Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rapa Nui

Ahu Tahai
Rapa Nui is that remote little Polynesian island that we know as Easter Island.  It is a few thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, and is only about sixty four square miles in size.  The population is about two thousand people and most of them live in the one settlement of Hanga Roa. It is famous simply because it has a lot of big stone statues on it.  So why go there?  Well, because it has a lot of big stone statues on it of course!

Rapa Nui cemetery

Easter Island is a five and a half hour flight from Santiago.  It was evident even before we left that there are limited options on the island, as we saw all the young islanders taking back big boxes of Dunkin Donuts.  Just before we landed, one of the islanders dressed up as a clown, painted face and all, and started acting the fool.  I was surprised at how relaxed the stewards were, especially when he kept popping up out of his seat during the landing, but I still have no idea why he was doing it.  The landing strip goes from one side of the island to the other and has a backdrop of hills and flowers.  But it is apparently one of the longest runways, as it was built by the Americans in case they needed somewhere to land a plane, or even a space shuttle, if it was coming down in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Nic at our lodge on Rapa Nui

On arriving, having passed by some of the replica stone statues at the airport, we were met by the woman from our lodge with the traditional flower garlands that she had made that morning.  We drove through the main street to the other side of town, and past the very pretty cemetery, all of which took about eight minutes.  Our cabin was basic but fine and had a little terrace that overlooks the garden with a view through the flowers and out to the ocean.  A very blue ocean. 

That first afternoon, we walked the short distance over to the first of our Moai sites and visited the island's museum.  Moai means statue, but generally here, Moai refers to the big stone statues that the island is famed for.

sunset on Rapa Nui

There are numerous sites around Rapa Nui where the islanders constructed Ahus, or stone plinths, on which they placed these huge carved figures to watch over their group.  The Moai aren't Gods, they are representations of the past chiefs of that clan.  There are many theories as to when they were built, over what period and how they were moved from the quarry where they were all made to their respective positions around the island.
Moai at sunset

Equally, while most agree that the rather piercing coral and obsidian eyes were added once the Moai were in place, three is disagreement about whether they were left there all of the time or only kept in for spiritual occasions. Personally I think the pure effort that must have been involved in adding and removing them suggests the former, but perhaps they were more dedicated than me.
toppled Moai on Rapa Nui
What everyone does agree on is that by the mid 1800s there had been a series of clan wars which had resulted in all of the Moai being toppled from their plinths. Some remain as they fell, albeit somewhat deteriorated by the rain and wind.  Those sites are interesting because they show the truth of what happened then, but obviously the Moai look so much more impressive standing up.  
Ahu Tongariki

Over the years, private individuals have paid to restore a number of the main sites.  They have had the plinths restored and the Moai stood back on them.  The statues themselves have not been restored, so those that had no heads remain headless, and many were obviously quite damaged, but those that once again stand look proud and impressive.
Does it matter that we know that they haven't been upright the whole time?  To me, yes it does a little.  Like a painting that has been cleaned to restore its colours, or even a person who has had a facelift, they probably look better, but they lose something of their truth, and so to me they are less compelling.
Ahu Tongariki

But you could not imagine the impressive sight that these statues would have been without some of them being upright, and because the restoration is honest, it does not detract as it might have done.  I think they are right to have restored some of the most impressive sights, and whilst it does make a difference that I know they have been put back, I was still sufficiently impressed that it didn't matter too much.

Ahu Nau Nau
The main restored sites that we saw were the one close to where we stayed and those on the tour that we took.  The Ahu Tahai, close to where we stayed, had one plinth with five full and partial Moai and two Moai on individual plinths. Ahu Tongariki is the big one with fifteen Moai standing on the one plinth, the tallest being around ten metres high; it is amazing to think what a feat this was to complete and how intimidating it must have been to people who live on a small island in half sunken dwellings.  And we saw Ahu Nau Nau with its six and a bit Moai on a plinth, four of which have their topknots; this sight stands out because the Moai fell into sand when they were toppled and having been covered over by the sand they are the best preserved of the Moai on the island, so you can see how sharp they features originally were.
Te Pito o The Henua, Navel of the World

We also saw the Ahu Te Pito Kura site with Te Pito o The Henua, or the Navel of the World, a round stone that is supposedly magnetic though we didn't have anything to check that with, and the Orogo site where the Tangata Manu, or birdman, rituals took place to decide a leader, and where you can still just about see the petroglyphs that they carved into the rocks.

Rapa Nui quarry

However my favourite site was Rano Ranaku at Akahanga, which is the quarry where the Moai were carved out of the rock.  Here there are hundreds of Moai littered around the place.  Some where discarded, probably because they were damaged in transport or just proved too heavy to move.  Some may have been left intentionally, but noone really knows.  Many are partially buried, with just their heads and perhaps a bit or torso sticking up out of the ground.  And some of them are absolutely enormous; the largest was abandoned where it was carved because they believe that at around twenty-one metres, or over seven storeys high, it was impossible to move.

Rapa Nui quarry
Why do I like this the best?  It comes back to the restoration issue. These haven't been restored or moved at all.  They haven't even uncovered the buried lower halves of them. They are exactly as they were left, with only natures burial and weathering of them changing how they were when the people abandoned them.  And there are so many of them haphazardly strewn around, that they truly captivate you.  Whilst perhaps not the most technically impressive site, for me this was the one that left me with that feeling of wonderment that you expect when you visit Easter Island.
at the Rapa Nui quarry

As ever, the pictures that we take cannot do justice to the reality, but I hope that they will at least give you an idea of the place and why we liked it so much.

Rapa Nui quarry

But Easter Island wasn't just amazing because of the stone statues. It was a truly lovely place to spend a few days just relaxing in the tiny town and on the beach front.  It was so relaxed and laid back that you couldn't help but chill out yourself.


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