We arrived at Easter Island as scheduled at 8am only to find the shore on the south part of the island being hit by 15-20 feet waves. It’s rather beautiful but it does not look good for tenders. In fact, when I look at the huge waves hitting the volcanic rock on the shore I don’t want to be in a tender and swimming isn’t an option. The captain comes on the intercom and advises us what has become obvious – a south shore landing via tender isn’t going to work. He advises he’s working with some shore officials and he’ll get back to us. (The photo is of the original landing area, taken from a mile off-shore).
Of course by 9am everyone is up, dressed for going ashore and hanging out by the railings on all the decks. It’s been determined by the captain that it’s way too dangerous for us to go on the tenders but he’ll navigate to the north side and see what we can do. It takes just over an hour and as we turn the corner we see this beautiful white sandy beach in a beautiful cove – and just behind the white sandy beach stands 5 Moai statues. What an absolute thrill. Again, there’s no landing spot for the tenders, but the captain sends a tender out to investigate options. To cut a long store short – the crew create a make-shift landing with a 8 x 8 ft floating thingy carefully harnessed to a concrete pillar. And to make it safer they tie a tender up to the floating thingy. This allows other tenders to drop off passengers – we get off our tender – walk thru the tender that’s holding the float thing – up a concrete step and voila. However, this means that passengers with any sort of walking disability cannot go ashore. Of course, all their tour money will be refunded.
Gerrit and I elect to take a tender about 2 hours after the early morning tours get off the ship. We’re advised that we’ll be on the last bus as we don’t have our tour ticket numbers. No biggie and off we go. We spend almost 2 hours visiting the north side of the island including a dormant volcano. It’s hot, dry and the red dust gets everywhere. We’d been advised by the tour lecturer (Barb) about the red dust and told to wear something we didn’t mind getting too dirty.
At 4pm (the designated time for our tour to meet) we gathered by the landing point along with 8 others who’d gone ashore early – we were told to get on the 1st bus and off we went. By going ashore we gained almost an hour of our tour compared to others who waited on the ship, got their tour number, tendered over to the Island and got on the bus – Whoopee!!
Our guide is native to the island. Her name is Uri. She has very strong features and beautiful chocolate skin. The fact she’s skinny and beautiful isn’t lost on any of the men in our group . She is extremely knowledgeable and very passionate about her ancestors (Polynesians), who came to the island many centuries ago. But first a little history about the island.
Easter Island is known in the native language as Rapa Nui (Big Rapa) or Isla de Pascua in Spanish, is an island in the south Pacific Ocean belonging to Chile. It’s located 2237 miles (3600 kilometres) west of Chile and 1290 miles or 2075 kilometres east of Pitcairn Island, it is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. It was given its common name of “Easter” because it was discovered by the Dutch on Easter Sunday in 1722. Early European visitors to Easter Island recorded the local oral traditions of the original settlers. In these traditions, Easter Islanders claimed that a chief Hotu Matu’s arrived on the island in one or two large canoes with his wife and extended family (believed to have been Polynesian). Literature suggests the island was settled around 300-400 AD or at abut the time of the arrival of the earliest settlers in Hawaii; however some scientists say that Easter Island was not inhabited until 700-800AD. This date range is based on “glottochronological” calculations and on three radiocarbon dates from charcoal that appears to have been produced during forest clearance activities. More recent studies suggests the island was settled as recently as 1200AD, the time of the island’s deforestation. Most of the scientists somewhat agree that it wasn’t an accident the natives arrived as they came with tools, plants and animals, making it clear they never intended to return to their homeland.
The US built an airport on Easter Island – a contingency plan for the space shuttle; just in case it needed to land there. There are approximately 3,000 residents, many of them working in military or government service. Tourism is of course the main source of revenue. 80% of the Island is National Park and is enthusiastically protected. They are obviously in love with their past and the Moai and protect it at all costs. Money collected from tourism goes to restoring Moai.
At present over 700 Moai have been resurrected. And it’s believed more are buried under the red soil and have been overgrown with grasses. All have similar features. The significance of the face and deep-set eyes will probably never be known. Almost all the Moai have been carved from the soft volcanic rock from the quarry at Ramo Raraku (which we visited and were just in awe of the Moai). All are enormous and many are more than 18 feet tall and weight several tons. Deceased ancestors were said to be buried in subterranean vaults below the statues. It is not surprising that the statues carry great significance and the people are very protective and proud of their heritage. It seems certain that the family must have believed the spirits of their forefathers lived in the stone figures. A Dr. William Mulloy who led much of the excavation and restoration work died in 1978, a small monument over looks the complex and contains his ashes. He proposed the stones were dragged using the method of tilting that is now occasionally demonstrated at the Moai complex. Many of the Moai were arranged on “ahus” or religious platforms designed for the purpose. This place is just mind blowing and to stand beside one and see the design and workmanship is just amazing. If anyone plans to be in the South Pacific then Easter Island or Rapa Nui should be on your list of places to visit. They get 3 airplanes a week, most carrying mail and supplies but people do stop on their way from Tahiti on their way to Chile or vice-versa. Supplies are also brought in by ship. Most people use horses as their mode of transportation – not many cars in the island. Most of our buses had been brought in from Chile during tourist season to accommodate us. There are hundreds of horses on the island, many just roaming free.
Just an amazing and mind-blowing experience. I could write several pages more on this Island; we were just so touched by the history and in awe of the Moai.