Monday, July 30, 2012

Easter Odds and Ends

Five days I spent on Easter Island. You might well ask yourself what on earth there is to do besides look at moai. It is not that big an island, and there is only one town on it. That is the subject of this blog.
For starters, you can hike up the side of a FREAKIN EXTINCT VOLCANO (or as the literature refers to it, Rano Kau)!!! Personally, I prefer my calderas with cute little white houses built into the side, but I suppose the endangered wildlife area is a nice variation. Quite nearly as picturesque, too, although housing fewer restaurants, shops, and hot Greek men than my last extinct volcano.
While you’re there, you can check out the folk village, Orongo. This was the center of the Birdman cult, which apparently entailed strapping young men swimming out to the little craggy islands pictured below and trying to be the first one back with the egg of a migratory bird that nested there. It was a great honor, or something – the main appeal for the girls, no doubt, was in seeing the strapping lads wearing practically nothing. Or maybe that got old after a while.
Yeah. Those smallish ones out there in the water. The water with the waves. The waves that offer great surfing, if you’re into that sort of thing. I’m not a surfer, although I was greatly impressed by the guys who were doing it last night, and if it’s something you’re interested in learning, you can do that here, too. You can scuba dive and snorkel as well – I meant to do that, but the company I emailed about going with told me to see them when I got in, and when I finally got around to it, they were booked up. So keep on that stuff, guys.
There are also petroglyphs scattered around the island. I didn’t see too many of them, because I honestly couldn’t be bothered clambering over large chunks of stone to get to them (I know, a terrible attitude for an art teacher to take). They are there, though, and you can learn more about them and other facets of the islands at
The Padre Sebastian Englert Museum. The good Padre was a Catholic missionary who lived (from what I could tell from the Spanish labels – I was much too lazy by that point to carry the English guide around with me) much of his life on the island and played a huge role in preserving artifacts and the native culture. And speaking of Catholics, they have a beautiful church here.
I probably like the look of this Catholic church more than any other I’ve seen. In spite of the fact that it’s clearly a Christian church, it integrates elements of Rapa Nui into its design, and it’s just a lot nicer to look at and has a warmer feel than most I’ve seen (even without the rainbow). At night it’s lit up and it makes a nice beacon in the very deep darkness of a small island alone at sea.
Also: it has Saint Birdman. I mean, come ON. I’m sure this is meant to be a representation of one of the traditional saints, but for the life of me I can’t figure out who. If, like me, you’re Mormon, there’s a place for you on Sundays, too.
This is probably the smallest branch I’ve ever attended, including the service branch we dropped in on in Pusan one weekend. They had two priesthood holders, and one was half of the senior missionary couple serving on the island. We talked for a while the night I went looking for them and the branch is actually much bigger, but…well, sometimes it’s hard to get there, and I know that as well as anybody. No matter how big or small the branch, the Spirit really is the same everywhere in the world.
You can also take your pick on how to get around the island. I took a four-wheeler out my second day (and knocked myself off it at one point but that is a story that will upset my mommy so I’m not going to give any more details than that), and a mountain bike on my third. That was fun, but hard work, and I’m basically a wuss when it comes to hills, so I walked up about as many as I rode. There are also horses you can ride, if you want to go for a lower environmental impact, and cars for rent, if you want to go higher. Whatever floats your boat…heck, you can probably even get ahold of one of those.
And finally, my second (a veeeeeery close second) favorite thing about Easter Island – the Kari Kari song-and-dance show. Oh. My. Gosh. What was that I said about it maybe getting old seeing strapping young men in practically nothing? Not possible. My action setting on my phone is, strangely enough, not as good as the one on my old camera, so I won’t bore you with a lot of half blurred shots here, but I put up one of the videos on facebook for you to check out if you don’t believe me. If I’d known it was going to be so good, I would have gone on Thursday night, as well. A lot of fun, great dancing, and gorgeous men (and women) – what more could you ask for?

Moai Madness

I walked down the hill from my hotel. I knew the sea was down there somewhere, and I knew there were some moai in town near the water. This was my first glimpse of the moai – the enigmatic watchmen of Easter Island.
And that’s enough of me trying to write nice prose for one day. I am sitting at my hotel at a quarter til ten at night. I should be a short distance from Lima right now. Instead those assholes at the Lima airport decided to go on strike so I’m stuck here nine extra hours. I thought I might put this time to good use when I saw a sign advertising a different dance troupe performing tonight, but when I went to check out where they were supposed to be, the place was all shut up, so either they’re just closed for the “winter” or they are out of business. Either way, I am back at the hotel and trying to keep myself suitably occupied. At least until the battery on my computer runs out of gas.
So – the moai. After five days here on Rapa Nui I feel I’ve gotten to know them pretty well, and yet, I’m still not tired of looking at them. On day two I rented a four-wheeler and tooled up to the north side of the island, wandering down every side path I came across and discovering that SO many of the ahu – the mounds that the moai were erected on – are unrestored. While this ahu had the most fallen moai on it, it was far from the only one. Others had only one, or none at all, which made me wonder which country ran off with the missing ones (not entirely our fault, since apparently it took the islanders a while to figure out that even though they weren’t that interested in them at the moment they shouldn’t let other people haul them off).
Eventually I got to Rano Raraku – aka, the “nursery” – the volcano from which the moai were sculpted. This was definitely the number one experience of my trip. The skies were blue, the grass was a vivid green under the late afternoon sun. The wind was blowing so hard I felt like I was going to fly off the side of the volcano at some points, and at one point it blew my camera out of my hand, although thankfully it wasn’t damaged. No one knows why the Rapa Nui just quit making the moai, but it’s a lot of fun to see them scattered around the side of the volcano – some look as though they are sleeping, some look like they are waking up, and some look like they’re about to fall over because they’ve had one too many pisco sours (they drink those here, apparently).
Although it didn’t have quite the impact of Rano Raraku, Ahu Tongariki was pretty freaking spectacular. Fifteen moai lined up together, with one more a little closer to the road, another still lying on his back, the roaring sea in the background and the delicate beauty (or so I’ve been told – I couldn’t be bothered hauling my ass up it after the previous day’s hike) of the Poike Peninsula on its other side.
Did I just go on and on about how spectacular the setting was for Ahu Tongariki? I take it back. Not only is the ahu at Anakenga Beach framed by a freaking coconut grove, this is supposedly the beach where the first explorer king of Easter Island, Hotu Matu'a, landed. Talk about historic settings. It’s also the best beach on the island and in summer time supposed to be a pretty happening place to be. Go in summertime, people. Actually, don’t just go in summertime – go in February for the Tapati Rapa Nui festival. I wish I could have come here then. But that has nothing to do with the moai…
Note those big blocky pieces of reddish colored lava? Apparently they are some kind of stylized hairstyle. And something I didn’t really know was that the moai were not always blind – fragments of eyes were found. This one has had his vision miraculously restored.
Let me finish with one last ahu – yet another Easter Island mystery – Ahu Akivi. This is the only ahu constructed inland (I know – to get to it I biked up the coast and then had to go inland a ways over rocky roads that would have put the dirt tracks near my grandparents’ farm to shame). It also faces out to sea, rather than inland. Why? Apparently no one knows.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rainbow Connection

I've been on Rapa Nui (otherwise known as Easter Island or, if you habla espanol, Isla de Pascua) four days now, and this is the first chance I've really had to sit down and write something about the experience. My hotel, which advertised itself as having wifi, doesn't necessarily have wifi that WORKS, so only now, when I'm kind of getting bored (note: five days on a small, windswept Polynesian-cum-South American island is too much. Three would have been plenty), have I decided it's worthwhile to lug the computadora down the street to the one restaurant I've found that has complimentary wifi. So here I am.
Okay, so, it's taking forever to upload that one photo, so we'll do fewer pics with this post. Basically, after a short nap (I took the red-eye from Lima, and arrived shortly after 7 a.m.) I left my room to grab a bite to eat and was dismayed to find out that those damned weathermen had been correct - it was raining. It slowed and stopped (I've come to realize this is a pattern here), and I set out in search of my first moai. I came to them, at Ahu Tahai, just as it started raining, which did NOT make me very happy. I begged Heavenly Father to make it stop, and it did - eventually. Which was great. Then the sun pushed its way out of the clouds, and lo and behold, a rainbow appeared over my new friends. The same thing happened yesterday.
Now, I'm not all that fond of getting rained on, especially not while wielding a $600 phone/camera. But without the rain, you can't have rainbows. I believe in God, that there is a governing force in the world, and that sometimes we have to deal with something less than wonderful in order for something beautiful to happen. I realize this is true even if you don't believe in God (to save those who don't the trouble of pointing it out to me). Nevertheless, I was happy for the reminder to be patient in my trials...and for the beautiful pictures.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Line Upon Line

I really wanted to see four things while I was here in South America (I say South America rather than Peru because my next side trip will actually take me out of the country). This weekend I got to see the first of them: the Nazca Lines. The Evil One had told me about her visit to Nazca while I was still in Shanghai, and that she wasn't actually allowed to fly over the lines from Nazca, due to the fact that her employer is the American government and they like to impose restrictions on their employees when it comes to dangerous things (such as flying one of three companies which apparently have been shut down repeatedly due to crashes). I, on the other hand, am an educational mercenary and a good old-fashioned PYP risk-taker, so I paid my $100 to fly over the lines. But not until I'd seen them up close and personal.
This is the somewhat rickety looking tower that Evil was allowed to climb to look at the lines. It's not that tall, but you can see two different figures - the hands and the tree. Here's a picture of the hands as seen from the mirador:
This, on the other hand, is what they look like from the sky:
Now, lest you think that flying over the Nazca lines is as easy as showing up and paying some money, let me tell you a thing or two. We stopped into a travel agency the night we got into town, filled out a form, and paid the money. The agent said she'd pick me up from the hotel at 9 the following morning, and if the weather was okay, we'd take off around 9:30. And up until we got to the aerodromo, everything went well. But the sky was definitely overcast and the mist was snagged on the mountains. Also, the guys at the desk at the aerodromo tried telling me that I was overweight and I'd need to pay an extra 50%. Well, one of the questions on the form I filled out dealt with weight and the weight I put down on the form and the weight they weighed me in at the desk were both over the weight that they said was the cut off, and I wasn't told ANYTHING about it the night before - I understand that more gas would be needed, it could impact safety, whatever, but it was totally a situation where they were trying to screw over tourists. In the end, I griped about it long and loudly enough that they didn't charge me more, but in case you end up at the aerodromo in Nazca looking to do a flyover, watch out for these guys - they're totally sketch.
Even after I'd paid (before he could change his mind again), my ordeal was far from over. I got to the airfield just after nine, but it was 11:50 before the skies had cleared enough to make the flight worthwhile. I checked out the booths of tourist schlock in the first hour, and soon after found myself wishing I'd brought my book, after all. However, soon enough I'd paid my "departure tax," gone through security and went out to board this tiny little airplane.
I mean, SUPER tiny - my family's owned cars that seated more people than that! But in the end, it was all worth it when you got to see cool stuff like this - the astronaut.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dem DRY Bones

A couple of years ago, I went to the catacombs in Paris (it's really obnoxiously written, due to the fact that French keyboards have some keys in the wrong places - but if you want to use your secret decoder rings and try to read it, it's here). I swear I'm not morbid, but there is something interesting about bones, and something kind of fun about being creeped out by the fact that said bones used to be a person. So when the Evil One told me about the catacombs here in Peru, I decided I needed to visit them. Well, as I mentioned in my last post, the monastery doesn't allow photos to be taken (I wasn't that impressed with it, and I'm blaming this on the Parisian catacombs...and I'm fully aware that I'm starting to sound like some sort of macabre snob, so I'll shut up), but the catedral does, and this was pretty interesting.
This is a shot of a crypt under a chapel in the catedral. I knew that in Europe people used to be buried under churches, but this is the first time I'd actually gotten to see one of those crypts. And in this cathedral, you can actually go under the altar and see where the other half gets buried...
Why is it so important to be buried under the altar? Well, apparently if you're buried under the altar, you go straight up to heaven. That sounds like a bit of Catholic propaganda to me, but you know - whatever pays the bills...
This is also apparently where they buried children. My Mormon propaganda says children go to heaven anyways, so they probably should have saved that space for tax payers, but it's a nice thought nonetheless. Well, no worries - apparently when you bought a space under the church, you only got to keep it for a few years, after which you were moved out to the catacombs. By that time you were probably hunkered down in your cloud with your robe and you didn't care where your bones were. A very practical outlook, I think.
On a normal holiday, this probably would have been the full extent of my weird fascination with dead people, but this is my super summer extravaganza, people. Her Evilness also shared some photos with me from a place near Nazca - the Chauchilla Necropolis. A little language lesson for you - necropolis comes from Greek. Polis, of course, means city, and necro means dead. Put it together and you have something like the above. Evil and I were the only people out there other than the handful of people operating the ticket booth and snack shop in the distance. It was desolate. And did I mention the bones strewn across the ground?
In another life (pun totally intended) these bones were part of funerary bundles lovingly buried with pottery and other items. Presumably some of these had some value to them, since the bones became strewn across the desert at the hands of grave robbers. One archaeological society or another has taken it upon themselves to gather at least the larger bones up and bring some order to the site (kind of like the old woman all skin and bones...you remember that old Halloween song, right???) These excavated grave sites are the result:
It isn't the easiest place to get to but it was an interesting end to our road trip to Nazca. Stay tunes for the REAL reason for our road trip to Nazca - Senora Buendia's tejas! Just kidding...the Nazca lines, of course!

The Strangest, Saddest City

Herman Mellville once visited Lima. He called it the "strangest, saddest city thou canst see. For Lima has taken the white veil; and there is a higher horror in this whiteness of her woe." He was talking about the garua, the fog that the Evil One warned me about, the same fog that caught up the lights of the airplane when we were descending and made it seem as if we were landing during the day, rather than at night.
It's winter here - I'm south of the equator for the first time in my life, and the fog is a winter thing in warmer climes (remember how we got stuck in a train station for hours on end in India, faithful readers? Well, same sort of thing - although except for a take-off yesterday I haven't been able to complain much about this fog). I can understand how it might be kind of depressing, but for me, I'm happy to be traveling again, and the grey skies are just part of the journey.
I've been in Peru for five days now - I should have written before now, but I've been both lazy and busy soaking up the atmosphere. Thursday I spent wandering the Evil One's barrio - Miraflores. What can I tell you about Miraflores? Excellent food, nice parks (filled with gatos!), tourist crap shopping out the ying-yang...Oh, and it's perched on the cliffside. But I'll be writing about that sometime next week, so just wait for it. It's expensive and has a much newer feel about it, but you do have occasional moments of that former colonial feel.
Her Evilness suggested taking the Mirabus to get a glimpse of greater Lima, so that's what I did on Friday, in spite of the fact that I don't really DO double decker tour buses. What can I say? I don't speak Spanish and Lima doesn't have a subway system. This was the easiest way to look around, even if it was a bit on the expensive side. And I finally started to get the feeling that I wasn't in Kansas anymore - inside Miraflores I could blur my vision and sort of convince myself I was still on the Plaza in Kansas City (Evil One, be quiet - you don't have as good an imagination as I do). Once I got a little further afield, it became apparent I was in South America. In the US, we just don't appreciate color enough.
The bus stopped (sorta...see...well, long story, I'm getting ahead of myself) in the Plaza de Armas - Lima's town square. There are a lot of plazas de armas in Peru - in the next week or two you'll see more, trust me. This particular one is home of the Palacio de Gobierno, Peru's equivalent of the White House. Pizarro established this as the center of his new capital.
While the buildings aren't original, the old tyrant himself is in residence at La Catedral de Lima. Apparently they thought they had his body, but while cleaning the crypt underneath the cathedral, someone found a box that said something along the lines of "Pizarro's head," and after much testing they were able to find the right body and reunite the two (why were they ever separated and hidden, you might ask. I'm not sure. Pizarro was a great guy, after all, and he never pissed anyone off, especially not his newly conquered subjects).
After the catedral I was supposed to get back on the bus and take a different route back to Miraflores. Evil told me I could possibly catch the later bus back at the end of their tour, and after discussing this with my guide, this was the plan (I ended up being ready to go an hour early and rather than waste more time on my feet I took a cab back). I wandered around the plaza some more, ate lunch, and went to visit the catacombs under the Monsasterio de San Francisco. Which was cool and all, but their library was what actually took my breath away. Unfortunately they didn't allow photos to be taken of the inside, so I'll leave you with a shot of the entrance to the church.