Easter Island, Chile

Ahu Tongariki 

Easter Island is one of the most interesting places we’ve been.  This visit was our second, and fortunately was not quite the adventure the first trip was.  This time the ocean was kinder to us, and we were able to anchor near the primary harbor, and get to land and back safely and with relative ease.  When we woke up, the seas were very calm, although the waves breaking on shore looked huge.

This time our excursion showed us highlights of the island, but also included a trip to the quarry where they had carved the moai.  For those who don’t know, the moai are the famous Easter Island statues, which represented their ancestors, and which were placed on platforms over the burial sites, facing the villages that they were to be protecting.  

Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a volcanic island, shaped like a triangle, with a major volcano in each corner.  There are many other volcanic cones on the island.  The island was apparently stripped of trees by the moai builders, and anything growing there now is imported.  Easter Island is a dependency of Chile, and at one point the Chilean government leased the whole island to a sheep company; the sheep completed the decimation of the vegetation.  Today there is plenty of low-growing vegetation.  There are  dry stack walls everywhere, built from the volcanic rock, and rocks strewn just about everywhere else.  About 40% of the island is set aside as a national park, which encompasses the major historical/cultural sites.  We had previously been to the ceremonial village of Orongo, which is famous as being the home of the bird man cult.  The one  other thing we had wanted to see was the quarry, and that was well worth the trip.  It was unfortunate that we did not have a lot of time there, because it is a place where you really want to study everything closely.  Most of the statues there are buried so that only their heads are showing.  It is amazing to study the faces on the moai, because they are all obviously different, all clearly representing specific people.  

A great deal of research has been done since we were last here and many mysteries have been solved.  Not to worry, there are still some doozies.  They still dont know how the huge statues were moved from the quarry.  They have ruled out the theory that they were stood up and "walked" by wobbling them to make them move.  The material is too fragile for that as proven by an experiment.  Many old pics show the statues looking out to sea.  The fact is that they now know that they faced inland so the mana (spirit) of the chiefs they represented in death could look over and benefit the people of their groups.

We also went to Tahai, a site right on the shore near the town of Hanga Roa (where we were docked), where you can find the only moai on the island with eyes restored.  Another major site we saw was Ahu Tangariki (pictured at the top of the page), where there are 15 moai on a long platform, plus, near the entrance to that area, there is the one known as the ‘traveling moai’, because it went to visit several cities in Japan before being returned home.  Our final stop of the day was at Anakena Beach (on the north side of the island, right next to where we docked in 2012).  Here there is the moai restored by Thor Heyerdahl, plus a line of 6 moai.  The ahu (platform) for the 6 moai is interesting because it has some petroglyphs or rock carvings, plus you can see the recycled head of a moai in the support wall for the platform.  Apparently the Rapanui recycled a lot of the stone, even stone which had previously been carved into a moai.  Our tender ride back to the ship was very smooth, but we realized that even at the good harbor, the way in or out is treacherous, because of volcanic rocks that aren’t always easily visible.  There is an example of what the rocks can do to a boat sitting on the dock: a yacht named La Rose, which got its bottom badly ripped up.  Our guide told us that the accident with that boat had happened in the last year.  We should mention that we had a fabulous guide.  He was very knowledgeable, and since he was from Roanoke, Virginia, we could understand him easily.  There are more photos in this album.

Easter Island is very isolated, and the weather is very changeable.  So we were fortunate once again to have a beautiful day there.  We would like to go back to Rano Raraku (the quarry) so that we can spend more time studying the moai.  Easter Island is well worth a visit if you can get there.  The easiest way to get there, and the way most tourists arrive, is by air.  The ability to land at the airstrip is consistently available, whereas there are no guarantees that you will be able to get onto the island if you come by sea.

                                                         View of the ms Amsterdam from Tahai

© Susan L. Stone 2015                   rovingstones@me.com