Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Exploring Easter Island with its hundreds of Moai statues

ALLIE: DAY  70: Tuesday, 24th of April

Exploring the island, hiking up a volcanic hill, amazing maois and a magic sunset

Phil at the controls
A pretty good nights’ sleep (except for the dogs!) and a leisurely breakfast with the other French guests makes us feel so much better. 

We set out around 10 am to drive around the island. The distances are not far. It’s only 30km to the farthest end of it. We set out to drive around the eastern coast line.

The countryside reminds of Ireland or Scotland: barren but green hills, pastures with free grazing horses, lines of dry-stone walls and the wild blue sea bashing against the steep cliffs. 

Even the weather could be Irish except maybe for the temperature. We have sun, we have some little showers (but mainly beautiful sun I must say).
horses are the main means of transport

The first settlers to these islands had come from other Polynesian islands around 8000 years ago. At the height of their culture there were about 4000 Rapa Nui living here in ‘Te Pito o te Henua’ meaning ‘the navel of the world'.
one of many moais

After the arrival of the first Europeans the numbers rapidly declined because of disease and lack of resources. 

The name ‘Easter Islands’ derives from the Dutch admiral Jacob Roggeven who first arrived here on Easter Sunday in 1722, shortly to be followed by – guess whom? – Mr. James Cook of course and then by the French lieutenant Le Perouse. 

Chile finally annexed the islands in 1888 and that’s how it is still up today.

Moai quarry
And there is our first Moai standing near the coast facing inland. 

Nobody really knows the answer to all the questions of these huge carved stone blocks, but scientists believe that most of them date back to the 14th century and we used in clan rites. 

As there were quite a few different clans living on the island they started to compete with each other creating bigger and bigger statues as the rivalry went on. 

These blocks were carved from a quarry near the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. Here we find most of the standing Moais.

Phil enjoys the fabulous views and a rest
Some look so tired from standing upright they started to lean forward. Their noses and mouths remind me of the German comedian Loriot. But these statues are 20meters tall and around 200kg heavy. 

People used to move them by using wooden blocks – no wonder that trees are rare now on this island. We climb up the steep sides of the volcano. 

A fantastic view is the reward. Right in the middle of the crater there is a little lake surrounded by reed but from the top of the volcano we enjoy views to nearly all around the island. Stunning!

We are nearly ‘maoied out’ but there is the impressive row of 15 Maoi at the site Ahu Tongariki that we can’t miss. And again we are so lucky. 

With the weather and with the other tourists. When we arrive to the site it’s still lovely sunny and there isn’t a soul about. But minutes later a big cloud explodes and some busloads of tourists arrive. Let’s get on. 

We come to the secluded beach of Anakena. I manage to talk my husband into a swim. The water is lovely and warm. Only a handful of tourists and locals are here to enjoy that peaceful spot. Eventually we drive back through the middle of the island which is covered by some remaining eucalyptus forest.
a lonely beach and a refreshing swim

We are soo lucky! We may enjoy the perfect Easter Island sunset. Sipping a beer as sun downer near the Tahai statues we wait for the right time to come. 

Nearly 6.30 pm the sun finally sets as a golden ball right between the five moai statues and disappears into the dark blue sea. It couldn’t be better! What a wonderful day. 

I feel that I could live here. It’s such peaceful place. All those horses grazing freely around the island, some gauchos riding on them even in the middle of town, the lovely temperature, the bashing sound of the sea, the open countryside… but it’s miles from anywhere and alas too expensive!
what a magic sunset!

PHIL: Day 70/24 April

the statues are everywhere on this island
Today is our chance to drive a hired 4x4 (well, a Suzuki, anyway) around the main archaeological sites on this small (24km long) island. 

There were apparently four days of torrential rain just before we arrived , evidenced by washouts of the deep red laterite soil everywhere, so we are fortunate in having a day with mostly sunny skies and only the occasional dark cloud and spots of rain. 
exhausted and nearly as stone dead as the moai

Indeed it is perfect for recording the massive brooding statues which are much more numerous than we expected. 

Although there are a few tourist minibus parties our visits are fortuitously timed such that we are almost alone everywhere. 

From Hanga Roa town we drive anti-clockwise with many stops including a climb of Rano Raraku crater lake.

the crater lake

quite a rough sea
We notice our ‘patron’, Lionel, who is taking a small group round in his Pajero which has a broken starter motor, parked off the tarmac. He can’t get started so we tow him, me driving in reverse, using a very short webbing belt, until he jump-starts the car on the main road. 

Then on to Anakena Beach where, against expectations, the water is warm enough for even me to swim in. Bracing against the waves I contemplate the horizon beyond which lies South America some 3900km away to the east.

A girl we met in the Cooks reported that each sunset on Easter Island was watched by ‘the whole population’. 

strong as a rock
Well she might more accurately have said ‘every tourist’ as we discovered when Allie’s plan to have a quiet beer at the moais on Mahanua Bay to watch the sun go down dissolved into what looked like a minor concert audience ringing the five silhouetted statues on the shore.  

A trio of thoughtless giggling girls  fail to note that the other 70+  camera-bedecked spectators want a clear shot of the moai and the sea and languidly stand blocking the view, but nevertheless the atmosphere is almost preternatural.

a gorgeous sunset

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