|How often does one see Isla de Pascua on a flight monitor?|
As soon as I got off the AirTrain from Jamaica Station in Queens, I headed straight for the First Class check-in where I was promptly served. After getting quizzed by a puzzled American Airlines agent, I got my boarding passes: one for the American Airlines segment from New York to Miami and two for the Lan Chile segments from Miami to Santiago to Easter Island.
|Admiral's Club at JFK|
|Tarmac views at Admiral's Club|
There were plenty of seating as expected. I parked myself at one of the PCs which was wired to fast Internet. WiFi was also available. Remembering there are no boarding announcements in the lounge, I left the lounge half an hour before departure. That 10 minute walk meant by the time I got to the gate, boarding was already underway. No worries, I was waved through as one agent saw my boarding pass.
At the door of the B767, a lady purser directed me to my seat at 5A. Juice was offered by a flight attendant. My seatmate arrived only to request a swap with her husband who was seated at 4G, an aisle seat. Not wanting to separate couples on this 2+hour flight, I happily obliged and moved to my new seat, making sure one of the flight attendants was aware. They thanked me profusely.
Flight left on-time and once at cruising altitude, in-flight service commenced. A ramekin of warm mixed nuts along with a requested Diet Coke was brought. What's notable lately with American Airlines is the ability to book meals ahead of flight (same as Singapore Airlines albeit with limited choices). Having chosen cold grilled beef salad online, the flight attendant working my aisle noted it after knowing I moved to a new seat.
|American Airlines Business Class|
|Diet Coke and mixed nuts|
On this plane, seats were angle-lie flat which is currently being replaced with those similar to Cathay Pacific business class. For a 2+hour flight, my seat was perfectly fine. Tried several options and found the"z" position the most comfortable for lounging. It was past 3 PM local time as I munched on my salad. Tasted not so good. Quite bland in fact.The veggies at least were fresh & crisp.
Just before descent to Miami, the flight attendants passed around freshly baked cookies and another refill of Diet Coke for me. On-time arrival meant my lay-over in Miami was effectively set at 4 hours before my Lan Chile flight at 10:30 PM. Heading over to Lan Chile's contracted lounge Club America was disappointing. It was crowded with only snacks and booze bar available. Decided to kill my time at its business center instead where PCs were available.
There are 2 evening flights from Miami to Santiago on Lan Chile. Tried to ask at the gate for the earlier flight since I only had a carry-on but was told it's full. Headed back to the lounge, spent more time checking e-mails but ignored lounge food despite getting hungry. No boarding announcements were made so I went to my assigned gate at 10:00 PM only to find the flight is delayed due to the aircraft's late arrival.
|Lan Chile's Business Class|
|Generous seat pitch|
|Pisco sour and a ramekin of nuts|
This delay got me worried. Only had a little over an hour of connecting time in Santiago before my next flight. If I miss the flight to Easter Island, it would mean I won't fly until after another day. Passengers already formed a big queue at the gate even though boarding wasn't even started. At 10:45 PM, the gate agents finally let us through.
Lan Chile's B767 for this flight has new cabin interiors. Business class seating is configured 2x2x2 for 30 passengers. Quite comfortable especially since it turns into a completely flat bed. As soon as I was seated, a flight attendant offered to hang my jacket. Someone else asked what I'd like to drink - why, Pisco sour of course (Chile's national drink).
Salvatore Ferragamo flight amenity kits were handed out soon along with arrival cards. Since no slippers were offered (like Asiana), I got my own and slipped out from my shoes. Nothing makes me more "at home" than just wearing flip flops on longer flights. It's also a known fact: our feet gets swollen mid-flight as we sit there inactive for many hours.
|Amenity kit: Salvatore Ferragamo moisturizer, lip balm, face cream, |
socks, comb, mirror, toothbrush, toothpaste, shoe horn & shoe bag
The captain apologized for the delay, trying to appease my jitters by saying "we'll try to make up for it" once airborne. Because it was almost midnight by the time we reached cruising altitude, flight attendants immediately sprang into action handing out dinner. Dinner menu was pointed out to me for perusal. Boy was I hungry! Out of the three entree choices, I had the beef which was executed nicely. It paired well with a Santa Helena Vernus Cabernet Sauvignon 2009.
Two hours into this 8-hour flight, the effects of Pisco sour and red wine got into me. Just before going to bed, the flight attendant asked if I prefer a full brekkie or an "express" cold breakfast. I chose the latter since I wanted to sleep longer. About 45 minutes before descent to Santiago, I awoke to find cabin lights on. One of the flight attendants handed me shortly my first food above Chile: a muffin and glass of OJ.
As the captain promised, we made up for lost time by arriving only 5 minutes late. And that's despite the heavy fog all over Santiago! I was one among the first passengers to get off the plane, making a mad dash for immigration. There was no need for me to pay reciprocity fee since I still had the receipt from 2010 attached to my passport (valid until it expires).
|The Andes on the climb out of Santiago|
|First glimpse of Easter Island|
A Lan Chile representative met me at the immigration line, trying to herd all Easter Island-bound passengers. It turns out there were actually 8 of us. "You only have 15 minutes before boarding", he said with a voice of concern. As the Chilean immigration officer was processing my entry, he stood next to me while talking to the officer in Spanish. He then went on to the others.
With my carry-on, I
|A moai replica at Mataveri International Airport on Easter Island|
|inside Mataveri International Airport|
|Polynesian welcome with lei at the world's most remote airport|
It was almost 8 AM and a large queue has formed at the boarding gate. Departure was actually delayed due to lingering fog in the area! So much for the hassle of running. Half an hour later, we were finally allowed to board. Another B767 was bringing me to Easter Island. Seating arrangement was exactly the same as the flight from Miami. Even the in-flight service was essentially a repeat performance.
Full breakfast was served on-board this 5 hour flight to Easter Island. Having not enjoyed the in-flight movies on the way to Santiago, I turned my attention to the 15-inch personal TV in front of me. There were plenty of movies from latest releases to classics but one that really piqued my curiosity was "Amour". I haven't seen "Life of Pi" so I watched it too.
Five hours later as the plane was descending, I gazed down at this island so isolated from the motherland. Chile is more than 2000 miles away. No wonder it looks so lonely, like a dot in the vast Pacific Ocean. Easter Island is by far the most remote destination I have ever been to. And of course, Mataveri International Airport is considered the world's most remote airport.
|My room at Hostal Petero Atamu|
|Lory (hostel owner), daughter & family dog|
At the airport terminal, nothing more than a single story building, I was met by Lory Pakarati, owner of Hostal Petero Atamu where I'd be staying. A garland was placed on my neck as a gesture of welcome. Complimentary airport pick-up for guests seem to be the norm on Easter Island. On the car were three others: a Brazilian couple and a Japanese girl. Since the airport is right next to town, it didn't take more than 10 minutes to get to the hostel.
While the hostel can be booked via third party sites (i.e hostelworld.com), I booked directly a week prior. Lory - a Rapanui with limited English - promptly answered questions and quoted me 22,000 Chilean pesos per night in a single room with ensuite bathroom. Besides the free airport transfers, there's free breakfast, daily maid service and a rather spotty WiFi.
Considering its distance from anywhere, Easter Island do tend to cost more - be that accommodations, food or activities. Most of what the islanders need have to be shipped or airlifted from the mainland. No wonder my seatmate on the flight, a Rapanui himself, was bringing a box of Dunkin Donuts for his daughters. It's past 1 PM as I venture out into the town's main street, just a short five minute walk from the hostel. Hungry, I had tuna empanada for about 5 USD.
|Rapanui teenagers playing football near Ahu Tahai|
|Thumbs up for our first moais: Ahu Vai Uri (left) and Ahu Ko Te Riku (right: the only moai with eyes replicated from original)|
|Ahu Vai Uri|
Back at the hostel, I was about to take a siesta when I bumped into the same Japanese girl from the airport. Her name's Namie, visiting from Osaka. She hardly speaks English let alone Spanish yet she's bravely traveling on her own for the next 3 months in South America. At least we understood well on one thing: seeing our first moai at Ahu Tahai during sunset.
Visitors go all the way to Easter Island mainly to view the moais scattered around this 63-square mile island. Moais are monolithic statues built by ancient Rapanui people long before a Dutch explorer in 1722 stumbled on its shore on Easter Sunday (hence the island's current name). Fortunately, the hostel is only a 10-minute walk to the three restored ceremonial platforms at Ahu Tahai.
Namie & I walked past the local cemetery and into Ahu Tahai. It's a favorite spot at this hour as more and more people came and took their spots on a grass field overlooking the platforms and the sea behind them. As the sun slowly inched its way down the horizon, we sat transfixed with the view. Centuries ago, the Rapanui built them based on ancestor worship, believing that mana or spiritual power can be granted from someone important who died. Just by looking at their silhouettes now, I'd like to believe so. It's a sublime view really. Worth the long flight.