Howdy from one of the most remote places in the world, where I can still get online at an internet cafe... La Isla de Pascua, a.k.a. Rapa Nui, a.k.a. Easter Island. It´s one of the most isolated parts of the world because there is only one way to get here, via a LAN Chile flight either from Santiago or from Tahiti. No options otherwise. The fare is usually at least $650 US from Santiago, but we got a sale for $425. I figured I am not likely to be anywhere near here again, so I may as well go. By all accounts, no one who makes this journey westward (from Santiago) regrets it, and I am sure I won´t either. A and I flew in last night and will be here until Monday, when we fly back to Santiago to catch another flight to Buenos Aires. You thought I was going to Chile? So did I, but I´m jetting around quite a bit...
We spent the long weekend in Viña del Mar and Valparaíso where A lives and works respectively. Both are charming. Viña is a resortish-kinda city and Valpo (as it is known as here) is an old port city which doesn´t get much shipping anymore. It´s known for its colorful hillside houses (which are purple and yellow and blue and red and just about any color you can imagine)... just gorgeous to look at, but when you get up close, they are all painted corregated tin (well, most of them are anyway). In Valpo, we took the funicular (cable car) up the hills and walked around. It was so quaint and colorful and nice to explore. The hillsides have a very different feel than that downtown (downhill) area, which is quite urban and has seen better days, definitely past its prime. Fun to explore the nooks and crannys with vivid colors around every corner and where least expected. Unfortunately, the weather didn´t completely cooperate, and it rained off and on. Nice to keep the crowds away, but a bit of a damper on the sightseeing for us too. Still, I managed to take a ton of photos somehow. Shocking, eh?
And while trying to figure out how else to spend the rest of the time I have here, we realized that it would cost us just as much to go somewhere else in Chile as it would to get a package tour for three days in Buenos Aires, so we chose the latter. That´s next in our whirlwind tour. Buenos Aires, Argentina. Country #42 for me.
Now we´re in Rapa Nui (Easter Island), which reminds me so much of Hawai´i. The Polynesian culture, the people, the landscape, the poverty -- just like Hawai´i. It´s almost strange to hear people speaking Spanish because this is the South Pacific, and the inhabitants of Easter Island are clearly polynesian. Could be Hawai´i except for the large stone statutes scattered around... ya´ know, those things we all saw in our fifth grade social science books or on a PBS documentary? They are indeed impressive and imposing, quite the feat of engineering, too.
Today we just walked around the town to check out the options. It´s fairly small as is the island. We decided to take a tour of the South side of the island tomorrow (which will take pretty much all day) and will probably do another tour of the West side on Saturday. Things here aren´t cheap, though. The tours are a non-negotiable $55 each ... EACH and that´s without a meal or anything. Ah well. The tour guide is an Australian guy married to a local Rapa Nui woman. He gave us an overview of what we´ll see, and it sounds fantastic. So much so that we will probably park another $55 for the other tour. That´s a hefty sum for our budgets, but I think it will be worth it. Our accommodations are sparse, but clean. We have a double bed and private bath with hot water for a mere $20 each per night. It ain´t cheap. Anything more upscale would have a correspondingly upscale price tag attached. We decided that we would rather spend the extra cash on tours and souvenirs than a room. We´ve got pretty much the cheapest you can get. But it´s clean, the owner is really friendly and breakfast (bread, instant coffee and cheese) is included. Plus, we have access to a kitchen, so we can make meals. Eating out is just as expensive with a good but not extravagent lunch costing about $20 (no booze included). It adds up and is a bit of sticker shock generally because I am used to getting away with a cheap, cheap per diem. Unfortunately, not here.
Sunday, dunno what we´ll be doing. The town is small and quaint and cute, but in the winter there isn´t much to do other than ride horses or surf or walk around. I suppose we could rent a car, but I didn´t bring my driver´s license, and A doesn´t drive stick, so... we´ll probably have a relaxing, quiet day before we fly back to and through Santiago for Argentina.
Hmm, what else? Travelling has been very easy. Chile is the land of the bus. Bus service everywhere. Gas is so expensive that there is no point in renting a car. I can get cash pretty much anywhere with my ATM card, even here. To use credit cards, we are sometimes asked to show our passports (and the Chileans seem to be required to show their national identity cards to use theirs). Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diner´s Club all widely accepted, although many might charge a service fee to use it. One woman explained to us that the fee is because of the fee they are charged. They have to send the transaction back to Santiago and wait and wait and wait for them to send payment back. So, not only is there a service fee imposed on the transaction, but there is a significant time lag (something like a month) before they get their payment back -- the service fee mitigates for that loss. And I imagine that the vendors don´t have such a tremendous mark-up on their goods to just swallow that fee or carry the month waiting to be paid....
There´s a gecko scrambling around on the wall above me as I type this. "Toto, I don´t think we´re in Kansas anymore!"
The Spanish here is very difficult for me to understand. The accent is tough, plus they speak very quickly and drop some of the endings of the words. English is used pretty widely though, and since many Spanish words are similar to English, it´s pretty easy to figure things out.
BTW, in Chile, if you are a MoviStar, you are a cell phone provider. O´Higgins is a national hero, the guy known for liberating Chile. Bernardo O´Higgins? Yup. You see his name on signs and streets everywhere. Chile is a nation of immigrants, too, but that´s so easy to forget -- and it was very odd the first time I saw it. Thomas Cochrane is another national hero. He founded the Chilean Navy. So basically, a whole bunch of the national heroes were either born elsewhere (Cochrane) or the illegimate child of a foreigner (O´Higgins). Okay, I´m over-generalizing, but you get the point.
Hmmm, what else? September 11th (1973) is the day that the presidential palace was bombed, so that´s a significant day here (good or bad, depending on your politics). There is a huge tax imposed on flights, especially international ones -- something like $30 exit fee plus another $20 surcharge. Ouch! This internet is costing me $2000 (that´s 2000 pesos) for an hour, something like $4. Elsewhere it´s about half that. And my hour is almost up, so I gotta go.
I don´t know where I´ll next be writing, probably Buenos Aires... Wish me buen viajes!
I am well, and I hope all is well at home!