Day 118: Where The Topknots Were Made

Sun. 9th December 2012

Eight statuesI know my dad is responsible for my red topknot but what about the moai? Well today we are off by pedal power to find out. The main street was decidedly quiet on this Sunday morning with all the shops and restaurants firmly shuttered  up. Luckily further down the street we find an open rental shop and are soon signed up for a couple of bikes.

Landing on the edgeWe head off out of town along the road parallel to the runway, but  a decision is required at the first junction, do we detour 2km to the right to see Vinapu. After consulting James’ book the answer is yes, he lists it as a must see sight. Down the bumpy gravel track we go and are glad of the suspension on our mountain bikes.

Rapanui stoneworkAfter cycling the length of the runway back again but along the far side we see the large white fuel storage depot which supplies the whole island. On the other side of the tanks is Vinapu with three platforms and the remains of their fallen moai. The main one is Ahu Tahira which at the back has a good example of the stonework of the Rapanui. Some say that it is too advanced for the Rapanui and perhaps the Incas had some influence. We have already seen this first hand in Cusco, all those days ago in October, the work of the Incas and agree with James’ comment that although there are similarities there are only so many ways of building a wall!

Indent to fix topknot to moaiIn 1866 the crew of USS Mohican were curious to discover whether there was anything buried underneath so blew up the base with dynamite – not very subtle and with not unexpected results, a pile of rubble! You might thing that Americans haven’t learnt much over the last 100 years – I couldn’t possibly comment.

In front of the second platform, Ahu Vinapu are upside down pukoa (topknots) which shows the indentations made to keep the topknot on top of the moai. The indentations would not have been carved until the topknot was on site and matched with its moai.

Two pairs of handsAfter retracing our steps past the runway again we start the circular route  of the second “half day” tour, with extras as the tour buses cannot go where our bikes can. At the top of our first climb we turn left to admire a lone moai Ahi Huri A Urenga with two pairs of hands. It is also unusual in that at the winter solstice (June 21st in the southern hemisphere!) it exactly faces the rising sun.

We then continue along the tarmacked road which should pass the NASA Facility and onto our next stop. I head off at a fair pace down the hill and not even Dave shouting permeated the enjoyable bubble I was in. Dave had little choice but to follow me down and after consulting the map at the bottom confirmed what he thought, it was the wrong turning. It was a very quiet cycle back up to the top and along the main road to the correct turn off.

Puna PauNext stop Puna Pau a small volcanic crater where the topknots were carved. The topknot is actually thought to be long hair tied in a bun and not a hat. The red colour is due to the high iron content of the rock.Topknots were a later addition to the moai and there are only about 100 topknots on the island whereas there are over 1,000 moai. We had the site to ourselves and were free to wander around and soak in the enormity of the task the Rapanui had to make just the topknot, let alone the moai themselves.

Dave and Olly mountain bikingCycling along the bumpy track over the hilltops without a car in sight made us comment that if you wish to escape the world for a month this was a pretty good choice. We are jealous of our new friend Janet who is booked into our hotel for a month but could be staying for three months if it works out. However as we come over the final rise and get a glimpse of the seven statues of Ahu Akivi there are two tour buses and a large crowd of tourists. Luckily by the time we descend they are piling back onto the buses and driving off, so again we are alone with the moai. This time there are seven restored statues that appear to be looking out to sea 3km away, which would be the opposite way to all the others. Therefore the archaeologists think that there would have been a village between the moai and the sea.

As we sit eating our lunch contemplating our surroundings three Spanish ladies drive up and are soon taking photos of themselves touching the statues. What part of the well published Island rules regarding not touching the statues do they not understand?? In complete contrast we meet a German couple walking towards us who very enthusiastically tell us in English what we must not miss on the coastal road back to town.

The next section of road is unsuitable for vehicles and was a definite challenge for me on my mountain bike as I nearly go flying on a few occasions with the rocky undulating track.

Inside a lava tube looking outWe stop at a few former lava tubes, one series over 7km of tunnels, which were once inhabited and have a quick crawl around through small entrance holes. which we may have missed if we had not known what we were looking for. At  Ahu Te Peu there is an unrestored platform, which just looks like  pile of rubble. However James tells us to study the back to see an excellent example of Easter Island masonry. We would miss so much without his book.

Dirty feetAs few tour buses use this road some signs have been defaced or removed so we miss one of the caves but are not too worried as we have seen many other sites and enjoy the rugged coastline as we head back to town. We arrive in town tired but very happy and return the bikes. We have had a great day and are ready to hit the shower – if the hotel will let us in with our dirty feet (my poor new sandals)!

Sunset over TahaiRefreshed we head out for supper at a restaurant close to our hotel and looking at the grey sky decide we will not walk to Tahai for the sunset. However as we sit watching the ocean after dinner it is apparent that the sky is clearing and it may be a great sunset.The weather changes so quickly from grey sky to bright blue in no time. Like last night we rush the usually 15 to 20 minute walk into 10 minutes and just catch the sun going down. More spectacular than last night. On the walk back we take time to view the cemetery which is a mass of graves all planted with colourful wild flowers and at night light up with garden solar lamps.

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