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As I flip through my passport with almost two hundred stamps, and look back on my 185 posts in my WordPress blog, numerous posts on Tripatani or Travel Bloggers Unite, and my 75 reviews on Trip Advisor, I realized that I am living a dream come true. Due to a myriad of converging circumstances, not the least of which is marrying the right woman, I get to travel to exotic locations, luxury locations and mundane locations and write about them. Someday, maybe, someone will pay me to write about their “lodge in paradise with wild animals, white sand beaches, four star service, world renowned food, and free booze”. Until then I do it for fun.
Most of all, for me, a good travel story should be funny, or ironic, irreverent. I strive for all three on this blog, and sometimes I succeed.
After my latest review of the posts that make up this tome of a blog, I realized that my own personal favorite travel experience is not documented here. That omission is due to the fact that it happened years before I started blogging, in fact years before blogging started. So, sit back, grab a libation and let me entertain you.
In the early 90’s I was living a fat life as an expat in Chile. Great job, a salary that allowed indulgences, and a boss that let me get away with fun, as in away from work. My then wife, who had the adventurous nature of a snail surrounded by a circle of salt, had decided to take a long vacation in California, stay at her parent’s house and watch re-runs of Lawrence Welk. I decided that an adventure was in order for me.
I walked into my boss’s office when I knew he was concerned about other things and he would not take time to truly consider what I was saying. “Hey big boss man, can I have week off?”
He actually asked “where are you going this time?”
“I’m thinking Easter Island.”
He half nodded yes, and half rolled his eyes, which to me implied I had his permission.
At the time Easter Island was an easy flight destination from Santiago de Chile. The national airline, LAN, made a refueling stop there on flights to Australia. Easter Island is part of Chile, and LAN makes it inexpensive for Chileans to travel back and forth to see family, or buy Pisco. I got the Chilean nationals price by haggling with LAN that I was in fact Chilean because I had a permanent residence visa. So I booked the discounted flight and I was off to solve the “mystery of Easter Island”.
I’ll indulge myself by telling you a few quick things about the mysteries of the island before I get back to the story.
The first thing you notice when you land is that the runway is the widest, longest runway you have ever landed on. I mean it is easily four times as wide and three times as long as any international airport runway. This mystery is easily explained. Easter Island was an emergency alternate landing site for the Space Shuttle.
The next mystery is, where am I going to stay? In the early 90’s the Holiday Inn had not exactly discovered Easter Island. Well, the inhabitants had that under control. As soon as you walked out into balmy air, and before you could admire the swaying palms,or smell the flowers, you were surrounded by Islanders with photo albums. They were all trying to get you to rent a room in their home. The albums put in front of your face, two or three at a time had photos of the room, the bathroom, and the meals each served. As soon as you said “yup, I’ll stay with you” they put a lei around your neck to ward off competing families, grabbed your bag and threw them and you into an open air jeep (or some other vehicle without doors or a windscreen), and whisked you off to their home. That beats choosing a place on-line any day!
However, the common idea of the real mystery of Easter Island is the Moai.
Ever since their “discovery” ( I am always amazed that when a westerner or white man first sees something he claims he “discovered” it) they have baffled scientists, ethnologists, archeologists, explorers and mere tourists. The main element of the mystery is “why were they built?”
Well, the answer is quite simple. As the population on the island grew before it was “discovered” by the Spanish, the king needed something to keep the people busy. Only so many people could fish or farm. So he invented this need to honor the gods, carve these statues, transport them from the quarries and stand them up to face the seas and ward off evil. Call it industrial welfare, sort of like the arms race.
The moai did not ward off the Spanish who enslaved all but a few of the male inhabitants and shipped them off to work the gold mines in Peru. The small population that remained lived off the sea and the land for hundreds of years before they were “re-discovered” and in turn became a tourist destination.
On with the Story.
After taking all of two days to solve mystery, I had five left to explore the island. Anyone who gets a chance, or can make an opportunity, should go. It is a wonderful place full of warm people. At least it was 20 years ago.
I had seen the whole island, and on my last day I went to the post office to purchase and send post cards. Remember, no blogs back then! The Post Office is beautifully located on a craggy cliff with tables and benches to enjoy the view and compose your post card home. I knew I would be there for a while. I walked in to buy a few cards. I looked at the boxes for the local’s mail and I was amused to see many letters stacked on top of them addressed to;
Of course they were all in children’s handwriting. I laughed and pointed to them. The woman behind the counter asked me “Are you the Easter Bunny?”
How do you say no to that? “Yes, may I have a letter”.
She laughed and handed me one.
It was a sweet letter from a 9 year old girl named Annie who lived in a suburb of London. She was writing to thank the Easter Bunny for the chocolate she had found on Easter morning. She said her mother always made sure she wrote people thank you letters. She asked what it was like to live on a far away island, and did I have any friends.
It was a thoughtful, well crafted letter, and I decided that the girl should get a reply. She had provided a return address so the plot was possible. I wrote the following.
Thank you so very much for the thank you letter. I get very few of these and I cherish them. Your mother is a special person to ask you to write these letters.
Yes I enjoy living on my island. The weather is great. The only problem is all my friends are carved of stone, and they do not move, or talk, so they are no fun to play with. They all have the same name Moai, so I make up names for them. I will name one Annie in your honor.
Also, because you wrote me this letter, just tell you mother whatever you want for Easter this year. She can write me, and I will make sure you get it! You want a pony? Just ask!
Chuckling, I put the photo in an envelope and posted it. I did not think about it for years.
I was now divorced and traveling alone. I found myself in a hotspot of backpackers and hostels called Boca Del Toro, Panama. There is not much to do there besides hang out in bars, so I found one on the water called The Barco Hundido. A true dive, but the beers were cheap and the view was great.
One of the girls interrupted.
“Oh wow” she said. “my big sister has a daughter who wrote the Easter bunny a thank-you letter. Some wanker traveling to the island answered on behalf of the Easter bunny and promised her a damn pony if she asked my sister for it.”
Not wanting to be recognized as the wanker, I just went silent and centered on the irony of a small world, and the wonders of travel.
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