Easter Island is one of those places that many know by name but could never actually find on a map, and maybe that’s because it’s in the middle of nowhere—or more precisely in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Basically, you fly to Santiago, the Capital of Chile, then you hop on another plane (a big one) and fly about the same distance from New York to Los Angeles over the Pacific Ocean until you finally reach Easter Island—with its runway that is almost as long as the island is wide. It’s not a place that you just happen upon. It’s a destination. You have to want to go there to get there. And I did. A lot. For a long time. I got back last week from co-leading (with Winslow) the Easter Island Within The Frame Photographic Adventure.
First of all let me start by saying that Easter Island surprised me. It was even better than I imagined. The moai (statues) are pretty impressive, but Easter Island is so much more than just a collection of different ancient rock sculptures on pedestals. It would be a great place even without those. The coastline is beautiful—with blue waves crashing into the black volcanic rocks. The island is full of wild horses that aren’t terribly frightened by photographers. There is even one really nice beach. Plus volcano craters! And the first restaurant we found turned out to be absolutely brilliant. I know that a shrimp sauce on french fries might sound a bit odd (unless you’re Canadian and loosely think poutine), but, OMG, it is so incredibly delicious. For starters, they have amazing potatoes; so the fries are simply divine. Skittish at first, we ordered the shrimp sauce on the side. It was so delicious. From then on we let them dump on as much shrimp sauce as they possibly could. And all of this while sitting with the ocean just feet below us. (I absolutely love the sound of the ocean!) They have a local fish that they call “canna canna” that is beautifully delicate. Whatever fish it is, I wish I could get more of it. I managed to return to eat there four times. And I’d happily return again. And again. That place, for any of you who might venture to Easter Island, is called La Kaleta. Go! You won’t be disappointed.
One of the biggest surprises for me was when we sat down to do an image discussion not a single participant showed a single photograph with a moai sculpture in it. It really made it even more obvious that Easter Island is so much more than the moai sculptures, and I really couldn’t have been prouder of them as a group that they noticed and got over the classic tourist photographs immediately. (Hmm, leave it to me to show a photograph with moai. Sorry!)
Easter Island has a great laid back feel to it. And it’s not at all touristy. There’s just one small village, and everything is basically concentrated along just one street. Only the indigenous Rapa Nui can own property on the island. So there are no mega resorts. No Starbucks. No McDonalds. Just a selection of mom-and-pop style restaurants with honest cooking. Perfect. In fact, our last meal was both odd and sublime. We had been told about a restaurant that was meant to be good, but when we showed up to where it was supposed to be all we found were a group of Rapa Nui women doing yoga (or perhaps pilates) on what looked like a screened-in porch. One came out and asked us what we were looking for, and when we told her the restaurant the women all packed up their mats and went off to some other location to continue their exercises. That was the restaurant, and she was the chef! Completely alone, she set to work to cook a feast for us. It was unbelievably good. She’s some kind of culinary goddess. Go there, too! It’s called Manuia (near the cemetery).
I thought going into this adventure that it might be one of those once in a lifetime things that I hear about every so often, but I actually think I want to go back. I could easily spend some more time there. There was plenty to photograph, and often we had huge sections of the island to ourselves, particularly when we did some pretty serious off-roading. (I hope the rental people don’t read that!) I might have sworn more than a couple of times when I saw ahead what I had to attempt to navigate and traverse. Fortunately, the passengers in my vehicle were calm and encouraging.
Actually, the rental company itself probably explains the island better than I can. Easter Island is the kind of place where a woman just gives you the key to the rental at the airport and tells you to stop by the office when you get a chance. You needn’t ask where the office is as, well, there’s basically just one street. So it’s on that street. And when you leave… just park the rental in the grass next to the airport and leave the key in the visor. They simply trust that you did no damage and that you filled it. It’s a place that is laid back and full of honest, trusting people. I hope that is never ruined.
The photograph above was created in the quarry on the side of a volcano. It was one of the favorite places with the participants. I’d say that they had to chase us out, but we actually left after the staff (a guy at the gate). In fact, one participant was put in charge of making sure it was locked when we left. Yes, Easter Island is like that.
No promises, but don’t be surprised if you hear about a new Within The Frame to Easter Island within the next couple of years—probably 2016. This time we organized to be there during a full moon, which was a lot of fun—light painting at 4:30am! I think that next time we might organize it to be there during a new moon and really concentrate on those stars. There’s virtually no light pollution at all from the island; so the stars are unbelievable. In fact, one of the first things I noticed was the detail I could see on the moon the first afternoon. The atmosphere there is just incredibly clear.