Sunday, April 25, 2010

 

My, What a Big Head You Have!

Once again instead of bombarding you with all of our photos, here are the top 50!

There is one thing that I have learned about me and Troy in the past 5 years: There is no destination too far, too remote, too weird, too scary that we won’t travel to. Ok, obviously Afghanistan won’t be on that list, but you get the idea. Easter Island has always intrigued me and since there is no easy way to get there I decided to tag it onto the end of our Machu Picchu trip. Easter Island is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited island and lies 2000 miles off the west coast of Chili and over 2500 miles east of Tahiti. It is roughly 14 miles by 7 miles with a population of about 3500. What the island is famous for is the moai statues which number around 900!

I have pretty much become a travel snob and assume everyone knows as much about travel as I do. So when I get questions about Easter Island such as “Do you take a boat there? Do you just fly over it? Can you go on the island? What’s there? Do cannibals live there?” I have to stop and tell myself “Shelly, no one is as smart as you and knows as much as you! People are also not as pretty and sophisticated as you so give them a break!” Ok, back to the real world… anyways I have to remember that Easter Island is not on every ones radar and when I do run into the occasional person who knows about it (which is rare), I am pleasantly surprised!

A little background on Easter Island:
  • The island got it’s name because it was discovered on Easter Sunday (duh)
  • The Polynesian name is Rapa Nui and the Spanish name is Isla de Pascua
  • It is speculated to have been settled around 700-1000AD and was populated by Polynesians who navigated their way there by canoe from the Marquesas Islands over 2300 miles away.
  • The massive moai statues were erected by these early settlers and represented deified ancestors. It was believed that the living had a symbiotic relationship with the dead where the dead provided everything the living needed (health, fertility of land and animals, fortune, etc.,) and the living through offerings could provide the dead with a better place in the spirit world.
  • Most settlements were located on the coast and moai were erected all along the coastline, watching over their descendants in the settlements before them, with their backs toward the spirit world in the sea. As the island became overpopulated, different cults emerged which caused fighting among the people.
  • The Birdman Cult believed human beings chosen from a competition would represent the deceased ancestors and not the moai statues. Many statues around the island were toppled over by the Birdman Cult which to this day remain down.
Our first full day on the island was spent on a 13 mile hike around the island. (I guess we didn’t get enough hiking in Peru.) From town we took a taxi to Anakena beach and set out around the northwest coast of the island. Other than seeing 1 car, 2 swimmers, 2 motorcycles and 1 horseman, we saw no one for hours! There were no roads, cars, power lines, people, boats, airplanes…nothing. The only thing we came across were horses, cows and the occasional horse carcass. It gave us a feeling of being very isolated and even abandoned. As we gazed out north from the island towards the open ocean it was scary to think that if we fell in the water and were caught in a northbound current, the next land fall we would make would be, oh, I don’t know, Alaska, or maybe Russia! Or if we’re really unlucky maybe we would just shoot straight past them through the Bering Strait! Ok, I’m exaggerating, we would probably hit the Canadian coast first! Since it is a very volcanic island we were constantly stumbling over small lava rocks that threatened to trip us up at any moment. But the views and the surrounding island was amazing! It's been written that it is one of the finest coastal walks in the South Pacific and I couldn't agree more!

The next day we rented a car and headed out to see the sights. But first we needed to exchange our money since we couldn’t do it at the Santiago airport because it was closed. Pat, our B&B owner, told us to go to the gas station to do this. What? Seriously? The gas station? Ok. Sure enough, the guy pulled out a huge bag of Chilean Pesos and exchanged our USD for local currency at the best exchange rate on the island or Chile mainland.

We had no plan for the day so we first headed to Rano Raraku which is the quarry where all the moai were carved. I love having no idea what to expect because it makes the surprise so much better! As you can guess, I had no idea what to expect at Rano Raraku and was shocked when from a distance we could see all these heads sticking out of the ground. (Any minute now there is going to be a “That’s what she said!” opportunity!) In fact the quarry has almost 400 statues in various stages of completion lying scattered around the crater. We parked, paid our admission fee, looked around and realized we were the only ones there! From the side of the hill we could see for miles and there were no cars coming at all! So here is an incredible UNESCO World Heritage site…and me and Troy!

We were able to get all the photos we wanted without any other tourists in the shots! We did make sure to obey the rules and not go off the trail or touch any of the moai or step on the Ahu (platforms). There is one picture that looks like I’m touching the statue, but I’m not. I do have a few caring cells in my body! We found out a few days later that when the big tour groups show up, a ranger follows them around. If someone breaks the rule, the ranger doesn’t reprimand them there, he takes a photo of them. The photos then get hung up at the airport and upon your departure, if your photo is hung up, you get fined!

Before we left the quarry, Troy wanted to go inside the crater. I wasn’t interested because… well I wasn’t interested. But I followed him anyways and was glad I did. Inside the crater were about 30 more heads! And again, just me and Troy!

Our next stop was Tongariki which is the most famous sight because it consists of 15 standing moai with a stunning ocean view at their backs. When we got there, there were two tourists and their guide. They left shortly and once again it was me and Troy. We couldn’t figure out where all the tourists were but found out later that week we did the “tour itinerary” backwards. The tour groups leave Rono Raraku and Tongariki as the last stops.

We went back to Anakena beach for lunch before heading onwards. There was a tiny little shack open for business ran by an old woman. Her menu consisted of four items written on a piece of cardboard. We ordered the tuna and were shooed off while she started her BBQ. When we came back there were four huge pieces of tuna on the grill and I looked around thinking “Who else is she feeding here?” Before I knew it there was a huge plate of food placed in front of my face that looked like it belonged in a four star restaurant! Although I don’t think four star restaurants have enormous amounts of flies that appear out of nowhere. While we’re eating two craft ladies showed up and started to set up their booths. Our BBQ lady started telling them a story and even though we couldn’t tell what they were saying we could tell it was extraordinarily sad. We found out our BBQ ladies 2 year old granddaughter had been killed the day before. She had been accidentally ran over by her father!

We stopped at several other sights on the way back to town but none held our interest the way the quarry and Tongariki did. We visited Akivi which has 7 moai that were erected in the middle of the island and there is much speculation as to why they were built inland whereas all the rest of the moai were placed right along the islands coast. We also stopped to see the quarry where the red hats were made. I would love to know the theory behind why the moai needed hats!

The next day we went diving. We knew not to expect much but we can’t go to an island and not dive. Our dive guide was an interesting guy. His name was Henri, was French, over 60 years old and had worked closely with Jacques Cousteau on his boat the Calypso. We wish we spoke French because he would have been a very interesting person to get to know. The diving was ok. Not much fish life, visibility ok, underwater terrain very cool… but at least it was cold! On our second dive I looked at my watch and was excited to see that the dive was almost over because I was very, very cold. At this point Henri looked at everyones' air gauge and continued on. A few minutes later I looked up and thought “Woohoo, there’s the boat! Wait, where you going Henri, the boat is right above us. We’re not stopping? We’re still going? Crap!” Like I said, Henri was interesting but our boat driver was a big fat grump! He looked like the most miserable person on the island!

As we’re hanging out at the shop after the dive we notice the little girls funeral procession going through town. The bad thing about our B&B, it’s located right next to the cemetery. As we made our way back to our room, we walked fast, kept our heads down and walked on the opposite side of the dirt parking lot because we didn’t want the locals thinking we were being nosy tourists. The last thing we wanted to do was intrude on this very tragic personal time. One of the sad things about this funeral is that instead of the coffin being taken to the cemetery in a hearse, it was taken in the back of a beat up old Toyota pick up truck.

Our last day we still had not had enough of hiking as we proceeded to do a 9 mile round trip hike to the Rano Kau volcano. The dogs in this town know who the tourists are because as we walked down the street, a random dog would start to follow us. If we stopped in a store or restaurant, he would sit and wait outside until we were done. So as we headed out of town to the volcano, a dog , who we nicknamed Yellow Belly, started following us. We thought after 10 minutes he would get bored and would turn around. No, he followed us the whole way up and back down. I don't think he was used to walking that far because he started to lag as we got to the stop of the volcano. We gave him some water and cheese and then he was good to go. No wonder they follow the tourists. They know we're suckers and will fall for the "I'm so tired!" act!

I don't think Easter Island will ever make it on any of the Food Networks shows because it is not necessarily known for their food but do they make a killer ceviche. We ate so much tuna! Every day we either had tuna sashimi, tuna steaks or tuna ceviche! And believe it or not, this tiny island in the middle of nowhere brews it’s own beer! They definitely have their priorities straight!

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