Well it’s been a long time since my last blog so I thought the time had come to update you on our travels. As it has been so long, I have decided to go only so far back for the time being. So for this chapter I’m going to start with Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and see how I go. Neither the blog nor the pictures are going to do justice to Rapa Nui, but here are my thoughts in words and pictures.
Rap Nui has been a destination that I have long-planned to visit. It’s remote, intriguing and somewhat mythical history make for a compelling set of reasons to visit.
Rap Nui is a Chilean island in the South Pacific, located 3,700km off of the Chilean coast and another 4,000km from Tahiti, which in itself is another 4,000km from New Zealand. This island is the very definition of remote. The island is small pin prick in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Its about 19kms on two sides and maybe 13km on the other side and so resembles a rather large cheese triangle.
Rap Nui is pock-marked with various craters and small but perfectly formed hills. In parts it looks very much like a scene from rural Britain without as many trees. However, in other areas it couldn’t be more different. The island was created by volcanic activity millions of years ago and when you look at the island from above or with a map you can see how the shape was formed. Essentially three volcanoes on each corner of the island created the shape that we now see today.
The history of its discovery by mankind is somewhat unclear, but the common theory goes something like this: It was discovered by Polynesians under the orders of King Hotu Matu’a. They rowed thousands of kilometres to the island in small canoes sometime between 300 and 1,300CE, around the same time that Hawaii was discovered. There is no written history so we have to rely on oral records.
Western Europe’s first introduction to Easter Island came by the way of a Dutch sailor called Jacob Roggeveen on 5th April 1722. He arrived on Easter Sunday and this is where the western name for the island came from. However, the local indigenous people have always referred to its original name of Rapa Nui. If you would like to know more about that history then please click on the following link for more in-depth information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Easter_Island
However, the most compelling aspect regarding the island is its statues, the Moai. There is nothing like them anywhere else on earth. There are 887 in total dotted around the island and can weigh up to 85 tonnes but most are concentrated into certain spots such as Ranu Rararku and Ahu Tongariki. It is believed that Moai were created in recognition of the islanders’ ancestors and were considered very spiritual. By the late 1800’s many of the Moai were toppled over. We don’t know why for sure but the oral records speak of discontent amongst the people of Rapa Nui, possibly as a result of starvation resulting from deforestation and slave trader raids from Peruvians.
Louise and I arrived in Rapa Nui on one of the daily flights from Santiago in Chile, lasting around 5 hours. The flight lands on a runway that was built by NASA. It was intended to be an option for the space shuttle to land if ever there was an emergency. Its huge at 2 miles in length.
Before we arrived we looked at our copy of the Lonely Planet and took a peek at Wikipedia as you do. However, we were very excited to see the island for ourselves. As we came in to land the island opened out before us. It spread out below us all verdant and hilly. As soon as the plane doors opened and we headed down the steps of the plane It seemed fairly humid with a temperature of around 28 degrees but also accompanied by lots and lots of fresh air, unlike Santiago!
As Louise and I exited the airport building we were each presented with a garland of flowers by the taxi driver. We felt quite special but then we realised that most people also received a garland of flowers on their arrival. It kind of made me feel like Tom Selleck in Magnum, though not as dashing, to which the picture will testify. Anyway, it was a very sweet gesture and gave us both a smile.
Not long after being picked up we arrived at our lodgings. We were a few blocks away from the “town centre”, though that term is probably pushing the definition of a town centre. It wasn’t long before we unpacked and were ready to take in the sights and sounds of Rapa Nui. The first thing that struck us about Easter Island was how un South American it was and how Polynesian it felt. Even though Easter Island belongs to Chile it really doesn’t feel anything like it. In my experience you get the vibe of a country very quickly but seldom have I been hit with such a strong identity so quickly. I was instantly enamoured by it. A curious mixture of south sea island culture, heat, humidity, amazing landscapes, sea life and mystery.
On our walk into town we discovered a number of shops renting scooters and dirt bikes as well as cars and bicycles. I thought be sensible, don’t rent the highest powered bike you can find no matter how tempting. It’s been a while since I last rode a motorbike, so push your luck. So guess what, actually I was sensible for once and didn’t rent the death trap with no brakes and a big engine! Instead, I hired a 100cc scooter – Just the ticket. We arranged to pick it up the following day as it was now late afternoon.
The following morning we woke up nice and refreshed and ready to explore the island. We pulled on our best safety gear for the ride ahead – shorts, vest (singlet) and sandals! We picked up the keys to our scooter and gingerly headed out-of-town past the airport. It wasn’t long before we were in the countryside and I must profess to have had a smile as big as a Cheshire cat as we zoomed (40kph) along the country roads. There are basically two main choices: take the road that runs through the middle of the island or take the coastal road. We took the former and felt an instant affinity to this island. I have never seen a place so rich in the colour green.
We headed out toward Anakena marvelling at all of the small bits of archaeological remnants that laid by the sides of the roads and taking in the warm air that breezed past us as we buzzed along. Anakena is the first place that the people of Rapa Nui colonised and fortunately for us it’s a beautiful stretch of white sandy beach and aquamarine sea. There can’t be many beaches out there with a more inspiring backdrop than this beach with its Moai looking out towards the sea. Perhaps they’re looking after the sunbathers.
After a quick drink at one of the small shacks located by the side of the beach we decided to leave and make our way home along the coastal road this time. The journey took us past more Moai but also past bays that the waves crashed into with great force and intensity. We stopped by one of these bays and sat down on the volcanic rock to watch the waves come crashing in. They were probably two or three meters high rolling in once every five to ten seconds. The black rocks contrasted beautifully with the myriad of blue water that then turned brilliant white as the waves crashed once more onto the shore. It was mesmerising to watch. Beyond the waves was the immensity of 3,500kms of ocean. An inspiring sight.
After a while, we decided to get back on our iron horse (scooter) and head back into town. The thing we didn’t expect to see were wild horses. They seemed to roam around the island with abandon, including on the road. They were a russet brown colour and in good condition. Mostly in a groups of three or four but sometimes as many as forty. A little further down the road we came across a herd of maybe twenty adults and half a dozen foals. We slowed down on our approach so as not to scare them, but as we got to about five or ten meters behind the group one of the stallions went directly to the back to usher the young foals along. The horses more or less came to a standstill which presented us with a choice: move on or stay put. We stopped for a few minutes because the horses did, but then thought let’s move on very slowly. As we moved off, the herd bolted up the road with the exception of the stallion who just stood directly in front of us, giving us the eye. This went on for a minute or two until until we decided to take a slow wide berth. The stallion let us come level with him but no matter what speed we went, he matched us. That is until we slowed down to nearly a standstill and he went in front of us. At this point he started kicking his back legs whilst bucking at the same time. We decided to stop as it felt pretty dangerous. As we did, suddenly the stallion engaged his NOS (see Fast and the Furious) and shot up the road naying and bucking. Then once every few meters he’d look back to see where we were. After the horses left we carried on our way with no further incident, well except for the enormous bugs that pinged off our helmets and faces as the sun came down. Note to brain: wear glasses and a scarf next time!
Most of our days on the island were spent touring around on our scooter or dirt bike. We subsequently hired the dirt bike later. We’d go from one archaeological site to another and sometimes just sit on the top of a hill watching the clouds wander by. The pace of life on the island was very relaxed and the people who lived there were very charming and friendly. Everywhere we went someone would say hello. The local men really looked like they had come off of the set of Hawaii Five-0. Resplendent in their baggy floral print shirts and shorts and the ladies in their flowing dresses and flowers in their hair. People from Rapa Nui are certainly some of the most beautiful people I have seen. The men with their thick jet black long hair (yes i am a bit jealous as I’m bald), tans and the bodies of Adonis. I’m guessing they surf every day. The women were the same – long jet black hair, tanned with incredible figures that were occasionally also seen in hot pants and bikinis, oh well! I have never seen people look so comfortable in their own skin. Whether they were big or slim, they oozed a kind of natural beauty that went beyond their body shape.
Most evenings we would ride into town, pick up some provisions and return home to cook. The choices were fairly stark at the local shop – meat that would turn you into a vegetarian and a limited amount of vegetables and some beer and crisps. Most nights we would return to town and have a beer on one of the restaurant terraces and watch the sun go down. This has to be one of the great pleasures in life: seeing the sun go down on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific. It never lost its allure for me and Louise. it really was breathtaking and I felt very privileged.
One of the realities of a tropical existence is that of the humble but pesky cockroach. I didn’t tell Louise until we left Rapa Nui that the garden in front of our home was full of cockroaches that were often illuminated by the light of our bike as we arrived back of an evening. Fortunately, we didn’t see that much of them other than in the garden.
The most impressive sight and site that we saw on the island was Ranu Rarku. This is the place that most of the moai were born. There are probably fifty moai in all shapes and sizes in what was effectively the factory where they were all created. Some are left half finished, still embedded in the rock from where they came and others are placed sporadically on the side of a hill, which actually turns out to be another volcano. It’s a magnificent sight that is made more spectacular when you climb up the hill and catch sight of all the scattered moai beneath you contrasting with the perfect linear formation of the Tongariki ahu and the sea in the background. It’s easy to see why in the 50’s and 60’s people thought the moai came from outer space.
Eager to photograph the moai at night, I decided to go out after midnight on my scooter and must confess to being a little nervous. I might add that Louise wasn’t rushing out to come with me. I ended up in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a field with just me and and half a dozen moai and the occasional strange sound of some animal. It was a little unsettling but I rattled off a few pictures. Unfortunately for me that night it was too cloudy which kind of took the edge off my photographs.
We spent seven days on Rapa Nui which was probably just about the right amount of time to get around and see most of the important sights on the island. If you ever get the chance to go there then I would strongly encourage you to do so. It’s a long way to go particularly if you’re arriving from the northern hemisphere. However, it’s a charming island full of mystery and an exotic history with beautiful people and tropical weather.