I received an interesting e-mail in response to my previous installment from Christopher, and I’m publishing it here with his permission.
“A couple things:
“1) The horses on EI are pretty sickly because there’s a grass that grows on the island that is mildly harmful/poisonous to them. That’s why you may have encountered a few dead ones laying around the island. The few that people use for tours are secured, and the rest wander in semi-sickness until they succumb. It’s quite sad, but I’m not sure how to fix it.
“2) The giant palms weren’t solely destroyed by the Rapa Nui. There’s evidence that they existed in some numbers before the first Dutch explorers arrived. But the combination of harvesting and the introduction of rats from the ships (which ate the coconuts) combined to hasten the extinction.
“3) The Complete Guide to Easter Island is hands-down the best resource to exploring EI on your own. [NB, this book is out of print and is very expensive now]. It is detailed enough that you can navigate anywhere from anywhere and know everything in between. It made my trip (and I found it by accident).
“4) I hope you had a chance to try the unique species of banana on the island. They’re incredibly sweet and unlike anything else I’ve tried. One local woman I stayed with cooked some banana doughnuts, flour, egg, and a pinch of salt. Delicious!
“If you have more questions, I have become an amateur expert from having spend almost two weeks there and combing the island on my own with that book. It was low season as well, and I was often the only person outside of town all day. A very fascinating place.
“Also, I put some pictures up at www.gowingnut.com/gallery/easterisland“
Since Chilean annexation, the indigenous population has risen in numbers slowly but steadily. Right now, there are about 2,800 Rapanui on the island; however, it’s still less than the number of migrants from the mainland of Chile. Most of these migrants came to the island in the last decade, mainly to participate in a lucrative and booming tourist industry. This is one of the sources of deep resentment on the part of Rapanui, that have been involved in a full-blown independence movement unfolding on the island against the Chilean rule as we speak.
This independence movement is mostly peaceful, although in 2010, a group of Rapanui occupied the Explora Rapa Nui hotel (yes, the one featuring $1,000 a night rooms) and stayed there for six months until being forcibly removed by the police in February 2011. Nevertheless, it has been peaceful ever since, as some Rapanui groups keep fighting for their cause in Chilean courts.
Exploitation of limited island resources for a tourist dollar by both the Rapanui and mainland migrants is frowned upon by another group of people who work here: archeologists and conservationists who consider the current travel boom a threat to the fragile island ecosystem. Everyone agrees, though, that without tourism there is nothing else to support the economy and provide livelihood for people who live here. Yes, the Caribbean nations have offshore banking as well as their travel industry, but you don’t have to fly to any offshore paradise for five hours from the nearest mainland.
I apologize for the socio-historical “detour”, but I strongly believe that this tiny island is one place that you can’t, or rather shouldn’t, touch without an understanding of what you see. If you can’t or won’t get a guide, consider investing a few bucks and a few hours of your time in a good book before coming. Because, seriously, what are you going to see? A barren landscape and some stone heads thrown around the island in different positions? Having known something about the turbulent history of this fascinating place, will make the island come alive for you. And it is worth every penny and every minute of your time.
OUR LAST MORNING
On our last morning on Easter Island, our host took us to Orongo, the second National Park on the island. Unfortunately, the moment we arrived, the weather turned from bad to worse; we felt like it went out of its way to sabotage our sightseeing. It wasn’t the usual drizzle we had “enjoyed” every morning before that—it was a full-blown subtropical rain, and by subtropical, I mean really cold. Nevertheless, we still courageously stood our ground and saw everything: an incredibly beautiful Rano Kao volcano crater with the Pacific on the background, nicely preserved houses of the Birdman village (I believe those truly “humble abodes” gave birth to a theory of Incan involvement on Easter Island—a theory I’m very skeptical of, having actually visited Machu Picchu). We also took in the views of the Pacific on the rocks, as I call it, and these views from the hilltop are not just spectacular—you can see the island where those Birdmen contestants swam to find that egg. You should visit this spot several times during your stay; well at least the sunrise and sunset are the must. We didn’t, and only went there on our last day, because… um, no one had told us. You’ve been warned, however, so do not repeat my mistake.
GETTING THERE FOR FREE
OK, so what’s the plan of the attack? Since you will have to pay for lodging no matter what, try at least take the airfares out of the equation. As I mentioned before, there is only one game in town: LAN. LAN, as most of you know, belongs to One World Alliance, so a LAN award ticket can be booked via American or British, or using LAN’s own Lanpass frequent flyer program. There are three options for that free LAN ticket via credit card sign ups (or the combination of different methods), and all are easy to achieve, even though availability might be flaky.
1. Citibank has three (two personal and one business) different American Airlines credit cards with 50,000 sign up AAdvantage miles bonuses. Find these options in this Flyertalk thread in MilesBuzz forum, but note that the 50,000 miles bonus is not stated in these applications (although to the best of my knowledge, everyone who’s gotten approved so far has received the bonus). You can also apply for less lucrative but official and stated 30,000 miles bonuses if you’re so inclined.
2. Chase British Airways card has a 100,000 BA Avios bonus (first 50,000 are easy). It will take you more Avios than AAdvantage miles to reach your destination from the US, but what Avios program shines at—is short-distance hops. For example, a round trip flight from Lima or Santiago to Easter Island is just 25,000 miles.
3. If you decide to use LAN’s own Frequent Flyer program to fly LAN, nothing beats Starwood Preferred Guest. You can transfer 20,000 SPG points or more into LAN kilometers at 1:2.5 ratio. This is an insanely delicious ratio! With two Amex SPG personal and business credit cards 25,000 points sign up bonuses you can net 150,000 LAN kilometers (after meeting the $5,000 spend requirements per each). Note that unlike AA or British, LAN does not allow one-way redemptions.
There are a few things you must know about LAN if you’ve never flown with them before.
- Their Premium Business product is simply excellent with flat beds and gourmet dining and wines. Try to fly business class if you have enough miles.
- Their coach is very good too, with good food and personal entertainment screens that have a great selection of movies and programs. I will fly LAN vs any domestic carrier any time. There is just no comparison.
- LAN website SUCKS! I don’t believe their software engineers have any idea what they’re doing. To begin with, it took me several attempts to simply sign up for LAN Lanpass. If you can’t sign up for their program from the first attempt, don’t blame yourself—it’s not you, it’s them!
- Transfer from SPG to LAN can take over 2 months. Plan accordingly.
- Finding award availability on the LAN website is like swimming against the current. Check the LAN thread on FT and ask questions.
- As much as they shine in the air, they suck on the ground, and by ground, I mean customer support. The laundry list of complaints is long: from antiquated and buggy online interface to horrible experiences when you need to talk to a customer service representative (long wait times, lack of training, lack of English-speaking CSRs, just to name a few).
- There were two girls from my outbound flight who only recovered their lost baggage on the way back, after they landed in Miami. That’s four days without a change of clothes or anything else for that matter, in a grossly overpriced town that offers a very limited choice of anything except souvenirs to begin with. No one from LAN accepted any responsibility or offered any kind of compensation to them, and their personnel acted all annoyed like they shouldn’t have been bothered. That was not the first time I’d heard complaints about LAN in this department.
A parting piece of advice: I know it’s hard to resist the need for shopping on your vacation, but do NOT buy trinkets in town. Unlike all other destinations I’ve been to, they are actually cheaper, albeit a little bit, at the airport. Seriously, you will have plenty of time to kill at the terminal on your way back, so resist your desire to shop until you’ve checked in for your flight home. And no matter what you do, do not buy souvenirs at the Anakana beach. Their prices are simply wicked.
Well, folks, that’s about it. Happy Travels!