Tuesday, July 19, 2016

South American Adventure - Part Five - Rapa Nui Aka Easter Island

Day 13 - A half day on Easter Island.

Today started in a panic when I couldn't find my passport.  After unpacking my bag and checking the safe several times I finally found it ... in the safe.  It had stood up on end and hid behind the safe door frame.  Gave me a little scare and woke me up.

We were picked up by our driver and guide and taken to the airport.  The flight was about five hours to Easter Island.  I was expecting a smaller plane with few amenities.  What we got was a state of the art plane with in seat entertainment and electro-optic window shades (touch a button and the windows darken).  What makes this possible, strangely enough, is NASA.  NASA picked Easter Island as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.  After negotiating with Chile (who controls Easter Island) NASA built a long runway for the airport that would accommodate the space shuttle (and larger modern airliners) as well as the main north-south highway on the island.
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Some of our first Moai at the quarry.
We were picked up at the airport (I missed the guide's sign because, frankly, it was too big and I was looking for a small hand held sign) and taken to our "eco lodge".  We checked in, got a tour of the facilities, settled into our very nice room, and were told to meet in the central guide area for our first outing.

Our first outing was to the Quarry.  The quarry is a volcano with a large amount of tuff which is what the Moai (the large statues of Easter Island) were made of.  We walked along a path that took us past many moai, all unfinished.  The rule was a moai had to survive the journey from the quarry to the platforms built along the sea shore.  If the moai was dropped along the way, it would stay there and the people would go back to the quarry to make another one.
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Moai everywhere along the quarry path.
The moai are fascinating.  Another set of expectations met I think.  Along the walk we got our first view of the fifteen - fifteen restored moai (we would visit the fifteen the next day).  When the first western explorers arrived to Easter Island all the moai had already been knocked over for a very long time (knocked over by rival tribes).  Only a few moai have been restored.  As a matter of fact, the native people have requested that no more restoration be performed because these statues are grave markers and are sacred to the Rapa Nui people.

We walked back to the start of the path and took a second path that took our small group into the crater of the volcano.  The inside is a flooded lake which is the venue of some Rapa Nui games.
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The flooded quarry volcano caldera.
Before I continue, is it Easter Island or Rapa Nui?  The first name the island ever had was given to it by the european explores i.e. Easter Island.  Rapa Nui is the tahitian name that came afterward.  The inhabitants who were there when the Europeans arrived had no name since, to them, the island was the entire universe and who names their entire universe?  The natives prefer Rapa Nui and from this point on I will use Rapa Nui.

We returned to the lodge before dinner.  We met with the lodge guides and planned out our outings for the next day.  There are four basic outing that cover most of what the island has to offer.  Being here only a day and a half means we would only have time for three (the quarry and two others).  We picked out two that covered the most history of the island and its inhabitants.

While I was waiting for dinner in the common area uploading Snuggle Bear pictures the Wife decided to go outside to see the stars.  While we were there the skies were mostly cloudy but, on occasion, you could see the milky way and stars.  While outside walking along the uneven lava rock path, the Wife made the mistake of looking up while walking.  This resulted in her tripping and landing pretty hard on the volcanic rock.  She ended up with a very sore shoulder, bruises on her chin and legs, a scrape on an arm, and a deep scratch on her glasses.  I think she also got a concussion since she was dizzy and nauseous later and skipped dinner.  Fortunately she felt better the next morning and recovered quickly after a night of soreness.

Day 14 - A full day exploring Rapa Nui.

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Walking along the cliffs of Rapa Nui.
The morning outing was a hike to the top of Rano Kau along the path known as the Birdman Trail.  The trail starts near a platform with fallen Moai and follows a trail along the coastal cliffs to the top rim of the Rano Kau volcano.  At the top of the volcano the Rapa Nui held the birdman competition to see which of the twelve (or so) tribes would lead the other for the coming year.  A champion would swim to a nearby island (sometimes referred to as the birdman islands) retrieve a bird egg and return to the top of the volcano.  The first to bring an intact egg to his chief won resulting in the chief ruling the other tribes for the next year.  This arrangement came about after years of warfare and hardship when all the moai were toppled.

The hike was about 4.3  miles (6.9 km) and climbed about 900 ft (274 m).  At the top you could see that the large crater was flooded and looked like a green swamp.  We stopped to take pictures before walking around the rim to a van.  The Wife did not hike with us but met us at the van.  The van took us to Orongo, the village where the chiefs waited during the birdman contests.

From there we drove to a rocky shore where we were pleasantly surprised to find chairs, umbrellas, and a picnic lunch waiting for us.  We sat on the rock watching the waves crashing on shore (a video of the waves can be seen here).  It was a bit chilly - it was winter here - but I enjoyed the lunch.

After lunch we drove up to see the fifteen, also known as Ahu Tongariki, to see the magnificent sight of fifteen restored moai.  The overcast sky provided a rather ominous backdrop for the moai.
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The fifteen moai.  The second from the right has a top knot made of a reddish volcanic stone.
Next we drove up the north coast stopping at several platforms, all with fallen moai, including Ahu Te Pito Kura, home of Paro, the largest moai that actually made it to the platform.  There is a larger one at the quarry but it was never finished.  Near the end of the moai period the tribes seemed to be playing a game of one upmanship.  At other stops we observed pictograms.

Our last stop of our day was Anakena, the only beach on the island.  There is only one beach on the island - a second beach recently suffered a rock slide and is rapidly disappearing into the sea - the rest being cliffs and volcanic rock.  A couple of us went swimming.  The Pacific Ocean was a bit chilly but since I swam in the Rio Negro, I also had to swim off of Rapa Nui.

We returned to our lodge and planned the next half day's activity.  We would be visiting the only town on the island, Hanga Roa.  We had dinner and went out to see the stars (this time the Wife and I went together) and were fortunate to have a brief glimpse of a clear star filled sky.  It didn't last long before clouds blew in.

Day 15 - Our last half day on Rapa Nui and the start of more bad luck on the mainland.

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The only known remaining moai eye.
We took a van into town and visited the small (tiny) local museum.  The only interesting thing there is one of the original moai eyes (or a copy of one).  All the eyes were long gone by the time the Europeans arrived.

Next we went to a artisan market for magnets and souvenirs followed by the local catholic church.  The church needed some work but the hand carved wooden statues inside were interesting.

We returned to our lodge, had a "box lunch" which meant a sandwich ... there was no box, picked up our bags and went to the airport.

We arrived back in Santiago, Chile in the late evening.  The Wife had developed a runny nose and was starting to feel bad by the time we got to the hotel - the hotel was literally across the street from the airport terminal.  After checking in I went back to the terminal and found a pharmacy still open and bought some medicine to dry up the Wife's nose.

After returning to the room I discovered that I had not gotten away scot free.  Soon after I got the medicine to the Wife and I had settled in the room I discovered I'd caught the Poopy Nui (or the Rapa Poopies ... not sure what to call it).  Needless to say I didn't sleep well that night as I spent the night walking between the bed and the bathroom.  I started taking antibiotics but, an oversight on my part, I didn't have any imodium.

Tomorrow was another early morning and onward to Ecuador ... and hopefully on the road to healing.

Pictures of Rapa Nui and the Moai can be found in my South America 2016-06 Flickr album.

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