Thursday, February 28, 2013


Nine Days Alone On: Easter Island

Paul Brady recently went to Easter Island.

Edith Zimmerman: Okay, so Paul! You went to Easter Island a couple weeks ago (right?). What were the circumstances around that/why were you there?

Paul Brady: It's true! I spent nine days at the start of February on Easter Island in order to do some reporting on what they call Tapati, an annual festival that is basically their version of the county fair. They elect a "queen" of the island (although this year there was only one contestant), show off arts and crafts, stage singing and dancing contests, and hold a triathlon that involves paddling a reed canoe and swimming and carrying 55 pounds of bananas around the crater of an extinct volcano. Also, of course, I saw a bunch of the eerie monolithic statues for which the island is famous.

And you're based in NYC — how long did it take to get there? How much did it cost?

The weird thing about going to Easter Island, which seems like it's the most remote place in the world, is that it's actually not that hard to get there: You just have to buy a plane ticket! I flew on LAN from JFK to Lima and then connected Lima to Easter Island; I spent about 14 hours total in the air. The tickets cost less than a thousand bucks, which I actually think is a good deal, considering I flew 5,991 miles.

Was the airport you landed at freaky and tiny?

Quite the opposite! The airport was originally built by the U.S. to support a Cold War listening post, and later the runway was expanded to serve as an emergency landing strip for the Space Shuttle. If it flies, you can land it safely and easily at Mataveri International.

Okay I'm going to Google Easter Island now so the rest of my questions sound smarter than that one.


What else can you tell me about Mataveri International Airport a.k.a. Isla de Pascua Airport?

While the runway is a fairly impressive bit of engineering, the rest of the airport is honestly pretty shabby. They do have free wifi, though, which is sadly something that impresses me.

What's the deal with the statues? How long was the right amount of time to stare at them? (Can you touch them?)

The statues, which they call moai, are obviously awesome. The consensus is that they were carved to honor powerful ancestors, which is why all but a few of them faced inland to watch over the islanders. Archeologists are still debating how they were moved, and trying to figure that out for yourself is part of the fun. These days, most of the moai are actually toppled over; the few dozen that are standing have been restored by modern-day researchers.

The statues are certainly imposing and impressive, and you can get sucked into mesmerizing staring contests with them for as long as you want. While all the statues are out in the open air and rarely surrounded by fences, you aren't supposed to touch them—and that goes double for the ones set on top of burial platforms, which you shouldn't be walking on.

Did you dream about them?

I must've seen enough of them during the day that I didn't dream of them at night.

What was the food like? Best dish/worst dish?

Because I was going for work, I managed to stay at a pretty swank lodge that made fantastic food for us morning, noon, and night. Fresh seafood was a big thing, for obvious reasons, as was fresh tropical fruit like pineapple, mango, and guava. I ate a lot of ceviche. One night at the fair, I ate a $3 fried empanada the size of a football stuffed with tuna and cheese.


Most of the wine that I drank was Chilean and very delicious. They are big into pisco sours as sundowners. The coffee options are either very, very good (and very, very expensive) espresso or Nescafe.

Did you share any amusingly uncomfortable meals with people?

One night at the lodge, a sort of boorish man I'd met earlier that day invited me to join him, and I was able to decline to my great relief. Later in the week, a woman who'd I'd actually met once before at a travel industry event arrived with her son and two friends, and we had some great dinners together. Mostly we talked about the odds of bumping into someone you know on a trip to Easter Island.

What's one sentence that someone there said to you that for whatever reason sticks in your head?

During a hike with a couple other tourists, our guide, who makes his living taking foreigners around, told us that the last thing the island needs is more visitors.

What was the weather like?

Spectacular. Warm but not hot with only a few drops of rain. We did not have any Nor-easters.

Did you swim?

I went to the one sandy beach, Anakena, a couple of times and enjoyed it very much.

From 1 to 100, how "touristy" did it all feel?

I'd say 25. It's a pretty small place, so everyone knows you're a tourist the minute you land. But that doesn't seem to matter very much, as if the mere fact that you made it here lets you into some (non-existant) club, as long as you respect the archeological sites and moai.

Where did you stay, and how did you get around?

I stayed at the Explora Rapa Nui, which is quite nice and also quite expensive. It's probably easier for most people to just stay in the one town on the island, Hanga Roa, at one of the guesthouses. Rental cars are good for getting around on your own, but you can also hire guides who will set up transportation to all the big must-see places. It's definitely worth doing a hike or horseback ride into the countryside, too!

Okay I think that's it! Anything else you'd like to add?

Stay up late: The stargazing is incredible.

Previously: Ten Days Alone in Shanghai

Paul Brady is an associate editor at HuffPost Travel. He has a Tumblr.

35 Comments / Post A Comment


*adds to list of places to go*


Thanks for the inspiration@a

barefoot cuntessa

Going to Easter Island is on my to-do list.


Yep, that one just made my list! (Sorry, tour guide.)


From wiki:
While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately one year to complete.



This and the Galapagos have been my 'must do before I die' list since I knew they existed. I did the Galapagos a few years back, and my sights are set on Easter Island!


My amazement started at "less than $1000" and basically didn't stop. Those pictures. The sky!

Rachel Anastasia@twitter

I really love this series! I just spent two months backpacking around Japan alone and it was crazy. I followed it up with a month in Korea and a few more months in SE Asia but Japan was definitely the weirdest, most challenging and most amazing.

I've been recapping it on my blog and I am starting to realise I did some crazy stuff without a second thought, but traveling alone makes you afraid to do every day things like go into a restaurant. It messes with you!


@Rachel Anastasia@twitter Sorry to threadjack, but can you say more about Korea (or post a link to your blog)? I loved Japan and can't wait to go back, but the latest crop of Frugal Traveler posts has seriously piqued my interest in Korea. Was it amazing?

irma la douce

@Rachel Anastasia@twitter Seconding the request for a blog link (if you want to share!) I'm going to Japan for the first time in a few weeks and I am so excited but so. scared. (Do I speak any Japanese, at all? Of course not.)


@Mira I've spent a good deal of time traveling solo around Korea, and it is very rewarding and very challenging. I have only been once when I wasn't able to speak Korean, and it was a serious trip. The frugal traveler post about Jeonju was spot on. Hands down my favorite city on mainland Korea. I also heartily recommend Ulleung-do, an island in the East Sea (don't y'all dare call it the Sea of Japan to any Korean!) - amazing squid and pork stirfry, geological madness, and very close to an international territorial dispute with Japan (Dok-do!).

Lisa Frank

I feel really embarrassed to admit that I'm surprised that Easter Island has wifi and cars.


Can I do a Five Days Alone in My House post? 'Cause I work from home and some weeks it seems like I might as well be alone in the middle of the Pacific. The food's pretty good and I also have wifi, though it is not free.

(Come to think of it, why aren't I in the middle of the Pacific if it doesn't matter where I am?)


@laurel Be like the work-from-home young couple on a Househunters International I watched and move to Cannes!


Just to say I really love this series!


Do people still touch the moai anyway or are they physically prevented somehow? (barriers etc)

I ask because at Uluru they have signage with a request from the traditional owners asking people not to climb and explaining that it's an extremely spiritually significant site and a few other reasons, but there is nothing actually preventing people from climbing and of course people do it anyway because people are the worst.

Sunny Schomaker

@iceberg People are the worst! I've seen people tromp over effigy mounds. I've also witnessed flash photography inside Notre Dame, and saw a woman getting scolded by a docent for touching a 3,000 year old statue. The scolded woman seemed surprised that she couldn't manhandle the art. Who thinks like that?


@Sunny Schomaker Entitlement bitches, that's who.


@iceberg I spent 5 days alone on Easter Island, and there aren't any huge, insurmountable physical barriers in front of the moai. You can definitely touch them, especially at the site where there are hundreds of unfinished moai. But when I was there, everyone was really respectful, and the islanders I think help enforce that? I was standing on what I thought was just a rock and my tour guide kindly informed me it was an artefact and to please get off.

The place is incredible, everyone should go - kind of mystical, in a way? And I am not a person that says "mystical" often. I stayed in a hostel, rented a car, and went all over the island. A former coworker of mine lives there now, I'm sure she could give great tours and tips, too.


@iceberg 10 years ago you could still climb up the Chichén-Itzá mayan ruins... it kind of blows my mind that you were allowed to. Now you can't, but recently the singer Talhía did (Tommy Mottola's wife) because her sister worked for the government..oh, and also J.Lo beceuse she shot a video there. People ARE the worst!

Judith Slutler

That starry sky! Awesome.

polka dots vs stripes

Yup, added to my travel list.


Whoa! This is totally great! I have only really thought of Easter Island as an archaeologically-significant place, and not a place you visit, but now I do, and definitely want to.


I am seriously researching this, and cannot find any fares under $2k. Ugh!


Ohhhh, I loved reading this! I am going to Easter Island in June and I can't get enough info about it. Sooo excited!


How does one become a "Alone On..." correspondent? Because I, you know, do stuff. Sometimes. If there's any interest in a month alone in Buenos Aires/Uruguay/Rio/Sao Paulo I'd love to contribute. ;)


@rowrow I just clicked through to Paul Brady's Tumblr and I see that he's an actual travel writer.

How about plebeians?

erika kougar
erika kougar

I hate to be a sourpuss, especially since one of the things I love about the 'pin is the positive commenting community but I'm surprised at how flippant folks are being about the tour guide saying the island doesn't need any more tourists.

Without knowing what the guide's reasoning was I feel it's very important to consider that not everyone that wants to go to Easter Island or the Galapagos Islands or Nepal can or should go. The ecosystem and the small communities there would be completely overwhelmed. (And no, I don't know anything about the specific situation on Easter Island, I'm just speaking broadly).

It's true that a great many places rely heavily on tourist revenue but also that too many tourists think they are "helping the local economy" (or don't think about the local economy at all). In reality tourism often harms small places more than it helps them. Tourists requires a vast amount of imported products (beer, tampons, batteries), posh (and almost always foreign-owned) places to stay, natural resources (water and oil), and public utilities.

In 01'/02' I did a research project on the Cambodian tourist economy that transformed the way I thought about world travel. I had hoped to see that Cambodians were earning revenue and self-respect, that the influx of sightseers would help in national process of re-building and healing. Instead I found only a tiny tiny percentage of tourist $$ was going to local people, those who needed it most. (I remember one disheartening statistic that only 5 cents of every dollar a tourist spent even **stayed in the country**. Probably 4 of the remaining 5 cents went to the political and economic elite).

Meanwhile Cambodians had to deal with overtaxed sewer systems, huge quantities of plastic bottle and other garbage, burgeoning sex tourism, drunken lout backpackers, and jerks who climbed on the temples and pointed their digital cameras in peoples' faces. There were positive aspects too of course, and I've heard anecdotally that things have improved in many respects in the last 10+ years. I truly hope so.

I love travel, love seeing the world and learning about the history and culture of new places, love eating unfamiliar fruits and seeing beautiful vistas. But I also think very carefully about *how* and where I travel and about the people who *live* in the places I travel to. I feel like the kind of travel I've been reading about here lately sounds disengaged and profoundly unaware of the power and privilege that allows some of us to be tourists while others are just part of the background in our Instagram photos.

Nothing personal intended to anyone who has contributed to this series, I just needed to say my piece. I don't want to have to say goodbye to the 'pin because of our differences but I also don't want to be part of a community that isn't conscious of how it fits as part of the global community.

Tuna Surprise

@erika kougar

I'm not sure why you think the writers are disengaged and unaware. The comment from the tour guide probably was sparked by the fact the author is a travel writer and was there on assignment.

I've been contemplating a trip to Easter Island and I feel like your hand-wringing is a bit patronizing. I can see where we need to tread more carefully on places that are fragile (just emerged from war or dictatorship) and the local people may not have the resources to effectively manage tourism, but the Rapanui seem to understand the issues and I don't think they need my faux-concern to figure it out. If they want to limit flights, or require hiking permits or limit guesthouses on the island, I would have no issues with that - even if it meant I could never visit. But I fail to see why I should be more worked up about this guy going to Easter Island than I do about Edith going to London. After all, London has pollution problems and housing shortages and other issues that tourism doesn't exactly help.

This is a good read on the Easter Island tourism economy and how it affects the island:



Is it normal to cry after you buy your first plane ticket for a semi-solo trip? Because it just happened. Holy cow, making yourself happy is serious business.

Also, I feel like some cartoon from my youth had the statues moving around and I'm a little bit traumatized, but they're still really cool.


@shlee I am thrilled by your post and respectfully demand updates."Nerving Up to take a Real Solo Vacation" is the part I'm stuck on.


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Just to clarify, Easter Island residents are not against tourism. No one will get badly treated here for being a tourist. The amount of visitors has increased by 20% since the 1980's, which is a huge growth in tourism! Last year we had around 80 000 tourists. There is some talk about a limitation soon though, which may be a good idea for an island as small and fragile as this one.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! I love it how you let images be a big part of the article. Here's another extensive travel guide with lots of practical info: http://www.easterislandtraveling.com/travel-tips/travel-guide/

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