and D. Rumour has it LAN will refund all cancelled Rapa Nui tickets with a re-route to anywhere in South America. We are toying with the idea of four days in Colombia.
Infrared satellite images show a massive storm consuming a huge area of the southern Pacific Ocean. Some passengers have heard rumours that the flight disruptions are down to LAN not having enough flights for the Copa America and the weather is a convenient excuse to relieve capacity. I doubt that though. You don't fly a jumbo out into the Pacific and turn it around after 1000 kilometres unless it's genuine. You also don't want to compensate the hundreds of pax who have mostly paid $800-1000 for the trip-of-a-lifetime to Rapa Nui from Santiago (we paid $300 - long story)
"The weather has improved sufficiently for the flight to go at 4pm", the announcer tells everyone is Spanish, prompting applause and cheers. I must admit to a wee whoop myself.
And indeed not long after 4pm we leave Santiago with a polluted mist trapped like a grey blanket just above the city and set off into the vastness of the Pacific.
After hitting some nasty early turbulence, thankfully things settle down and we can enjoy the six-hour flight out into the middle of nowhere, with some fine service, food, drink and entertainment care of LAN.
Isla de Pascua is on the monitor - the most remote airport on planet Earth. It is exhilarating to realise we are so far from...everywhere. Off the map in many senses. It is also a little scary knowing that if we hit extreme weather there is absolutely nowhere to land for thousands of miles.
To the theme from Bladerunner a rocky outcrop comes into view and we hit land with a loud thud. The runway here is so short that the pilot needs to bring the plane down as early as possible.
I cannot believe it - we are in Rapa Bloody Nui!!!!