The world's most isolated inhabited island
Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
124Trip End Nov 30, 2011
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Our flight to Rapa Nui was five hours and covered a distance of nearly 3000km. However, we only went through two time zones which we soon realised meant the sun didn’t set until 9.45pm, and rose at 8am. It was a little weird getting up in the dark and reminded me of an English winter, luckily without the cold. As Rapa Nui belongs to Chile, the time difference is kept small for business reasons. But this long distance from mainland South America does result in it being the most isolated inhabited island in the world (although some suggest this title is more applicable to Pitcairn Island)
We arrived in Easter Island - Te Pito o Te Henua (the navel of the world) - in the middle of the afternoon and were expecting someone to meet us at the airport. We were a little surprised that our names were on none of the placards, and the hotel representative who was there to collect other guests had no idea he was expecting us as well. Luckily we were able to squeeze into the van, and on arrival at the hotel they did have our reservation (with our arrival time clearly written on the top). I asked whether there was any information for us from the travel company regarding our tours, but unfortunately the receptionist didn’t speak very much English and simply told us to return at 7pm for a briefing. This we duly did, but there was no-one around, and after enquiring again at reception we were told that the travel company organising the tours was closed for the day. All in all we hadn’t had a great start to our visit, and I was getting a little concerned at this point – we only had three days in Easter Island and couldn’t afford to waste it trying to organise tours that we had paid a company to arrange for us.
Dinner and a drink were definitely in order after this palaver, so we strolled into Hanga Roa town looking for somewhere to eat. Town is probably a bit of an exaggeration, as with a population of 4,000 people and one main road, it was even smaller than we expected. It was a short walk along the seafront to get to the central area, and took us past our very first moai - which of course we had to stop and take a photo of (very reminiscent of the penguins in Antarctica). After wandering along the main road none of the restaurants had really stood out as a place to eat, with most places either being closed because it was a Sunday, or simple cafes with quite expensive menus
The Tapati festival is a celebration of the traditional way of life in Rapa Nui. Every year there is a competition between two girls to be Queen of the Tapati. In order to win this competition events are held every day such as shell jewellery making, with performances on the stage every evening, such as modeling feather and shell skirts, and headpieces the girls had made, as well as singing and dancing. Family and friends get involved as well and compete in group singing and dancing contests to win points for their respective girl. But the most entertaining events were the men’s ones held during the day, again with each competitor scoring points on behalf of one of the girls. The men all wear traditional dress i.e. a loin cloth, and then compete in things like spear throwing, reed surfing and running races carrying bananas
Monday morning we were up early to try and find out what was happening with our tours. Luckily this time reception had a message to tell us that Carlos would pick us up at 9.30am, so we got ourselves ready for our full day tour as per our itinerary. However Carlos turned out to be Ana, and our full day tour was in fact a half-day tour to the ceremonial site of Orongo. This wasn’t a problem, it just wasn’t what we expected as were supposed to be doing that the following day. Unfortunately most of the group had done the full tour on the previous day, so Ana didn’t really explain all of what we were seeing as she kept referring to things they had seen yesterday. I asked a few questions to clarify points, but Andrew and I both found it a little frustrating trying to understand and piece together the various fragments of information. However, there were some lovely views over Volcan Rano Kau, and we did learn a bit about the bird man ceremony that occurred at Orongo every spring, and saw the famous petroglyphs.
After a lunch break in Hanga Roa, Ana picked us up again in order to do a second half-day tour - this time to Puna Pau and Ahu Akivi
We wandered into town again that evening and bought an informative guide to Easter Island so we could understand what we were seeing. It is a fascinating place and we wanted to be able to appreciate the sights fully. We ended up eating at the same restaurant again, as the one Andrew had picked out was closed. We knew the food was good, if a little expensive - but then the whole island seems to be the same - and it was in a great location for seeing the Tapati.
Tuesday was the day I had been waiting for - our full day tour to experience the mystery of the moai. The moai were carved over the course of the last thousand years to protect the villages that stood in front of them. Each moai represented an important ancestor within that village, and once the moai was lifted up on to the ahu it had mana (power)
Volcan Rano Raraku was the most important site we visited as it was the quarry where the moai were carved from the rock. There are still about 600 moai to be found here, although not all are visible. The front of the moai were carved from the slopes of the volcano and were only cut away once this was completed. The moai were then moved down the slope and stood up so that the back could be carved. All carving was done in Rano Raraku apart from the eyes - these were done once the moai had reached the ahu. The slopes of Rano Raraku are dotted with dozens of moai of various sizes, in different positions and of many styles, with the largest being 21 metres tall - it was all quite an incredible sight.
From Rano Raraku we headed to Ahu Tongariki, of which we had a breathtaking view with the blue ocean behind, whilst we were at the quarry
Having not quite had our fill of moai for the day, Andrew and I headed to Ahu Tahai, just north of Hanga Roa, to watch the sunset, which was incredible. There is one moai here who has his eyes - a replica so that we can appreciate what a completed moai would have looked like. Somewhat scary if you ask me - I think I prefer them without eyes! We then headed to Andrew’s restaurant for a very good meal, so much so that we went back there for lunch the next day!
Our flight to Papeete was not until late on Wednesday evening, but as we had to check out of the hotel at 10am we had the whole day to explore Hanga Roa. Our first stop was the Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert for a very informative guide to Rapa Nui and its history - definitely worth a visit. All of the information boards were in Spanish, but they had actually made companion guides in other languages which correlated to each information board so we could appreciate what it was explaining
Next stop is French Polynesia for some much needed rest and relaxation.