ON EASTER ISLAND
Getting around Easter Island is generally quite easy. It is a small triangular piece of land covering 45-miles of the South Pacific some 2200 miles off the coast of Chile. There is a coastal road that encircles the island and a couple of secondary (SUV trails) that bisect it. Therefore, driving around this nearly undeveloped island paradise is a walk in the park. Well, not quite. My wife and I used a map provided by the car rental company and successfully found all the moais on Easter Island. However, there was a cryptic note with directions to the island's "entertainment center." Having seen more moais than most people on earth, we drove off to find the "entertainment center" of Rapa Nui, the island's real name.
We didn't find the island's entertainment center on our first try, what we discovered were cattle rustlers with blood on their hands. It was the morning of Christmas Eve as we searched for the happening place on the island. To be a happening place would be a small restaurant with a table for four. Following the map that a Boy Scout dropout could have figured out, we bounced along in our SUV up and down dirt paths last used by Thor Heyerdahl in the fifties or so it seemed. I had to stop near the top of a hill because of large herd of beautiful horses blocked our way. One male horse obviously had never seen a SUV and took a liking to it. He licked it and flirted with the bumper. As I inched along, he must have thought that he was going to get lucky and made even more amorous advances. Finally, I beeped the horn and the yet unconsummated affair abruptly ended. I gleefully drove off having protected the virginity of my rented SUV. However, in less than a couple kilometers, we found ourselves in the midst of a herd of cattle. Fortunately, my SUV wasn't any of the bulls' type. They parted like a bucolic Red Sea, and I was Moses.
We drove on for less than a kilometer. Winding our way along the azure coastline and going higher and higher, we went until we came upon three pickup trucks parked suspiciously under a large tree. A half a dozen men were hiding from the sun and who knows what else in the shade of a tree-a couple of them were drinking, another playing a guitar, and the others looked like they were working at something. I couldn't tell initially as we approached them, but after we passed, my wife noted that they were slaughtering cows. Indeed, that was precisely what they were doing. They had killed at least two cows and had skinned both of them by the time we reached the scene of the crime. I stopped our SUV and watched until one of them came over to see what we wanted. We pretended that we were lost-not much of a stretch since neither of us had the faintest idea where we were-only that we were headed for the island's entertainment center.
I showed him our rudimentary map and expressed forcefully that we were lost. In turn, he got two messages across. First, we were on the wrong road, and secondly, he didn't want us to go any further. I asked whether I could watch them butchering. He laughed sheepishly and said that we couldn't. Of course not, cattle rustlers don't want any evidence of their evil acts. I thanked him, immediately turned around, and made for the coastal highway a handful of kilometers down the hill. Before we were home free, we had to pass through the herd of cattle and then through the herd of horses-one of which had a crush on my SUV.
As we retraced our journey back down the hill, we discussed how we could have been killed by those cattle rustlers had we not gotten out of there as quickly as we had. Since the entire gang had plenty of time to get a good look at us and to note the license number, we didn't even consider turning them in to the authorities. We merely turned a blind eye to the criminal justice system on Easter Island.
By the time we had reached our hotel room, our close call with being killed in that South Sea paradise had been forgotten. That is until the community Christmas Eve mass later that evening. At the beginning of the service, young children reenacted the wise men bringing their treasures of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Jesus. The young children brought to the crèche Easter Island's treasures: pineapples, sugar cane, melons, and kava. Then bringing up the rear, there were two sets of two men each carrying a cow skewed on a pole between them. I turned to my wife and admitted that perhaps we were too fast to judge the men on the hill as rustlers; they were merely preparing for the Christmas Eve service on Easter Island.