Easter Island has several names so to us in English, Easter Island, Rapa Nui in Rapa Nui and in Spanish Isla de Pascua not too confusing when on your flight itinerary it says one thing, your tickets and boarding gate another and then arriving at the airport another, fun times!
Easter island is a Polynesian island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern most point of the Polynesian Triangle. It is famous for its 887 extant monumental statues, called moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. Final Easter Island fact is that it is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island 2,075 kilometres away and the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 kilometres away. So we are just floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which can only mean one thing, expensive! Noodles it is then.
We arrived pretty late and jumped into the first taxi which we saw, a beat up banger to be precise but actually on reflection our taxi was in a pretty good state compared to some that we saw round the island, I forgot to mention no insurance and no garages. We were greeted by a welcoming French man, Antoine, who soon became Stu’s least favourite person in this tiny place. The hotel was trialling a period of no service what so ever, so that literally meant nothing, we asked for a kettle which was immediately responded with you can pay an extra $40 a night for the cabin which has a kettle, let me think about that. So we didn’t bother to ask for a spoon and improvised, the only spoons which the local shop sold were salad servers which did the job perfectly.
Anyway to our first day, we had four full days on the island which I thought would be plenty since it was only 16km from Hanga Roa in the South to Anakena in the North, but I knew we had millions of photos to take. We used this day to scout out our options, initially we thought hiring a car and driving around to all of the sites, then we realised how expensive the island was and thought a bicycle would be just as good, even with my love for bikes. Then the option to rent a scooter came up, obviously Stu’s eyes lit up like a child and once we found it at the same price as hiring two bicycles for three days, I gave in. Secretly, I was extremely pleased! We had also found out that a food ceremony happen in Vaihu tomorrow, whereby they cook the food underground and then give it away for free, this happens once a month, lucky for us, we definately would be there.
We walked along the sea front and spotted our first moai statue, Ahu Hotake, it was actually really exciting, I suppose this is what we had come for. There were some more lining the coast which you could see but we decided to leave those, well mainly because the sun wasn’t in the right place for photos, Stu’s comment not mine. So we decided to walk the trial up to Orongo, well actually Rano Kau volcano, which wasn’t too bad, steep in some places but the views back over the town were stunning. We eventually got to the top and I think we had a 4 minute window until the rain came in, to which it literally poured down, everyone else there jumped into there cars and zipped off, we on the other hand had to run back down the hill getting soaked and very muddy. Drenched we retired to our self contained unit (this was now our new name for home, curtesy of Antoine) for a hot shower and planning.
I may have mentioned that Easter Island was expensive well I just wanted to give examples of how, $25 for breakfast and nearly double for lunch and dinner. So since we were coming to this island with only two weeks left of our 8 months travelling, pretty skint we quickly morphed back into travelling mode. Cereal for breakfast, tuna sandwiches for lunch (the cans brought from Quito) noodles (also from Quito) for tea, all out of our plastic container – great improvisation I think.
Excitedly we went and picked up our scooter and was given the run down, again no insurance, you cannot drive on this coastal road and be careful bikes we can fix; humans not so easy. Stu quickly piped up, I have to be careful Chloe’s mum would kill me otherwise! Helmets on, kick rest off and we were set, a little jumpy at first but Stu soon got the hang of it. I on the other hand clung to his jacket or the back bar with gritted teeth and dear life.
First stop back to Rano Kau volcano and Orongo to see what we had missed in the rainstorm. The view of the volcanoes crater was stunning, Rano Kau is 324m and has a crater lake which is one of the island’s only three natural bodies of fresh water. The crater is almost a mile across and has its own micro climate. You could just picture this a volcano years and years ago, still in its near perfect shape.
Just a short zip (especially on the bike) around the corner was Orongo. Orongo, is a stone village and ceremonial centre at the southwestern tip of the Island. The first half of the ceremonial village’s 53 stone masonry houses have now been restored. The village is famous for and the centre of the birdman cult, which hosted an annual race to bring the first manutara (Sooty Tern) egg from the islet of Motu Nui which is a 1000km swim back to Orongo. This site also has numerous petroglyphs (rock drawings) which were pretty cool and here they are mainly of the tangata manu (birdmen).
We had seen just down from this site a cave which also had petroglyphs inside so we went to take a look. I couldn’t really see them very well but when you took a photograph they showed up a lot better. It was cool but the moai were definately my favourite.
The main part of our day was to find and be part of the food festival at Vaihu, which we had heard of the day before. We saw a few cars going in the right direction and followed them down a bumpy dirt track to where the marquees were placed. All we knew was that once a month they buried food underground allowed the earth to slowly cook it and then we distribute it out to everyone and anyone, all you need was something to put your food in and it was completely free, lucky us. The ceremony is called Tunu ahi.
People were already queuing but we didn’t want to be the only gringos in line so we went and took pictures of the moai site there, Hanga Te’e. Then slowly wondered into line. I was to become glorified place saver whilst Stu took pictures of the action. He can write what he saw because all I saw were the backs of the Chilean people’s heads in front of me.
Whilst Chloe patiently waited, I got front row seats to the show. Five or six people armed with spades began to dig away at a mound of mud, slowly uncovering black plastic bag covers. Once every spec of mud had been removed, (yes, I was wondering if we would get food today) the next sheet was removed, a white plastic bag cover. Some hot rocks were removed from the furnace where the food had been stored over night to reveal the final banana leaf cover, which was removed to the steam of hot potatoes and meat already cut up and wrapped in foil, phew, the gates were opened for lunch!
The line started to move and people started to come out with handfuls upon handful of stuff, we thought this must be for their whole family. We eventually got to the front and the first station was meat, literally chunks of beef wrapped in tin foil were dumped into Stu’s carrier bag and my plastic box, the guy was really friendly welcoming us to Easter Island and to enjoy. Next was a sweet tasting potato which was massive, in they went and this server commented on England’s success at the World Cup. We then were given a circular deep fried bread thing and a marzipan tasting cake, several bananas and a weird looking and sadly tasting drink. With our bag/box full we went and sat next to our scooter overlooking the shoreline to try our new foods. There was way to much for us both so we decided to save mine for lunch tomorrow so we tucked into Stu’s carrier bag. The meat was absolutely gorgeous it just melted in your mouth, we also got a hot sauce in a cup which gave everything a kick, definately better than any tuna sandwich.
With full bellies we drove up the east coast stopping on the way to look at the scattered sites, such as, Ura Uranga Te Mahina, Akahanga, Hanga Tetenga, One Makihi just to name a few. Our aim was to to get Rano Raraku apparently here has one of the best moai sites. Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater and it was a quarry for about 500 years until the early eighteenth century, and supplied the stone from which about 95% of the island’s known monolithic sculptures (moai) were carved. Rano Raraku is a visual record of moai design vocabulary and technological innovation, where 397 moai remain. The Rano Raraku crater also contains one of the island’s three freshwater crater lakes.
The incomplete statues in the quarry are remarkable both for their number, for the inaccessibility of some that were high on the outside crater wall and for the size of the largest; at 21.6 m in height, almost twice that of any moai ever completed and weighing an estimated 270 tonnes. Some may be sculptures that were never intended to be separated from the rock in which they are carved. On the outside of the quarry are a number of moai, some of which are partially buried to their shoulders in the spoil from the quarry. They are distinctive in that their eyes were not hollowed out, they do not have pukao and they were not cast down in the island’s civil wars. For this last reason, they supplied some of the most famous images of the island.
This place was brilliant, some of the moai heads were so detailed and by far my favourite so far. They were huge as well, definately everything we had seen on pictures but just in real life, the weather also made it, glorious blue skies.
From Rano Raraku you could see Ahu Tongariki, which I was also particularly looking forward too. Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on the Island. It consists of 15 standing moai’s with the second moai from the right is the only one which has a pukao on its head. The ahu were apparently toppled during the island’s civil wars and again when a tsunami hit the island. These have now since been restored including an 86 tonne moai that was the heaviest ever erected on the island. All of the moai here face sunset during Summer Solstice, which is import at for this tradition. We both loved these, they all were different and unique in there own ways, one looked a bit podgey, one had a bigger head, then there was the really tall one, one had an old look about his face and one looked like he was on command. Funny really what you see just from sitting on the grass looking up.
Before heading back Stu had seen there was a walk to climb the volcano in Poike, driving to what we thought was the start of the trail got us know where. The “path” was barbed wired off and no other obvious path way in sight, also not one of they our maps we had showed this hike on so we had to abort this mission until Stu could remember where he had seen the route. We wanted to try and some photos of the sunset as were had heard that they were really beautiful from the shoreline back in Hanga Roa, back in the back we zipped down the coastal roads just in time for an amazing sunset and even ore lucky for us the rain just held off before we got back to our self contained unit, where we tucked into our noodles and retired to bed.
I started the scooter engine once more with excitement, I might enjoy speeding along even if Chloe does hold on tight and close her eyes. Today we were exploring the north of the island and we headed through the heart of the island towards Anakena, and of course I got us there on one piece.
Anakena is a white coral sand beach and Anakena has two ahus, Ahu-Ature has single moai and Ahu Nau-Nau has seven, two of which are deteriorated. Anakena is unusual for Easter Island in that it is one of only two small sandy beaches in an otherwise rocky coastline. So today, obviously we were……… hiking! The plan was to first visit Ahu Nau Nau and then hike around the nearby volcano, Rano Aroi, which we knew would be a six hour hike, probably six back too. Perhaps we could walk half of it today and the other half tomorrow.
Before we started the hike we went to visit the moai’s, they were unique in that they are the only on the island to be situated on a beach, and it was a gorgeous beach. Apparently Chileans visit the island just for a beach holiday, can’t see that myself. So Ahu Nau Nau are a collection of seven moai’s, it / they were restored in 1980 by Rapa Nui archaeologist Sergio Rapu Haoa. It is one of the best preserved ahu, since it was formerly buried in the sand, accumulated by the wind erosion.
Of the seven statues, four of them are big in size, two medium size (one with no head) and the seventh with less than half a body. The four big moai are outstanding because of their special pukao (top hats) made of rocky red material. Behind the moai are several petroglyphs that represent fishes and the tangata moko, the lizard man. This last mentioned figure suggests a personage from another world. We got our photos and enjoyed the surroundings for a while before we set off on our hike.
Actually, the hike lasted about 30 minutes before we decided that there were probably things that we could be seeing on the island without having to do this huge hike, there wasn’t much to reward us for our efforts and so, we turned around and got back on the scooter, to my delight.
I was sure that you could walk up Puakatiki volcano in Poike, where we’d visited yesterday, we’d done our research the night before to check it out, it was of course true, we could hike up the side of it, so this is what we would do instead. We drove along the shoreline which was beautiful and refreshingly windy, not due to my speed or my flatulence, pulled up at a farm house and asked for directions to the top. Basically it was I direct hike up the side, or so we thought. It was quite gruelling and didn’t getting any closer very fast, but we made it. We met a guy from Singapore, the only other person on top of the volcano, he had walked around the circumference to find an easier way to the top and together we tried to find structures, statues, or any other evidence of culture around the area, but we gave up, it would have been too far and we weren’t even sure if there was anything around.
Thankfully it was down hill back to the scooter, where we drove back to Ahu Tongariki to eat our lunch with some good views. Then we made our way back to town to witness the amazing sunsets in Tahai. Chloe laughed as it was camera central, tripods were setup everywhere and people were testing out their shots, including myself, before the sun eventually set on another great day on the island.
Another day, another hike
This time, the final unexplored area was the east, north of town. It was only a small drive out of town, but then everything is! We arrived at Ahu Akivi which is a particularly sacred place in Rapa Nui, the site has seven moai, all of equal shape and size and is located inland, rather than along the coast. Moai statues were considered by the early people of Rapa Nui as their ancestors, whom they worshipped as their deity – Make Make. A particular feature of the seven identical moai statues is that they exactly face sunset during the Spring Equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the Autumn Equinox. It looked pretty cool and different to the rest, but we would have to come back when the sun was facing in the right direction to get a better picture!
Moving on, the trusted scooter had to be left as it was not allowed down the next road, instead we had to walk. It was a nice day and you could see most of the island, the hills etc. and there were lots of animals around. We did have to dodge our way around huge puddles, but we managed it and arrived at a cave looking thing, so we stopped and had a quick look around.
The main stop was a little further along, these caves you could actually get inside, and we did. There were a few tunnels that lead to various places, all of which looked, well, like caves with little light only being let in by holes in the ground above.
Finally, we walked to the coastline where an old settlement had once been, the remains of the walls were obvious and set a good picture of how the settlement will have once been laid out. We hung around for a short while but walked back to continue on with the scooter. A small, unexpected diversion on the way back to town found us at Puna Pau, and we were glad that we have rerouted through here, it was the quarry where the red hats were made, the huge things that sat on the head of the moai’s. There was also a short walk to a mirador overlooking the town which was beautiful as the sun was setting and the rain drew up a rainbow. We read up on the history of the area but it started to drizzle, so we drive back for our final sunset on Easter Island and went shopping at the local artisan for a model moai’s, I’d loved to have a huge statue stood in the corner of the room, but I don’t know how we’d get it home, oh well a small will do.
Leaving Easter Island
With a 10am check out and the same time scooter drop off we had to decide if it was better to wait at the airport and be pretty early for our 2pm flight or drag our bag along the dirt track then road later on in the morning. I think it was a no brainer, the former was obviously our choice, which did mean strategically balancing two people, one big rucksack, a day pack and handbag all in the first run. The second would consist of Stu only, my massive bag and our other hang luggage. Like some circus act we managed it, I dread to think what we looked like as we drove past. The flight from Easter Island to Santiago was pretty good we had plenty of films to watch.
19 hours stop over at Santiago Airport
And so the 19 hour wait began, we spent the first 2.5 hours roaming the three floors scouting out the best camp spots whilst also looking for a plug. The plug and wifi became priority however we could only find the former, so we sat in Lantam’s semi posh section using there electricity. We said to ourselves when the iPad gets to 50% charged we would go and get some food and then retreat to our camp for the night. Several games of rummie, black jack and shit head later it was 12.30 and 51% charged. Stu went down to the third floor to grab our tea, this consisting of a pizza and I ventured to the second floor where we had seen a couple of good places. Sadly our ideal place was taken by another squatter, so second choice it had to be. Sleeping bags out accompanied with the LAN free blankets and pillows we took from the previous flight, comfy ish I guess, anything is better than freezing cold on floor one.
7 hours later we woke up still on the 2nd floor but with having a few hours sleep and both shocked that it was 8am, result. The floor quiet as it initially seemed actually was the gateway for people to view if there loved ones were coming through the exit door as there were glass windows looking straight onto the luggage conveyer belts. Banging, knocking, music and alots of heels clicking was the sound which sent me to ‘sleep.’ Coffee and wifi was needed back to the fourth floor it was. A further 2 hours was killed people watching from the cafe, we seem to find it hilarious when there was an emotional goodbye at the international departure gate, I actually think it reminded us of ourselves only 8 months ago, not anymore thankfully!
All checked in and pizza ordered by 12 noon, who said this 19 hour wait would be hard?! I had a little snooze in the departure lounge whilst Stu intermittently watched the Germany v USA game. Within no time we were boarding and off for our flight to Quito via Guayaquil which we only realised just before we left. We survived this stop over our 10 hour one before our NYC flight will be a piece of cake.