Keep On Truckin

I spent most of today just doing logistical stuff: getting my ransom ticket refunded and getting my tickets to Rarotonga and beyond, moving to the hostel, and taking care of some stuff online.

Yes, that took most of the day.

I assumed that I would be leaving French Polynesia on Friday, but I found there was a flight leaving tomorrow (Tuesday) morning. I had a decision to make: leave now (Tuesday) or leave later (Friday).

I really haven’t seen much of French Polynesia. I haven’t even seen much of Tahiti. I was here last week in route from Hawaii to Easter Island, and today. Part of me really wanted to go to some of the other islands, but another part of me, the logical part of me, figured it wasn’t really worth it.

French Polynesia is flat out expensive. There is no getting around that. Its expensive to sleep, eat, and move. On Rarotonga, I can get a room for about $20 a night, or 2.5x less than what I’m paying for a night in my current hostel. That $20 gets me a place on the beach, while here I’m on the outskirts of town.

What would I do in French Polynesia this week? I’d probably move to Moorea and try to visit Bora Bora. That’s about it. I wouldn’t dive. I wouldn’t eat out much. I’ve set some budget limits for myself. I knew before I started that the Pacific was probably going to be the most expensive leg of my trip, which is why I’m doing it first. I’ve been over budget so far, but not by a lot and I hope to make up for it in other countries (Cambodia, Thailand, etc). This is ridiculous however.

The fact is, I can spend X amount of money and Y amount of time on a beach here taking photos of stuff, or I can do it some place else and get 1.5-3x as much for the same amount of money.

Staying here wont bankrupt me. That’s not the issue. I have a lot of time, but my time isn’t infinite. Would I rather spend a week here, or use that week in Australia or China? Easy choice.

So, tomorrow I’ll be in the Cook Islands, speaking English, drinking relatively cheap beer and, hopefully, hitting on Kiwi girls on vacation.

Imagine A Hotel Mini Bar, Inside a Movie Theater, Inside an Aiport, Inside Disney World

…that describes how expensive it is in Tahiti.

I’m at a cafe right now and a CAN of Diet Coke costs $5. I’m staying at a hostel in Papeete which is as far as i can tell the absolute cheapest place to stay on the island, and its still about $50 a night.

The only thing I really want to see in French Polynesia is Bora Bora. I think I’m going to see if I can hit that and then look into leaving ASAP. I originally wanted to visit some of the other islands, but we’ll see. If I have to stay here for a few days, I’ll probably visit Moorea also at a minimum.

I’m off to go and get my money back from from hold up last night.

I’m definitely going to reserve my tickets for at least a few weeks in advance for as long as I’m in the Pacific.

My Kafkaesque Almost Nightmare in Tahiti

I was held my the immigration police in Tahiti for almost an hour. Here’s why:

To get into Tahiti you need to show proof that you have a ticket to leave Tahiti. I guess the place is so expensive that they know there is a good chance you’ll be broke by the time you leave, so they want to know you have already paid for it.

When I was here last week, the ticket office at the airport was closed, so I couldn’t get my ticket to Rarotonga for when I’d get back from Easter Island. I figured I’d buy it online while I was in Easter Island.

Well, I tried to buy a ticket online only to find out that they don’t offer e-tickets on Air Tahiti. The only way I could get a ticket is if they sent the physical ticket to my address. Clearly that wasn’t going to work with me on Easter Island.

So I was placed in the situation of needing an exit ticket to get into Tahiti, but I could only get my exit ticket if i could get into Tahiti.

Please read that sentence again.

That was the first thing that made no sense. The second thing is what really showed the stupidity of the rule…

I was sent to the Air Tahiti Nui offices (their international branch. I need the domestic branch for Rarotonga) to buy a ticket to Las Angeles. It cost $1,400, BUT, as the ticket agent was quick to point out, it was fully refundable. I asked if I could get my money back tomorrow, and she said “yes”. That means the requirement for an exit ticket is a total sham, because if I can refund the ticket I was forced to buy, then in the end, I have no exit ticket. All I was forced to do was lend Air Tahiti Nui $1,400 for 12 hours.

I’m really looking forward to Rarotonga. If I can get a flight to there earlier than the 19th, I very seriously might take it and leave French Polynesia behind.

Wrap a Nui

I have about four hours till I get taken to the airport to wait three more hours for my flight to Papeete.

Despite some early problems, I think this week has been a good start to my foreign adventures. I managed to get by in the most isolated place on Earth without knowing the language. If I can do that, I can probably do anything. I do need to take some time and learn more local phrases. My proficiency in Spanish is really sad. I’m going to buy a small French/English dictionary tomorrow in Papeete and hold on to it. My grasp of French seems better than Spanish, but its something I need to get in the habit of doing.

I also need to start booking a bit farther ahead for reservations. Thankfully, this is not the busy tourist season in the Pacific, but it would help greatly if I didn’t wait as long to get tickets.

I have about 3.5gb of photos and about 35min of video from the week. I’m shooting my photos in RAW, so each photo is about 15mb in size. I figure it’s best to shoot everything in RAW, burn to DVD and ship it home, that way I have the originals of everything. I’m just picking the best dozen or so from each site and putting them on Flickr. I was going to edit video today, but I had to check out of my room at noon. The time and facilities to edit video are turning out to be the biggest sticking point so far.

The weather today is probably the worst I’ve seen since I’ve been here. The waves are huge, the wind is strong, and there is a constant drizzle. In the future, I’m not going to wait for perfect weather when shooting video. I’ll take reasonably good weather and maybe shoot another if conditions improve considerably.

I’ll see you next time from French Polynesia!

Mis Cuatro Amigos

There are a lot of dogs which run free on Easter Island. They aren´t feral dogs, they´re quite time actually, but no one owns them. They sort of just run all over and occasionally run up to a person and walk with them for a while.

While taking photos today, I was sitting on the grass waiting for some clouds to pass and one dog came up to me, laid down and rested his head on my leg like he was mine. I guess for about fifteen minutes, he was mine. I tried to play catch with him with a ball I’ve been carrying around with me. He would run after the ball no problem, but had issues with running back with the ball and giving it up.

Later I ran into a puppy which was hiding behind a small statue. It started barking at me trying to defend its little puppy turf. I just stood there and eventually he cautiously came over to sniff me. Next thing you know, I had a new friend. A about a hundred feet away there were three more puppies all of the same size. They must have all been from the same litter. Once they saw the one puppy running around with me, they all joined in and nibbled at my boots and licked my legs. If I stepped up a little stone wall, they´d climb all over themselves to get up the wall.

I set up my video camera to take some footage of me and my new four friends. I should have a short clip of it up when I get the rest of my Easter Island footage up. The puppies followed me for close to a mile until I ran into a couple walking on the path. Then the puppied abruptly abandoned me and followed them.

Oh well….

Nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here

Back of Moai on Easter Island
Back of Moai on Easter Island
Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day out and about taking photos and video of the places I couldn’t get to on Wednesday due to rain. I think you could easily see most of the sites on the island in one day if you got up early, and certainly in two. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to spend as much time here as I did. I spent most of the day at Rano Raraku, the quarry where all the maoi were created. Most of the maoi on the island seem to be here. If you’ve seen photos of big stone heads sitting on a hillside, this is where the photo was taken.

I had always just assumed that the maoi were made out of basalt, the volcanic rock that makes up most ocean islands and the bottom of the sea. It turns out that its not quite the case. There is a reason why all the maoi were carved from this particular volcano and not elsewhere on the island: the rock here is really a concrete mix of ash, basalt rubble and some other non-porus material I couldn’t figure out. It’s much weaker than plain basalt, which is why they probably chose that spot to do all the carving: the rock was softer and it was easier to carve. Climbing around, I had a piece of rock crumble in my hand as I was trying to get a grip. (the wall of the volcano crumbled, not a moai). It also explains why so many moai are in bad shape. If they were standing near the coast and they were hit by a tsunami, when they got knocked over the weight of the stone was probably enough to break it in two.

I’m sure someone else has done an analysis of the rock at Rano Raraku, but I found it interesting because I had never read about the rock composition anywhere else. Once I saw it up close with my own eyes, it all made sense.

There is another quarry on the island, Puna Pau, which was used specifically to make the red colored top-knot hats the moai sometimes wear. That quarry was chosen because of the color of the rock and doesn’t seem as weak as the rock at Rano Raraku.

One thing I thought of today is how much it would suck to live on Easter Island. Some people would like a house out in the middle of nowhere where you be secluded and have some privacy. This is a different ball game altogether. It’s not a matter of driving an hour or even two to get to the closest town. It is a minimum of a five hour commercial airline flight to anywhere. ANYWHERE. That is not an exaggeration in the slightest. There is not a spec of Earth within 1,000 miles, and civilization within 2,500. I’m sure the Chilean government has some sort of subsidy where goods are flown in on the regular LAN Chile flights, but for the most part, you’re trapped. Moreover, there is no real harbor here, so regular boats don’t come to the island. Most of the cars here are old and show it. I saw a pickup truck today where most of the body was gone save for the metal around the engine and the seats. I don’t think they have car inspections here….

Speaking of inspections, I’ve had dinner the last two evenings at a restaurant called Cafe Ra’a. It’s a nice place. The food is good, the presentation was far better than I expected, and the women who ran it seemed to take a great deal of pride in what they did. It was also a converted house. The kitchen was….the kitchen. The bathroom was…the bathroom, and the dining room was the living room. I only point this out because such a place could never exist in the US, because it would never pass inspection. (actually, they do exist illegally in New York, but that’s another post) That is not to say it was dirty or they handled food improperly, but they didn’t have the equipment set up in a way which is required by law. Having once tried to open an establishment that was to serve food, I’ve been through the stuff with the health department. Certainly, if a kitchen is good enough to feed a family, there is no reason why people shouldn’t have the choice to eat there as well. I’d love to see more small places like this in the US.

Also, the woman who served me (I was the only person in the place both nights) had a striking resemblance to Audrey Tautou, which isn’t too shabby. Too bad we didn’t speak the same language.

Life on Easter Island: The most isolated human settlement on Earth

Latitude: S 27.14295
Longitude: W 109.42414

The hard part for me on this leg of the trip has been the complete lack of mental stimulation. Very limited access to the internet, nothing whatsoever to read, no ability to talk to anyone in English, no TV, no radio . I have my computer in my room but its not connected. I have a ton of music with me, I can write blog posts, and I have been working on playing chess: the only game that comes pre installed on the Mac. (I think I’ve been learning pretty quick. I haven’t played in years, but some pretty embarrassing losses to the computer will get you up to speed in no time.)

I did rent a car today. The island is small, but not so small you could reasonably hike around it. I haven’t driven a stick in years, so it took a few minutes to get back into practice. It has been raining on and off since I’ve been here so I just did a lap around the island in the afternoon and got a few photos/clips when it wasn’t raining. This even after I had dinner, the skies suddenly seemed to clear up. There is little civilization here and given its location in the ocean, there is as close to zero light pollution as you will find anywhere on Earth. I can recognize few constellations however because I’m in the southern hemisphere.

The village of Hanga Roa is quaint to say the least. They have a church, school, etc. just like any small village has. Almost every building in town appears to be either a restaurant, souvenir shop, car rental, or guest house. I have literally seen only a handful of houses or storefronts that do not deal directly with tourism. I have read that the island gets 25% of its income from tourism. I have a hard time believing its that low. There must be transfer payments or ranching/farming from non-residents that is included to get that number. Everything here seems oriented around tourism. (the population of the island is about 3,500 and there are only 40,000 tourists a year that visit Easter Island.)

The island seems to have one leg in Polynesia and one in Latin America. Most of the residents are of polynesian origin, but a few are clearly from the mainland (aka, they’re white). Most signs are in Spanish, but some are in the local language and I have heard some people talk in what is definitely “not Spanish”. The signs in the bank were in Spanish, English, and Rapa Nui.

I’d say half of the tourists seem to be from Latin America, probably Chile. The other half are mostly from the US/UK with a few Japanese, French (from Tahiti), and “other” Europe. I encountered one guy the last two days at two separate maoi locations. He was Japanese with an older film camera and a tripod. He had the patience of Job. He sat with his camera pointed at one statue for the entire time I was there (about an hour). I don’t know if he ever took a photo. I think he was waiting for the clouds and the light to get just right.

My previous remark about the island being cheap should be stricken from the record. Its not. Not for Americans at least. I’m beginning to feel how much the dollar has gone down on this trip. I’m tempted to move a bunch of money into a foreign bank so I can hold it in Euros, just to avoid any further falls in the dollar.

If possible, someone please send me a recap of this week’s Heroes or a link where I can get episode recaps. I can’t get the viewer to work on the NBC web site.

Easter Island Wednesday

After spending most of yesterday fretting about my money situation, I got that resolved and managed to go see a few of the maoi that were within walking distance.

There is a lot I have to say about this place and I’m going to save most of it for video, but suffice it to say this little island may have the saddest history of any place on Earth. Its been several hundred years of one crappy thing after another happening to it, the list of which includes civil way, genocide, leporacy, smallpox, and slavery….and a serious lack of ATM machines.

Met several Brits yesteday. I seem to strike up conversations easier with them than I do other Americans. Most people view this as an extension of a trip to Latin America as opposed to me treating it as an extension of polynesia (which in reality, it is).

I’ll try to get at least one photo up later tonight or tomorrow morning.

There is a website which is taking votes on a list of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Easter Island is on the list of 24 finalists. I certainly think it’s more worthy than some of the stuff on the list. There are two months left to vote.

FYI: My vote is

  • Great Pyramids in Egypt
  • Great Wall of China
  • Coliseum in Rome
  • Angor Watt in Cambodia
  • Easter Island
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • The Acropolis in Greece

My criteria:
I eliminated the Effiel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, the staute of Christ the Redeemer at Rio, and the Statue of Liberity because they’re modern. They are iconic for sure, but if you include those, why not the CN Tower in Toronto or any number of other modern structures. Also, you run into the problem of new things constantly removing things from the list.

Neuschwanstein Castle is pretty, but is of no historical or cultural significance.

The Pyramid at Chichén Itzá….well, I don’t know why this pyramid gets mention over other ones in the region. I also doesn’t stick in my mind as something as significant as the others.

Kiyomizu Temple….never heard of it.

Timbuktu…..I think they added this just to throw a bone to Africa.

Alhambra…..again, pretty but there are lots of pretty castles.

Hagia Sophia….tempting, but why not the Golden Mosque in Jeuresalam or St. Peters in Rome?

The Kremlin…..not a wonder.

Stonehenge, The Taj Mahal, and Petra were all close. If any of them get voted in, I wouldn’t be suprised or upset.

With that, I’m off to go see stone heads.

Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance in Pascual

Oh man, today has been a winner.

1) As stated before, the one ATM on the island doesnt take my ATM card.

2) VERY few places here take credit cards.

3) I can´t convert any of my Pacific Francs (XPF) anywhere on the island. Most of my cash was in that form.

You can see, this is leaving me with one moster big ass problem. I did find a place where I can charge the currency right to Visa, but they charge a 15% commission. I´m not sure I have a choice in the matter. I might just have to take the hit because I don´t see an alternative.

The place where I´m staying (I don´t want to call it a hotel. More like a boarding house) says they take Visa, but the woman who runs the house isnt there today and she´s the only one who can do it. I should be fine if I can get that taken care of.

The lack of ATMs and credit cards is a function of the remotness of this place. The closest human settlemetn is over 1,000 miles away and it Pitcairn Island….which has 46 people, 7 of which (half the men) are in jail for having sex with minors (true story).

The internet connection I´m using is very slow, has about a 12¨ monitor and runs IE6 (someone should have told me my site looks that bad in IE. I need to resize all my images).

I had no luck uploading photos to Flickr today. I´ve taken a few photos of the Moai today and will be taking a bunch tomorrow. I don´t know if I will be able to upload them this week. Same with video. I´m sure I will be able to back in Tahiti.

I have been able to determine my schedule for the rest of the month, upto American Samoa. I think I’m only going to visit two islands beyond Tahiti in French Polynesia. There are just too many to visit, I’m sort of behind schedule anyhow, and Tahiti is expensive. That will give me a few more day on Raratonga.