EASTER ISLAND, CHILE
As an artist having spent many years studying Art History it’s been a goal and a dream to visit all the things I have seen in my textbooks in person. Easter Island is home to thousands of Moai. Moai are massive statues of human figures that were carved by the Rapa Nui. Getting to the island and things on the island are also known to be very expensive so, when I was able to find an affordable ticket to Easter Island from Santiago I jumped on the opportunity. I found an affordable hostel (without wifi) but there are also campsites and possible AirBnB options otherwise hotels are expensive and so was food.
Easter Island is also known as Isla de Pascua in Spanish and Rapa Nui in Rapa Nui. The island is also called the bellybutton of the world because it’s kinda far from other land, located in the Pacific Ocean it’s the southernmost point of the Polynesian triangle and part of Oceania. The island became a World Heritage Site in 1995, most of the island is protected within Rapa Nui National Park and is a territory of Chile.
Are you wondering what I did without wifi? Turns out you can get on wifi at the library and in the small area near the library. Wifi time and ability is limited so no streaming videos or long phone calls. I also had a Chilean sim card and with that I was able to text via WhatsApp and Facebook messenger when I had phone service.
I landed in Hanga Roa and my cab driver turned out to have been raised in Santiago and moved to the island one day during a vacation. After a day or so of being on the island I understood why he never went back from his vacation, it’s beautiful and a very relaxed environment. The cab driver dropped me off at my hostel that was off the main road at the end of a dirt path, I got his number and we parted ways as I went to check in.
Later that day I met the other hotel residents, a nice group of people from the USA, Germany, Paris, and London. One evening the group of us went with the hotel owner to her house on the top of a hill in the middle of a field where we watched the sunset, the group rented a car from her for the next day. On the ride from her house back to the hostel, we came across a fire that looked to be out of control. We stopped to offer help to the people on one of the farms, but they turned us down. The farmers let us know the fire at this point had been going for hours and was under control but had already taken down many crops and a neighbors house, luckily no one was home but a lot was lost.
The farmers invited us to share their watermelon and watch the blaze with them. We all got along so well that the farmers invited us out the next evening to come over for food and go to the local nightclub… yes, the island has a nightclub, two in fact. At this club is where my worlds collided and I saw how history is entangled into everything.
At the night club I saw this older man I had met the day before, but he did not seem to remember me. I had met this man one day returning from a tour, he was working construction with some younger guys. He called me over because he wanted to give me a gift of a large stone. I went over to talk to the group because they didn’t seem threatening (it was the middle of the day and people on the island are friendly) I graciously refused the gift because 1, I did not have space in my bag and 2, I did not want a large stone, even though he did offer to carve it into a turtle. The man gave me his necklace to hold as collateral and said he would carve me a small turtle and drop it off at the hostel and then I could give him back his necklace. I wondered if he really knew where I was staying… he said he new the hostel owner. Most of the people who live on the island do in fact know each other, many of them are family. Before parting ways with the man he insisted we take selfies with his invisible camera so we did and I continued on my way. When I returned to the hostel I found some of the people hanging out and they asked about the necklace I was holding, so I told them the story, at this point the hostel owner showed up as well and I told her what had happened. She did know the man and said he was harmless but a little crazy.
Back to happenings at the club: the hostel owner came with us for a bit and at one point I noticed an attractive young guy who I remembered from another awkward interaction I had on the island, prior to being at the club. Moments later the hostel owner is introducing me to this young man because he was her cousin. I danced with him for a little bit but he was getting too close so I politely walked away.
The older man came by and we danced around a little bit as well, he was drunk. He was talking to me in a mix of Spanish and Rapi Nui maybe even some english. He did at one point get upset with me for not knowing the traditional Rapa Nui language and walk away. I understand his frustration towards my limited knowledge of his heritage. The island is a territory of Chile and many people are not happy with that. In fact when issues are disputed people turn to a council of elders before the laws set by Chile and activists have been fighting for their right of self-determination and possession of the island.
Historically the arrival of outsiders resulted in the death of many indigenous people so I totally understand why my limited knowledge of this mans local language would set him off, it is not just that I do not know his words it is partly that everything that lead to my knowing about his home is part of what threatened his culture. Many of the indigenous people were either wiped out due to decease at one point the number of indigenous people was just a little over 100. Today when the locals call someone a cousin it’s hard to know if that is in fact a cousin or a term of endearment.
Speaking of cousins, back to the hostel owners cousin and my first meeting with him. I was walking along a dirt road near the hostel trying to find service on my phone when he rode up to me on a bike and let me know in english “I’m here.” Thinking he had confused me for someone he knew, I looked at him confused and said, “but I wasn’t waiting for you” this was followed up by him letting me know that I no longer had to wait for him and he asked if I had a boyfriend. Not wanting to have that conversation I told him I did. He asked where my boyfriend was so I said he was in Chile and I was meeting him in a few days. I thought that answer would end the conversation, it didn’t. This boys response was simply that it was ok that my boyfriend was not there because this guy was here. I thanked him for letting me know but I was not interested and I walked away, he went in a different direction. Before arriving on the island I was told that the men on the island are very attractive and that many models are found there. At the time I thought: oh, a different type of sight seeing!
Why do the men on the island had that reputation of being more attractive? I was told it was because of the Birdman. The Birdman contest is a competition where men have to get down the cliffs of Orongo and swim to the islet Motu Nui and collect the first egg of the season and then swim back with the unbroken egg. The winning tribe would be in rule for the year till the next Birdman completion. In order to be able to scale the cliffs of Orongo, (a narrow ridge between a 1,000 foot drop into the ocean) and swim to Motu Nui you would have to be in pretty good shape and your are practically naked covered with body paint or tattoos, that is what I was told when asked about the reputation. The hostel owner was able to shed more light on this for me saying that yes the reputation was true but now many of the men are too full of them selves thinking they are a git to women… and I feel like her cousin helped me understand that as well.
I learned something else from her cousin, remember when I wrote he was dancing too close to me? Well, towards the end of my stay in the island I went to a traditional dance show where I saw the male dancers dancing the same moves alone and with female partners. After the show I asked one of the dancers at what age they start learning the traditional dances. Can you guess? The dancer responded that they learn the dance moves starting in the whom and keep dancing for the rest of their lives.
At the time of going to Easter Island I did not have a drivers license so I went on two tours with www.easterisland.travel that also gave me the opportunity to meet new people.
This is the list of places I visited and how they are described (and featured in my video):
1) Ahu Huri a Urenga: This statue has the unique characteristic of having four hands. It is also know as The Astronomer because of its astronomical orientation, facing sunrise at winter solstice.
2) Vinapu: The most perfectly fit rock wall, Ahu Tahira, is found in this area. It was engineered with such skill that many draw conclusions on contact with the Inca Empire.
3) Hanga Poukura: This is a beautiful coastal area of interesting, rough lava rock formations has several unique features. Several statues are in a strange and mysterious manner buried in a line, with only the backs being visible. The ahu is one of the most well-made ever with blocks that are cut for a better fit. Hanga Poukura area also has an amazing natural phenomena that has been occurring constantly since these areas were created by lava flows almost a million years ago - a blowhole. The blowhole of Hanga Poukura is one of the best ones of Rapa Nui, and when the ocean is right, water will spurt up into the air as waves come in.
4) Akahanga: According to oral tradition, Akahanga was the biggest village in ancient times. Many foundation blocks for houses can be found in this area, a small cave and a large ahu platform.
5) Rano Raraku: The volcano that was converted into a mass production factory of gigantic megaliths. Virtually all statues were carved here. One day the workers stopped, and the hundreds of statues that were left behind haven't moved since.
6) Ahu Tongariki: The biggest and most impressive monument of Rapa Nui with its 15 mighty moais.
After the moai carving period, the ancient islanders evolved the mortal competitions of the birdman, or tangata manu. The sites of this tour are located in the central and southwestern parts of the island and include:
1) Anakena: At the most beautiful beach of the island, the capital of the ancient society was located. In the sand stands a monument with the best preserved restored moais of the entire island. Quite recently they were dug up after centuries of having been buried in the sand.
2) Te Pito Kura: The ahu monument of this area has the largest statue that ever reached an ahu platform, reaching almost 10 m tall. Nearby is also a round rock with magnetic properties.
3) Puna Pau: Small volcano where the red scoria stone was quarried for the moai statue topknots - the so called pukao. All of the moai statue pukaos come from this place.
4) Ahu Akivi: The only monument with moais that are looking out towards the sea.
5) Tahai: The tribesmen of this village were remarkably ambitious and hard-working. They raised several statues at three different ahu platforms. A ramp was made to enter the ocean from within the area.
6) Rano Kau crater: The crater of volcano Rano Kau is one of the most stunning views of the whole island. Its crater lake was one of the most important sources of drinking water in ancient times.
7) Orongo: Ceremonial stone village dedicated to the birdman competition, located at the ridge of volcano Rano Kau. From within Orongo we will have a fantastic view of the crater of this volcano.
You can also hire a taxi to drive you around. Remember the driver from day 1, we called him and he took us to see sunrise at Moai at Ahu Tongariki.