[PLEASE NOTE - To see full size photos & to read the story line, click on photo]
We had to get up at first sparrow chuff again to catch the 09:10 flight to Easter Island (Rapa Nui).
It was a 5 ½ hour flight so we were pleased to be bumped up from "cattle" to "Club Class" - I think it was because Barbara was wearing her smart Rohan Travel Suit.
In Club you get loads of legroom & a seat that reclines & extends via electric motors, so I spent the first half hour playing with the controls & ended up in a semi reclined position without the foot rest (which in economy I could have achieved with 2 clicks of a button - it was great fun playing, though). The food was served nicely & guess what, they served Malbec vino tinto & topped us up regularly.
Easter Island is about as far away from anywhere as you can get. It's 3,700km from Chile & 3,500km from Tahiti, the nearest island (if you ignore Pitcairn Island - which most people do). So you have to trust that the pilot has dialled in the correct heading or you are in deep, er, water. Though I expect planes have Tom-tom SatNav these days. I was quite pleased, however, to see the little island through my window.
At Hanga Roa Airport they don't bother with formalities like immigration & customs, you just walk across the tarmac from the plane, pick up your bags from the conveyer belt, then go through some doors into the throng of Tour Reps & taxi drivers. We were met at the airport by Oscar who draped flower Leis round our necks & led us to a taxi which took us all of 500m to "Chez Oscar" where we were staying.
Oscar was a lovely host who knew everyone on the island & was a regular Mr Fixit for tours etc. He could speak Spanish, French, English, Italian, Japanese & Rapanui (like Tahitian with a bit of Spanish thrown in).
Easter Island was known by its inhabitants as "Te Pito o Te Henua" or The Navel of the World - whereas Valparaiso is known as "the armpit of the world" (or words to that effect).
Easter Island describes itself, with justification, as the biggest outdoor museum in the world.
After we had settled in we went for a walk to the sea & along the shore - the ocean was glorious; turquoise breakers crashing over the rocks - I took loads of photos, but none did them justice. As we walked we were nearly run over by a couple of wild horses, there are hundreds of beautiful horses roaming around the island.
Just past the town we saw our first Moai (the stone statues that Rapa Nui is most famous for) - we were to see hundreds more in the next few days.
The next day, Oscar arranged for a guide (a cousin of his) to take us on a tour of the island. After stocking up with water (you can't buy water outside of Hanga Roa) we set off on an 8 hour marathon of the major archaeological sites. Patricio, our guide, was very enthusiastic & knowledgeable; he explained how all the Moai (there are nearly 1,000 in total) had been toppled over in an inter-tribal war about 500 years ago, just before the first Europeans discovered the island. This tribal war was between the "long ears" or ruling class & the "short ears" or working class, obviously the workers got hacked off with their 'masters'. Most of the statues are still face down - the only ones standing have been restored relatively recently, by archaeologists.
At its peak, the island supported an advanced society of 15,000 people, before they wiped each other out.
These massive stone statues were carved by the Islanders as tributes to their ancestors & were erected on stone altars, or "Ahu". There is one Ahu with Inca style precision stonework, an obvious link to Peru. All the Moai face inland overlooking their villages. The Ahu can contain one or many Moai, the largest, Ahu Tongariki, has 15 Moai lined up along it, representing 15 generations of leaders. These statues were washed away in a Tsunami in 1960 & restored by a kind Japanese company, Tadano (who just happen to manufacture the cranes used to lift them).
All of these Moai were quarried from the same rock at Rano Raraku volcano, the "Moai factory" & were transported, overland to their final destination. The statues took a year or two to carve & perhaps longer to transport. There is great speculation over their transport but the most popular theory is that they were strapped, for protection, to a large 'Y' shaped wooden sledge made from the trunk of a tree & swung along, a few feet at a time, suspended from a huge 'A' frame. This could explain why most of the trees were cut down by the time the Europeans came.
On the lower slopes of the volcano there are many protruding heads- the ones featured in many of the postcards. They are, actually, full sized statues that have been half buried over time - they are left that way to preserve them, as the volcanic rock is quite soft & easily eroded.
There is speculation about why these finished statues were arranged around the bottom of the volcano.
My theory is that these were ready-made Moai in the shop window of "Statues 'R' Us" waiting to be sold.
There are many unfinished statues being carved from the rock at sites high on the side of the volcano - they don't seem to have worried about moving them down the mountain. The biggest unfinished statue is 21m long & would have weighed over 100 tons when finished. They were carved horizontally with the statue supported by a thin keel down its back, it was then supported on rocks while the keel was chipped away - I wouldn't want to be the one to crawl underneath to do the final chipping. The statues, when erected at their final destination, had a top-knot, made from red rock, balanced on the head. White rock eyes were added, at which point the Moai became sacred.
We climbed up the volcano into the crater which contained a lake & many more finished Moai. It was quite a climb but as we climbed, a local runner dressed only in a loin cloth, sprinted past us, reached the top then sprinted down again - obviously training for some race.
The lake was filled with totora reeds as found in Lake Titicaca - another link to South America.
We stopped at several other sites to see symbolic rock carvings & at "Ahu Te Pito Kura" we fondled a sacred round magnetic stone (a meteorite) that is supposed to give you power.
Our last stop was at Anakena, the only real sandy beach on the island, where there is a Moai that was re-erected by Thor Heyerdahl who spent many years on the Rapa Nui investigating the people who created the Moai. He tried to show they that had come from South America (hence his Kon-Tiki expedition), however DNA testing has shown that they came from the Polynesian islands probably in large outrigger canoes, some navigational feat !
We loved Easter Island - the Rapa Nui people are very friendly & really laid back, some horizontally for most of the day. We loved just strolling along the shore watching the Pacific breakers crash over the rocks. The sunsets were equally spectacular - I make no apologies for including these photos.
Although there must have been hundreds of tourists on the island, it never felt crowded (apart from the Japanese who insist on having their photo taken standing right in-front of every monument).