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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2009-10-04

Sports Shooter Destination: Easter Island
By Chase Olivieri

Photo by Chase Olivieri

Photo by Chase Olivieri
Easter, what??

When I started telling my close friends that I was flying down to Easter Island this summer most of them had no clue what I was talking about. Perhaps best known for the tall megalithic stone statues that dot the island, Isla de Pascua as the Chileans call it is nestled in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Those that had heard of it mainly associated it with Kevin Costner's 1994 movie Rapa Nui.

Back in April I started to piece together plans for my sophomore year summer. While some of my friends were applying for finance and government internships, I decided to try and accomplish something a bit off the beaten path and I figured I would trek to the most remote island of Earth- Easter Island.

While this was not my first trip, my main reason for returning to Easter Island was to study the recent influx in tourist arrivals on the island. Over the past decade the small 64-square mile island has seen a 245% increase in tourist arrivals. During my time on the island, I interviewed over 75 residents, local leaders and politicians as it was important for me to hear and document the voice of the local Rapanui people. Through these conversations, I was able to get a detailed picture of the island's struggle with tourism and politics over the years. Photography, although not the primary focus of my trip took up the rest of my time on the island.

Getting to Easter Island is an all day affair. It takes a minimum of two flights totaling 18 hours from Miami via Santiago and LanChile is the only airline with permission to land there. Last time I was in Easter Island I stayed at residencial Chez Joseph, which was essentially a bed a breakfast within a local family's home. While it did not feature a pool, luxurious beds or a restaurant it was great. At a little under $15 a night it was a steal and it had great character that a Marriott cannot match.

This time around I had no reservations and I figured I would arrange something once I landed on the island. Perhaps one of the most unique aspects of hospitality on Easter Island is the fact that hundreds of locals flock to the airport to meet the two flights that land each day. Most bring pictures of their homes or mini-hotels looking for guests. After a few minutes of talking to people I found my home for the next three weeks- Residencial Tahai.

My hostess Maria was a popular woman who seemed to know everyone on the island. Since I knew no one, she put me in touch with a wide variety of people to help me with my project. During my first week, I wandered around town with my camera and talked to anyone I came across. I found that my camera was actually a great icebreaker as everyone loved to have their photo taken.
Just a few days into my trip, I quickly realized that a lot had changed since my last visit in the spring of 2005.

In just four years two mega five-star hotels had been built, dozens of new restaurants were open and a few thousand cars roamed the streets. But why? What I quickly discovered was a change in many islanders mentality- it was all about making more money. It was a sad and shocking transformation from the friendly, outgoing and hospitable Pascuenses that I remembered from my last trip.

Photo by Chase Olivieri

Photo by Chase Olivieri
But then during my second week on the island I realized something was up. Media crews were arriving from mainland Chile. Tourists had traded in their north face shirts for soccer jerseys and sign were going up all over town. Everyone was preparing for a monumental soccer match between Easter Island's soccer team and Colo-Colo, a Chilean professional soccer team that was to be held on a rough plot of grass overlooking the ocean and harbor of Hanga Roa. On game day, the city shutdown. Islanders painted their faces, waved their flags, and played their drums proudly supporting their island's team playing in this historic bout.

This was the Easter Island I once knew- families coming together in celebration. At this game, if even it was only for 90 minutes, everyone was proud to be Rapa Nui. It was a beautiful juxtaposition of sound, sport and culture that could only happen here, 2,000 miles from the nearest piece of land, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And even though the Easter Island soccer team lost 4-0, the people did not care. Rather they had won in a sense as the game revived the island's identity and brought everyone together in celebration.

During the remainder of my time on the island I focused on travel photography and drove out to photograph the Moai (stone statues) under every type of conceivable light. One of my favorite memories came when I headed out to Ahu Tongariki late one night. It was a full moon, so I was planning on doing some long exposures to capture the statues under the moonlight. Without a tripod, I used a backpack and some extra clothes to rig a steady surface and was stunned by the results. The conditions made for an eerie feel as the Moai stood under a starry sky. Stepping back I realized how isolated I was from the rest of the world. Silence hung in the salty air and I could not help but be amazed by my surroundings.

I knew that in just a few days I would be headed back to the US and I would miss this tiny remote island, its generous people, dirt roads and huge statues. Nevertheless, one thing I would not miss were the island prices. Drinking $4 bottles of water sure gets expensive!


(Chase Olivieri is Durham, North Carolina based photographer and junior at Duke University. You can see some of his work on his SportsShooter.com member page at www.sportsshooter.com/chase and his personal website is www.chasefoto.com.)

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