The most remote luxury hotel in the world has more in common with a youth hostel than it'd like to admit. There are cool parts of the common spaces; there are places where nobody would be caught dead. There's a bar right in the middle of things. People meet in the hallways and aren't sure which language to speak. Do you say "hola" or "hello" or "guten tag" -- and more importantly, how can you decide in a split second which to deploy? There are cliques among the guests.
And yet the Explora Rapa Nui is no youth hostel. It is an outpost on the fringes of the planet -- a place the locals sometimes call, depending on your translation, "the navel" or "the end" of the world. That a small group of people were able to bend the environment to their will in the construction of this hotel would be itself an accomplishment worth acknowledging. Here, though, they've done it while achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design recognition, making this hotel the first in South America to meet those lofty LEED standards, all the while more than 2,300 miles from mainland Chile.
It is fancy enough that models and crew for the 2013 Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Issue set up shop here for two weeks in late 2012.
There's a certain magic to the miracle of the plush beds and stunning architecture of the place, but hard work is what really makes the hotel hum. In the afternoon, guides huddle around spreadsheets, organizing excursions and accounting for guest movements with the precision of air traffic controllers. Kitchen staff start in on dinner while breakfast dishes are still being cleared, cleaning and prepping ingredients for the evening's service. Pallets of supplies are flown in from Santiago once a week. A laundry plant churns through stark white linens that seem to say, yes, this is the end of the world but that's no reason to not have a fresh towel.
Easter Island has in recent years seen an unprecedented, rapid growth in its connections to the broader world -- more flights, more tourists, more stuff. In the past few years, inbound arrivals have increased by 50 percent, to 90,000 a year on an island that's home to about 5,800 people. But sometimes things still don't go to plan. That the locals tend to take this unpredictability in stride is one of the ultimately lovable aspects of being here -- but does little to salve the sour moods of the tourists that have spent so much money to make their visit to this remote outpost easy.
One morning during a recent stay, the internet connection dropped out. There was nothing to do except acknowledge the fact that sometimes things happen. Guests understood, perhaps thanks to our utter isolation, that life moves on even without email.
Later the same week, when the phones went down, management reminded us that a satellite phone would be at our disposal if we really needed to make a call. The general reaction was: Why would we call anyone as long as the kitchen is well provisioned? And yet when flights off the island were cancelled or delayed -- as happened a few times -- ire would build among the guests, even as they self-medicated their travel headaches with Chilean sauvignon blanc and platters of freshly made cevice.
There's no question that the Explora lodges, here and in Atacama and Patagonia, are targeted at those Baby Boomers who have the money and time to visit the world's most remote places "without having to forego a warm shower or a slow internet connection." The lodges offer both those things, and they might also have a hand in the homogenization of the international travel experience, the flattening of differences that, in some well-traveled circles, is derisively called The Wallpaper Effect after the slick jet-set magazine that trumpets the latest in hotels and restaurants as long as they furnish their interiors with globally recognized chaise lounges and pendant lamps.
Yet there's something to be said for the daring it takes to even visit this place, even if your expectations of gilded luxury and ease bump up against the reality of life on a hardscrabble island thousands of miles from the nearest back up. It would be so much easier to simply go somewhere else, but we don't. And we shouldn't.