Day 116: Just As We Imagined It

Fri. 7th December 2012

Olly and his new friendSorry, there is going to be no way around this – this is going to be a long post. We have just had one of those days where we have packed so much in and it has just got better and better through the day. It was a day when we took 223 photos. At last, today, we get to see the statues (moai). In short, a day that met all our expectations of  Easter Island and then went so far past them. As you can see from the lead photo, Olly had a great day out too!

We had previously agreed with (Aussie) Janet & Birgit that we would share a car with them, but before we headed out there were some fundamentals to sort out – money, empanadas for lunch and a commemorative stamp for our passports. The hotel wants to be paid in cash and sooner rather than later, so the bill comes to CLP0.36m – not quite as frightening when translated in to £, but still our most expensive hotel to date.

Picture postcard Pacific Island beachFinally, we are all set and we load up into the spacious (ha!) Suzuki Jimny and head out of town and up the middle of the island. Our guide book suggests doing the circuit in a clockwise direction in order to avoid the tour buses and so the first stop is at Anakena which has a sandy beach as well as some moai. As an aside, there used to be hundreds of moai on the island but they were all toppled by the natives (perhaps because of war between tribes) during the 18th & 19th century. Today there are around 40 moai that have been replaced on their ahu (platforms) from 1955 onwards. These bare facts don’t really do justice to what you see. Just read on…

Our first moai - at AnakenaOne misconception that I had was that they moai face out to sea. They don’t, they mostly face inland but they watch over the village that they are protecting. At Anakena, there is a group of 6 moai on one platform (ahu) and a single moai on another. The sight is absolutely the stereotype of what I was expecting of Easter Island – blue sky, blue sea, a white sandy beach with the giant statues standing at the head of the beach watching over the island. The guidebook (see yesterday’s post) continued to be invaluable as it told us where to go and what we were looking at.

PetroglyphDriving on, we got to see some of the other sights (and sites) that are much less well known and went from the sublime to the ridiculous. First there were the petroglyphs at Papa Vaka – a series of stone panels with drawings carved in to them. We could just about make out some of the fish and parts of the canoe (which at 12m long is the largest petroglyph on the island) but the rock is relatively soft and the carvings are quite badly eroded. Another reminder as to how lucky we are to be able to see what we can. A little further along the road is the fallen statue of Paro, the largest moai found outside of the quarry (and the only moai whose original name is still known).

The Navel of the WorldNext up is the Navel of the World, a group of 5 round stones that were said to be brought to the island by the island’s first king Hotu Matu’a from the mythical island of Hiva and hence to possess lots of mana spiritual power. The high iron content in the stone soaks up the heat from the sun and so there was fun to be had sitting round the large stone ‘communing’ with it. Even Olly couldn't get a sound out of the stoneA little further down the road is the Trumpet of Hiro, where there is a large hollow stone which supposedly can be used as a trumpet (to encourage fish to swim closer to the shore). We all had a go at trying to get a sound out of the stone but despite making a variety of wooshing sounds and raspberries (and much giggling) none of us were any more successful than Olly.

Feel the presence of these guysBy now it was way past lunchtime and we were getting hungry. Our DIY tour was great for giving us the flexibility to spend the time we wanted at each site – and pretty much giving us the sites to ourselves – but the downside was we didn’t have a predetermined lunch stop. As there aren’t many trees on the island (they died out due to rats eating all of the seeds rather than the islanders cutting them all down) we decide to press on to the next big site of Ahu Tongariki where we should be able to find somewhere to sit down. Sure enough as we round a corner, there is a line of 15 moai all standing proud, backs to the ocean looking out over the island. We do find a sheltered spot and eat our lunch contemplating the sight in front of us.

Who's watching whom?Its hard to find the words to describe what we saw. 15 of these huge statues (weighing up to 88 tonnes), all individually carved, make a really imposing presence. At one point as we are wandering around we are caught in a shower of rain. Fortunately we are not on a fixed timetable and so we decide to wait it out. We do, however, have to put the cameras away and spend the time contemplating the statues, feeling their presence, studying the differences in their faces, bodies and expressions. We all have slightly different favourites. Most of all we wonder at the skill, time and effort that went into carving and placing them here (only to throw them all down again). Whilst you can’t touch the statues or climb on the platforms, you get so close to them – an incredible spectacle. And the best is still to come…

The picture I've always had of Easter IslandThe hillside covered with half-buried moaiOur next stop is at Rano Raraku the volcano and quarry where the moai were carved. Just calling it a quarry really doesn’t prepare you for what we found there. This is the place where the textbook pictures are all taken. The side of the hill is littered with some 379 moai, mostly completely carved and ready to be moved to their destination, but just abandoned. We learn that they are carved on their backs and only once their face and body are complete (apart from the eye sockets which are only carved once they have been erected on site) is the back cut away from the underlying rock. They are then lowered into a pit so that the back can be smoothed out. What we see is moai in their pits which have been filled in over time so that only their heads are visible. These are the pictures that I had seen in books and on the Internet – even so, we struggled to comprehend just what we were seeing. Did these people do anything else other than carve these statues?

Coastline with Ahu Tongariki in the backgroundEven after all these treats, there is still one more wow waiting for us here. As we round the corner of the hill, we can see below us and in the distance the line of 15 moai at Ahu Tongariki. The sun is shining through the clouds creating shifting patterns of light and dark on the statues, the sea and the cliffs behind the statues. The blue of the sea along with the orangey-brown of the cliffs and the moai standing impassively watching over it all. The photo captures a little of it but really doesn’t do justice to the spectacle. It is one of those mental pictures I will keep with me long after we get back home.

So many toppled, unrestored moaiBy now it is getting late and we are tired and a bit shell-shocked from all that we have seen. In the car on the drive back, conversation comes in fits and starts as we are all lost in our thoughts as we try to digest what we have seen. Every few minutes, one of us will start “what about that…” and that will set off some reminiscing. We also drive past many fallen, unrestored statues – what must this island have been like when they were all standing?

A great way to end a great day - with Aussie Janet and BirgitOnce back at the hotel, Aussie Janet treats us to a (well deserved) Pisco Sour, and we sit out on her patio talking more about an amazing day. As we still have the car (the benefits of a 24 hour rental), we head out of town to the sea-front restaurant that has been recommended to us and we saw on our walk yesterday. Indeed we do have a unique experience – we were turned away because they were full! This is only the second time in 116 days of travelling that we haven’t been able to get into our first choice of restaurant. Instead we find another restaurant in-town with views overlooking the harbour and the sea – and fish and ships(sic) on the menu! Somehow, watching the surf roll in with folk out in their canoes and surf boards is a very appropriate way to end what has been a great day.

Sometimes places don’t live up to your expectations and imagination. Easter Island has just exceeded anything that we had envisaged before landing here. What an incredible place.

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One Response to Day 116: Just As We Imagined It

  1. Amazing day. Easter Island is a brilliant place and we had a great time exploring it. Check out the photos including Olly!

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