The Hidden Treasure of South America.
This trip was inspired by a postcard from Chile from a friend, over ten thousand miles from Thailand, and despite her faded handwriting, she shared her amazing experience.
What I clearly remember is the picture on the face of the postcard of giant Moai carved stones on Easter Island. Many questions suddenly popped into my head: Who carved the stones? What do the statues symbolize? What tools did they use to carve them? How did they erect them? These iconic stones became a magnet, drawing me to embark on a journey to discover the silent wonder of the Moai.
Getting to Know Chile
Chile is an exceptionally long, narrow-shaped nation, stretching for 4,300 kilometers, but only 180 kilometers wide. It is the longest country in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
There are many attractions which are recognized as World Heritage Sites, from deserts, beaches, waterfalls, snow-peaked mountains, glaciers, and volcanoes. June to September is winter when heavy snow blocks some roads and some hotels close. The best period is from October to March when the weather is warm.
To travel to Chile, we recommend taking a low-cost airline to save time and expense. Our trip lasted ten days, starting from the last week of October, and included Santiago, Valparaiso, and Easter Island.
The Charm of Santiago
With a more than 40-hour journey to Santiago, it seemed a faraway place as there were no direct flights from Thailand, but it was worth the effort. Santiago is the capital city of Chile as well as the biggest and most modern. It has a charming blend of traditional and modern culture and architecture. Although Spanish is the official language, people tried as much as they could to communicate and support foreign tourists like us.
We were so lucky to meet a kind woman who was the owner of our hotel. She suggested we walk around and explore several places in town, including Plaza de Arma, and places of old architecture, such as the Cathedral of Santiago, a Neo-Classic Basilica, and the majestic La Moneda Palace. Built in 1784-1805 by an Italian architect, the palace is now the residence of the President of Chile and recognized as a World Heritage Site. The area around the Plaza de Arma features a variety of local shops and street food. Don’t miss Completo, a very popular Chilean signature hot dog, topped with pickled cabbage, tomatoes, and avocados.
Colors of Valparaiso
Valparaiso was not initially included in our itinerary, but it was highly recommended by our hotel owner, so it was the right decision to visit the city, which eventually became our favorite.
The uniqueness of Valparaiso is the pastel-colored painted houses, like a valley from a fairy tale. The city used to be called “The Jewel of the Pacific” in the 19th Century, as European families settled there to seek their fortunes by transporting gold diggers to California.
However, the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 resulted in Valparaiso becoming an abandoned city. Still, it is a wonderful place for painters, poets, and artists to find inspiration, including Pablo Neruda, one of the most influential poets and a Nobel Prize winner. His house is now a popular museum and tourist attraction.
One other interesting thing you have to try in Valparaiso is riding a local cable car, which is the daily transportation of the townspeople. Not only does it take you close to the residents’ houses (almost hitting their clothes, hanging out to dry), but also provides enjoyable views of a castle on a nearby mountain peak, the top of the church, and colorful paintings on the walls of houses along the city streets.
Follow the Mystery of Moai
What took us from Santiago to the solitary Easter Island, via a five-hour flight, were the iconic human carved statues, called Moai. Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, the island is called Rapa Nui in the local language.
The Moai, renowned as a World Heritage Site, were discovered by Dutch sailors on Easter Day in 1722, hence the name of the island. They are assumed to have been created in the 13th century by Polynesians in remembrance of their ancestors or important persons. The history of the Moai is still a mystery today, and their existence is considered as evidence of ancient culture, creativity, and civilization.
Local people call the group of Moai, Ahu, after Ahu Tahai, which affords the best sunset views on the island. Ahu Akivi consists of seven Moais facing out to sea and fifteen at Ahu Tongariki, while seven more can be found at Ahu Naunau, four of which wear a hat.
When we visited Ahu Akivi, two tourists opined that the Moais were like giant cartoon characters from Disneyland. Our tour guide asked what Disneyland was and if those characters really existed. The tourists said ‘no,’ but the tour guide explained that Moais really do exist, and they were here long before sailors discovered them. At the end of the day, we told our tour guide that we were there because of the Moai picture on the postcard from my friend.
We were so impressed from what we got from our trip to Easter Island – so much more than just a picture postcard.
- From Easter Island, there are connecting flights to Papeete Tahiti. You can travel Easter Island and Bora Bora Island in one trip. (It takes 1 hour from Tahiti to Bora Bora).
- Medical expenses in Chile are very high. Prepare sufficient medications for congenital disease. There may be a problem in buying medicines during the trip.
- Thai nationals can travel to Chile without a visa, staying up to 90 days.