Several thousand miles from everywhere...
Trip Start Jan 31, 2006
100Trip End Dec 11, 2006
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I've always wanted to come to Easter Island so I was really, really hoping that our visit wouldn't be a disappointment. Our arrival from Papeete could not have been more horrible, however, as on arrival at the airport we were told that instead of taking off at 1am we would be delayed by several hours and our estimated departure was 3.45am! Fortunately, Papeete airport turned out to be not too bad a place to get stuck as once through immigration and security the terminal had lots and lots of sofas to lay out on and catch some sleep. Fiona stretched out her legs and was soon asleep but I thought I would use the opportunity to catch up on writing my diary, which I am useless at doing on a day to day basis frankly.
Fortunately, the plane arrived in Papeete when we had been told it would and having woken Fiona up we, and several dozen other bleary eyed souls, trooped on board the plane
Although I had only managed about 3 hours sleep on the plane, I was too excited at the thought of seeing the island to be tired as we landed. The airport at Easter Island really is tiny, the smallest we've been to on the trip by far with only one single-storey building as a terminal. It took us quite a while to all file through immigration, mainly because there were only two people at work in the booths, but having picked up our bags we were given flower garlands as greetings by the person sent to meet us and then driven off to our hotel. WeŽd ended up using a contact in Chile to arrange our stay on the Island as our attempts to get in touch with places to stay direct from New Zealand had proved frustrating to say the least. We were soon glad to have used someone from Chile as we were staying at a place she had visited herself, the Tahatai Hotel, which was right down by the ocean. From our room we could see over a field of flowers down to the sea and could make out the sound of the waves breaking on the shore
Having had showers to wash off the grime of our overnight travels we headed back out. With only a day and a half on the island we decided we should make the most of our time so decided to look around (the only!) town on the island, Hanga Roa. There is one main street in town, so having strolled down it looking at the shops and having had a look at the harbour area, weŽd pretty much covered everything there was to see in about an hour. Despite having more than enough time to organise such things weŽd forgotten to buy any Chilean money in New Zealand, so after our sightseeing we began to search for somewhere to change money on the island. We were soon directed to a exchange shop only to find it closed, and with our book telling us that there were no ATMs on the Island things weren't looking too good at all. However, fortune smiled on us in the form of Sue, Peter, Jenny and Ray, two Australian couples weŽd briefly met in the queue for the plane in Papeete and who were now having a beer in a cafe on the main street. They invited us to join them and it was from them that we found out Easter Island does in fact have an ATM which (thank goodness) took our cards! After a beer or two with the Aussies we thanked everyone for their help and headed back to our hotel to dump our stuff before dinner. That dinner turned out to be the most disappointing thing about the whole visit to the island as we went to a French place down by the harbour which was recommended in our book
Next morning, after breakfast down by the sea (the hotel's dining room is down by, and looks out onto, the ocean) we were picked up by our tour. Because we only had one full day on the Island we'd decided to go against our natural loathing of all things organised and go on a trip around the Island figuring that it wasn't much more than a car would have been to hire and also took any pressure off us when it came to driving and deciding what to see.
Our first stop was at Ahu Hanga where we got our first view of the Ahu and the Moai. Ahu are shrines in the form of raised platforms made of fitted stones and rubble with a ramp. The are 360 Ahu on the Island but not all of the Ahu have Moai (statues) on them, though if they do they are referred to as Image Ahu. When seeing the Moai for the first time you really do have to use your imagination as they are virtually all lying flat on their faces, the only ones that are not have been restored in recent years. The reason the Moai were toppled is linked to why they were originally built
Knowing all of this though doesn't really prepare you for quite how big the Moai are and how much work went into their construction. Even toppled it is clear they are huge statues, particularly when you include the red-coloured top knots which rested on their heads. After seeing the Maoi at Ahu Hanga we visited a couple more Ahu with toppled Moai before arriving at Ahu Tongariki where 15 Moai were restored in 1992 under the direction of Chilean archaeologist, Claudio Cristino
Seeing the Maoi at Ahu Tongariki in all their glory is quite an amazing site. They are absolutely enormous standing up, to the point where I was struggling to see how anyone could have transported them across the island and then put them in place with only trees and ropes! I have visited the pyramids in Egypt and like them, the Moai just leave you incredulous at how ingenious (or bonkers, depending on your point of view) our ancestors were and how much they achieved despite their apparent lack of technology.
After wandering Ahu Tongariki for a while snapping away with the camera, it was back on the bus to head up to the quarry at Rano Raraku where the Moai were produced. If anything the quarry is even more of an amazing site then the Moai themselves. Dotted around the hillside are Moai seemingly in all phases of construction. Rather surprisingly we were told that even though there were Moai with only their foreheads visible, all of them were full size and had just been covered up naturally in the centuries since their creation
We ended our day at Anakena Beach which is one of only two sand beaches on the Island. As at Ahu Tongariki, the Moai at Anakena Beach have been repaired and now stand upright. By now though the weather had really taken a turn for the worst and the rain was back with a vengeance. We therefore had a quick look around the beach and the Moai before retreating to the van and heading back to town. Having been dropped off we bumped into our Australian friends again and spent the rest of the day drinking beer at their hotel, swapping stories about our respective days seeing the Moai and comparing notes on our plans for South America (they too were heading to the continent for a tour of Chile, Peru and Bolivia). It was a very nice way to end our time on the Island which, in my view at least, definitely lives up to its billing and is well worth the visit if you ever get the chance.