A group who have been stranded in Tahiti, pictured from left, Benjamin Baude, Kissy Ika Chavez Baude, Gaïa Baude Ika and Thierry Gourtay in Afareaitu on Moorea Island, Tahiti, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020. A group of 25 residents from remote Easter Island has been stranded far from home for six months now. Many arrived in March planning to stay for just a few weeks. But they got stuck when the virus swept across the globe and their flights back home on LATAM airlines were canceled. LATAM says it doesn’t know when it will restart the route. (Teraihau Rio via AP)

Cancelled flights strand 25 Easter Islanders for 6 months

Cancelled flights strand 25 Easter Islanders for 6 months

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — For people around the world, the coronavirus has caused distressing separations and delayed homecomings. But the situation for a group of 25 residents from remote Easter Island stands out.

For six months now the group has been stranded far across a vast stretch of ocean on Tahiti in French Polynesia. Children remain separated from their parents, husbands from their wives.

Mihinoa Terakauhau Pont, a 21-year-old mom who is among those stranded, is due to give birth to her second son any day now, but can’t have her husband by her side because he’s back home. Her grief has left her exhausted.

“I can’t cry anymore,” she said. “My heart is cold.”

Usually considered a tropical paradise, Tahiti has become a kind of prison to them. Many arrived in March planning to stay for just a few weeks — they’d come for work, or a vacation, or for medical procedures. But they got stuck when the virus swept across the globe and their flights back home were cancelled.

Each day they have been going to the authorities and begging for help in Spanish, in French, and in English. They’ve considered chartering a plane or trying to hitch a lift on a military ship to make the journey of some 4,200 kilometres (2,600 miles). But each time their hopes rise a little, their plans turn out to be too expensive or impractical.

Home to about 8,000 people, Easter Island is a tiny speck in the vast Pacific Ocean, located midway between Polynesia, in the South Pacific, and South America. Also named Rapa Nui, the Chilean territory is renowned for its imposing moai — giant heads carved from volcanic rock by inhabitants hundreds of years ago. For Easter Islanders, Tahiti has long been a stopping-off point, a connection to the rest of the world.

Until the virus struck, LATAM airlines ran a regular return route from Santiago, Chile, to Easter Island and on to Tahiti. LATAM said it suspended the route in March because of the virus and doesn’t have a timeline for restarting it. No other airlines offer a similar service.

“The resumption of this flight is subject to the development of the pandemic and travel restrictions in place,” the airline said in a statement.

Terakauhau Pont arrived in Tahiti in January to visit her first son, who was staying on a nearby island with her parents. She was due to fly home in March. As the weeks trying to get a flight back slipped into months, she heard from afar that her husband had lost his job at a hotel because of the downturn in the tourism industry caused by the virus.

Now, Terakauhau Pont’s mother has started a garden and her father is going fishing so they have enough food to eat each day.

“It’s the only way to survive,” she said.

She has pleaded with the authorities to help, and has even written to leaders in mainland Chile and on Easter Island, but without any success.

“It is so much grief for all of us,” she said.

She said the person who has done the most to help is Kissy Baude, a 40-year-old administrative technician who has lived in Tahiti for years but was due to start a new job on her native Easter Island in April.

Because of her contacts on Tahiti, Baude has become the unofficial leader of the group — its social worker, psychologist and spokesperson. Baude said the group has survived thanks to the generosity of Tahitians, who have been providing them with food and accommodation long after many of them ran out of their own resources.

Baude said that before the virus struck, she was eagerly anticipating returning to Easter Island. She was looking forward to seeing her mother, who has a room prepared and waiting. But now, her mother’s husband also remains stranded with her on Tahiti, after travelling there for colon surgery in March.

Baude said one option they’ve been exploring is to fly a circuitous route to Los Angeles and then to Santiago and hope they get repatriated from there. But even then their return isn’t certain and many in the group can’t afford the expense.

Among the 16 females and nine males stranded are seven children aged between 2 and 14. And the clan is expected to grow by one on about Oct. 3, the day Terakauhau Pont is due to give birth to a son that she and her husband plan to name Anuihere.

Some in the group have struggled to find enough money simply to eat, while others have found it tough going emotionally. Lately, they have been able to collect some money online after setting up two donation pages.

Baude gets emotional when talking about their situation. She said some of them fear speaking up in case they face repercussions back on Easter Island, but she isn’t afraid.

“We just want to go back to our homeland,” she said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cilantro and Chive was voted in the top three in no less than 13 different categories in the 2020 Best of Lacombe Readers Choice Awards. Photo by Megan Roth/Lacombe Express
Cilantro and Chive opening in Red Deer

There will now be two Cilantro and Chive locations. The restaurant announced… Continue reading

People wear face masks as they wait to enter a store in Montreal on October 24, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Canadian provinces hardest hit by COVID-19 reach sobering milestones

MONTREAL — The Canadian provinces hardest hit by the global COVID-19 pandemic… Continue reading

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Federal study details workers hit hardest by tax, benefit system for extra earnings

OTTAWA — Newly released documents show Finance Department officials calculated that workers… Continue reading

Cenovus. (The Canadian Press)
Cenovus to buy Husky Energy in deal valued at $23.6B, company will remain in Alberta

CALGARY — Cenovus Energy Inc. is buying Husky Energy Inc. in an… Continue reading

test tube with the blood test is on the table next to the documents. Positive test for coronavirus covid-19. The concept of fighting a dangerous Chinese disease.
The latest numbers on COVID-19 in Canada for Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020

The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 10:49… Continue reading

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson, B.C. NDP leader John Horgan and B.C. Greens leader Sonia Furstenau. (Black Press Media)
VIDEO: One day until B.C. voters go to the polls in snap election defined by pandemic

NDP Leader John Horgan’s decision to call an election comes more than a year ahead of schedule and during a pandemic

Alice Kolisnyk, deputy director of the Red Deer Food Bank, says the agency expects an increase in demand as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Every new subscription to the Red Deer Advocate includes a $50 donation to the food bank. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Support the food bank with a subscription to the Red Deer Advocate

The community’s most vulnerable members are always in need of a hand,… Continue reading

NDP Leader John Horgan celebrates his election win in the British Columbia provincial election in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
John Horgan says he will work across party lines to find ideas that work for B.C.

VICTORIA — British Columbia’s election results show a divided province with Liberal… Continue reading

President Donald Trump gestures from the top of the steps of Air Force 1 at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. When people in the United States talk about moving to Canada to escape four more years of Donald Trump, it’s usually either a punchline or a pipe dream. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Susan Walsh
Move to Canada? A pipe dream for some Americans is a parachute for Canadian expats

WASHINGTON, Wash. — When people in the United States talk about moving… Continue reading

The Cogeco logo is seen in Montreal on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

TORONTO — Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world… Continue reading

President Donald Trump, left, and Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. Stock market investors are breathing a little easier despite potentially facing higher taxes as the possibility of a contested U.S. presidential election appears to be fading, say investment experts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Patrick Semansky
Markets concerns about contested U.S. election fading with Biden lead in polls

TORONTO — Stock market investors are breathing a little easier despite potentially… Continue reading

(File photo)
Ontario records more than 1,000 new daily COVID-19 cases for first time

Ontario is reporting more than 1,000 mew daily cases of COVID-19 for… Continue reading

Pope Francis delivers his message during the Angelus noon prayer from the window of his studio overlooking St.Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Pope names 13 new cardinals, includes US Archbishop Gregory

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Sunday named 13 new cardinals, including… Continue reading

Dave Mercer, President of Unifor Local 2121, overlooks Conception Bay, Newfoundland and Labrador and the Terra Nova floating production vessel that is anchored there on Friday, October 23, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Daly
As N.L.’s oil industry sputters, the emotional toll of the cod moratorium looms large

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Dave Mercer spent the early 1990s roaming around… Continue reading

Most Read