Chile, Japan and Tahiti 2008
Japan, Tahiti and Chile 2008
The great Pacific Trek
December 2008 - hereafter remembered by the House of P's as the month of the great Pacific trek. Peo will remember it as the month Peder and Paula abandoned her, Paula as the time she finally (!) got to be with her family and Peder for the fantastic islands he got to visit ! (as i am writing this, Mother Earth decided to give us a little shake ... we are in Santiago after all !!!)
We started or trip with a short flight from Busan to Narita Airport. Even though Tokyo is so close to Ulsan, it still took us around 7 hours to get from our house to the hostel in Tokyo. The Hostel wasn't all that central, but the public transport (metro) in Tokyo is excellent, so although nothing was within walking distance, nothing was too far away either. And it was nice and quiet where we lived. We arrived on a Saturday, so after checking in we headed for the Saturday action in Shibuya. This was right across town, but the metro brought us there in less than an hour. Loads of people use the metro and it is (of course!) fast and clean !
The amount of people in Shibuya was amazing. Leaving the station all we could see was an ocean of black hair with the occasional pink, green, blue or yellow coconut floating on the surface (in Japan one can see all kinds of hair colors!). Shibuya seems to be the main shopping district with loads of fancy stores (Armani, Louis Vuitton, Bulgari, you name it ..) and restaurants. The peak of capitalism !! As we were to find out later, there are several similar shopping districts in Tokyo.
Shibuya on a Saturday night. Look closely and you will see a sea of people!
Sunday we headed off to the Imperial garden. The Palace is closed for the public except for two days of the year, and we were not lucky enough for it to be exactly the day we were there. But we got a look at parts of it from the outside. It looks pretty spectacular. The East garden was open so we we had a nice walk there. It's so strange to still see flowers in December !
The Imperial Palace from a distance
Getting lost is part of the adventure, and so it happened for us also. But in Tokyo one is always close to a metro station, so the sensation doesn't last long. We headed out to Shinjuku where all the high skyscrapers are located. We didn't really go for the skyscrapers, but it was the easiest access to Yoyogi Park. Yoyogi Park is where the "youth on the fringe" gather. Jakob had recommended us to go there, but to be honest, we didn't see much there which we couldn't see on practically any street in Tokyo ... or Japan, for that matter. In Japan one does not see a commen fashion - everybody dresses the way they want instead of following some specific trend. Or maybe the trend is to be different ? Who knows ... the result is entertaining in any case. Very different from Korea, where everybody (in Ulsan at least) walk around in their work uniform (which is the same for all the big companies!).
Dress-up plays at Yoyogi Park
As it turned out, we ended up walking heaps this day, so in the evening we just hung out at the hostel. Late in the evening the other guys at the hostel decided to head for a club, but we were bust. We are not 17 anylonger !! haha ... So we stayed at the hostel, drinking our green tea like the old farts we are.
Some of the guys from the hostel. One guy had fallen and twisted his ankle on his very first day in Tokyo. Nothing a bit of Miyagi-san reiki healing couldn't take care of, according to one Canadian!
Monday morning we went to the fish market at Tsukuji. This is a famous entry point for fish and sea food from teh pacific. the action apparently starts at 3am, but there was no way we were going to make that. So we leasurely headed down there on the metro at 9. The flying-fish action was all over, but we still had an interesting walk around the stalls. It was nice to be at a fish market which didn't smell like rotten fish ! Just outside the market we stopped for an early sushi-lunch. Paula was not convinced that the time was for sushi, but I managed to convince her. And thank God for that, 'cause we had the best sushi ever !
Best 11 o'clock suchi we have ever tasted !
And then it was off to Narita Airport again. How fast the two days had passed.
Flying in to Tahiti is just sooo spectacular ! At least when you get to fly over Moorea first. The island is prettier than anything most people can imagine - tropical green and mountanous. At the airport in Tahiti we were greeted with flowers and polynesian music so we felt very welcome. Our host Fred from Pension Te Miti was at the airport to pick us up and bring us back to his pension, 20km outside of Papeete. We had been flying at night and hadn't slept that well on the plane, but we still managed to get a short snorkel in before the siesta.
Bienvenue a Tahiti!
In the afternoon I grabbed a bicycle and went up the raod to change some money and buy cheese !! I was a little surprised when the supermarket didn't have any bags for me, so I had to juggle a papaya fruit, water bottle, 3 cheeses and a baguette on the bicycle on the way home. Just before sunset I went for a swim from the public beach 10min walk away from the pension, then walked back to get Paula for the sunset show !
Sunset from western Tahiti
In the evening we hooked up with some Spanish guests at the pension and chatted till late.
Exchanging tips and tricks..
Next day I went for a dive in the morning. Unfortunately the dive center had arranged a trip to some wrecks inside the lagoon. I had really wanted a trip to the outside reef, but as I was already there, I decided to go anyway. The dives were not bad, but they weren't anything extrodinary either. It was the first time I dived a sunken plane though. I decided to just do one dive, as Moorea (the next island over) is on the schedule for our return trip, and I should get another chance to divce once we are there. In the afternoon we tried to get on a bus in to town, but managed to hitch a ride before the bus arrived. There are a lot of French in Tahiti, as Europeans can stay here without any problem. French Polynesia is Freench territory, so I didn't even get a stamp in my passport when we arrived. Fred is one of these French settlers and the guy who gave us a lift was another. He left us at the bus station, where the bus departures were much more frequent. Papeete is not a particular pretty town as it has grown without much planning. But it has a small interesting market and a few pearl shops which Paula just HAD to check out ! hehe ...
On the bus
The third day we hired a car to tour the island. The island has one road circeling the island. Close to Papeete the traffic is heavy (also at our pension, 20km from Papeete) as everybody have to use this road. On the opposite side of the island it is a lot quieter though. Closer to what I had expected from Tahiti. The vegetation is very tropic at the coast line and the valleys - the beaches are mainly black volcanic sand. All of the inland part of the island is mountain with no access road. Some tour agents offers 4x4 trips to the mountains, but in our tiny Peugeot 107 we were unable to explore this part of the island. So we stuck to the coastal road.
Reclaimed land ...!
When we were visiting three waterfalls, we were surprised by a sudden downpour. Witin the minute we were both soaked ! When it rains in the tropics it really rains ! Although the waterfalls were pretty, we didn't really get much out of our visit there - the second we stopped walking we were attacked by mosquitos and with the rain halfway in, we didn't feel the need to hang around. While running back to the car, I couldn't help to think that it all looked like a bad movie comedy !
Tahitian black sand beach
The last photo before the downpour!
The next photo ... from the safety of the car!
The Tahitians don't seem to be bothered by the rain. I guess I wasn't either when I lived in the tropics, but when you are on the road it's nicer not to get wet. Back at the pension we took a quick shower, packed down the wet clothes and went to the airport for our midnight flight to Easter Island. At the airport we were sent away with a Polynesian bongo-troupe. All-in-all we had a very nice time in Tahiti with the only real problem being the mosquitoes, which had a feast with these two white gringos !
After a short nap and 5 hours flight, we got to Easter Island early in the morning. We had booked four nights at Te Ora pension, so we were picked up at the airport by Kim and Hugo - tiara welcome island style !
Kim and Hugo gave us the full tour of the village, including all the dos and don'ts and then took us to the pension. It was love at first sight ! Small and cosy and within easy walking distance of the village "downtown". And with the sea right outside the window. As if this wasn't enough, Kim made sure that we felt at home from the word go.
The first day we spent walking around the village, eating ceviche and booking a dive for the day after. We immediately liked the village. It was nice to be able to reach everything by foot and it was equally nice to be without the traffic we had seen in Tahiti. There was also a long siesta, as we had slept little on the plane coming over from Tahiti. In the evening we went over to Tahai - the closest ahu (the platform on which the moais were raised) to the village. This is also a prime sunset spot, as the sun will set behind the moais, over the ocean. We were not disappointed!
Next day I went diving at one of the motus (small rocky island). It was a nice dive with really clear water but very little marine life. I think you can almost see more fish in Danish waters! The scenery was dramatic and all in all it was a nice dive.
I basically went straight from the dive on to horseback. Through Kim I got in touch with one of the local horsemen, who would let me rent a horse for the afternoon. So I headed out to his farm in a taxi and left Paula in Kim's capable hands! I could see I didn't make much of an impression on the horseman, but I got my horse anyway ! He offered to send one of his employees with me, and as I didn't know how to get to where I wanted to go, I accepted. I think he was happier that way - not letting his horse wander off alone with a crazy gringo!
And so I headed off to the highest point of the island with Sergio and Chico. First stop was Ahu Akivi - the 7 moais facing the sea. Normally the moais are facing inland, protecting the people. Why these 7 moais are facing the sea is a little uncertain and as with so many things in Easter island you hear many theories as to why. It seams that everybody have their own private opinion. Fact of the matter is that nobody really knows, because the written local language has been lost.
From there on we started climbing the old volcano Maunga. From the top we got a clear view of the whole island. The island is surprisingly dry for it's location. Rumor has it that the island used to be fully forested but that the trees were cut down to transport the moais from the place they were carved to where they were raised. Also the island population was much bigger then than now, so maybe they just outgrew the islands resources.
A 360 degree view from the top of Maunga
Day three was booked all day with an island tour. This was where we were to get all our background knowledge of the moais and the island history. We got picked up in a small bus and headed out to our first stop - Hanga Te'e, where we got to see how western explorers first saw the moais. That is toppled over head down. When the first "westerners" arrived, all the moais on the island were toppled over, some say due to a civil war on the island, but I sense that nobody really knows! All this uncertainty of what really went on adds to the mysterious vibe you get on the island and we kind of liked it. You can make up your own history here and nobody can really say that you are wrong !
We continued on to a few other Ahu's until we reached Tongariki. This is the largest ahu on the island displaying 15 moais - only one of them with the head gear, the Pukao. The other Pukaos were lying on the ground so you could appreciate the size. How they got them balanced on the heads of the moais, I don't know. Maybe it really was with extraterrestrial help, as some claim !!
The Pukao - the moais' red head gear
From Tongariki we continued to Rano Raraku - the old volcano where the moais were carved. It felt a little like being beamed into a movie set where everybody had gone for lunch ! The moais are scattered all over one side of the volcano. Some obviously paused in the process of being moved to their planned destination and others still missing the final touches. The biggest moai measures 21m but was never finished. Did they give up by their own accounts or were they forced ?
What is said to be a "practice moai", as it is not placed in line with the slope. It would therefore have to be turned to be slided down the hill.
The moais were carved lying down, then slided down the volcano in that same position. For that purpose they had a keel on the back to be able to steer them. A hole had been dug further down the hill, into which the moai would be steered. It was then raised here and the keel was removed. Then the moai was transported to it's final resting place ... according to some people ! Others say that they were transported lying down and raised at the ahu. When you stand at Rano Raraku you can still see the road that many of the moais took. Here and there on the side of the road, moais broken during transport have been left and the carvers have had to start all over again.
From Rano Raraku we continued on to the magnetic stone at Ahu Te Pito Kura - by some called the naval of the world. The origin of the stone is uncertain, but as it is the only stone of it's kind on the island, some claim that it has been brought there by the Polynesians as a ballast stone in their canoes when they first came to the island. Other theories include extraterrestrials ...! Whatever the reason, people believe the stone has special powers and thus come to ask for favors. Paula and some of the other tour members said they felt vibrations in the stone. The fact that it is magnetic is really pretty unimportant, as it is just a sign that it contains iron ore, but it is interesting to hear that similar stones have been found in New Zealand. Coincidence or was it brought to Easter Island from there ?
Wishing stone ... ?
Last stop on the tour was at Anakena beach, where we got a chance to cool off. The island used to be forested but now there is very little shade to be found, so I was glad to dive into the cool water. At Anakena Beach you also have a big ahu, which makes a pretty spectacular sight.
Anakena Beach and Ahu
Matthew and Dianne - our tour companions.
Next day we got up for mass at the village church. It was supposed to be very spectacular, but as neither Paula nor I are firm believers, we didn't get that much out of it. As our pension Te'Ora's dog Michigan, who had followed us all over the island the last 3 days, joined us for the mass, we stayed outside the church. Later we were told that she often comes to mass with her owner Sharon ... inside the church!
The police really doesn't have much to do - here directing the "traffic" after mass.
In the afternoon we walked up to Rano Kau - another of the three volcanoes on the island. We had planned to reach Orongo, from where the birdman contest took place, but it was too hot for that. Next time ! The Rano Kau crater is amazing on it's own - you have the beautiful crater and behind this thousands of kilometers of ocean. Seen from up here one really appreciate the remoteness of the Easter Island.
Rano Kau crater
Next morning we celebrated my birthday with a breakfast cake together with our hosts - Kim, Hugo and Lou. Then Kim and Hugo brought us to the airport for an early check-in. Then back to Te'Ora for more tea and cake before returning to the airport a couple of hours later.
Our hosts at Te'Ora - Hugo, Kim and Lou.
Before coming to Easter Island Paula was worried about how to spend 4 days there. When we were leaving she regretted that we had not planned 10 days there instead! The island may be small and you might be able to sightsee all in 3 days, but the magic of the island lures you to stay longer. I don't think this was the last time we set foot on Rapa Nui ... Iorana and see you next time!
Below is a slide show of our pictures from the island:
Friday December 15th we finally reached Chile, after leaving Korea on December 6th ! It was a long trip, but as you can see from the above, we tried to get the most out of it! Paula's two brothers, Hector and Benjamin, grandma Nana, mother Pilar and Pilar's husband Jorge were all waiting for us at the airport. Once installed at Nana's apartment the relatives slowly started to arrive. Paula's favorite food was served and I got to blow one candle on my birthday cake - how very diplomatic ! haha ..!
Paula enjoying her machas (clams)
The first week in Santiago we stayed with Nana and Benjamin, who share apartment. It was good to be close to the family again - in Korea we are very much ourselves, so far from both our families. The day after we arrived in Santiago we were put to work by Hector and his wife Fernanda, who were moving into their new house. Somehow Hector managed to arrange a work meeting halfway through the day, leaving us with the boxes !! Lazy fart !! haha ... ! Their new house was inaugurated by a BBQ a few days later - as was the swimming pool!
At Pedro's new house
"No - like this Peder" !
"Bye ... take care of the house for us !"
Paula's aunt Sole and her family had booked a cruise from Valparaiso to Buenos Aires for X-mas, so they left their house and a car to us. The day before they were to leave, they crashed one of their cars, but luckily they all walked away from it without injury - the girls were a little shocked, Carlos had a few cuts on his arm and the car was a total loss. They were lucky, as they were hit by a accordion-bus at speed. Thanks, you Honda engineers!
A few days before X-mas we headed out to Valparaiso with Nana and Benjamin to visit Pilar and Jorge. They own and run a Pasteleria (bakery) at the main plaza in Valparaiso, and so were quite busy for the days around X-mas. We helped them out one morning, when they had to make 2400 canapés. It was good fun to try. One of the other days we went to Sebastiana, one of Pablo Nerudas (Chile's most famous poet) houses, which has now been turned into a museum, We also went to Viña, Valparaiso's sister sity, to see a good friend of ours, Suzanna.
One evening was reserved for meeting Paula's new brothers and sister ! Pilar and Jorge got married two years ago, so we still hadn't met the extended family. We were happy to see that they were all very nice and normal (you never know ! haha..!) and we had a good time getting familiar with our new family!
The view from Pilar and Jorge's apartment
Out for a drink in old Valparaiso
Our extended family!
From Valparaiso we drove straight to Rengo, 1½ hours south of Santiago. Paula's uncle Pedro has a farm there. This is normally one of my favorite stops in Chile, but now it would be a little different, as the house had burned down since we were there last. In fact, all the houses we knew from our last visit in Chile had been exchanged for new ones. Pilar, Nana, Hector, Sole, Pedro and Pedro's farm were all new ! It is a pretty dynamic family ! Nomads !!
Eating, talking and relaxing by the pool side
One for the photographer...
I was well pleased with the new house !! And the farm for that matter. More land had been cultivated (a difficult task as the terrain is steep and rocky). Pedro now grows Vine, Olives and Walnuts. Around the house all kinds of fruit trees are growing. At first it looks like nothing will grow in this soil (the previous owner in fact said the same thing), but it has turned out that with a bit of irrigation anything will grow here. There is even a mineral spring on the farm, so some of the vine is irrigated with mineral water !
Two huasos trying to start an ATV ...! Pedro and Kike
"I'll sit down for a while .. nobody will find me here"
Pedro and his family, Paula and her mother and brothers and uncle Kike and his family had all come to the farm to celebrate X-mas together. All in all I think we were 17 who stayed there over 5 days. The program was eating, drinking, spending time at the pool and then eating again ! To break the rhythm a little, I would normally wake up at around 7 and go for a 2-hour walk in the hills. We also managed to get a horse ride in and a few trips on the motorbikes. Riding with Kike we even managed to be fined for riding without license and helmet ! We had just left for a short trip around the farm when we decided to go to the nearest village. It's all dirt roads and really out-there, so we didn't even consider the possibility of police on the roads. And it was X-mas .... do they really not have other things to do ?! For some reason I didn't get fined, even though I had left my wallet at the house and was riding without helmet. Being gringo is a help sometimes.
Climbing the hills the easy way. Kike
another easy way to climb. Pedro
There are a lot of young guys in Paula's family, so every day there was a volleyball game (I surprised myself how poor I am at beach volley!), pool games and a soccer game. Only the last day was I persuaded to partake in the soccer game and thank god for that. The field was soaking wet from the irrigation, so we decided to play barefoot. I of course ended up with a purple toe and was slightly handicapped for a few days after that. But I did score a goal and made a chilenita ; a scissors-kick which unfortunately didn't result in the aforementioned goal. But still ... my claim to fame! That and the purple toe.
Vollyball game underway
Sad to leave Rengo after 5 days, we were also a little excited about going further south to Cauquenes with Kike. He has his vineyard down there and it is another favorite stop for me. Well, anything outside of the big city is!
Kike was the only one to not have moved to a new house since we were there last, so it gave us a nice reference point. We were a little disorientated at that time, I think! Kike had also extended his cultivated land and the first day there we had a nice walk around the vineyard. I even got to try some of his home produce. Both him and Pedro sell their grapes to bigger vineyards who then produce the wine. The land in Cauquenes is less fertile than in Rengo, but for the vine it doesn't really matter. The harder the life of the plant, the better the wine. This is also one of the reasons why Pedro plants his vines in the hills in Rengo - to increase the flavor of the grapes.
Kike checking out what had been done while he was away.
"I was working hard all day, honey!"
On our second day there Kike, Ismael and Martín took us for a trip to the beach. It was nice and warm until about 200m from the beach - then it got really misty. Good for us, because we could then spend more time on the beach without getting sunburnt. The water is really cold and I only managed to get in for two short swims. I am more of a warm water person. Paula didn't get in at all.
Diving in .. Ismael stayed in for ages - I managed 2 minutes!
This area of Chile has still not been developed in a tourist sense. The scenery is amazing and the surf is good, but there are only a few small guest houses along the coast. According to Kike, a few foreigners have started to come to install small and exclusive surf lodges, but I think they will have some years still with the nice rural atmosphere.
On the road
Back in Santiago we celebrated New Years in Hectors house. Paula's father Hector had flown down from the north, Antofagasta, where he works and would spend the remaining days with us. A few of Paula's grand aunts were there as well. As always we had arranged for far too much food, but rather that than too little ... Paula had bought 50 empanadas, but I think we were only 9 people ! And as in Rengo we had been eating empanadas till they came out of our ears, there was now a higher demand for the cakes. At midnight Paula put money in her shoe, grabbed a suitcase and started walking up and down the street, so we will be sure to have both lots of money and travel a lot this year !!
New Year rituals!
The last days of our stay in Chile, we hooked up with some of Paula's old friends from college, scout and the last family which had been busy until then. We stayed in Sole's house - I think arranged so for me to have a swimming pool near ! Whatever the reason - I was happy. But soon came the time for goodbyes and on the 4th we were sent off in the airport by two times Hector, Benjamin, Nana, Pilar and Paula's cousin Luis Francisco with family. As always it is a sad affair to leave the family behind, as we know it will be a while before we will meet again.
Paula and Nana
Below is a slide show with all our pictures from our visit in Chile:
Moorea ... say the word to a diver and see his/her eyes light up. How could we not make a quick stopover there when we were so close ?!? I had put all my persuasion powers to work and had gotten Paula to accept a mini dive vacation there on our way back to Korea (in fact, Paula more of less insisted that we stopped there, so I would stop dive-daydreaming for a few months).
Moorea is only a half-hour ferry ride from Tahiti, but is much further away in mentality. We liked Tahiti but for a holiday Moorea is much more relaxed. Less traffic. We had booked a cabin at one of the camp grounds, but when we got there the booking had mysteriously disappeared and we were stuck with the option to stay in a room without fan or find somewhere else. So we found somewhere else ! At three times the price but I reckon it was worth it. Everybody deserves a bit of luxury once in a while !!
Our "fare" - cabin
As this was a diving holiday, I wasted no time and went straight down to the nearest dive center to book next day's dive. After that was out of the way we could start to relax a bit. We had a short walk up and down the street and then went and sat in the lagoon. Moorea is surrounded by a reef with a lagoon between the reef and the beach. The water in the lagoon is calm warm and clear - Perfect, in other words. So we had a little swim and snorkel before sunset and dinner.
I'll have a Gin Tonic, please!
The sunset show
Next day Paula joined me on the boat, so she could go snorkeling while we dived. Unfortunately she never got in the water, as when she was ready to jump in, a few sharks circled the boat and there was no way she was getting cozy with them ! I enjoyed the dive - but then I am shark-crazy. The sharks followed us throughout the dive; there was probably around 20 in total. The dive centers in Moorea started feeding the sharks years back, so now they are accustomed to much shallower water than normal. It's a little annoying knowing that they are not there for some strange natural phenomenon as in Galapagos or Palau, but it's always nice to get up close to the marine life, even if isn't 100% natural. At least there was a cleaning station for the sharks on the first dive of the day, so the sharks were not only there for the food. And by chance I had chosen the only dive center which did not feed the sharks. After the dive another boat was getting their divers in the water just in front of us when we saw a blacktip shark breach, i.e. jump clear of the water and spin like a dolphin before returning to it's true element. I had never seen anything like this before and I am pretty sure this behavior was caused by the other boat chumming or feeding.
Grays Reef Shark
Between the two dives we entered the lagoon and stopped at stingray city. On this sand bank the tour operators feed the stingrays. So you take 20-30 people who are not necessarily used to being in the water with animals, make them stand in chest-deep water and then have stingrays swim all over them while sharks circle the perimeter. It was every bit a circus as it sounds! As you might have gathered, I am not a huge fan of feeding the marine life for the sake of tourism, but I do see the point that the dive guide made; hopefully this can change peoples attitude towards sharks and stingrays. I also understand that the shark feeding has saved the dive industry in Moorea, as the reef has been almost completely killed off by the coral-eating starfish, Crown of Thorns. I had 4 really good 4 dives there, but if we take the sharks away from these dives, there wasn't all that much. Hopefully the reef will be able to fight back - you could see that it had once been a marvel!
Stingray city ... or Stingray Circus!!
On our last day on Moorea we went out to the channel to look for the eagle rays. We had been told that they would spend the day there, feeding in the current. And sure enough - I found about 20 swimming in formation. Eagle rays are one of my favorites... unfortunately Paula missed out on this as well, as she came across a shark on her way out! She should have stayed with me, as I for once didn't see any.
In my element ...
When I didn't dive we spent time in the lagoon, on the porch or chilling out in our room. Basically trying to beat the heat. 4 days passed by fast when you are in paradise! There wasn't even that many mosquitoes!!!
Bye Moorea - it was over too soon.