Discovering Easter Island 9

Discovering Easter Island 9

Discovering Easter Island 9 – Wrapping up Rapa Nui

October 05, 2016: My final full day on Easter Island, no wheels, no more Moai to see, and no ambition; a good day to relax. As soon as my breakfast was on the table Ramon left for the airport and his job supervising baggage handlers. Two charter flights were leaving that morning and he had a lot of work to do. One flight from Australia hadn’t been on the ground for 24 hours and the other less than 48 hours. These were very high cost private excursion flights and it amazed me that they gave so little time to Easter Island. Even for well-heeled tourists, Easter Island may be a once in a lifetime destination and to have so little time to see the island makes no sense to me.

All in all it was a very slow day, I could’ve taken another tour but the only ones that went to anything new would be the horseback tours that cover the west side of the island where there are no roads; they looked pretty expensive so didn’t even inquire about those. Even though it was nice to have a day with nothing to do, I could have done that anywhere, I realized I had scheduled one day too many on Easter Island; it was too late to do anything about that so I just enjoyed my time to relax.

About 7:00 PM I finally got around to going downtown for dinner. As I got to the edge of the business district, it began to rain so instead of continuing on to the waterfront, I stepped into Tia Berta’s and had dinner there. They had more than just empanadas on the menu so I ordered a salad and skewer of fish. It’s just a small place with a few tables inside and 4 tables on the covered patio area in front where I sat; nearly full with locals, mostly either drinking a beer or eating empanadas. The entire time I sat there and ate my dinner, only two other tourists stopped in and they seemed hesitant about eating there. Meanwhile I watched as tourist after tourist stopped into the empanada shop across the street that looked a little better on the outside, but had lousy food. My own dinner was excellent and cost 18,000 pesos, about $26.00.

October 06, 2016: My flight back to the mainland wasn’t until early afternoon so I had one more free morning to pack and putter about the hotel. I did go downtown once for lunch and stopped into the souvenir side of the public market one last time. To my surprise some of the counters closed before were open for business and had new and interesting wares. One item caught my attention, a hand adz carved from hard wood with a stone chisel tied into the notch. The handle was curved to fit well in my hands and carved with images of the Birdman Cult. The only down side the cost, it was expensive but not as bad as many items of poorer quality I’d seen, they asked 50,000 pesos, about $75. I try to be frugal, some say cheap, when I travel but there are some things I’ll splurge on and getting a quality souvenir or gift is always better than saving money by buying something I don’t really want for less money, so I paid for the stone adz with no regrets.

Back at the hotel after lunch I spent a long time talking with Ramon, he was preparing for a family BBQ so we sat next to his garage where his grill and woodpile were under shelter next to a picnic table. He told me a lot about the island culture and life there and I really enjoyed the afternoon until it was time to go to the airport. I paid for my stay as their guest and as I was leaving Ramon’s mother and wife Josie gave me goodbye hugs and the little princess came up and gave me a big hug and kiss, it was really like saying good bye to family.

Ramon drove me to the airport and as he said goodbye placed a necklace with miniature Moai over my head, just as he had greeted me with a lei when I arrived. We said our goodbyes and I had just a short wait for my flight to Santiago at 3:30 PM; my adventure on Easter Island was over. Rapa Nui was an amazing place to visit and I feel lucky that I can now cross it off my bucket list of destinations.

The early people of Easter Island carved and moved massive stone figures across the island, as the years went by the statues grew from 2 meters to over 10 meters tall. Islanders moved the statues several miles to different locations around the island, leaving many where they fell during transit. Exactly how they were moved remains a mystery but most agree that the legends of Moai “walking” refers to moving them upright and not laying flat on rollers. The forest that originally covered the island was eventually destroyed by both the people’s need for resources and introduced rats that ate the seeds preventing the forest’s re-growth. The destruction of their environment caused the end of one culture and growth of a new cult that could live under the new conditions.

The early culture left wonderful and mysterious clues to their society that flourished for centuries before destroying the ecology of the island that ultimately brought their own culture to an end and led to the Birdman Cult that followed. The end of that culture was the arrival of Europeans that brought disease and more hardship including abduction by slavers until the population dwindled to just a hand full of survivors. From oral histories of that small group of only 111 people comes what little is known of the early cultures; modern archeologists and other scientists still don’t completely understand the islands true story. The history I portrayed here is what I gleaned from what I was told there and read in different sources.

Today the descendents of those few surviving Rapanui and new arrivals from Chile cater to the tourists that come from all over the world to experience the wonders of Easter Island. The difficulties of getting there means there are not hoards of tourist even in high season and prices of all things including hotels, meals and souvenirs are high. Even with the high cost I think this is a wonderful destination that anyone with a sense of adventure should experience.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 8

Discovering Easter Island 8

Discovering Easter Island 8 – Hanging out in Hanga Roa

October 04, 2016: After my slow morning routine, I needed to turn in my rental Jeep by 11 o’clock. That gave me a couple of hours to get the most out of my rental so I headed through Hanga Roa to see some of the sites close to town.

One the waterfront, between the recreation center soccer field and the fishing pier was a small park with an ancient Ahu and one restored Moai. The first time I walked by it I didn’t think much about it since the island has so many, more impressive sites, but as I thought about it I realized it was a symbol for the village, island and people of Rapa Nui, in the center of the community. Another Moai which I believe was from the same Ahu is moved to the entrance of the fishing pier and unlike all the others on the island, positioned to face towards the sea. It stands as a marker for the small development that is the fishing pier with plaza, restaurants, dive shops and fishing boats, named in honor of the legendary first king of the island who came across the ocean by double hulled canoe, Hotu Matua.

Just down the shore from there I stopped at Hanga Kio’e. It consists of three small Ahu, two restored and one in its original collapsed condition. The two restored Ahu each had one Moai erected, one in good condition and one nearly unrecognizable as a statue, eroded and broken to not much more than a large rock. The actual names of these Ahu are now forgotten, but legend holds that the site was where every new King of the Island lived for the first months of their reign. There they learned the skills needed by the king, including how to read and write the ancient language, or at least the pictographs that made of the language, now unknown and found only on a very few artifacts.

The last site on my tour of Easter Island was just a short way down the coast, known as Tahai. The site has three restored Ahu and the small city park surrounding the Ahu has foundation stones from the ancient village in very good condition. I was able to better see the actual shape of the ancient homes than I saw at the sites I first visited along the southern coast. There are also caves that were once lived in by the islanders when there was no longer a forest to provide wood for shelters. The entire park is surrounded by homes which must make for magnificent views for those lucky enough to live there. I am sure most if not all the homes offer rooms for rent or act as small hotels; I saw a couple buildings that seemed to be rental bungalows.

Of the three Ahu, one has five Moai in varying degrees of dilapidation, plus one base with no Moai at all. Nearby on a very small Ahu stands a single Moai, well eroded from centuries of coastal weather but unbroken. The main point of the entire site is the third small Ahu. Standing on it is a single Moai in very good condition, topped with an intact Pukao of red stone on its head and the white coral eyes installed, the only Moai on the island with them. These white stones were found both intact and broken in many sites but this is the one Moai where restoration included them. By luck of the draw, I felt happy that I saved this one for last. Though restored with the cement used to install the eyes visible, it was very impressive to see an unbroken Moai as it may well have looked hundreds of years ago as a lasting memory of my journey of around Rapa Nui.

On the way back to downtown, I made a couple more stops before turning in my Jeep. I drove by the island cemetery, to see the beautiful monuments and memorials the residents have for their loved ones. It may seem odd, but cemeteries, especially unique ones have become an interest of mine, if for no other reason than because a good friend makes a point of visiting them where ever she goes in her own extensive travels and I do it as a nod to her. I also saw it as poignant reminders of the contrast between how the current islanders, who are predominantly Catholic, revere their dead and those ancient people who raised Moai in ancestor worship.

I did stop at a souvenir stand on the edge of town, looking for more unique and hopefully good quality handicrafts and they did have some but at outrageous prices; a large, beautifully carved ornamented wood fishhook was 70,000 pesos, over $100.

Driving through town I realized I had one more stop to make. I pulled into the island post office and ran in with my passport. I had it stamped when I entered Chile but the post office in Hanga Roa will stamp tourist’s passports as a free souvenir of the island.

From the Post Office it was just a short drive to the Insular Rent-a-Car agency to drop off the Jeep. As soon as I talked to the lady at the agency, the first thing she asked was whether or not the gas tank was full. I had forgotten all about filling it up before turning the Jeep back in, so had to make a fast trip to the island’s only gas station where I filled up the tank, it cost 12,000 pesos, over $17 for about 3.5 gallons. With that done it was a quick process to drop off the Jeep. The lady gave the car a quick look over and quickly stamped my contract, I was out the door in about 5 minutes.

It was just 11 o’clock so I stayed downtown to do a little walking about before lunch. At the public market I saw several men outside on the sidewalk with a large grill cooking fish and meat; nearby fishermen and farmers were selling their wares, some out the backs of their pickup trucks. I didn’t stop there but just wandered about town for about an hour before heading back to the hotel. For lunch I stopped for an empanada at the small shop recommended by Ramon my first day on the island, Tia Berta’s. It was across the street from the shop I’d had such a disappointing empanada the night before and I hoped for a better experience. I ordered a seafood empanada but the girl came back saying they were out of seafood, but did have tuna; I’m not sure what they were out of. The Tuna and Cheese empanada was 3,500 pesos, about $1.50 more than the terrible one I had across the street and this one was delicious; flaky pastry with loads of large pieces of tuna, well worth the difference in price.

The afternoon was spent relaxing, catching up on my journal and just being lazy. For dinner I decided to give La Kaleta, the restaurant with terrible service, another chance. Ramon was very surprised when I told him of the experience so wanted to see how they were without a large group to cater to; this time I wasn’t disappointed. The only other customers while I was there were a couple at one table. It’s just a small place, next to the fishing pier and overlooking the entrance to the small harbor, while I was there I saw fishermen bringing in their fresh catch. I had a beer and grilled fish for 20,000 pesos ($30.00), not cheap but then nothing on the island is. Both the service and meal were excellent, and the portion size was good but not huge like some other restaurants. I was well satisfied when I returned to the hotel, very glad I had eaten there under better conditions.

Next time I will cover my final day on the island and wrap up my tour of Rapa Nui.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 7

Discovering Easter Island 7

Discovering Easter Island 7 – Day 2 Exploring Rapa Nui by Jeep, part II

October 03, 2016 (cont.): My visit to Vinapu would be the last stop to see Moai for the day, the others I wanted to visit I were in Hanga Roa and I could visit before turning in my Jeep in the morning or see on foot.

While I still had transportation I wanted to see the major Birdman Cult sites outside of town. The Birdman Cult was a religious movement that developed at a time of rivalries and possibly warfare between the different villages or clans on the island. The destruction of the forests led to less rainfall, no resources to build boats or houses and this eventually led to the end of the statue building and ancestor worship. The new religion included fertility rites and the collection of bird’s eggs from small offshore islands where sea bird colonies nested. It’s thought that the Sooty Tern was the bird most revered as the god Make-Make brought it back to the island from the ocean every spring and then produced more birds on nearby islets.

I drove back to Hanga Roa, past the airport terminal, my hotel and the gas station to the west end of the runway where the road crossed between the perimeter fence and the shore. Just past the airport fence I stopped at a small city park above the cliffs and shore line. A walkway led across the park past exercise equipment and a snack stand to a viewing area over the cliffs; from there a rather hazardous wooden stairway led down the cliffs.

Climbing down the cliff face was not for the faint of heart, I was going down to look at a cave at on the rocky shore, Ana Kai Tangata known as the Birdman Cave. At the bottom of the stairs I crossed the boulder strewn entrance of the cave; finding solid footing on the storm and wave tossed rocks a challenge. The back of the cave was roped off with signs warning of “Falling Cliff” but on the far side from where I entered the ceiling was painted with the stylized bird common to the Birdman Cult. Faded and eroded in places but some were very visible and recognizable, the beautiful red, black ad white paintings of the Sooty Tern were great. Then I made the heart thumping climb back up the stairs over and through the jagged rocks of the cliff.

By this time I was getting hungry for lunch so drove back into town and found a parking spot about a block from the Club Sandwich where I had the same large salad I’d eaten before. I finished lunch and relaxed until about 3:00 PM when I set off to finish my touring for the day. I went back around the west end of the runway, past the Birdman Cave and the National Park Headquarters to drive up the Volcano that loomed over the airport. At breakfast Ramon recommended I not go there in the morning because of the clouds hiding the summit but now it was clear. I passed a good road that would have taken me to Vinapu, the Moai site I saw in the morning. Then I continued up the volcano and passed a trail for hikers to reach the summit. Near the top I stopped at an overlook to see the airport, town and much of the island spread out below me.

On the top of mountain, the road followed the rim of the huge crater. I stopped at the overlook of the crater, looking down at the steep inside of the crater to the marshy crater floor. As I got back to my car I noticed this was also where the hiking trail I passed on my way up ended. Then I drove on around the crater rim to the Orango village site. This was the only impressive visitor center I’d seen in the entire park with restrooms and information displays.

I showed my ticket there and then walked around to the trail that led through the site. Orango was a ceremonial village of 54 stone houses; only used for a few weeks in the spring. This religion revered its god Make-Make and the Manutara (Sooty Tern). It’s thought the cult began while the Moai culture was still dominate on the island then gained a following as the statue carving culture ended until it was the dominate religious and political force on the island.

Central to the cult was the small rocky islet of Motu Nui that lies just off shore opposite the 800 foot high cliffs of the volcano. Little more than a great rock sticking out of the sea, Motu Nui was the nesting site for Manutara every spring. The Birdman Cult involved men who climbed down the cliffs, swam to the islet, climbed it and hid out in caves until the Soot Terns nested then they would take eggs and swim back and climb up the cliffs to the village. The first back with an intact egg became the Birdman, or king for the next year.

The 54 stone slab houses that make up the village have similar layouts to the stone foundations seen at the Moai sites. The stone slab are stacked and cantilevered to leave a very small interior space and very thick walls, leaving only a very low entrance open on one side. The houses range in condition from seemingly pristine to collapsed and jumbled piles of rock. The houses in good repair and solid are the originals, of the collapsed, some fell in on their own and were found that way and some were torn down in attempts to see what was inside by early visitors to the island and would be archeologists.

There were quite a few visitors to the village while I was there, making me walk slower than I would normally but after about an hour I’d seen everything I wanted and read most of the informational posters, I even eaves dropped on one tour group who’s guide was giving her spiel in English.

Once back at my hotel I took a short nap before driving down to the water front for dinner. I wanted to try a recommended restaurant on the fishing boat pier, La Kaleta. Knowing the portion sizes of other restaurants, I only ordered a beer and the “Kaleta Table” appetizer; a tasting plate of 4 different seafood dishes and very good. Unfortunately the service was terrible so when I realized just the appetizer wouldn’t satisfy me, I didn’t order anything else. In the center of the dining room overlooking the shore and ocean was a long table with 20 Americans who kept the waiters running and leaving them with little time for the other diners.

Earlier I had talked with Ramon at the hotel and he told me about his second job, as a part time baggage handling supervisor, working only the charter flights landing at the airport. The baggage handlers don’t speak English, which isn’t a problem for the regular LAN airline flights because the crews are all Chilean but charter flight crews only speak English so he is needed as an interpreter. That afternoon an Abercrombie and Finch/Nat Geo Charter had landed and he had worked it. The well heeled passengers were all staying at the large hotel I we passed my first day on the island, $500 per night/person; the crowd of Americans at my restaurant was with that group.

Walking back to the hotel I knew I should have ordered more than just the appetizer so I stopped for an empanada at a small shop across the street from the place Ramon had recommended for empanadas but was closed. What I had was terrible, a frozen factory made meat pie that was a poor imitation of the one I ate at Anakena beach.

At my hotel I retired very early, before 10 o’clock because I was feeling a cold coming on and hoped a little extra rest might help. I would return my Jeep in the morning and had to be at the rental agency before 11:00 AM. It was great to have my own car to get around the island but at 45,000 pesos a day it was too expensive to keep longer. I will tell you about my sightseeing without it next time.

Enjoy the Journey.

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 6

Discovering Easter Island 6

Discovering Easter Island 6 – Day 2 Exploring Rapa Nui by Jeep, part I

October 03, 2016: It was a cloudy morning as I sat outside the reception area, checking my email and waiting for breakfast at 08:30; I was getting into the routine of slower mornings than I got used to on the Amazon where everything started at 6 o’clock in the morning. As I ate the usual hearty breakfast, Ramon was in the kitchen as his 3 year old daughter, the princess, came out to check me out and collect everything within her reach that was small enough for her to pick up; the Moai shaped salt and pepper shakers seemed to be her favorites. She was used to seeing new people and I’d met her before so she wasn’t timid in coming up to me to make sure I saw what she had collected in her little box; occasionally Ramon gently admonish her to be careful not to break anything, but the princess knew she ruled to roost.

Ramon and I discussed my plan for the day, which was to visit sites on the west side of the island and nearer to Hanga Roa I’d have seen on the half day tours. He advised me that the volcano on the Southwest corner of the island, Rano Kau, on the other side of the airport, was hidden by clouds so I should go to the west side of the island first.

When I headed out about 09:30 I took his advice and took the road across the center of the island. I was looking for a road to the left that led towards the west coastline, of course I missed the turn and drove several kilometers before I figured that out. When I got turned around I quickly found the correct turn and headed down the dirt road. At a Y in the road was a sign pointing to Panu Pau, the quarry for the red lava used to carve the Pukao head pieces for the Moai. When I got to the end of the road there was one other car in the car park and three people walking to the top of the hill. The car park was in the swale between three low hills, the low area filled with trees and thick brush but the hills around it treeless and grass covered. A low stone wall defined the site with a thatch roofed shelter but no attendant or guard in sight, just a turnstile at the gateway in the wall. Scattered at the foot of the hill were about 20 round carved stones with flat top and bottom in various stages of carving, each about 2 meters in diameter and nearly as tall.

A groomed trail led up the hill with steps cut into the hillside, it wasn’t a tall mountain, only a couple hundred feet up the trail to the top where the path led around the rim of a small volcanic crater; the soft, lightweight red lava stone made up the inside of the crater. The Rapanui had carved their blocks of red stone from the inside wall of the crater, rough shaped them at the bottom then move them up the very steep slope to the rim then roll them down to where the others now rested at the bottom of the hill. Once at the bottom they finished the detail work on the stones before moving them to the other sites on the island to be hoisted to the top of the Moai; some as far as 12 kilometers away on the northeast corner of the island. It isn’t known exactly what they represented; maybe some type of hat, stylized hair-do, or something else, no one knows for sure.

When I reached the top of the crater the three men I’d seen earlier were standing at an information plaque that over looked Hanga Roa only a couple of miles away but pretty far below us. They were talking in French so I didn’t understand their conversation, but I did think they would never move on so I could read the sign. It was written in both Spanish and English so I believe one was a guide who was translating the sign into French for the other two. Finally they moved down the hill and I had my opportunity to study the sign. It told a little about Hanga Roa and gave directions to the other sites visible from the vantage point; it was a beautiful vista to the South, over open country, forest, farms, the town and finally the sea that stretch to the far horizon.

By the time I returned to my Jeep, the three men had driven off and another car drove up to park just as I headed back down the road. It wasn’t too far back to the Y in the road and I continued towards the western shore. The road led past farms and at the end of the road I stopped in the nearly empty car park of the Akivi site. It was the only Ahu I saw on the island that wasn’t on or close to the rocky shoreline. This site sat in a shallow valley and the sea was visible several miles in the distance, in this case the 7 Moai faced down the valley towards the sea instead of away from it, because the village at one time sat between the Ahu and the far off shore.

There were 4 other visitors there when I arrived, 2 were looking over the Moai and taking pictures and 2 others were headed to a walking trail that led to other sites on the shoreline, there was no road to drive there. Outside the stone wall was a small building with snack bar and souvenirs stand that made me think it was on private next to the parking lot. At the gateway in the stone wall, a guard checked my ticket before I went through into the site. The 7 Moai were restored and in fairly good condition. The slope at the base of the Ahu was covered in rounded stones that from a distanced seemed like a frame that enhanced the appearance of the statues and platform as did the background of grassy slope and forest edge at the top of the hill. It had a completely different appearance and atmosphere than any of the other sites I visited on Rapa Nui. I wandered for some time around the site, working my way all the way around to the back of the Moai, only small signs along edge of the rounded stones separated visitors from the Ahu and Moai, not a rail fence or stone walls I saw at other sites.

At the back of the Ahu I expected to go through another gate in the fence back to the car park but it was blocked off and I started to climb over, the guard yelled at me and indicated to stop. I had to walk all the way back around to get to my car. Once out the gate I’d entered earlier, I stopped at the snack bar/souvenir stand to see what they had. Since no one had stopped there after I arrived, and one car had driven off, the guard didn’t have much to do and was sitting in the snack bar chatting with the old man who ran the place. I didn’t get anything to eat but did check out the souvenirs and was quite impressed. This was the first souvenir stand I’d seen with anything that really peaked my interest. My eyes quickly fell on a carved wooden souvenir, shaped like a double ended paddle with a face and stylized birds carved on both sides. It’s about 20 inches long and 6 inches wide at the paddle shapes on the ends, made from palm wood and called a Rapa or Dance Paddle, traditionally carried by a chief or leader as sign of authority. I looked at two ceremonial clubs similar to the one I saw earlier at Anakena but they were crude in comparison so kept going back to the paddle. The old man didn’t speak English so couldn’t tell me anything about it but the sticker on the back said $40,000, meaning pesos; more than I wanted to pay but knowing I might not find anything I liked better I took it.

I didn’t know how far it was to walk the trail to the sites along the shore, so I opted not to do that. Instead I drove back to Hanga Roa. On the dirt road back to the highway I was stopped once by a small herd of horses blocking the road. I pulled over to wait for them to wander off the road, from behind me came a pickup truck that was in a greater hurry and he honked his way through; the horses were used to that so they didn’t bolt, just meandered to the edge of the road so the pickup could pass; then I continued on my way back to town.

When I got to the Airport on the edge of town, I turned off to the left down a dirt road following the perimeter fence and led all the way around the airstrip, crossing between the end of the runway and the rocky coast. Outside the perimeter fence at the end of the runway was a fenced compound for the oil company, I think it was the pumping station for the underwater pipeline used to unload aviation fuel from the tankers. I was looking for a site called Vinapu and at first thought it must be on the shore below the oil company but then noticed that what I thought was an open gate into the airport was actually a gap between the two fences which the road ran through. Once through the narrow gap it was a short drive on a badly rutted road to the even worse road down to the site I was looking for. I found a fairly level spot to park in the washed out car park and walked the 100 meters downhill to the Ahu. It wasn’t restored so the Moai was toppled and broken and the Ahu crumbling and eroded, but the large carved stones that made up the center of the Ahu were still standing, they were carved with a precision that rivaled some of the Inca stonework I’d seen in Peru in Cuzco and Machu Picchu; they were like no other carved stones on Easter Island.

After a short time admiring the stone work, done without any metal tools, I drove back to Hanga Roa over the rutted, washed out road. Driving along the perimeter fence I notice a light in the western sky, it was the daily LAN airlines flight from Santiago Chile. I pulled over to watch as it landed. For a retired Boeing employee it was nice to watch the 787 Dreamliner land smoothly and taxi past; 250 more tourists coming to enjoy the island and soon 250 others would be leaving, their visit to this amazing island complete.

Vinapu was the last Moai site I visited that day, next I would check out sites associated with the later culture that developed on the island when the Rapanui abandoned their ancestor worship, stopped carving statues and the island was deforested, the new belief system is commonly known as the Birdman Cult. I will end here and tell you of that next time.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 5

Discovering Easter Island 5

Discovering Easter Island 5- Exploring Rapa Nui Solo, part II

October 02, 2016 (cont.): In my last installment I ended with my lunch on the rocky shore of Easter Island. Just as I finished my lunch, a local family arrived in a small pickup. It seemed the mother and father were in front and three adult young ladies rode in the back. They pulled off the road near me but didn’t seem to pay me much attention. It looked as this was a regular stop for them because they walked down a trail by the cliffs, possibly to go picnicking or fishing along the shore at its base.

I cleaned up from my lunch stop, placing all my trash in a plastic bag I kept in the car, I knew better than to look for a rubbish bin and would carry it back to town. Back on the highway, I drove back up to the Moai quarry. I knew I couldn’t go back through the gate, but outside the gate there was plenty to see. Ramon had told me about the trail from the Rano Raraku quarry across the island the Moai were moved on, the Te Ara O Te Moai. The giant statues were moved upright but if they fell over the islanders were unable to raise them again, and were left where they fell.

I found a spot in the nearly empty parking lot and walked about 100 feet back down the road then turned onto a trail passing between two fallen statues. As I walked I passed more and more of the Moai which never finished their trip from the quarry. Most fell face down but a few were laying on their backs. Except for those that were badly eroded, it was possible to see some of the detail of their carvings up close. The statues are not just giant heads as those on the hillside of the quarry appear, they are full statues with elongated heads and wide bellies that make them bottom heavy with some details like arms down their sides with hands and elongated fingers flat on their bellies carved in bas relief. There are some with carvings of tattoos and clothing features like belts.

I walked a mile or so along the trail, mostly it was fairly level ground but they did go up and down easy slopes. It would have been wonderful to see them originally moved but I cannot even imagine the disappointment or even social disruption that one toppling over in transit caused. Of the over 900 Moai carved, most made it to their destinations around the island but a great many lay on this and other roads leading to the many different Ahu.

Walking back to the road and then parking lot, I realized I was the only one on the trail, I hadn’t passed one person in either direction. There were some people visible on the slopes of the volcano and a few cars in the parking lot but really not that many, though one car did pass me entering the parking lot as I was leaving; driving out I also passed one of the bicyclists taking a short cut over a rutted track back to the main road. This was indeed the low season for tourists and that made it a wonderful time to visit.

The south coast road continued along the shoreline then crossed over a small pass between two volcanos to the north coast. At the bottom of the pass where the road curved to the left, I turned right onto a dirt track leading along the shore. Ramon had recommended I see one of the Ahu up the shore called Mahatua. There were two other cars parked along the track, one near the Ahu and another farther up the hill, I stopped near one to look at the Ahu Ramon had marked on my map. It was badly collapsed and the Moai so eroded they were nearly unrecognizable. There were stronger storms and waves on the exposed northern coast which caused much more damage and no efforts had been made to do any restorations that I could see. There was no one around the car I saw parked but as I walked about I heard voices below near the rocky shore, I think those from the car were there among the rocks but didn’t see them

There was one other stop I wanted to make that afternoon, along the northern coast was a petroglyph site located next to the highway, Papa Vaka. The site was deserted as I drove up, it was right along the highway, the parking lot not much more than a wide spot on the road.

It was not a well-publicized site, not even identified on some tourist maps and many tours pass it by, so there was no guard to check tickets at the entrance, just a turnstile. It had a marked trail leading between the rocky outcroppings of the small site. The petroglyphs were carved on exposed tops of the flat bedrock. Standing on the trail some of the figures were nearly unidentifiable; small viewing platforms were built so visitors could get a better look from above, without walking on the stones themselves. There were very recognizable Tuna fish, Sharks and even a large double hulled canoe etched in the stone plus some very abstract designs. Amongst the etched stones was a large hole in the ground, a lava tube going straight down into the bedrock, I couldn’t but believe it was an integral part of the site that must have been very important to the early Rapanui though I saw no sign describing it. The information plaques next to the carvings were well weathered themselves and some totally unreadable. As I was leaving another car stopped so I was not the only tourist interested.

Continuing along the coast I passed another Ahu site, Te Pito Kura surrounded by a rock wall but I only stopped to take pictures from the parking lot. I could see that it was not restored and badly eroded.

The road ended at an intersection with the main road across the Island, just a couple of kilometers from the beach at Anakena. I turned to the right to visit the beach but didn’t stop to spend any time there before heading back to Hanga Roa. The road climbed to the pass between two volcanoes and as I neared the top I slowed to pass through a small herd of horses grazing along the roadside, they were totally uninterested in the cars and definitely not in a hurry to get off the road as I passed.

I was back at the hotel by 4:00 PM tired and worn out by too much sun so took a short nap, and got up about 7 o’clock to go get dinner. I drove down to the water front and stopped at the Te Moana restaurant right on the shore that advertised “Sunset Cocktails” on the sandwich board outside. As I walked to the patio bar I was greeted by Ramon’s brother Andres who worked there. He was a very friendly guy who’d lived in the United State for several years but returned to Easter Island because of an illness. He was a waiter at the restaurant so too busy to chat but did get me a great table on the patio and recommendation for dinner.

I settled in to watch the sunset, pretty ladies in the restaurant, surfers riding their waves into the rocky harbor and ships laying peacefully at anchor off shore while drinking my tall Gin and Tonic, all in all a great place to enjoy the evening. My dinner, a Fruits de Mer of sautéed fish, shellfish and pasta was both huge and excellent. As I ate a slow relaxed dinner, a very pretty young lady walked across the lawn between patio and shore. She must have belonged to a Polynesian dance troop, walking barefoot and dressed in a light Mumu that reached the ground, long straight hair, a wreath of flowers on her head, her back straight with a regal bearing; the perfect image of a beautiful Polynesian princess making the illusion of paradise complete.

Back at my room I sat on my patio, enjoyed my evening coffee and then turned in about 10:30; it was a very good day. I was looking forward to having my little Jeep one more day to continue exploring Rapa Nui.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 4

Discovering Easter Island 4

Discovering Easter Island 4 – Exploring Rapa Nui Solo, part I

October 02, 2016: I deliberately took my time in the morning, not wanting to get to breakfast too early. About 8 o’clock I sat outside the dining room under the overhanging roof, setting up my tablet computer on a table and finally connected to the internet; it was very slow and I wasn’t able to do more than send out a couple of emails and couldn’t attach any pictures.

Seeing me sitting outside, Ramon brought my coffee out and at 08:30 told me breakfast was ready; pretty much the same as the day before but still delicious and filling. He sat with me and we discussed what I’d seen the day before and what I planned for the day. The tour company offered three tours of the island; the full day tour I took the day before and two half day tours to other parts of the island closer to Hanga Roa for 15,000 pesos each. They offered the full day and half day tours on alternate days so I could take at least one or both of the short tours or go exploring on my own. We talked about bike, motorbike, 4-wheeler ATV, and car rentals and he found a flyer from one of the rental agencies. It looked like rain and not being a great motorcyclist or bicycler, I quickly discounted those options. An ATV sounded fun, but when I saw it was more expensive to rent than a small jeep, I decided to rent the jeep for 45,000 pesos per day, their smallest and least expensive car; not really a Jeep but a Suzuki Jimny, all little 4-wheel drive SUVs are called Jeeps. Definitely more expensive than the tours, but it gave me a lot more flexibility and there was plenty of room inside the fence to park at the hotel.

Since I didn’t have to rush for a morning tour, I took the opportunity of a slow morning and about 10 o’clock walked down the street to the car rental agencies in town. All the agencies offered the same vehicles for the same prices so I went to Insular rent-a-car, whose flyer Ramon showed me earlier. The lady at the desk quickly filled out my rental agreement, took a photocopy of my driver’s license and I was outside checking out my little car in about 5 minutes. In her broken English, the only specific instructions she gave me was to drive slowly, which she repeated several times. I drove it back to my hotel; with light traffic on the road it was not a problem getting back into the habit of driving a stick shift. They drive on the same side of the road as in the States with good lane discipline and slow traffic, so driving on my own was a snap.

At the hotel I loaded my shoulder bag with water, map, camera, binoculars and the left over sandwich from the night before, then headed out. I planned to follow the same route the tour took the day before so I could get more pictures of the sites I saw the first day and spend more time exploring some of the sites plus some the tour bypassed.

Out the hotel gate, I turned left onto the road leading past the airport and out of town to the highway that crossed the island. I knew I had to turn onto the south coast road but I passed it sooner than I expected and missed the turn. Farther up the road I came upon a bicycle tour with riders stretched out over about half a mile and had to slowly make my way past them on the narrow two lane road. Past them I realized I’d missed my turn and found a wide spot to turn around and headed back the way I came. Since the island is so small with only two paved roads, there are nearly no road signs so when I came back towards town, I turned left on the only paved road I passed, across the a field at the corner I saw what must be a small hotel with 3 concrete Moai standing in front; I noted those as my landmark to find the road in the future.

As soon as I reached the shoreline it was clear I was on the right road and quickly saw where we stopped the day before. I found the road to the parking lot and spent some time at the ruined Viahu site, taking the pictures I missed because of my low battery during the tour. I spent some time there not just looking at the ruins of the Ahu and Moai, but also along the rugged coastline. Next to the site was a small rocky cove that was once the fishing harbor for the ancient village, I couldn’t imagine how difficult launch or bring boats ashore would be, even dugout canoes. Today, a boat launch is carved from the rocky shore so modern fishing boats can be launched but there is not much more than a cleared channel and breakwater. While I was walking around the harbor, a young lady on a bicycle was leaving and headed down the highway and as I left a different woman also passed by on her bike; obviously bicycle tours were popular both in groups and solo.

After leaving Viahu I did the same thing at Aka Hanga, checking out the ruins and the surrounding area. It was desolate with many stone walls and piled rocks that are of unknown origin. Some may be from the ancient villagers to separate plots of land, or they may be from the 19th century when the island was used for grazing cattle and stone fences built then; the stones are silent.

I continued down the highway, enjoying the beauty of the rocky shore. The land near the coast was open, rocky grass land with stone or barbed wire fences and usually horses on both sides. Of course not all the horses were feral, some wore halters, but how the owners kept track of their own I’ll never know. There were a few scattered trees, usually growing inside low stone wall about 1 meter high that encircled it. All along the road as I stopped at different sites and driving between them, I kept passing the two young women peddling their way around the island.

After stopping at Tongariki for a few more pictures of the impressive 15 Moai, I went back along the coast road to a wide open area at the top of the cliffs on the shoreline. I pulled over and parked between the cliff and road, opened up the rear door of the little Jeep, sat on the back and enjoyed my lunch overlooking the rocky coast that strung out in both directions, undisturbed by buildings or civilization. There were few cars passing on the road, and no sign of life anywhere I looked, except of course one of the bicycling ladies. Other than that, the only movement was windblown grass and birds. As I wrote earlier, all of the native land birds originally found on Rapa Nui by the first Polynesian settlers became extinct. Except for sea birds which have recolonized the island, there are only four species of birds on the island; House Sparrows and Pigeons that seem to make a home where ever men live, and Common Diuca Finch and Chimango Caracara were introduced. The Caracara are related to Falcons but behave almost like crows; gregarious, numerous and unafraid of people, they will even form into small flocks. Along with other land bird species that were also introduced but didn’t establish viable breeding population, the Caracaras and Finch were introduced from mainland Chile.

When Europeans started to settle on the island, it was leased by a British company from Chile to be used to raise cattle. The major problem was that the besides no trees, the island was infested by rats, both the smaller Polynesian rat which arrived with the first Polynesians on their canoes and later the larger European rat came on the European’s ships. To control the rats the Caracara were introduced because they would prey on the rats and nest on the cliffs; today the rats are controlled and the Caracara are everywhere; the other birds were introduced to fill other niches.

I’ll stop here and continue my journey around the island next time

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames
 

Discovering Easter Island 3

Discovering Easter Island 3

Discovering Easter Island 3- Beginning my exploration of Easter Island, part II

October 01, 2016 (cont.): After finishing my lunch at the Rano Raraki quarry, I wandered through the gift shops outside the gates. There were lots of the usual tourist kitsch for sale, most of the stalls had the same things with very few handicraft souvenirs; everything at very high prices. I was able to find a few things I did like, and at the same time able to change some of my larger currency to get the 5000 pesos I needed; when we boarded our bus I paid the guide the money I still owed for the tour.

From the quarry we continued along the coast to Pito Kura. The site had just one Moai, reported to be the largest ever erected except for one at Tongariki. It was also the last one ever raised, estimated by archeologists about 1600 A.D. Legend holds it was commissioned by a widow in memory or her husband. Islanders are working to raise funds to have the Ahu and entire site fully restored.

After that stop, we continued to the north side of the island to Anakena. This is the only sandy beach on the island and reputed to be where the original Polynesians came ashore all those centuries ago. The beach itself is at the end of a small valley and only about 100 meters across on a small bay between low rocky headlands. Tall palms and grassy lawns with picnic tables make it a welcoming and popular spot for tourists and locals alike; with a few cabanas with small cafes, souvenir stands and restrooms next to the parking lot. Across the narrow valley from the road and concession area stand the partially restored Ahu for the village that once sat at the head of the valley. The large Ahu has several Moai standing, 4 have red lava stone Pukao atop them.

From the Moai I walked across the beach, dipping my toes in the chilly waters of the cold Pacific Ocean current that circulates up from Antarctica. There were a few people sunning themselves on the beach and swimming; families spread out their towels on the sand or lawns. We had a long stop here to give people a chance to go swimming if they wished, and several in my group had brought their swimming suits. I retired to one of the small round cabanas that served as cafes, sat at the rough wood table to drink a beer and ordered an empanada, the meat pies that are so popular in Chile; mine was huge with flakey pastry, chicken and cheese and delicious.

There were fewer souvenirs than I saw at the lunch stop, but they did have a couple different things, including a Ao, or ceremonial club. It was wood, about 30 inches long, tapered with a head carved on the wide end. It was interesting but seemed fairly crude plus they wanted 60,000 pesos, nearly $90; definitely not worth that.

When nearly all of those in my group gathered at the bus we boarded and then waited for one Chilean family with a small son who had gone swimming. They took quite awhile to finally get dressed and ready to go. But this was the last stop of the tour and no one seemed impatient waiting except the driver and guide who moved the bus up closer to the buildings so it was more visible.

When we were finally all seated on the bus, we headed back to Hanga Roa along the main highway that runs across the center of the Island. It took us over a pass between two of the island’s volcanoes then down through the eucalyptus forest. This is the main road on the island and most of the islanders, who don’t live in the town, live on small farms along or near the road. With very little automobile traffic, the many horses and cattle running loose were the biggest driving hazard on the road; nobody speeds so it was a slow drive back, taking about 30 minutes.

We came into town past the airport and they dropped me off at my hotel about 4:30 PM. I washed out some clothes and hung them out on my patio before lying down and falling asleep. I woke about 6 o’clock, and then went out for dinner, walking out the side gate of the garden directly to the street to down town; it was about a 5 minute walk to the business district. Instead of going all the way to the water front I stopped at a open air café across the street from the car rental agencies called “Club Sandwich”; instead of club sandwiches as I know them, it was more a burger joint. Being a bit hungry, I ordered a salad and a chicken club sandwich. What I got was a huge salad with lettuce, avocado, asparagus, sweet corn, cheese, and the cubes of bacon. The sandwich arrived and it was on a thin hamburger bun about 8 inches in diameter, layered with cubes of chicken and stir fried vegetables; the entire sandwich was about 5 inches tall. I ate all the salad and less than half the sandwich and was stuffed. I took the remainder of my sandwich back to the hotel since there was a refrigerator in the sitting room.

Like the night before, Ramon had left the thermos of hot water and I enjoyed my evening cup of coffee before turning in around 10:30.

As a last note about my first day of sightseeing, the night before I hadn’t checked my camera and if I had, I’d have noticed that the battery was very low and recharged it. All day while going to the different Ahu and Maoi sites I had to ration my picture taking. I knew I would not get another chance to visit the quarry so saved the battery power for that visit. Luckily the camera had enough power so I got all the pictures I wanted there. I had several more days on the island so knew I would have more chances to get pictures of the other sites. So before turning in I made sure the battery was charging to be ready for the next day.

Enjoy the Journey

Scott C. Ames