Partaking in a Polynesian party

“Where they Went,” published in the Boston Globe on Aug. 9, 2009

Girls on a parade float during the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival on Easter Island

WHO: Vicki Maxant, 67, and her husband, Stanley Murphy 62, of Harvard, Mass., with Elenita Brodie, 66, of Casselberry, Fla., and Paula Laholt, 66, of Schwenksville, Pa.

WHERE: Easter Island and Santiago, Chile.

WHEN: Two weeks in February.

WHY: “Elenita has traveled with Buz a number of times and she told me we had to do Easter Island,” Maxant said, referring to Buz Donahoo, owner of Condor Adventures, the tour operator.

While Vicki Maxant and her husband, Stanley Murphy, had their faces painted, they chose not to don the local dress

PERFECT TIMING: The foursome went on city and vineyard tours in and around Santiago before and after Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. But the trip to the island, five hours by plane, was the highlight. The 14-member Condor tour coincided with the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival, a two-week celebration of Rapa Nuian culture and history. About 4,000 people live on the Polynesian island.

REAL DEAL: “What impressed us most was the festival’s totally native character,” Maxant said. “The people there were perfectly happy to share it with tourists, but it is their festival. It could easily become commercialized, but it’s not. I’m sure there were other tourists there, but it didn’t feel that way.” The group stayed at Hotel Manavai in the island’s one village, Hanga Roa.

Paula Laholt (left), Elenita Brodie, and Vicki display their Easter Island colors

TURNING RED: Every day they watched a different festival activity, which the entire community usually participated in. One day locals “bathed” in vats of a red clay-like substance that covered their bodies. The men wore slight coverings over their painted bodies, and the women donned skirts of flowers. “Some people in our group did the bath,” Maxant said. “I only got my face painted.” Later, islanders gathered for a parade. “We went to the hotel and drank pisco sours and watched the floats go by.”

FISH FOR ALL: “There was music and dancing every night, with an outdoor stage by the water,” Maxant said. “One night all the men in the village went out fishing and had a huge fish fry. Anyone who showed up with a plate or a banana leaf could have a piece.”

Moai, the island's famed statues

MAGICAL MOAI: Guided tours took them around the island, including the quarry where the famed moai, monolithic human figures, were carved from rock. “Standing in front of the moai was just awesome,” Maxant said. They picnicked on various beaches, and boated to uninhabited islands. “The water was the bluest I’ve seen, like melted sapphires.”

LASTING IMPRESSION: Maxant passed on the group’s top choice of a souvenir – tattoos. “Buz had told us, by the time the week ends, you’ll want to get a tattoo. Many of us did, including Stan and Elenita. He got a very stylized turtle on his shoulder and she got a seahorse on her ankle. They’re very, very artistic.”

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