After the long flight required to reach the most remote inhabited place on the planet, it was night time when we landed on Easter Island. Walking across the tarmac the smell of ocean air and a slight humid breeze was enough to awaken our senses. We were greeted with flowers and necklaces by Laura, who had been living and working on Easter Island for many months. She had set up a private dinner for our party with one of the best and most unique restaurants in town, despite the late hour.
We drank Pisco Sours (the local alcohol drink made out of grapes, egg whites for froth, and some other unknown delicious ingredients), feasted on fresh ceviche, and sampled the local cuisine as we bantered back and forth, listening to Charlie Love’s 40 years of Easter Island stories. Our Chilean Chef Carlos was a fantastic host and made the experience most memorable.
Although we were jet lagged, and still getting acclimated to this mysterious, sub-tropical island, excitement won over sleep and our group decided that exploration of the small (and only) town on Easter Island, Hanga Roa was in order. We chose a small bar right off of the beach with live, local music blaring from its walls. Upon entering, the culture swallowed us whole as locals rushed over to lead us to the dance floor.
The dance style was impressive and was dominated by the hips. The Rapa Nui locals could really move! It was hard to keep up with them but we did our best. After we were all drenched in sweat from dancing, sleep deprivation was starting to catch up with one of our group members and he was ready to go home. I walked with him since this was new and unfamiliar territory ignoring his insistence that I stay and have fun.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed a Rapa Nui man riding his horse up the street. My friend, feeling guilty for me leaving the party to walk him home, shouted to the horseman asking for him to give me a ride back to the party. Since the local language is Rapa Nui and only about 3,000 people in the world speak it, I shrugged the idea off thinking he did not understand and finished walking my friend to the hotel.
As I was walking out of the hotel, to my surprise, the horseman was waiting for me right where we had left him. Without saying a word, he leaped off his bareback horse, picked me up and lifted me onto it, then grabbed on to the reins which were nothing more than a rope in the horse’s mouth, and off we went back to the party. At this point, my mouth was still on the ground for the amazing cultural experience that had just presented itself. I wanted to show my gratitude to my new friend, and for the ride back to the party, so I did my best with the language barrier to invite him to meet and have a drink with our group. Despite speaking different languages, we all communicated surprising well and our new found friend instantly became family.
The dancing eventually began to die down but we were an adventurous group in a new playground and were not ready for sleep. I don’t exactly know how this all got communicated through the Rapa Nui language channel, but we managed to tell our friend that we wanted to ride horses and needed more of them to accommodate our group. Low and behold, he showed back up with more horses and helped us onto them.
We spent the next 4 hours riding our wild Rapa Nui horses around this magical island made of rocky ocean cliffs, volcanic craters, and rolling green hills until the sun came up through the giant Moai statues that dominate the coastal landscape. That is a sunrise that will be ingrained in my memory forever.
We became close to our new Rapa Nui friend over the duration of our stay. When it was time to fly home, he met our group at the airport and parked his horse outside to say his goodbyes. He strung a necklace around our necks, a Rapa Nui tradition, and put his hand around our necks bringing our forehead to his as he said “familia” to us over and over again, translating into “family” in English.
We walked onto our plane sulking because the best trip of our lives was over. As our flight took off, we looked back at this incredible little desolate island to see our friend on the hill, horse by his side, watching our plane take off. It brought tears to our eyes, both happy for the mind blowing experience, and sad that it was over.