Notes from a very small island

Trip Start Sep 19, 2005
Trip End Mar 19, 2006

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Greetings from the town of Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui (aka Easter Island)

Well, this certainly wasn't part of the plan! In fact I'm now on about plan J I reckon, plans A to I having fallen by the wayside, but this is one big vote for maintaining flexibility! If you are sitting comfortably, I will begin - I have been rendered speechless quite a few times in the last week so I've been storing it up: prepare for a long entry!

So, as you may have gathered from the previous entry, I was pretty excited to find a special offer on the flight to EI - there's only one airline (LAN Chile) that goes there, and they are notorious for overbooking the flights. Anyhow, I grabbed the opportunity and was a bundle of nerves until I could get to Santiago and could confirm my place in LANīs office here. It all worked out, thankfully, so after a day rushing about getting US dollars sorted out and getting some clothes washed, I got myself to the airport.

Its hard to describe just how isolated Easter Island is. Its the most remote inhabited place in the world. Basically its nearly 6 hours' flying time from Santiago, almost 2,500 miles west of Chile, and 2,000 miles from Tahiti. There have been all sort of wacky theories about how the island was settled, including UFOs and the like, but basically it is a Polynesian island, part of the huge Pacific area including Hawaii and New Zealand. The islanders themselves call it Rapa Nui, and that is also the name for their language and culture too. EI is also called "Te pito o te henua", which means "the navel of the world" in Rapa Nui, and its kind of fitting.

So what was it like? Well, firstly, it was absolutely beautiful. Not a lush tropical paradise as such (the island was completely deforested during the making of the moai (statues), more of which in a second), although there are two gorgeous white sand beaches, but with a stunning volcanic landscape. Secondly it is absolutely tiny. Really small, something like 60 square miles in total. Only 4,000 people live there, and they all live in the town, Hanga Roa, where I stayed with a lovely lady called Teresa who couldn't have been more helpful and sweet.

And the archaeological history of the place is just fascinating. There are hundreds and hundreds of Moai on the island. I really wasn't prepared for quite how many, but you could stumble upon them at practically every turn. They are all of different sizes and all have slightly different features. Some are standing, having been restored to that position after being topped either by weather or on purpose by warring tribes. The moai stand on ahus (platforms) which were the original burial places of the tribal ancestors. If a person was rich and important enough, a moai was carved for them and put on top of the ahu. Some of them, at a later date, were given pukao (topknots) which are made of reddish stone and look like hats, but really represent the typical hairstlye of the tribes. Most of the moai are situated around the coast, and they all overlook an old village site. They look a little stern, even slightly grumpy, and some are absolutely huge.

One of the most fascinating places was the volcano called Rano Raraku which was the quarry of the moai. From here, all the moai were carved out from the rock and brought many kilometers to the coastal sites. There are lots of theories about how they were moved, but probably involving a system rolling logs, hence the current lack of trees. On the volcano, some moai are partially carved, and lots of heads and fragments are scattered all over the place. I'll put some pictures up asap, so you can see just how many.

Another amazing site was a line of 15 moai, restored to their upright position by a Japanese company after a moai (now called the travelling moai) which was lent to Japan for an exhibition. The scale of this site is amazing, and the surreal blue of the Pacific crashes in the background. I rented a jeep from Teresa's daughter and came here on the last day to see the sun rise behind the moai which was amazing. There was no-one else there apart from me and a few horses, scratching themselves happily on a line of topknots which was lying nearby!

I also spent an afternoon on the beach (blimey the sun is strong here), which is beautiful. A line of moai also stands there, and their faces are particularly well preserved as they had fallen face down in the sand, and so very little eroded. Palm trees have been brought from Tahiti so at least there was a little bit of shade!

One of the days, I also took a tour with a local guide, who took us to the ceremonial village of Orongo, which is the centre of the bird man cult. Off the coast below another volcano, filled with a freshwater lake, are three tiny islets. To become birdman, the military leader, for the year, a competition took place to canoe out to the furthest of these islands and retrieve an egg from a particular bird. The first one back would become bird man and be allowed to live at the moai quarry with the king of the island. There are lots of petroglyphs here depicting the birdman, and more photos to follow.

On the tour I met a group of 5 Brits who live in Vancouver so hung around with them for a bit, as well as a couple of hilarious older American ladies (71 and 87 respectively) who have invited me to come and see them in Boston if I ever go to the states! Very entertaining.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I've done the island justice in this blurb, but pictures will definitely help so will add them soon. I feel so lucky to have been to Easter Island, it was a really magical place, kind of spooky and otherworldly at times but really special.

The week has passed so quickly I am in need of a bit of a rest now, so a day or two in Santiago before I head north is in order.

Hope everyone is well,

Lots of love Sarah xx
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billandjohn on

great blog--thanks for sharing!
We're planning a trip to Easter Island--you had some nice info

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