Moai spotting on Rapa Nui

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January 21st 2014
Published: January 27th 2014
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At our arrival to the Easter Island airport, we immediately got to feel like we have left (continental) South America behind and arrived in South Pacific, as we were met by Keka, the owner of our guesthouse, placing flower leis on our necks in real southern island style 😊 Keka was great throughout our stay, always asking how we are, offering fruits, and being helpful with anything we needed. Her guesthouse Vaianny was also a very relaxing place; nice garden to sit in observing chickens walking around, good kitchen, peaceful nights, nice people - couldn't have been much better! We met three other couples , who were also traveling around the world taking pretty much the same route as we, from New Zealand to Tahiti to Easter Island to South America, obviously we are just doing it the other way around.

The first impression on Easter Island was bright colors: we arrived at around noon on January 12, and on our first walk on the tiny island we were met with bright turquois ocean, bright green grass fields and lots of colorful flowers. We have never seen ocean like that anywhere in the world: the waves were amazingly wild, but still better were the colors in every shade of blue, turquois, white, even towards purple sometimes. Also, when you look 360 degrees around you, all you can see is just ocean, ocean and ocean: absolutely no land in sight as far as the eye can see. Well, Rapa Nui (that’s how Easter Island is called by the indigenous islanders, also called Rapa Nui) is the most isolated inhabited island in the world with 2000km distance to the next inhabited island, Pitcairn Island, and something close to 4000km to mainland Chile. So, on Rapa Nui you are pretty damn far away from the outside world, and even though internet connections etc work there too (to some extent at least), we still felt further away from the everyday than ever before during our trip so far.

Obviously the highlight of Easter Island is the ancient human shaped moai statues. We've seen pictures of them, and read about them before, but still seeing them live was certainly an experience. Often famous sights turn out to be slight disappointments, much smaller than you imagined etc, but that was not the case with the moais - they are mostly huge and having stood there for centuries with their kind of sad look (most have been re-erected, though), they seem kind of eerie. Adding to the mysterious feel is the fact that there is no real consensus regarding how the ancient Rapa Nui people came to make such a huge amount of moais, and how they managed to move them around. The strongest theory is that the multiple ton statues were "walked" using the "refrigerator technique" by only a handful of people - also when the first explorers who arrived on Easter Island asked the locals how the statues were moved, the answer was that their ancestors simply walked the moais on their intended locations. It’s hard to believe a tourist from Finland actually went and cut a piece of a moai some years ago, somehow the moais appear so respect evoking that it seems impossible that someone could go and damage them on purpose! I wonder if it was after that incident that the guards came to the most important moai sites, whistling whenever someone got too close to one of them.

The moais are scattered around the island and we managed to spot most of them during a single day with our rental car. The maximum length of the island is just 25km, so you don't need a lot of time to go around the whole place. There are few ahus (moai platforms) with multiple standing moais, few sites with many moais laying on the ground faces down, and some sights with just lone standing moai. Our favorite moai sight, however, was definitely Rano Raraku. Rano Raraku is a mountain which can be said to be an old "moai factory". The Rapa Nui carved the moais out of the mountain's slopes, and the ready statues were then transported to the ahus. Today you can see lots of moais, some finished, but many just work-in-progress, scattered around the green slopes, all set against the bright blue/turquois ocean, of course. Close to Rano Raraku there is also a crater lake, next to which we saw a lot of wild horses, even a dead one whose body was set up on fire, perhaps for hygiene reasons…? When we were back at the entrance, standing somewhere next to the ticket booth or café, we suddenly saw a pack of 3-4 horses running wildly on the path leading to the moais, towards the lake. Gosh, wouldn’t have been that much fun if they had ran on the path 5 minutes before, when we were still walking on it. Generally the wild horses are calm and just ignore people, but you wouldn’t want to be on the way of several running ones!

Easter Island is not really a beach destination, but there is one white sand, palm tree fringed beach, Anakena. We visited there rather quickly and even though I was sitting in my hoodie at first, I ended up swimming too, just couldn't resist the bright turquois water. Actually it wasn't that cold, probably as warm as it gets in Finland in the peak of summer. No snorkeling, though, we just didn’t see any fish in the water, and didn’t even try further away this time. Later we did spot one sea turtle on another small beach in the town, though.

I think it was our third day on the island when we first attempted to visit Rano Kau, a huge volcano crater next to an old ceremonial village Orongo. We planned to take a small hike to reach the sight, but were stopped by a local man in his car offering a ride and saying Rano Kau is quite a distance away. Thinking it would be handy to go there by car, and then walk back, we took the offer. Well, unfortunately the old man drove the car into a ditch and we didn’t make it to Rano Kau. We weren’t hurt, but we had to get checked anyway, and spent the rest of the day chilling out. When we did make it to Rano Kau a few days later, it turned out to be a beautiful place, and also the neighboring ancient Orongo village was interesting.

We spent our last whole day on the island taking a hike to the highest point, which is not that high, but offered a decent hike of several hours. The scenery was beautiful rolling hills, again in bright green colors, and lots of wild horses. Actually the hike reminded us a lot of Faroe Islands, the grassy landscape, the sea, but most importantly the peace – during our hike of several hours, we didn’t see anyone apart from few local cowboys riding their horses. One of them volunteered to pose for us for a photo, and the second one stopped chatting just for the sake of it; seems on Easter Island no one is in a hurry, and you always have time to stop and have a chat, even with total strangers.

From Easter Island we took a six hour night flight to Faaā (don’t you just love that word?!) airport on Tahiti island. We’ll be touring the French Polynesian islands for three weeks, and may have limited access to internet during that time. Even though, while writing this, we have already one paradise island behind us, and are currently sitting on our bungalow terrace on Raiatea Island with a decent wifi, but well, more about that in the coming posts!

Additional photos below
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27th January 2014
the famous Ahu Tongariki

You might have started something!
This is the first photo I've seen of someone doing this, nice!

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