Polynesia Part 4

Trip Start Oct 11, 2009
Trip End Mar 18, 2010

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Where I stayed
Keu Henua Cabins

Flag of Chile  ,
Friday, February 19, 2010

Easter Island marks the final stop of our Polynesian adventures and the common thread of laid-back hospitality, fabulous music and dancing and a fascinating culture is as strong here as anywhere else, if not even stronger.

We've washed up in a little cabin overlooking the ocean and the town's cemetary which is strangely illuminated at night be rows of solarpowered LEDs. Our hosts have four small cabins and seem keen to build something around agrotourism if the giant greenhouse next to our cabin is anything to go by - rows of cucumber and tomato vines, lots of basil, all of which have contributed to some excellent salads. 

With a week, we've been able to approach the island's sites at a leisurely pace: 4 days would be plenty. Hiking to various spots within a couple of hours of the town and using taxis to get to those more distant. While there are plenty of 4x4s for hire, the "we don't do car insurance here, everyone drives very slowly, but you have unlimited liability" wasn't hugely appealing.

Some of the island's sites have been restored. Others are pretty much in the state they were left after being ransacked as the civil structure of the island fell apart. The island is a salutary lesson for our times - the Rapa Nui used ecological resources beyond the point of sustainability.

After settlement some 1,500 years ago, lineages developed on the island, each reputedly springing from the sons of the island's founder. The society reached its peak in the 16th Century and became embroiled in a cult of building stone statues (moai) of their ancestors, who's spirits would protect their descendents. At some point the island ran out of wood - probably being used to help transport the huge sculptures across the island from the quarry where they were made. The palm that covered the island is now extinct and the other main tree holds on through a few speciments that have been propagated from two last trees found surviving in one of the island's craters. With the trees, the environment collapsed - like most of the Polynesian islands, the Easter Islanders drove their flightless bird species to extinction - and food and water competition led to civil war and famine. The original explorers who "discovered" Easter Island noted the moai in place on the first visit but by the third and fourth visits society had collapsed and with it the moai had been toppled.

Some have been lovingly restored by archaelogists in the 60s, 70s and 80s while others remain in  a state of ruin which matches the desolate landscape extraordinarily well.

We hiked up the volcano nearest to the town, called Rano Kau, to visit Orongo, on day two - amazing views over the marshy crater and a superbly restored village where people are thought to have retreated later in the island's history. Some amazing petroglyphs but no moai, ironically the one that seemingly belongs there being the one the British Museum have. It was here the cult of the birdman developed after the moai building stopped - whomever could swim a mile to a nearby island and return with an unbroken seabird egg became de-facto ruler for a year fed by the others and tended by an assistant who was the only person allowed to look at the bird man, feed him, wash him and cut his hair and nails. Serious status here, though not the sort we'd like.

Life seems slightly more relaxed on the island now with a strong Chilean influence, andmost people spending their time surfing or enjoying extraordinarily good ice-cream from a little cafe in the harbour.  

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