Visiting the tourist office on our first day on the island, we were told about a free day trip organized by the National Park office (CONAF). Six times a year, they organize a day in which visitors can help improve the future of Rapa Nui by planting a tree in Po Ike, an area of the island with serious erosion issues. We were told the day also included a hike though the area, which due to being a recuperation zone isn’t accessible to the general public, and transport and lunch were included on the day. All for free. We signed up on the spot.
The 4 of us set off thinking we’d be going on a short walk, followed by the ceremonial planting of our tree, before being served lunch. Perhaps something was lost in translation, but that’s not how the day went. In typical island time, we left town an hour later than advised. And an added surprise was finding out we’d be joined by a couple of local high school classes for the day.
Talk about names for our trees and plans for later in the day were soon forgotten after a 2 hour trek uphill in the blazing hot sun. A hike made more frustrating by having to stop every half an hour to wait for those lagging behind. Surprisingly it wasn’t the high school kids, but other tourists who kept us waiting, due to them stopping every 2 minutes to pose for photos. The local kids did however provide the soundtrack to our walk – we were serenaded by the tinny sounds of Rihanna and other popular hits played out of a mobile phone by the school children of Rapa Nui. Kids are the same all around the world it seems.
We finally reached some shade and stopped for a snack beneath some Eucalyptus trees. We were then given the introductory talk about why we were there and what we needed to do, which to be honest we didn’t understand, as the Spanish was too advanced for us, but we got the general idea. It was a short walk to where we’d be planting our trees. And when we arrived, we were greeted by hundreds of holes in the ground, with small trees nearby ready to be planted.
Once instructions were given for the planting of the trees, we set off and did our fair share, feeling good that we were helping the island. It was a hot hour or so in the sun, but overall around 1,400 new trees were planted, with the 4 of us responsible for around 100 of the new trees. We were tired and sore, but felt great that we’d been able to help.
With sore muscles and covered in dirt, we returned back into the shade-covered trees to find the guides had been cooking a BBQ in our absence. Everyone devoured the food after the exercise of the morning.
The walk back was much less stressful as we took a shorter route, and we were soon back at the campsite with our feet up. We were smelly, sweaty, and covered in dirt and mud, but felt great at having the opportunity to help the island.
The day ended with some stunning rainbows over the ocean.