Through some local connections, we had the opportunity to partake in a one night camping extravaganza. A prominent member of the Rapa Nui community, Johnny Tuki, offered to treat us to a day full of horseback riding and traditional living.
We were given only a vague itinerary of what this camping experience would consist of. This air of mystery made the opportunity more enticing. At 9:30 the next morning we were surprised with the arrival of Johnny Tuki as he gave no prior instruction to when or where this adventure would take place. Planning is not a thing on this island. I heard stories about Johnny and his unique character and was promised that this day would be unlike anything I had ever experienced. Nothing could have prepared me for the wondrous adventure that Johnny had planned.
Johnny was waiting for us by the hotel gate, leaning up against his truck rolling his own cigarette. He only spoke the local language of Rapa Nui and some broken Spanish. The language barrier made it slightly challenging to communicate. We quickly learned to follow his lead and just take in the experience. We stuffed ourselves into the front seat of his little rusty truck as the rest of our group jumped in the the truck bed as we drove around town running errands. Wherever Johnny went, we eagerly followed, almost in awe of his every movement.
Once we gathered all the necessary materials, we arrived at his campsite and met other members of the Tuki family. After a brief introduction, Johnny’s granddaughter Kuhane lead us to the horses. She is only eight years old, but a master horseman. We were taught the basic technique for directing a Rapa Nui horse (quite unlike other horses), and we took off on the most amazing five hour horse back ride around the island. We rode up to Poike (one of the large extinct volcanoes on the island), through vast empty fields and up to cliffs edges while taking in the breathtaking views.
We continued the journey through more open fields until we came to another cliff's edge. Johnny instructed us to follow him down the ledge and we arrived at the mouth of a cave. The cave was carved into the side of the cliff, and one quick look down revealed a sharp drop straight into the ocean. We ventured a few feet into the 200 meter long cave that opened out to a nearby beach. Johnny explained to us what each of the intricate petroglyphs represented and gave us a short history lesson about the people that used these caves many years ago. We were huddled in this small cave, just mere visitors witnessing a small piece of Rapa Nui culture.
As we galloped away from the cave, Johnny took us on a detour through a nearby watermelon farm. Johnny picked some of the best fruit, and we sat around scooping handfuls of watermelon into our mouths while laughing with mischievous Kuhane.
We completed the horseback portion of the adventure by riding through the rock quarry alongside the monstrous Moai's. We joked that with our sweaters tied around our waists, barefoot, and on horseback that we had transformed into typical Rapa Nui people. This one day transplanted us into the Rapa Nui lifestyle, and the whole experience was truly transformative.Once back at the campsite with sun burnt faces and sore legs, we relaxed until it was time to fish for our dinner. The simplicity of whole experience was unique in comparison to life at home.
We on some rocks by the water watching Johnny hand line fish as the sun set behind us. We reflected on how amazing every moment of this day had been while Johnny and his son spear fished. The seafood we caught was prepared into mouthwtering ceviché for dinner. Everything we ate for dinner was made from ingredients that we accumulated throughout the day directly from the island. A simplicity we don't get in the states. The fresh food and good conversation through broken Spanish was the perfect end to an unforgettable day.
I lay in bed that night reliving every moment of the day we just had. Words cannot describe how truly incredible that trip was. When I reminisce about the experience, I realize how much this experience taught me. The way of life on the island is different from life at home in America. Interacting with the locals showed me the importance of family, a sense of community, and appreciation of nature. I saw the harmony with nature that the islanders felt, and how they treated everyone as a member of their own family. I fell asleep listening to howling winds and branches scratching the tin roof, grateful that the memories of that day would be with me forever even though the adventure was over.
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