I arrived in Easter Island with a wine buzz and an ear to ear grin. I had managed to save up enough money to travel while finishing college. I finally had two things I needed: a three week vacation, and dreams that didn’t involve either of my jobs.
I also had the bonus luxury of South American wine.
I took advantage of the complimentary red wine that was served on the airplane. For nearly six hours I had watched movies and drank cheap cabernet as I flew the 2,000 miles from Santiago to Easter Island.
The plane landed in the large parking lot of the lowest-security airport I’ve ever seen in my life. As soon as I had my suitcase, I turned on my I-pod and started looking for a hostel. Everything was booked. I should have made reservations in advance. Finally, I found a hotel and had my own room with two beds for $40 a night. I wiped off my sweaty forehead and swapped my tennis shoes for sandals. And then I was off to see some moais.
I walked across wet grass for less than ten minutes and I was standing beside one. It had a large grey stone body, white eyes, and a stern expression. Behind its back was the sun setting into the ocean. It was magnificent.
I walked further and found many large boulders with carvings etched in their sides. Further yet was a row of moais lined up on a stone platform. “Please don’t step the moais,” a sign politely requested.
After snapping a few photos, I was ready to find a bar and meet some locals.
It was dark out. I’d met a few spoiled east coast American girls and was walking around with them out of conversational convenience. We were walking up a dirt road when I heard a guitar playing. We neared a small bar that was close to my hotel. There was a man out front wearing a bandana and playing guitar. The other patrons sat around him singing.
It was my kind of place.
I detoured, letting the girls walk on without me. The guitarist smiled at me as I walked up. He finished his song and set down his guitar as I clapped. “Hello. Can I help you?”
“Oh, do you work here?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m the owner.” He smiled. “Do you want a beer?”
I nodded, and reached for my Chilean pesos. I handed him a few bills and opened my cold can of Escudo. I sat on one of the four bar stools and surveyed the place. There was a small fridge behind the bar, along with a sink and small stove. Pretty humble for a bar and grill.
The owner was watching me. He spoke to the man beside me in a language with many ‘ikis’ and ‘auttis’ that was certainly not Spanish. The man next to me suddenly vacated his stool, and the owner sat down.
“Nice little bar you’ve got,” I said. There was a curtain hanging across one wall, and I pointed to it. “What’s back there?”
“It’s my bed. This is my home,” he said. “What’s your name?”
I hesitated. Chileans hadn’t been too fond of my heritage. I debated playing the Canadian card, but decided against it. “Yes. Don’t hate me.”
“Ahh. We like Americans here. My English name is Steven, but my Rapa Nui name is Tutti.”
“Yes. It’s our language on Easter Island. We also speak Spanish since we’re part of South America.”
I sipped on my beer and wandered around the bar. Inspired by Tutti the trilingual, I tried my best to avoid foreigners and brush up on my Spanish.
By 2:00 a.m. I was dancing behind the bar beside Tutti, trying to mimic the spastic knee-shaking hip-twisting dance that all the locals knew. When Tutti got excited, he’d clap, and holler out, “Loo loo loo!”
After a wild drum CD came to an end, we sat down to talk. There were only six people left in the bar: Tutti and his friend, two Chilean girls, me and another young American guy.
“I want to see more Moais tomorrow,” I said. “I might go on one of the tours.”
“Don’t do a tour. We can walk to them tomorrow if you want to,” Tutti said.
The English speaking Chilean girl was nodding. “What time?” she asked.
“We should leave early. Maybe we can meet here at 9.”
The girl translated to her friend and they both agreed. The other American was in too. And with early morning plans, we decided it was time to end the night. Everyone finished the final slosh left in their beer cans, and left. I walked out with Tutti and his friend.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said to him.
“Wait, let me walk you to your hotel.”
“Oh, really, it’s okay. I am just staying around the corner. It’s very close.”
“Anna,” he said. “We have a saying on Easter Island. ‘Don’t trust your own shadow.’ I am walking you home to make sure you are safe.”
“Well. Okay.” I smiled to myself. Maybe it was naïve of me, but this island seemed to have nothing on Milwaukee. I felt no fear, but couldn’t refuse a gentleman.
It turned out to be a good thing that he walked me back, because I could not get my door unlocked. I twisted the key and pushed, twisted the key and doorknob and pushed, I rammed my shoulder against the door, and nothing made it budge. Tutti stepped around me and fiddled with the door until it opened. “Oh thank you!” I said.
He followed me inside.
He sat on the bed opposite me and we talked. I had kicked off my sandals and was swinging my legs. “What is that?” He asked, pointing to my left foot.
“Oh, it’s a tattoo.” I straightened my leg to show him.
“Love life,” he read slowly, holding my foot in his hand.
“Yeah. Everyone asks me if I drew it on my foot with a pen, because it’s blue and has no outline, but it’s real…”
All of a sudden, he was sucking on my toes. I paused, watching him in total amazement. His skin was so brown and mine was so pasty. It was a startling contrast, and the sensation of his tongue circling my toes was surprising. And then I thought to myself, Ugh, he’s sucking on my airplane feet! I bent my knee, gently freeing my foot from his face. The fan oscillated as I did this, and my saliva-soaked toes were suddenly cold.
I wasn’t sure what to say to a man in the moments following a toe sucking surprise. I didn’t really want to thank him. Instead, I pretended it hadn’t happened. “Well, I should get some sleep before tomorrow.”
“Can I sleep here?” He asked.
“I mean, right on this bed here. You have two beds…”
“No. Sorry. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Okay Anna.” He stood up and walked to the door. “I’ll see you in the morning. Don’t be late!”
The next morning I had a quick complimentary breakfast of toast, fruit and orange juice, and then I ran off to Tutti’s bar. It was 9:05 and Tutti looked relieved when I showed up. “I thought you weren’t coming,” he said.
Our whole troop had arrived, and we started walking. We went to the nearby moais that I’d seen the day before, and then we turned and continued along the shore. The land gradually rose up and soon we were looking down at the water below. It splashed up with force, bits of water flying over the rocks beside us.
While we walked, Tutti talked to me about the island’s history. “There were two tribes on this island,” he said. “The Long Ears and the Short Ears. The long eared people created the statues. That’s why the statues have long ears.
“The tribes were at war with each other. And they all made homes that had small entrances. This was so any intruder would have to crawl in, and then the people could smash his head with a rock.
“So many men died during the war between the Long Ears and Short Ears. So when people sailed in from nearby islands like Tahiti, the Rapa Nui people were easily taken over. Any men who were left were taken to be slaves. Even the Short Ears king was taken to be a slave in Tahiti!”
Most of the ground was covered with volcanic rocks the size of large softballs. In random places the rocks were stacked into mini-mountains or short walls.
Some of the rocks were carefully rounded into small domes. The domes had small openings and were hollow inside; like a tropical igloo. Tutti’s friend got on his knees by the entrance of one dome, and started speaking excitedly. We all ran over to look inside. At first I thought the dome was empty, and then I noticed something on the ground a few feet away. I squinted, and gasped. It was a femur.
“Holy shit!” Said the other American, pulling out his camera. My thoughts exactly.
Tutti could see our surprise. “Ah, yes, human bones,” he said. “When invaders began to take the Rapa Nui men away to be slaves, the women and children would hide out in these. Sometimes they died. This was many many years ago, but because we don’t get much rainfall, the bones remain.”
A bit later we walked past a cave and saw another bone lying outside. This one was animal.
Later yet, we saw horses running. We hadn’t encountered any people, but had seen herds of cows and many horses that morning. We continued to walk along the edge of the island, where the land overlooked the ocean. At one point, the cliff was low, and at the ocean’s edge was a horse skeleton. Its bones were pure and perfect, and though its insides were gone, it still had some brown fur clinging to its face and around its ribs.
After six hours of walking, we reached a bay, several aisles of palm trees, and a row of moais. Tutti unpacked his massive backpack, handing everyone a lukewarm beer. It was delicious. He also had brought several frozen fish which had de-thawed on the walk. Some locals had a fire going over grill, and Tutti placed the fish above the flames.
After a few minutes, our troop began picking into the fish with their fingers and popping the hot flesh into their mouths. I watched them, holding my empty can of beer and feeling vegetarian and hungry.
The sun neared the horizon, and I began to worry. “Tutti, are we hiking back in the dark?”
“No no. My friend called for a taxi. We will ride back to town.”
I was relieved. “And then are you going to open your bar and work tonight?”
“No! It is my bar, I can keep it closed. Tonight I will rest,” He said. “What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Well, I might go with a tour group and check out the other side of the island.” We had walked about 1/3 of the way around Easter Island that day, but there were moais all around the coast.
“Don’t do a tour. Really. I can maybe rent a car from my friend, and we can split the cost. Then we will drive to the other side. It’s much cheaper than a tour.”
I felt guilty. “Um… won’t it be hard for you to stay closed for two days in a row though?”
“No! It’s okay.”
“LOO LOO LOO!” He said, in joy. I couldn’t help but smiling. The more I spent time with him, the more he reminded me of Captain Jack Sparrow.
I had a large dinner back in town that night. And then I slept like a moai.
The next day, Tutti picked me up in a humble rental, as proud as could be. “I got such a good deal on this,” he said. “We are neighbors. So maybe the normal price is expensive, but for me, I only had to pay half price for the full day!”
I handed him half of the fee, and settled in to the passenger seat. We drove along a quiet road, startling a herd of horses into a full on gallop.
Soon we were driving towards a mountain. I squinted. The mountain was covered with dark lumps. As we neared them, I realized they were moais, some fallen, some half buried. We parked, got out, and began walking among them.
“How did they carve them?” I wondered aloud.
“With rocks,” Tutti said. “You can still see them… here…” he began circling various moais and looking at the ground. “Some people take them as souvenirs but they’re supposed to leave them… Ah! Here.” He bent and picked up a small pointed rock.
“They carved rock out of rock?”
“Yes. Like this.” He gripped the rock and swung it over his head, stopping right before he hit the nose of a moai.
“Crazy!” I said. I took the small rock from him, and tapped lightly into the moais’ nostril. It seemed to me as though the ancient people of Easter Island had spent most of their time sorting rocks, stacking rocks, and carving rocks out of rocks. I dropped the triangular rock beside the moai, and we walked on. “Tutti, why did they carve these?”
“Well. I can tell you what I think but, hmmm no.” He shook his head, with his hand over his mouth.
“Well. Some people in this town, they think I am crazy. And it’s because of my theory.”
He paused for a long time. “It’s okay,” I said.
“I had a friend here. Ekara. And she told me one day that she had seen lights in the sky at night. She told everybody, and they all thought she was mad. She said to me, ‘Tutti, you come with me and I will show you.’ So I went with her one night.
We went out in the dark and walked for a long time. And then she pointed. And I saw the lights… right above us, in the sky.” He paused, pointing above the tree line and looking at his hand. His eyes were watery.
“Then, I looked to Ekara. Now it was night, so it was very dark out. But above her, from her shoulders up, I saw a moai. It was so bright. I could see every detail of it.”
He cleared his throat and walked on in silence. I couldn’t see the significance of his story. “So, you think…?”
“I believe that early people saw these same images. Maybe when the lights came, they could see the shape. And they had to carve it.”
“But when I told people about what happened, they didn’t believe me. They call me crazy for it, but I know what I saw.”
We moved on from the moais to an extinct volcano. We walked on the edge of it, and beside several boulders that had every inch covered with carvings. He constantly grabbed my camera to take pictures of me. And he asked a tourist to take a picture of us, and then he grabbed on to me. He was back to his happy self, his sadness forgotten. “I have one more place to show you,” he said.
We got back in the car and drove further along the road. He parked near a field and we got out. “What’s over here? More moais?”
“You’ll see.” He smiled. “Loo loo loo!”
We came to a small clearing with five round stones. One large one was in the middle, and it was surrounded by four slightly smaller stones. Tutti sat on one, and I sat across from him. “This, we call the navel of the earth. Put your hands on it and feel the earth’s energy.”
I leaned forward and touched the smooth rock with both hands. Tutti did the same. I closed my eyes and sat still, thinking about the mysteries I’d see on this island.
And then it was raining. It was a soft rain, but we trotted back to the car anyway. As soon as we had closed the car doors, the rain came down harder. Tutti left the car turned off so we could wait out the rain before driving back to town.
He put his hand around me, and started leaning in. While the situation could have been romantic, I wanted no more mouth action from Tutti. “No,” I said gently, turning away from him.
“Tutti… you’re a really good friend but I am leaving so soon,” I said.
He lifted his arm from my shoulder and set his hand in his lap. “Anna. You are a pretty girl, but you know nothing of love,” he said.
I turned to the window so he couldn’t see me smiling. It was such an odd comment.
When the rain let up, Tutti started the car and drove back. As he pulled up beside my hostel, he turned to me. “Please send me those pictures,” he said.
“Sure! Of course.” I pulled out my journal and handed it to him. “Write your address in here.” He started writing. “So, do you just want the pictures of us?”
“Yes, and that one of your feet,” he said. The day before, I had taken a picture of my feet in the sand at the beach.
He smiled at me, handed my journal back, and took one last hungry look at my feet.
“Sure thing,” I said.
Two days later, I flew back to Chile. And though I always meant to send Tutti the pictures, I never did.
(Written in 2011)