Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rapa Nui, the most isolated inhabited landmass on earth (Day 1, morning)

Chance of a life time

This really was the chance of a lifetime, to visit such an iconic place. Even with modern air travel, not that many people are able to get to Easter Island/Isla de Pascua/Rapa Nui. Without a doubt, this was the best part of my trip to Chile, and I doubt anything else will top this experience during the rest of my stay.

Getting out of the Santiago Airport. Oy!

We had a bit of confusion at the airport in Santiago. The flight seemed to be listed as an international flight, although we did use the domestic side of the (HUGE) departure area. Then we were told to take our lone suit case to the international side to check it in. At this point, we figured we needed to go with the flow, and go to the international security gate. Did I tell you this terminal is really big? Well, the two security gates are at either end of the when we found out no, we could not board through the international side, even though the flight was listed there, it was a long trek the opposite end of the terminal where we were able to go through security. Steve has a picture on his blog showing the unusual configuration of the two gates (20A and 20B) that fed people onto the same flight. So really, we could have gone through international after all! Because the flight continued on to Tahiti, it was part international, and part domestic and for some reason, the airport designers decided to have two gates for one plane. Don't know if this is some sort of international travel regulation, or the Chilean love of bureaucracy at work.

Joel was happy to be on LAN again-he loved the individual video panels for each seat. We loved them too, but couldn't watch anything too "adult" with Joel sitting between us.

Our First Day

Our hotel, the Pukuvai, was really terrific, but we didn't spend much time there since we had only 2 days to see what we could. We opted for a private tour, which turned out to be a great choice-our guide Claudio was born and raised on Rapa Nui and is descended from one of the few native families that managed to survive slavery, small pox and civil war. Because of his background we thought Claudio was able to give a much more nuanced view of the history of the island than a run of the mill guide.
The island has over 300 moai platforms, most in a ruined condition, like the one below. All the moai were knocked down by native islanders between the mid 1700s and 1838, when a European explorer reported seeing one remaining upright statue. (There is are also some accounts of earth quakes causing some of them to fall) But I'm getting ahead of myself here!

The platform below is typical of most of the sites on the island-few have been restored. 
Close up of the fallen moai:

There are many caves on the island, the result of the volcanic activity that formed it. They vary in size from quite small, like the one below, to the 12th longest lava tube in the world, coming in at a little over 4 miles long. People lived in them, used them for refuge during war, collected drinking water from the large ones and used them as burial sites.
There are 3 main theories as to how the moai were moved from the quarry site to the ahu, or platforms all around the edges of the island. Claudio thinks that it is likely that any of the theories are possible, and that they may have all been used at different times because over time the moai got bigger and bigger and the islanders may have needed different methods of transport. The theories include: rolling the statues on palm trunks, using a sort of palm trunk railroad to slide them, or 'walking' the moai upright using ropes.

Below is a moai that was never raised-its platform was ready, the rocks gathered to wedge under it in the front to slowly raise it are there...but it was never put up. No one knows why, but they do know it was not complete because the eyes aren't 'open.' The last step in making a moai, which is the representation of an important person, was to finish the eyes, which were roughed in but not completed before transport. The eye cavities were rounded, white coral was put in, with darker stone, most likely obsidian for the pupils. Only then was the moai's mana, or spirit of the deceased present and able to watch over the people.

Joel and older, smaller moai. The oldest are one or two meters, the largest erected was almost 10 meters (about 33 feet), and the biggest carved, but still in situ in the side of the quarry is about 21 meters (69 feet) long.

Ranu Raraku-the Quarry 

The quarry where most of the moai were carved was the highlight of the trip for me in many ways. Seeing the moai in various stages of completion, being able to view them at a close range was spectacular.
The quarry is on the side of a volcano, and the soft volcanic tuff (compressed volcanic ash) is what most of the moai (about 95 percent) were carved from. (You can't see it, but there is a crater with a lake here also). The moai here are bigger than any that were successfully erected on the ahu platforms, and are in various stages of completion. The strange thing about all of this is it almost looks like tools were dropped one day, and everyone walked away. But this was most likely not the case at all. There was fighting between the 10 tribes on the island which may be why the moai were knocked down, and why production ceased. Others think some were pulled down because people lost faith the protective value of the moai when resources got scarce. At any rate, eventually work stopped in the quarry, and moai were abandoned on roads all over the island on the way to their ahu.
 Often when people think of moai, they have images of those in the quarry in mind. It was really fantastic to walk around in a place that I'd first seen in National Geographic photos when I was a kid. The reason these particular moai are buried is because they are in the final stage of production. Their tops and sides were carved in a flat position on the quarry wall. Eventually, they were chiseled off the living rock with their backs in a sort of keel shape, and slid down the hill. Then they were put in waiting holes so the back could be sculpted. Eventually, they were removed and transported all around the island.
Of course today, some of the statues are more deeply buried because of wind-blown dirt or erosion of soil from above.
 Here you can see the face of a moai, in situ:

 This one is called Turkuturi, and is the only moai that has legs-it is kneeling on them. It is also unique in the shape of its head and face, and that it has a beard.
 I like this picture a lot:

 Joel with some of the MANY horses on the island. Claudio said people just like them, so they keep them but don't really do much with their horses. They aren't ridden or used for work. But they do walk all over the archeological sites, which Claudio admitted is a problem.

By for now, I'll write more about the trip later...this has been rather a long post!