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Published: December 19th 2007
Easter Island, Isla de Pascua to give it its Spanish name, or Rapa Nui to the locals, is the most remote inhabited place in the world, 2000 km from the nearest human settlement on Pitcairn Island, and 3700 km from the Chilean coast. It is not really part of South America (other than it belongs to Chile), more the Eastern edge of Polynesia. The people, language and culture are polynesian. We just couldn't resist visiting such a remote place as Rapa Nui during our travels in this corner of the world.
Arriving at the tiny airport, we were greeted by the hostel owner by a garland of flowers each. He then proceeded to give us a tour of the main town, Hanga Roa, in his beaten up van, before delivering us to the hostel. After a brief rest, we headed out to explore the town. Here's a tip if you're thinking of going to Rapa Nui: Don't arrive at the weekend! Everywhere's closed, even the tour agencies. After being distinctly unimpressed by the only open tour agency, we decided to hire a jeep for two days and explore by ourselves. Jenny:
There is one good thing about visiting
the island at the weekend. The next morning, believe it or not, we got up early to make it to the Sunday morning mass. As the rest of South America it was a Catholic church, but with one very interesting difference, the service was conducted half in Rapa Nui (the local Polynesian language) and half in Spanish. It was kind of crazy, we had an order of service, but it was nearly impossible to follow, but we did our best to join in. The singing, which was all in Rapa Nui was particularly interesting.
From Church we went straight to the Island´s musuem. Several travellers had reccommended it to us and it was very useful for gaining an understanding of the Island, the people and of course the famous stone moai that dot the island. After a good hour or so here, including the opportunity to view the local school children´s artwork on the moai (which was actually pretty good), we felt ready to explore the island.
So next came a bit of an adventure. It's been nearly 3 months since either of us drove, and here we were, on the wrong side of the road, the wrong
side of the car, and it wasn´t even a car, but a scary jeep! Luckily the no-one drove fast, and we survived the two day without any problems. We were very glad we´d gone for the jeep rather than one of the many scooters that were also for hire as it was incredibly bumpy in places (the map definately exagerated the length of of road that was paved!) and the air con was pretty handy too. Hiring the jeep was the easiest car hire we´ve ever done, with just a cursory glance at my licence (they didn´t even look at Jamie´s) and a swap of the credit card we were free to go, and on return they didn´t check anything, just asked if we´d filled up at teh island´s one and only gas station (we had).
So, on to the exploration. We headed out of Hanga Roa to visit the ancient settlement of Orongo. This fantasic place is perched precariously on the edge of a volcano crater on one side and cliffs down to the sea on the other. Here we saw the remains of stone houses built by the Polynesians some 250 years ago. The houses were in
various stages of reconstruction and we had a leaflet in English explaining all the various sites. As well as the village the view of the lake in the crater was magnificent, and it was easy to see why this site had been chosen for this special village. The village of Orongo is home to the legend of the Birdman, a tradition that was carry out annually up until 1847. Every year the men of the tribes would swim out to the islet of Motu Nui, just off the coast from the village, in a race to capture the first egg of the season from the migratory sooty tern. The first to find an egg wold be the birdman for the coming year, a strange role which seems to have been much sought after, but involved them spending a whole year in isolation, fed only by one priest, and not allowed to be touched by anyone esle (because they were sacred). All over the island, but particularly in the area were Petroglyphs (rock drawings) of the birdman.
From Orongo we drove across the Island, taking in Ahu Akivi, a site with seven moai, unsual because they face towards the sea,
rather than inland as normal (which is thought to be so they provcided a constant, watchful eye on the islanders). In fact all the moai were toppled by the people in power struggles that broke out on the island at the end of the moai building era (probably caused by overpopulation and a strain on resources). But this at site and a few others the moai have been re-erected to their former grand positions. We then went to Ahu Tepeu where the moai had not been restored. We also took in an agricultural demonstration site, which showed how they traditionally used (and stilll do) stone circles around trees and shrubs to imrpove humidity, and shelter plants from the sun and wind. Finally we also explored a natural cave on the shoreline which contained cave paintings. All in all we had a fun packed day exploring, and celebrated with a meal out (our only one on the island due to the very high prices). Jamie:
The next day we headed east, stopping briefly at another site of fallen moai, then on to Rano Raraku volcano. Sometimes referred to as "the nursery", it was here that most of the moai were
quarried. When the civil wars started, moai production ceased abruptly and hundreds of unfinished moai dot the slopes of this volcano (though Jen was more impresses by the horses running around the place). These ones have no eyes, it is believed that the eys were put in once the moai reached the ahu (ceremonial platforms on which they stood). We walked around and inside the crater (where there is a lake), exploring the moai. A 'kneeling'moai was discovered here and forms one of the main attractions. We had lunch at this site and moved on to nearby Ahu Tongariki, a restored site of 15 moai, with more that were ready to be erected. In 1960, a tsunami scattered the moai several hundred metres inland. The restoration by a Japanese company took place in the 1990s. The red blocks that sit on the tops of most moai are known as topknots, and were meant to reflect the hairstyles of the native population at the time (tied up on top of the head).
From here we crossed to the north of the island to Ahu Te Pito Kura where the largest moai ever erected (at 10 m) lies face down in
front of the ahu. Next to it is a cicular stone wall surrounding a polished round stone that is meant to represent the "navel of the world". Then we went to Anakena, one of the few sandy beaches on the island. Yet more moai stand in their silent vigil over this beach. We spent a couple of hours here swimming and relaxing on this beautiful beach on the remote Pacific island of Rapa Nui, before returning to Hanga Roa.
It was sad to be leaving the following day. After a final walk around the town, we returned to the airport to fly back to Santiago (it is possible to fly on to Tahiti, and then from there to Aukland, then Sydney, but the timings didn't work out for us this close to Christmas). So we spent our final night in South America in Santiago. Later today, we are going to do a tour of the nearby Concha y Toro vineyard (we said we would). We had their Casillero del Diablo wines at our wedding, so this is a special way to finish our trip for us. We fly to Sydney tonight. So this will be our final blog from
South America (hopefully more to come from Australia over the next month or so), and maybe our last before Christmas, in which case, Feliz Navidad
from both of us (Happy Christmas).
Jamie and Jenny
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