The world's most isolated inhabited island

Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
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Trip End Nov 30, 2011


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Flag of Chile  ,
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A favourable change in the flight schedule meant a later departure to Rapa Nui on Sunday morning, so we were able to pack and have breakfast before catching a taxi to the airport. We had a quick run to the airport as the roads were very quiet, but this time as we drove out of the city I really noticed the smog hanging over Santiago which wasn't very pleasant.

Our flight to Rapa Nui was five hours and covered a distance of nearly 3000km. However, we only went through two time zones which we soon realised meant the sun didn’t set until 9.45pm, and rose at 8am. It was a little weird getting up in the dark and reminded me of an English winter, luckily without the cold. As Rapa Nui belongs to Chile, the time difference is kept small for business reasons. But this long distance from mainland South America does result in it being the most isolated inhabited island in the world (although some suggest this title is more applicable to Pitcairn Island).

We arrived in Easter Island - Te Pito o Te Henua (the navel of the world) - in the middle of the afternoon and were expecting someone to meet us at the airport. We were a little surprised that our names were on none of the placards, and the hotel representative who was there to collect other guests had no idea he was expecting us as well. Luckily we were able to squeeze into the van, and on arrival at the hotel they did have our reservation (with our arrival time clearly written on the top). I asked whether there was any information for us from the travel company regarding our tours, but unfortunately the receptionist didn’t speak very much English and simply told us to return at 7pm for a briefing. This we duly did, but there was no-one around, and after enquiring again at reception we were told that the travel company organising the tours was closed for the day. All in all we hadn’t had a great start to our visit, and I was getting a little concerned at this point – we only had three days in Easter Island and couldn’t afford to waste it trying to organise tours that we had paid a company to arrange for us.

Dinner and a drink were definitely in order after this palaver, so we strolled into Hanga Roa town looking for somewhere to eat. Town is probably a bit of an exaggeration, as with a population of 4,000 people and one main road, it was even smaller than we expected. It was a short walk along the seafront to get to the central area, and took us past our very first moai - which of course we had to stop and take a photo of (very reminiscent of the penguins in Antarctica). After wandering along the main road none of the restaurants had really stood out as a place to eat, with most places either being closed because it was a Sunday, or simple cafes with quite expensive menus. So we walked back along the seafront to one of the first places we had seen, which was recommended in several travel publications, and had traditional dancing every Sunday night. The food was delicious, if a little overpriced, the local Mahina beer was excellent and we spent a nice couple of hours talking to some expat teachers from Hong Kong who were sat on the table next to us. The dance show never actually materialised because this week the Rapa Nui Tapati festival was being held – the main stage was situated just across from the restaurant. As we finished our meal the music and dancing started, so we wandered down to have a closer look.

The Tapati festival is a celebration of the traditional way of life in Rapa Nui. Every year there is a competition between two girls to be Queen of the Tapati. In order to win this competition events are held every day such as shell jewellery making, with performances on the stage every evening, such as modeling feather and shell skirts, and headpieces the girls had made, as well as singing and dancing. Family and friends get involved as well and compete in group singing and dancing contests to win points for their respective girl. But the most entertaining events were the men’s ones held during the day, again with each competitor scoring points on behalf of one of the girls. The men all wear traditional dress i.e. a loin cloth, and then compete in things like spear throwing, reed surfing and running races carrying bananas! It was all wonderful to see, and there was a great atmosphere around the town. I just wonder what it would be like visiting Easter Island at any other time of the year - it must be very quiet.

Monday morning we were up early to try and find out what was happening with our tours. Luckily this time reception had a message to tell us that Carlos would pick us up at 9.30am, so we got ourselves ready for our full day tour as per our itinerary. However Carlos turned out to be Ana, and our full day tour was in fact a half-day tour to the ceremonial site of Orongo. This wasn’t a problem, it just wasn’t what we expected as were supposed to be doing that the following day. Unfortunately most of the group had done the full tour on the previous day, so Ana didn’t really explain all of what we were seeing as she kept referring to things they had seen yesterday. I asked a few questions to clarify points, but Andrew and I both found it a little frustrating trying to understand and piece together the various fragments of information. However, there were some lovely views over Volcan Rano Kau, and we did learn a bit about the bird man ceremony that occurred at Orongo every spring, and saw the famous petroglyphs.

After a lunch break in Hanga Roa, Ana picked us up again in order to do a second half-day tour - this time to Puna Pau and Ahu Akivi. This was our first real experience of the moais and trying to understand their significance. Our first stop was Puna Pau which was the quarry where the Rapa Nui made the pukao (top knots) for the moai. Unlike the moai themselves, the top knots were transported to the ahu (stone platforms) and carved on arrival so they could be made to fit the moai exactly. This is thought to be because the volcanic rock is quite fragile and easily broken so it was better to carve it at the ahu. But for me the magic and mystery of Easter Island really came alive when we got to Ahu Akivi, the site of the seven young explorers. These are the famous moai that face out to sea in the direction of French Polynesia, where the first inhabitants came from. All of the other moai on the island face inwards with their backs to the sea, looking over the villages they protected. This is in fact the case for Ahu Akivi as well, as there was once a village situated in front of the ahu. The sheer size and majesty of the moai was amazing and I was totally mesmerized by them.

We wandered into town again that evening and bought an informative guide to Easter Island so we could understand what we were seeing. It is a fascinating place and we wanted to be able to appreciate the sights fully. We ended up eating at the same restaurant again, as the one Andrew had picked out was closed. We knew the food was good, if a little expensive - but then the whole island seems to be the same - and it was in a great location for seeing the Tapati.

Tuesday was the day I had been waiting for - our full day tour to experience the mystery of the moai. The moai were carved over the course of the last thousand years to protect the villages that stood in front of them. Each moai represented an important ancestor within that village, and once the moai was lifted up on to the ahu it had mana (power). Unfortunately in the 18th and 19th centuries there was a strain on resources on the island and tribes starting attacking each other. When the tribes realised that the moai were unable to protect the villages, locals believed the moai had lost their power and pushed them over, irreparably damaging them. All of those that are standing today have been reconstructed, and there are still very few of them. Unfortunately Andrew was expecting to see a lot more moai standing, so I think he was a little underwhelmed.

Volcan Rano Raraku was the most important site we visited as it was the quarry where the moai were carved from the rock. There are still about 600 moai to be found here, although not all are visible. The front of the moai were carved from the slopes of the volcano and were only cut away once this was completed. The moai were then moved down the slope and stood up so that the back could be carved. All carving was done in Rano Raraku apart from the eyes - these were done once the moai had reached the ahu. The slopes of Rano Raraku are dotted with dozens of moai of various sizes, in different positions and of many styles, with the largest being 21 metres tall - it was all quite an incredible sight.

From Rano Raraku we headed to Ahu Tongariki, of which we had a breathtaking view with the blue ocean behind, whilst we were at the quarry. These fifteen moai were probably my favourite - the setting, the sheer size of them, and the fact that there was no-one else around provided a magical mood. Our final stop of the day was at Anakena beach, one of only two beaches on the island. We were able to cool off in the warm water, whilst being overlooked by Ahu Nau Nau - probably the best preserved of all the moai as they had been buried under sand, and therefore less subject to erosion.

Having not quite had our fill of moai for the day, Andrew and I headed to Ahu Tahai, just north of Hanga Roa, to watch the sunset, which was incredible. There is one moai here who has his eyes - a replica so that we can appreciate what a completed moai would have looked like. Somewhat scary if you ask me - I think I prefer them without eyes! We then headed to Andrew’s restaurant for a very good meal, so much so that we went back there for lunch the next day!

Our flight to Papeete was not until late on Wednesday evening, but as we had to check out of the hotel at 10am we had the whole day to explore Hanga Roa. Our first stop was the Museo Antropologico Sebastian Englert for a very informative guide to Rapa Nui and its history - definitely worth a visit. All of the information boards were in Spanish, but they had actually made companion guides in other languages which correlated to each information board so we could appreciate what it was explaining. After that we strolled back to town along the coast, looking at the moai, watching the surfers, and passing the disputed hotel site. Only the day before the hotel had been on the BBC world news as the last of the Rapa Nui who had been living in the hotel since last August were finally forced out by the police. The Rapa Nui say the land was illegally taken from them and sold by the government - it will be interesting to see what the outcome of their case is. We spent the remainder of the day wandering around town, doing some souvenir shopping and happening across a couple of the men’s Tipati events for some light entertainment.

Next stop is French Polynesia for some much needed rest and relaxation.


Kerry
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Comments

karjang
karjang on

Namaste,

Nice photos. you have really been making your time worthful traveling wonderful places.In this context, i would like to welcome you in NEPAL.it would also be one of your best destination.

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