South America | Chile | Easter Island – A statuesque experience (updated)
Exploring Easter Island is an experience many people dream about, the mystical statues, the solitude such a small unpopulated island offers, the unexplained history of the people and their culture, and the location make it a very unique place. In fact, as a local explained to me, very few Chileans have visited this island, even though it is part of Chile. I returned today from the island, having absorbed the friendliness shown to me over the last few days of the Rapa Nui people and refreshed from the beautiful tropical weather.
Easter Island does not have too many beaches, just two in fact, but they have some lovely waves that I spent all day body-surfing to the beach alongside the locals. They must have been thinking, that crazy gringa, because I had a hard time keeping my bikini on while body-surfing! I would come up in the shallows pulling at my top and bottom at the same time, uh-oh…But then I probably didn´t provide any shocks to them after seeing one of the local Rapa Nui ballets, very close to the Polynesian dancing other Pacific Islands have. What a show the men and women put on, shaking their backsides in ways I had no idea you could shake them. And after some studying of the motions, I figure it would take me years to perfect that art, if ever.
Arriving at the airport, everyone is greeted by the local residenciales and hostels representatives standing in their booths at the baggage claim, so I perused thier pictures and prices to decide on Martin y Anitas. Overall a good decision, however, I would not recommend them to other travelers. The place is just on the outer portion of Hanga Roa, and I felt a little taken on their pricing. The feeling of one being important only because of the money one brings in is not a pleasant feeling, and I felt this way a few times during my stay there.
One good thing about staying there included their recommended tour guide, AO Tours. Patricio takes tourists out in his VW 1990 van from Brazil, and speaks beautiful English. Boy did I appreciate an English speaking tour guide, beacuse I really wanted to hear the history and information about the Ahus (platforms) and Maori (statues) around the island. Patricios beautiful eyes show his delight in what he does as he explains the mysteries of Isla de Pascua, or Easter Island. I set off my first day in a tour with Patricio, a German couple, a Dutch guy, Erwin, an Australian lady and two Brazilians. We visited the main sites on the island including the factory where the ancients carved the statues out of an old volcano using tools only as hard as the basalt they carved to make the statues. Finished ones up to 15 m high lined the walls inside the volcano crater and on the outside too. All in all, about 800 are spread across the island, most weighing in around 30 to 50 tons!
As we drove around the island, I could see Maoris left in fields on their way to being transported to their Ahus near the shores of the island. We also visited the restored sight of the largest Ahu, or ceremonial platform, where the Japanese helped move them back to standing position in 1994. A beautiful restoration in a great place for viewing the sunrise. We did in fact decide to come back one morning on our own with a rented car to see the sun rise over the ocean and behind these ancient stone statues.
My second day I visited the Museo of Father Sebastian Englert, that is right a possible relative of mine from Germany! His missionary work on Easter Island included helping substantially gather the history of the original people who lived on the island and this information along with artifacts are maintained and continually updated at the museum on the island. He is even buried at the sweet little church on top of a small hill in Hanga Roa. I spent the afternoon relaxing and visiting the small town. The hostal also had a small kitten that kept sneaking into my room through my open window, jump down and then meow to get out of the room. We played this game for a bit and finally I ignored her. She climbed up next to me in bed, and before I knew it we both woke up from a short little nap.
I finished the day watching the sun slowly set behind a small bank of clouds near the horizon while I sat near the two Ahus in town. Some locals and several travelers also had the same idea, and we all found ourselves laughing at the local dogs who put on a show for us. Three horses, a male, female and a small colt walked down into the field in front of the Ahus, and the four local dogs went crazy barking at them. The male horse kept kicking and rearing up at the dogs, who would sneak in and nip at the horses, bark and then run off about ten feet. I mentioned to one of the local ladies ¨those crazy dogs!¨ She explained, no, they are not crazy, they will stop barking at the horses once the horses move out of the field over the stone wall away from the Ahus. OK, those are some smart dogs!
My third day I ventured out on another tour with Patricio to visit the ceremonial village of Orongo. The village experienced the height of its importance during the bird-man cult days after the maori carving period. Each year all of the tribes would elect their strongest representatives for the month long isolation followed by the journey to a small rocky island near the south coast of the island. The participants would set out climbing down 400 m volcano cliffs to the water, swim 2 km to the island and then get an egg from the migrating birds. Then they would turn around and repeat the experience, climbing up the sheer cliffs to the top of the volcano crater. The first one to arrive with an egg intact would be given the honor of being the ruler for the next year. This went on for a couple of hundred years, despite the fact that only 30% survived the challenge, until 1869, when one of the missionaries on the island had an invitation to watch the competition. Cannibilism even entered the picture at times when the competitors found themselves stranded on the island because of bad weather for one week.
Orongo still had some mystical feelings around it. The residents carved in the rocks around the village faces of their gods, the birdman and other significant images. I walked around amazed they could fit that many carvings on one rock. We also visited the top knot quarry, different from the basalt maoris, and a cave made from a lava tube from one of the volcanos.
I started my last day getting up at 6 am to see the sunrise by the 15 maoris across the island. Johannes and Igna, the German couple staying at my hostal gave me a ride and we arrived in time to spend a few moments watching the sky change colors before the sun came up behind the statues. Waves crashed right behind the statues and I could hear them as I sat on a small stone watching the suns burning globe stretch up into the sky.
I spent my last day on the island at Anakena beach, with the waves that cried out for body-surfing. Armed with my 30 spf sunblock, I did not burn even though I sat in the sun for most of the day. The German couple who gave me a ride out to the beach had been there the day before and had given a ride to a local out to the beach. His sister ran one of the bebida and food stalls, and he told them she also grills up fish some days when he catches one or two for her. The day before he did not catch any fish, but on my last day he did and the lady excitedly told the Germans she saved the fish for them! They ate the fish while I picniced on my standard avocado, tomato, cheese sandwich. The local avocados are small, actually there are five varieties, and taste delicious.
I enjoyed the day in the water and the sun. I managed to read an entire book, The Trail to Titicaca, by a British guy who rode with two friends from Ushuaia, Argentina (bottom of the world) all the way to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. They did this in 1993-4 (I cannot remember) to raise money for Leukemia research. I enjoyed reading about where they cycled through since I have been to some of the places. They even stayed at Casa Cecilia in Puerto Natales! I loved that place.
Our last evening the group of five continued our island tradition of dinner together at the cheap, but good restaurant near the harbor in Hanga Roa. I asked them about their favorite movies, and found a few new ones I need to see, including one very applicable to my trip, Il Postino about Nerudas later years.
All in all, Easter Island brought a welcome transition to me for traveling alone again after my visit from a friend, and the mysticism of the island definitely rubs off on you. It seemed like I had been there forever when I watched the sun go down on my last evening.