Land of Moai
Trip Start Sep 06, 2010
64Trip End Sep 04, 2011
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Back at Santiago airport, I went through a horror, which almost turned the upcoming days into "wanna be", rather than the reality. Hear that! After spending an hour in an endless check-in line and with the boarding pass in my hands, I took a course to the nearest ATM to 're-fill' my wallet
Almost 5 hr flight from Santiago over the deep-blue vastness of the Pacific Ocean opens the door to the southernmost Polynesian island, Rapa Nui. This triangle-shaped summit of an extinct undersea volcano is the world’s most isolated island with the closest inhabited piece of land being Pitcairn Island 2,075 km west, but mainly, it is a homeland of monumental, world-known ancient statues called Moai. Lined up mainly on the cost line, these massive statues are the reminder of the original Polynesia inhabitants who settled the island sometime between 7th and 11th century. Their society was split into a few clans over which an ariki, high chief, had a great power. Practicing the Ancestor Cult, the statues represent deceased clan leaders or ariki, who were providing everything the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune, etc.) and the living, through offerings, could provide the dead with a better place in the spirit world. Unlike often incorrectly assumed, Moai are not overlooking the ocean, but on the contrary, they are in-land facing watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the seaAnakena beach and Tahai. I will come back to all these further down in the entry.
The first moments on Rapa Nui could be hardly better: a warm welcome by the camping owner, wreath orchids hang on my neck, and the sun over my head. Gosh, those orchids smelled so beautiful that I was dipping my nose in them every minute. Due to the Christmas time and limited availability of budget accommodation, Rapa Nui was the first destination I had made a reservation for. A great pick of mine was Camping Mihinoa, a lovely, family run place right on the shore with the stunning view at the endless ocean, and close to the main village. Unlike most of guest here who opted to sleep in tents, I checked in the room with a private bathroom. Nothing fancy, but still much better than spending days in the sun burned tent. Not only that Rapa Nui is beautiful, but it is also considerably more expensive than the rest of Chile, so be prepared to open your valet wide: a night in your own tent - $12, my room - $43, the cheapest dinner at a restaurant - 10,000 pesos (ie more than $20), etc. Surprisingly, I had to pay even for using the camping’s wi-fi – in this respect a charge of 5,000 pesos went on my bill
Having plentiful of time to explore this 25 km long and 12 km wide strip of land, I took the rest of the first day fairly easy visiting just the main village called Hanga Roa. It is a small settlement where most of the Rapa Nui’s almost 5,000 inhabitants live, and which takes you no more than 20 minutes to walk around. Its center is just one main street with a few restaurants, convenient stores, and car rent places. Besides that the village also has a bank, post office, firefighters; school; actually everything which is needed in the 21st century.
Having a busy itinerary in front of me, I started the next day with the three hour hike to one of the island’s three extinct volcanoes
The second highlight of the day came in the afternoon. Equipped with the rented bike, I hit the north-bound, dusty road to finally meet enigmatic Moai
A few km further north of Tahai is a lava tunnel cave complex, which ends with two ‘cliff windows’ providing quite scary outlook at the east shore. This cave, as a few others, was used mainly as a shelter during the wars. At this time, I was already walking, as the left pedal of my bike simply fell off. With 2/3 of my trip still ahead of me, I could do nothing else than to push the bike. Would you believe that some people thought that taking off the pedal is the way how I secure the bike against a theft!Ahu Akivi, one of the few in-land ahu and the only one with moai facing the ocean. As per the legend, these seven statues represent the same number of the first Polynesian explorers who first embarked on the island. I tell you that looking at photographs of these giants is already impressive, but seeing them in person is truly a unique experience. It was just me and them, nobody else; me and a few centuries of mysterious history.
On day No. 3 I become motorized. With the plan to explore most of the southern and eastern part of the shore, there was no other option unless I wanted to grill myself under the sun. A few last instructions, refilling the tank, and I was ready to scooter my way through the island. It was a long day during which I stopped at a few ahu sites with mostly fallen Moai, but also at three sites which make the most Rapa Nui’s post-card images. The first of them was the quarry on the slopes of Rano Raraku. Looming high above the landscape, this fascinating mountain is the birthplace for 95% of almost 900 Moai sculptured between 12th and 17th century. Visiting the quarry stuns you with the surreal scene full of standing, lying, leaning, or even kneeling Moai resting there in silence. It is one of those places, where you can spend hours wandering around while admiring persistence and skillfulness of the pre-historic artists
Carved out from the volcanic stone, Moai are not just heads, they are complete torsos of figures kneeling on bent knees with hands over their stomachs, whose historical value and beauty can be only matched by their impressive parameters. With the biggest Moai ever erected weighing 82 tons and being 9.7 high, the way these pre-historic giants had been moved to their final locations remained a mystery for centuries. Local legend says that the statues arrived at their locations by themselves - that they actually "walked". On this account, I must proudly say that it was, at that time, Czechoslovakia, which left an unforgettable footprint on Rapa Nui. I was only ten, but still clearly remember the name of that young Czech engineer who joined the Thor Heyerdahl’s 1986 Rapa Nui expedition to solve this unanswered question once forever. His name was Pavel Pavel. Using 17 people and system of ropes and logs, he is the one who made Moai walk, and he is also the one, who seeded in my mind a desire to once visit Rapa Nui.
Already from the slopes of Rano Raraku was well visible my next stop, probably the most famous and impressive Rapa Nui’s ahu – Ahu Tongariki
From here I crossed a few km land strip to end up on the eastern cost. This side of the island may not that rich on ahu sites, but has other interesting points of interest, such as lithic site ‘Naval of the World’ with its round water worn beach boulder, or Papa Vaka, which is a ceremonial site with up to 12 m long petroglyphs carved into lava flows. Not only pre-historical sites make Rapa Nui well-worth to visit. With rocky, mostly vertical coast line mercilessly whipped by the Pacific waters beautifully shading in various colors of blue, the whiteness and softness of Anakena beach is a paradise of its own. Set into the picturesque scenery of this white-blinding beach and the sun relieving shade of close-by palm grove , ahu Nau Nau could hardly wish for a better location. What is interesting about this site is that its solitary standing Moai was the first one to be raised back upon its place in 1955.
This long day, full of Moai encounters, was not yet yet. Known for its fabulous sunsets, I came back to ahu Tahai to experience another artistic performance of the Mother Nature. What I am going to tell you, have a look at the pictures……….
Very surprisingly, Rapa Nui was the location where I heard, and not only once, the Czech language. It started with young backpacker couple taking the same flight from Santiago, continued with three steroid-like dudes seen in Rano Raraku, and ended with a girl and her mum watching Tahai sunset right next to me. I will probably get a fierce condemnation, but in all three cases I pretended to be a foreigner. Those are my country mates, but their behavior or attitude is rather regrettable. First, I overheard the conversation of those two backpackers with a local guy telling him that: “this is my first and the last time in Chile”. On the question why, they responded: “this country is way too expensive in comparison to other South American countries”. Oh yeah, you dam ass! Before starting your trip, do a bit research and find out if you can afford to travel there. What kind of impression we (the Czechs) leave abroad, if we talk this shit. The same ‘cup of tea’ were those three steroid guys. Their genuine wondering how come that a souvenir magnet can cost the whole $2 left me speechless
Day No. 4 started really early. Hoping to get some great images of the sunrise over ahu Tongariki, I hopped at my scooter already at 5 am. The early wake-up call fully paid off, as I met there four lovely and caring Chilean girls who were more than happy to talk. Having said that the sunrise is around 6.30 am and with heavy clouds on the sky, all five of us left the ahu around 7.15 am thinking that we were unlucky with the weather. What a surprise it was to see the Sun rising on the horizon a few minutes after leaving the site. I screwed up this one, but on the other hand, and more importantly, I was accompanied with four fun-loving girls interested to spend the rest of the day together. What a lovely start to the day it was! With just a few hours left before returning our vehicles, we rushed to hike the island’s highest point, extinct volcano Maunga Terevaka with the top at ‘breath-taking’ 507 masl. We were bit unlucky with the rainy weather, but had a lot of fun up there. My God, those girls were in an admirable shape, as they almost run up the mountain. After past days full of sightseeing and running around, the girls proposed to take a taxi and to stretch ourselves for the rest of the day on white sand of Anakena beach
To finish the day in a style, the girls invited me to join them at their place for a dinner. The only thing I had to do was to find their pension, location of which I had been shown earlier that day. Believe or not, but I never found it
With nothing else on my visit list, I spent the next, and last, day in Rapa Nui just hanging around the town, resting and waiting for the evening flight to Papeete.
Since the Pavel Pavel’s expedition, I have had a desire to once land on Rapa Nui and to witness the mysterious beauty of the island and its Moai. Many things changed during these years, but the desire inside of me have never extinguished. After almost a quarter of century, and travelling through half of the globe, I got my ‘ticket’ to this open-air museum of the human genius and greatness. The museum which overshadows most of world’s other monuments, and which overwhelms you with its uniqueness and size. On the travelling side, Rapu Nui will surely remain one of the most prestigious locations I have ever reached. It is a traveler’s achievement I am sincerely proud of, as I finally made it into the land of my childhood dreams……
As Rapa Nui was my last Chilean destination, it is also time to summarize. I must confess that I had very high expectations from this country stretching throughout half of the continents. I cannot explain why, but besides Bolivia, it was my second most desired country in South America. It might be due to that constant zig zagging between Chile and Argentina (I entered the country three times), or the size of it, but I have never found that ever needed bond to the place. I simply did not feel that traveler’s excitement when exploring Chile (besides Rapa Nui).Torres del Paine was nice, but Argentine part of Patagonia is nicer, more picturesque; then there were bohemian Valparaiso and hectic Santiago; and, of course, unforgettable Rapa Nui. I cannot say that would be something wrong, but…….. I think that I will have to give Chile second shot one day…..Rating cannot be more than: 60%.
Greetings from Tikehau, French Polynesia