No man's an Easter Island

Arian Zwegers /FLickr   

Arian Zwegers/FLickr


Once, on Easter Island, I found myself living with some hardened locals. There were three of them – the dad, originally from Chile, the mum, from the island, and the daughter, from every science- fiction film you’ve ever seen where there’s a young woman with ripped denim shorts staring at the stars for signs of alien life and cackling wildly at the moon.

I say I lived with them. They slept in tents – the parents in one, the daughter in another. I pitched my tarpaulin a few feet away, near their horses, and was guarded by their mongrel dogs at night. I’d been introduced by a woman at the other side of the island who was somehow related. No-one would have found them otherwise as they were hidden high in the volcanic rocks, the only human life for miles around.

At nights, under “pure hunners” of stars, they lit flaming torches and cooked over an open fire.

The daughter once nearly wet herself when I burned my flip-flopped feet, and probably carried through when she saw me eating a yoghurt.

The man, while carving effigies from chunks of wood in the firelight, would speak to me in Spanish and to his wife in Rapa Nui, a Polynesian language that sounds exotic and made-up on the spot.

Sometimes they would take me out and show me things – big stones, skeletons hidden in caves – but mostly I would venture forth on my own to explore. I’d reflect on this family, on how they were incredibly welcoming but – by any standards – hicks from the sticks. 

One day, because of all my walking and the weird island climate, I developed blisters the size of fingers on my feet meaning that every step, all of a sudden, became nigh-on unbearable. By the time I got anywhere near their camp the darkness was such that I couldn’t see any part of my body, or anything around me. After more than an hour of falling on rocks and cursing I spied one of their static burning torches, then another. Oh, blessed light.

Round the small campfire I showed the mum my blisters and cursed politely as she tried to squeeze them. She did this more than once. The daughter, overcome with mirth, zipped herself into her tent momentarily, from whence there came violent, but stifled, cackling. When she returned I was in talks with the dad about how hard it would be to go walking the next day.

“Take one of the horses,” he said, gesturing with his carving knife through the firelight. 

“Yes, a horse,” repeated the mum. 

“Do you have any saddles?” I said. 

“Just hold its neck,” said the dad. “I’ve never been on a horse,” I said, pretending not to notice a squeal from the daughter’s direction.

“Oh,” said the dad. He continued whittling his wood, sneaking glances at his wife and daughter. I started breaking up some pasta in the tiny pot. “Where did you say you were from?” said the dad.

“From Scotland,” I said.

They looked at each other again, the daughter peering out above her hands, trying desperately to contain herself. Wood crackled, she cackled, Mum and Dad whittled and whispered. Moments passed, a shooting star – was I the alien the daughter had predicted?

“Do they not have any horses in Scotland?” said the dad, and they all burst into hysterics.


First published on Herald Scotland.