Saturday, May 17, 2014

Rapa Nui 3

Things just get busy in the week, so it is hard to have the energy to blog most days! I was invited to sit on an interview panel at Fulbright in Santiago yesterday. This meant I needed to leave from work to catch a bus up on Thursday, since the interviews started at 10 a.m., Friday morning. Fulbright put me up at the Hotel Stanford, a 5 minute walk from the office, and it was nice to watch a little TV!

Easter Island, second tour

On our second full day, Claudio was able to give us an abbreviated half day tour after he finished up with the cruise ship passengers. The island doesn't get that many ships a year, less than 10, so wouldn't you know it, there was one there while we with there. Since there is no harbor, passengers are ferried ashore on little tender boats. The distance, cost, and no harbor limit the number of ships that go there.

Rana Kau

Our first stop that afternoon was to view the northern rim of the Rana Kau volcano crater. At 1,264 feet, it is the volcano closest to Hanga Roa, where we were staying.
Looking south, you can see the deep lake, with floating reeds growing on the lake's surface:
Claudio told us that here used to be quite a bit of farming done on the steep slopes of the volcano, but the local residents have been discouraged from doing so since this is part of the national park now. Visitors can't go down, but he said residents still do, and that he's been down in the crater many times.

One of the interesting bits of trivia about the island is that it was once an emergency landing site for the US Space Shuttle program. 
(More info here:
This is why the airport's runway goes from one side of the narrow part of the island below Ranu Kau to the other.

Looking north from the volcano's rim, over the runway and toward Hanga Roa.


We drove to the south rim of the volcano to Orongo, which was inhabited once a year during a special ceremony of what is now known as the Birdman Cult. During this time, a competition was held to determine which clan's leader would be in charge of the whole island that year. Representatives from each clan competed in a race...that included scaling a cliff down to the ocean, swimming about a kilometer, (using a reed bundle for flotation) and hanging around to wait until the sooty terns arrived to nest on a small island below the ceremonial village. This picture doesn't give a sense of just how steep this cliff is...or how far out the island is either (they went to the bigger of the three islands to wait for the birds.)

Once eggs was found, the competitors swam back, and the first one up the cliff with an intact egg was the winner. Claudio said you need to think of how dangerous this was: competitors would fight to push people off the cliff, break opponents eggs...and then don't forget about how there are sharks in the area, and how likely it was for competitors to get a bit bloody on the rough cliff on the way down!
This culture was abandoned in the 1860s because disease and slavery decimated the local population. The houses were wreaked by Europeans who opened them up to plunder the painted ceilings for souvenirs. Later, most of the houses in the village were reconstructed by archeologist's.

There was some overlap with the moai culture and the Birdman culture, as is evidenced by a very unusual moai, named Hoa Hakananai'a (stolen friend), carved of basalt (much harder than the volcanic tuff that most were made from). Originally located in the area of the ceremonial houses up on the volcano's rim, it was not only made from basalt, but also had carvings on its back that were related to the Birdman cult. It is in the British Museum in London today, and I recall seeing it when I was there several years ago-it is in a large hall, and is labeled something like "Moai, basalt, Easter Island."
Being in the place where the Hoa Hakananai'a came from really showed me how so much is lost when objects are taken out of context end up in a museum with a brief label. 

Vinapu, and back

Our second tour wrapped up with a visit to Vinapu, another moai platform. This one was constructed from carved blocks of basalt, and as a result is different from the others on the island. It was this particular platform that convinced Thor Heyerdahl that the Incas settled Rapa Nui (they didn't, carbon dating proves it). He thought the way this platform was made looked like Inca walls in Peru.
I don't have any pictures of Vinapu, because Joel felt sick, and I went back to the van with him. He was ok the next day, ready to get on his beloved LAN, for the return ride to Santiago.

What a terrific trip!

More information about the alternative landings sites for the space shuttle:

A nice little video from NASA about alternative Shuttle landing sites...although the only ones mentioned are in the US, Europe and Africa. From what I could find, it seems the one one Rapa Nui was only considered early in the Shuttle program.

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