April 11th, 2015


Diving and a museum

Breakfast was a buffet in the deserted dining room. There were three kinds of sliced bread and a toaster, several cereals, and plates of sliced pressed meats, cheeses, fruit, and vegetables but W's eye was irresistibly drawn to the pancakes rolled around dulce de leche (or manjara as it is called in Rapanui) which she devoured with slice banana.

I accompanied W to the dive shop, left her there, and walked on to Tahai along much the same rote we had taken the previous evening. It had rained hard during the night. As I left the Tahai precinct the rain began to fall again but it was soft and the day was warm and still so it was not unpleasant. I walked on parallel to the shore until I came upon a sign to the museum. I turned inland and found the 1980s building on the hillside. A Rapanui man outside the open door told me that entry was free today. Since the beginning of April the unofficial Rapa Nui Parliament has persuaded National Park staff to strike but volunteers (in some cases the strikers themselves) are keeping the park lands and attractions open but refusing any charges. The strike had begun with a complete ban on entry to the sites as a protest against uncontrolled immigration by continental Chileans that Rapanui activists fear to be threatening their cultural survival. About half the population are continental Chileans and just 5% are of other nationalities. The total ban was soon relaxed and the road blocks soon allowed anyone through who was with a Rapanui guide or was from outside Chile. By the time we arrived the immigration issue was little mentioned and the key issue had become the way that National Park admission fees (which are much higher than anywhere else in Chile) go straight to Santiago and are not managed on the island. The activists want the parks to be managed by an autonomous local body.

The museum was a pleasing building with fine information boards but fewer than a hundred artefacts on display. I know that there are tens of thousands of items in store so I was surprised by the sparse exhibition. Curiously, the boards were in English and Spanish but I saw no Rapanui text and there was no mention of the extent of the huge holdings in overseas museums. I did not ask to visit the substantial anthropological library that shares the site because I needed to get back to meet W after her dive.

Immediately outside the museum door stood a moai surrounded by pink flowers. It was clearly transplanted from its original place and could be accessed without transgressing the tapu of an ahu or similarly protective boundary so I took the opportunity to photograph it as another contribution to The Polycarbonate Glass and Statue Club. I later learned that it was one of two used by Thor Heyerdahl in his experiments.

As I returned to the dive shop the rain began to fall hard and a light breeze arose. This diminished my pleasure in the journey but it soon passed and I was almost dry by the time I reached the Wharf. W was just returning from her dive when I arrived. She introduced me to her new dive buddy: Australian Rikki.

Because it was so long since W's last dive, she was required to take a refresher session to demonstrate such skills as removing and replacing her mask, clearing the mask of water, and removing and retrieving her regulator (the mouthpiece). Having passed her tests with flying colours, she was taken on an underwater tour by her own dedicated dive master. As usual, she came back to shore burbling with enthusiasm.

The two of us lunched one of the three carritos beside the football ground. The owners called it Ahi Ahi but to us it was 'Empanadas XL' after the large text on a menu chalk board. We had churrasco (a beef sandwich similar to the Uruguayan chivitos) and a large mixed salad with lettuce, sweetcorn, tomato, onions, and other vegetables. The bar had no local beer but I eventually established that they had cans of Escudos, a Chilean lager brewed in Santiago. Throughout our meal we were accompanied by a couple of quiet placid dogs who were undemanding but watched every piece of food that we touched.

A white-haired weatherbeaten man in his sixties sat at a nearby table. His convertible trousers and general demeanour marked him as a traveller, not simply a tourist. We struck up conversation. He was a Scottish Canadian on a great journey around Latin America and was freshly arrived on the island. He had started out on a one month trip but had been enraptured by Patagonia and spent months there. He was not expecting to stay long on the island but seemed pretty flexible about the future.

Bidding our new companion and the unfed dogs farewell we returned to the hotel, stopping to buy books and small decorated stones from an ocean front shop on Calle Policarpo Toro. The books were a guide to the island and an account of the archaeological research of Britton Shepardson. The stones (which were intended for me to hold as a reminder not annoy W by unconsciously fiddling with my face and fingers) were ocean-worn pebbles with incised Polynesian patterns. One was of the tuff widely used for moai construction; it was decorated with a painted stylized lizard. The other was a rounded black basaltic pebble incised with the crouched birdman.

While W went for a second dive I stayed in the hotel to handwash our laundry and chat with Esteban. He told me about his grandmother, who had lived in a cave and recalls being prohibited from speaking Rapanui because the Chilean authorities were trying to enforce Spanish as the prevailing language. Ten years later the same people who had prevented her from using the old speech were consulting her for material as they developed publications to disseminate the Polynesian language. Because of his youth, Esteban had only experienced a continuing improvement in the islanders' conditions but his grandmother had seen circumstances rise and fall. She could remember being confined to the village area by a wall that her people could not cross without a written pass. Now she lives in a house with a mobile phone and all Esteban's peers are on Facebook. Esteban was excited to learn that I am an archaeologist and said that he would try to arrange a chat between me and Sergio Rapu, the hotelier who was due home that evening. He also agreed to hire us the hotel's Suzuki Jimny car for the rest of our stay.

When W returned from her dive it was beginning to rain and the weather deteriorated as we made our way to Hotel Hangaroa to meet Rikki and her Tasmanian friend Jessie. The rain fell harder and a stiff breeze off the ocean caused an unpleasant chill. Furthermore, the hotel restaurant was closed for a private function. Fortunately, our new friends had hired a car so Rikki could give us a lift back down the hill. She took us to Carrito Popatiri, the front cafe-bar of the three of which Ahi Ahi (our lunch venue) was the rear. They had no drinks except Coke and the bar in the middle cafe only sold water so that is what we drank. We all ordered different meals. Mine was shredded grilled beef in a cheesy sauce on a bed of potato fries. W had 'a corned beef hash kind of thing', which was more tasty than it sounds, This time the dogs were less restrained; one of them climbed into Jessie's lap in a bid for food. It was firmly ejected by our waiter.

Much as we liked the company of the Australian women, we did not want to join them at a local dance show. We parted after the meal and walked back up the hill to our hotel. The streets were very dark with very little street lighting and we resorted to using a phone as a torch after W fell into a storm drain. The drains run alongside several of the local streets and are mostly covered with concrete slabs. Mostly. The sudden lack of cover turned an ostensible concrete footpath into a muddy stream. W's dignity was more damaged than her body but it was too dark for anyone to see the show. There was no lasting harm although her phone cover was scratched and her clothes were soiled.

Esteban was still at his desk when we reached the hotel but he was looking forward to a rare day off next day.