|For a long time now, Isla de Pascau (Easter Island) has been somewhere that has intrigued me and somewhere I have always wanted to visit, but I was never quite sure if I would have the money or the time on this particlar trip. Thankfully, it worked out perfectly, I was able to purchase a flight and have spent 5 days on the island.
Easter Island interests me as much for its huge Moai statues as for its mysterious past. Easter was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 and has a very magical and exciting history. The island's mysteries have intrigued a number of people from around the world for many years.
It was initially discovered by Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch explorer, on Easter Sunday in 1722, hence the name which it retains today. According to Rapa Nui tradition, the Ariki (the king) Hotu Matu'a, his family and his court arrived on Anakena Beach in two canoes. They settled on the island and called it Te Pito ote Henua (the 'navel of the world')
It is puzzling how they reached the island at all. In 1722, it took Roggeveen and his crew 17 days to sail there from Chile. It is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth, situated in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean, some 3700 kms from Chile, and 4100 kms from Tahiti in the French Polynesian, and the islanders apparently only had small (and leaky) canoes!
As for the large Moai statues - for some time there were some people who believed that these were the work of extra terrestial beings that became stranded on Easter and were later rescued, but I think that this idea has since been disproven/disregarded!
It is also a mystery firstly, why the stone structures were erected and secondly, how they were erected, without the use of heavy machinery. There are over 800 of the statues on the island, all at various stages of completion, and most of which stand at around 30 feet high.
And there are theories but noone knows what became of the original inhabitants of the island, and why did they down tools and leave so many stone structures unfinished as they did, and as can be seen today? And what events occurred for them to feel the need to destroy so many of them, and topple them all over (they are only standing today because of restoration projects that have taken place recently, with involvement from various countries, Japan in particular). It is believed that Huri Moai (the felling) took place between 1600AD ad 1866AD and then after that period followed a harsh struggle for survival on the island, which among other problems, had been overfished and also had no trees left.
The island itself was formed millions of years ago, when 3 volcanoes (Poike, Rano Kau & Terevaka) arose from the sea at different times, but have been dormant since human occupation. It is 66 square miles in size, and the historic sites are scattered all around the coastline of the island.
A part of me could not quite believe I was actually there on the island - I had to keep pinching myself to see if it was all real! I had a very enjoyable flight from Santiago, in Business Class, sitting next to a very nice guy from Buenos Aires, who was a journalist for Le Nacion in Argentina. It was excellent practice for my Spanish as we chatted for the whole 5 hours and he spoke no English. He was also very generous, and offered me his pillow to rest my feet on, and then gave me the chocolate from his dinner! Because of his job he was getting VIP treatment from the LANChile airline crew, so he kindly ensured I got some of it too!
Easter lsland is beautiful, with a very tropical climate, many bars and restaurants, a lively nightlife, and a good supply of suntanned and toned Polynesian surfer types wandering about the main town of Hanga Roa in their board shorts, and far more importantly, great places for pisco sours at sunset - what more could a girl ask for?!
Unfortunately the hostal in which I stayed on my first night was not quite so attractive as the island! It WAS 'dirty' as the Footprints guide accurately advised, with a smelly bathroom shared between about ten of us, a horrible kitchen, no living space to sit and relax, and manky chickens, monster cockroaches, scrawny cats and dogs running around loose everywhere, so Sebastian, Melanie and I checked out and moved to different places the following morning! Much happier in my new and clean hostel, I was ready to explore.
I visited the museum with Sebastian & Melanie, which contained lots of useful and interesting information about the island, with various artefacts on display, including a Moai eye that was found close to one of the sites, and some slates with the unique and still undeciphered Rongo Rongo script that they used. The museum also provides evidence that there was once a very advanced civilisation on the island, with an indepth knowledge of engineering (for the transportation of the huge structures to the sites along the coast) and astronomy (for navigation using the stars). We also discovered some useful jargon for our sightseeing too...
MOAI - stone statue made of volcanic rock carved out of Rano Raraku quarry - built 1000AD - 1600AD
PUKAO - the hat or headdress made of red scoria from the Puna Pau quarry, and worn by some of the Moai
AHU - the altar (or platform) on which the Moai were placed and erected
On my first full day on the island, we enjoyed very tasty baked tuna and cheese empanadas, sitting by the fishing boats, and then had a lazy afternoon, planning our excursion for the following day.
Hiring a jeep was the perfect way to explore the sites on the island, which were incredible (I am not sure if my photos will do them justice!). The sun was very hot and quite aggressive, so we didn't walk around quite as much as we wold have liked, opting instead for the shade. For me, one of the most interesting places we visited was the Rano Raraku stone quarry, in which you can see lots of Moai, in various stages of completion, some of which can be seen only partly carved out of the rock face and all of which never even made it as far as the platforms. Lots of Moai can be seen leaning in different positions on the slopes of the quarry, and inside there is a small lake at the base, which is quite beautiful and a haven for the small number of birds that inhabit the island. The rim of the quarry pit also offered spectacular views of the landscape and the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean.
Equally as impressive are the Ahu, the platforms on which the Moai stand, and also the Pukao, which were sculpted separately. Some of the pukao stand as tall as me, which gives you an idea how huge the Moai themselves were!
At the end of the day, we finished up at Anakena beach in the north, and after the intense heat of the day, we enjoyed a wallow in the cool (but not too cold) ocean. It was a perfect end to the day.
After another restful day enjoying the views, and relaxing around the town, I went to the Santa Cruz church in Hanga Roa for the Sunday morning service with some of the guys from the hostel. It is a Catholic church, decorated with slightly alternative Rapa Nui wooden carvings of Catholic images, and garnished with flowers. Prayers were said and songs were sung in the native Rapa Nui language, which was very entrancing to listen to. The church was full (standing room only!) for the service, and the locals were all very friendly and welcoming to tourists.
After church, I hired a jeep with Andreas (an Austrian from the same hostel) and we visited the places Melanie, Sebastian and I had not time to visit the previous time we had the jeep, namely the caves and the Rano Kau volcano. Unfortunately, the weather was not so kind to us, and it rained pretty much all of the day, on and off. The highlight of the day though, was the visit to Orongo village and to the nearby Rano Kau. Luckily, we stayed long enough for the rain clouds to clear, so that we had a great view (with a brief bit of sunshine!) of the beauty of the Rano Kau cliffs and the crater lake, which seemed to possess every shade of green you could imagine, and is a staggering 280 metres deep. This area of the National Park was guarded by a very jovial and friendly Chilean park warden, who was laughing and joking with all the visitors, and it was worth the drive to the top just to meet him! He invited us back into his hut after we visited the sites, to say proper goodbyes and then thanked us for our conversation and smiles as we left, following us on foot down the driveway, waving as we drove off!
The Orongo village, situated south west of Rano Kao is where all the ancient ceremonies used to take place, and where the annual Tangata Manu festival takes place today (during February I think).
Returning to the buzz of the city of Santiago, after five days of tranquility on the island was a bit of a shock to the system, but I am so pleased I went to Easter Island, as it really is one of those 'once in a lifetime' places, and now not quite so mysterious as it was previously, although still just as magical. And it exceeded all of my expectations!