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Published: February 24th 2007
7:00 am came really early this morning, possibly because we haven't gone to bed. The hostel in Santiago has been a blast and we have met some great people. Last night we had drinks with Tom (from Ireland), Peter (Sweden), Kegan (Canada), Claire (England) and Barb (Germany). These guys are incredible and hopefully we'll run across them again. Well we'll see Kegan because he's on this flight with us this morning. Take off is around 8:00 and with a five hour flight hopefully we can get some sleep. Sleep didn't happen as we sat in the middle row of the plane at a bulk head that the eight screaming kids on the plane thought was a walkway. I even put my feet up on the wall in an attempt to block their path while I slept only to have a four year old climb up and over my legs. One kid ripped up a piece of plastic out of the floor a stabbed Sam. Not a good way to start a trip.
With the time change we arrived about 2:00 and caught a ride the three blocks to our hostel. There is only one town on Rapa Nui, commonly known as
Easter Island. Since we skipped breakfast we walked the two blocks to the main street in search of food. Everything is expensive on the island since it is considered one of the most remote islands in the world. Guide books and fellow backpackers have told us that you can see everything on the island easily in three to four days. We decided to go in search of a rental car for the next day and after a salesman pissed Sam off we headed back to the hostel for a quick nap before we went out for the evening. We are fortunate that we are catching the last three days of the annual Tapati Rapa Nui festival. The festival is designed for the locals to remember and embrace their heritage as well as delight tourist. Our quick nap lasted all night so in the morning we headed back to the main street for a jeep rental that can cost anywhere from $60 to $80 per day. We also looked at scooters and quad ATV's but the prices were the same as the jeeps. A caution to poor drivers though, since there are no insurance companies on the island you can not
get insurance with the rental. Any and all damage, even flat tires, is the responsibility of the renter. In our wandering we strolled past the tiny harbor that was full of kids playing in the shallow water. Swimming amongst the fishing boats tied up was a huge sea turtle. Sam has seen them in Hawaii but this was a first for me. It was slowly gliding along occasionally poking his head up to look around.
After grabbing a map from the rental place and some food for the journey we took to the road in search of statues. Easter Island is a rugged barren place with three volcanoes that make up the tiny island. There is one main paved road that runs the length from the town Hanga Roa in the south west tip up to Playa de Anakena in the north. Every other road is a dirt path. We took the dirt road that hugged the east coastline around the island. In no time we came across our first Ahu (ceremonial platform of large stones stacked in a rectangle) that the Moai (statues) were mounted. Called Ahu Tarakiu it consisted of six moai (only four visible, two buried) that
were knocked over. Oddly some of the moai were found face-up and intact. Legend says that tribal fighting lead to all the moai being knocked over face down in an attempt to break their necks and that the eyes were smashed because they held special powers. As we slowly drove down the coast we encountered several more Ahu sites with moai knocked over and broken. The fact these giant statues are broken does little to diminish their mystique. Further up the coast we come across a smaller dirt path that takes you to Rano Raraku Volcano. The site is commonly referred to as the quarry. In the side of this volcano, hewn from the rock face are hundreds of moai in different stages of construction. Outlines are cut around huge slabs of rock in some areas while whole monoliths are ready to be freed. Of the hundred statues still embedded in the mountain, twice as many litter the slopes a waiting to be carried to one of the many altars around the island. Standing next to these giants is the most amazing experience I've ever had. This place is as wondrous and magical as I've always dreamed. From the quarry
we continued counterclockwise around the island to Ahu Tongariki. Here fifteen moai stand in a line on top of their platform. After being knocked down with every other moai on the island these fifteen were also scattered by a Tsunami in 1960 that covered the area. With the help of Japanese archeologists the altar and moai were reconstructed. We drove North West along the coast to Hanga Honu. The anu there is large with tight fitting blocks. Next to the altar in a ringed wall sits a perfectly round stone ''that shows the Navel of the World to the people of Rapa Nui''. A discovery channel show had an archeologist refer to this stone as a part of several other ''navel stones'' around the world that are linked together because of their specific location in relationship to each other across the globe. Not that I believe him but it was cool to see. From Hanga Honu we went to Anakena beach. This incredibly beautiful and famous beach has pristine white sand, warm turquoise clear water, palm trees and the Ahu Nau Nau altar that boasts seven moai. The moai were restored in 1980, the palm trees were planted in 1960
but the platform is original and in excellent condition because it was buried beneath the sand, hidden for many years. From Anakena there is a trail that continues around the northern part of the island but since we had no idea of the distance and time the trail would take we decided to head south through the national park back to town. Along the way we dodged the hundreds of horses that roam wild across the land. We were later informed that the island has 3800 people on it and about 2000 horses which is quite a lot for an island of only 165 km2. Sam thinks they either need to export them or start eating them. On the return drive we stopped at Ahu Akivi known as the seven. These are the only moai that face the sea to remind the Rapa Nui people where they came from and represent the seven explores sent by King Hotu Matu'a to prove the existence of this ideal place for his people shown to him by a dream. We also examined caves deep in the ground where the Rapa Nui people lived for a time. That evening we went to the main
street to watch the festival. People, including several tourists were dressed in loin cloths and feathers and painted from head to toe in intricate patterns. Floats were paraded down the street as dancers pranced next to them followed by teams pulling wooden sleds loaded with large moai replicas. Once the sleds were in place near the end of the street the festival started with dancing and music. The dancing was interesting and the grounds in front of the stage were mainly filled with locals with children. When I first heard that the festival was for the Rapi Nui people to remember and embrace their heritage I was skeptical, feeling it was more for tourists. Watching the locals and their children participate it was obvious that they take pride in their history and were definitely trying to pass down traditions to their kids.
We decided to keep the jeep for a second day and tour the southern part of the island and some caves that that were recommended to us. Originally we were going to return the vehicle and hike the volcano in the south but after seeing and giving rides to several hikers that were dying in the heat helped
us decide to keep the A/C in the jeep. This National Park sits around Volcano Rano Kau, one of the three volcanoes on the island. After traveling up the rocky switchback roads to the summit of the volcano we arrived at the Orongo “tourist” area. Entering the park we follow trails that wind through the Orongo ceremonial village which had several houses made of flat flag-stone slates stacked on top of each other. This is also the site of the Rapi Nui petroglyphs. As the legend goes, after all the fighting among the tribes was finished and the age of the Moai was ending the people all of a sudden became “bird people” and started worshiping and carving birds. The Tangata Manu ritual was started whereby the leader of the culture was determined by the elders would swim from the Rapa Nui to the nearby Motu Nui and Motu Iti islets o retrieve the first Manutara bird egg and return to the main island. The petroglyphs of half-human half-bird shapes are starting to fade but are still impressive with the islets in the background. From here you can also see down into the volcano crater and the beautiful lake that
has formed. The lake is one km across and 280 meters deep. After the volcano we headed in search of caves. A couple from our hostel told us about a series of caves and one called “The Two Windows cave”. We parked the jeep at the bottom of the volcano and started wandering down the coast. We came across Ana Kai Tangata cave where the people would hide and use as a refuge in times of conflict. The ceilings are covered with paintings in red and white pigments depicting birds. From here we jumped back in the jeep and hunted for the Two Windows cave. We had a general idea where the cave was but could not find it. We drove up and down the same mile stretch of dirt road until a couple on horseback, realizing what we were looking for and pointed to a hole in the ground. We stopped the jeep and walked over to a small rock formation with a small opening in that lead to a tunnel that appeared to end in a wall. It appeared to have small steps but went nowhere. We took the tiny flashlight we had with us to see if
there was an opening but, of course, the batteries died in two seconds. Not sure if this was the actual cave we jumped back in the jeep and headed back on the road. Within minutes we came across three other tourists, one actually was a local, who knew where the cave was and would show us. We had the right place it appeared but they had the flashlights. You squeeze down narrow steps the crawl through a tiny hole to enter a large cave that has two tunnel-like openings that has you high on the cliff face overlooking the ocean. The rocks were slippery and it was a little scary climbing out to the edge to view the ocean but definitely worth the risk. Having finally found the cave we headed back to the hostel and more festival in the village. The next morning we took one last quick tour of the island before dropping off the jeep and walked to the airport for our morning flight back to Santiago.
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