We finally arrived at Easter Island after 5 relaxing days at sea. As the island has no docking facilities we have to take a Tender to the port if we are to visit the island. Our Captain told us that loading the transfer boats would be a hit or miss operation due to the ocean swells that surround the island.
The swells today were about 2 to 3 feet which meant that getting on the Tender was a slow process as the Tender would constantly rise or fall those 2-3 feet from the level of the loading platform. We were supposed to start our excursion at 9:00 am but Tender loading was so slow that we didn’t get started until 11:00 am. We did made it ashore! Sadly the Captain had to cancel the excursions for later groups due his concern about passengers that would end up returning after dark through the increasingly dangerous swells.
The first thing you noticed when we got ashore was just how developed the island was. Even when you got out of town, the countryside was fenced for local farms and cattle. We saw a lot of cattle and horses that roam the area (one of our lecturers said that horses outnumber the population). As you would expect, there were “Moai” (stone statues) almost everywhere!
The name “Isla de Pascua” (Easter Island) was given by the island’s first European visitor, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722. The are about 8,000 inhabitants here of which 4,500 can claim Rapa Nui descent. There are no pure blood Rapa Nui people remaining.
Our first stop was at a Moai site called “Tahai”. There is a single statue as well as another platform (called an “Ahu”) with five standing Moai on top representing Rapa Nui royalty. The standalone Moai is unique in that the eyes have been reinserted and it also has a top signifying hair. At the other platform our guide told us that tradition said the the remains of Rapa Nui royalty were buried in the platform under the statues. Each statue is carved out of Tufa, a volcanic rock, located in a quarry about 8 miles from here. No one knows for certain how they moved them ( perhaps it was the same people who built the pyramids… ALIENS!) as each one weighs multiple tons.
Our next stop was at the quarry called “Rano Raraku” where there are perhaps 40 or 50 statues here, some standing, some lying on their backs, and some on their front. We also saw several left in the process of being carved. Apparently they carved the body shape first (lying face up), then the face. At this point they began chipping away at the back to detach it from the underlying rock before moving it to its final location miles away.
Next we visited the site called “Tongariki”. A huge Ahu of 15 statues, the largest on the island. We were able to see the statues from the quarry several miles away. Also of interest is the fact that these and all of the other statues face towards the island. Our guide indicated that this was done to mystically protect the Island and its people from harm. We also thought it was great that you were forbidden to get very close to the statues which made for taking some great photos!
Our last stop today was at Anakena Beach. Anakena is unusual for Easter Island in that it is one of only two small sandy beaches in an otherwise rocky coastline. Also, this is a very significantly cultural place on the island. Oral tradition says it was this beach where Polynesian Chief Hotu Matu’a landed and established the first settlement on Rapa Nui in 1200 AD. Another Ahu stands on the edge of the beach. Our guide said that in those days it was forbidden for common people to even step on the sand!
On the way back to the ship we saw a large group of cars and people parked along side the road by a very tall hill. This was the day of the “Haka Pei” contest which is held every year in February. The participants lash two banana tree trunks together, carry them to the top of the hill and a single participant then uses them to slide down the hill.
Sadly we had to rejoin the ship and sail away tonight. Next up are two more sea days, then Pitcairn Island of Mutiny on the Bounty fame.