Chile: Easter Island

I’m not one to buy last minute plane tickets…too expensive.  I usually try to get them at least two weeks ahead of time.  But, when faced with a week to fill before meeting my brother and his gf back in Santiago, we went against my natural instincts and bought tickets to Easter Island for the following day.  Crazy, I know.  This whole traveling thing is really pushing me outside my comfort zone.

Easter Island, like the pyramids, has fascinated me since we read about it in elementary school.  Huge heads sprinkled around an island–definitely something to see.  So we made a trip to the most inhabited, remote island in the world.  The packed flight continued on to Tahiti.  Honestly, I was a little bummed we were not going there.  (Later, Joshua said.)  But, it turned out to be just the vacation we needed.

We found a hostel with a view of the ocean that was filled with other travelers interested in exploring.  We woke up to the shining sun (apparently it had poured the day before…May happens to be rainy season, after all).  We set out to see some of the famous sites with Zen and Loon, cousins from Singapore who had been traveling for 7 years, visiting 161 countries.  They are animals!

Easter Island was formed by three volcanoes.  Our first stop was the crater, Rano Kau, which is now filled with fresh water and covered in vegetation.  It looks spectacular next to the deep blue color of the ocean.

Orongo, a ceremonial village, sits between the crater and the ocean.  It is the site of the the traditional birdman competition where the Rapa Nui would gather during the migration of a sea bird to the island.  The man to collect the first nested egg would become the leader for the following year.  His clan would become more powerful.  There is speculation that the feuds caused by this competition may be a reason the culture was lost and many moai were destroyed.

We visited the island museum to learn more about the Rapa Nui history.  The problem, is, the museum is full of theories.  Some of the Rapa Nui history is lost, but the reason is unclear.  No one really knows when the island was inhabited and by who exactly.  No one really knows why the moai were built–worshiping gods or remembering powerful ancestors.  No one really knows how they were erected–pulled on a slay, rolled on logs, “walked.”  No one really knows why they were all pulled down and knocked over–perhaps a combination of clan fighting and tsunamis.  The history is just missing.  But, the moai are there, regardless of who, what or why.

We spent our first evening at Tahai, a group of 5 moai, nestled along the coast, just outside of town, near the cemetary.  We watched the sunset behind the statues.  It was really incredible.  You may have noticed that our pictures are getting better.  Joshua has been asking a lot of questions of other photographers on the road, anyone with a big camera, basically.  He’s learning how to control our little point and shoot and now it is taking pictures like one of those big mamas.  The photo results are amazing.  We revisited the Tahai almost every night at sunset for Joshua to practice his new tricks.  (No photo editing, touching or shopping here, folks!)

Seriously, none…wild, right?!

Easter Island has several famous sites which require you to take a tour or hire a car.  We split a car rental with another couple from England, Abeeda and Ash.  They had explored the island for a few days before us, so they acted as our tour guides as we visited the highlights.  Anakena is one of two beaches on Easter Island.  The coast is extremely rocky from all the volcanic activity, so this is THE place to go if you want pleasant sand and refreshing water.  You can read on the beach with moai watching over.

When Easter Island was discovered all the moai had been knocked down.  Islanders have been working with companies to fund the raising of the moai.  The Anakena site was the first to be lifted back up, but there is constant need for repairs.

We visited the Tongariki site at sunrise.  It is the most famous Easter Island picture: 15 moai standing in a row right in front of the ocean.  Our sunrise wasn’t remarkable due to the season (basically, the sun rose behind the mountain not directly behind the moai), but it was a surreal experience to stand in the dark in front of these towering statues listening to wild horses gallop around you.  We couldn’t see them, but you could feel them thunder by.  As the sky brightened, we shared the experience with our four legged friends.

Tongariki is located right next to the quarry where the moai were carved.  At the quarry, you can see moai in many stages.  The Rapa Nui would carve the moai in the side of the mountain except for a spine down the back.  Once they were done, they would chip away at this and separate the moai from the source.  They would slide the moai down the mountain and transport it to its final destination which could be as far as 20 km away.  We read in the museum there are over 400 moai at the quarry, but you only see 20 or so on the loop including the Gigante which is over 20 meters long.  By this point in our trip, we were feeling really comfortable with these guys…

With only one last moai hotspot to visit, we took our obligatory bottle of wine with us to sunset at the 7 Warriors or Ahu Akivi.  This series of 7 moai, facing out over the ocean, are similar sizes and styles.  This differs from other moai sites, and it alone casts doubt for scientists and historians over the origins of the moai and their purpose on the island.  Although, the sunset was nothing like Tahai, we did enjoy it all by ourselves.

Our last day we spent hiking along the northern coast of the island to the “Windows of the World” which are old lava tubes that acted as tunnels for the Rapa Nui.  You can enter a cave and walk about 50 meters out before ending up directly over the crashing waves.  I usually wouldn’t enter a pitch black whole in the ground with no signage except for one that says the cave can collapse at any moment; but Joshua reassured me that we would be fine if he held the camera button down half way so the dull orange glow would light the path.  This resulted in many accidental photos and a few stubbed toes, but it was worth it.

We really wrestled with the idea of coming to Easter Island, trying to weigh the cost of the tickets against the experience we hoped for.  In the end, the money meant nothing.  We blew ourselves away with the trip.  I hope we can continue to find adventures like this!

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