29.08.2014 - 29.08.2014
I woke up to an intense bird warbling outside my room during sunrise so I obviously didn’t need an alarm-clock at this time of year anyway. Breakfast was served between 7.15am to 9am and during my short walk over to the breakfast I could see, hear and smell the ocean. It was pretty chilly outside before the sun had a chance to warm up the air. My transfer to the stable picked me up at 9.30am… or was supposed to anyway. But somehow a misunderstanding had occurred (I think my hotel forgot to confirm or something like that) so I wasn’t picked up until 10.20am. Sigh! Anyway, it took only a few minutes to drive over to the stable so if I had known where it was I could have walked… well, well. The horses were already tacked when I arrived (since I was arriving so late) and I was able to borrow short chaps and a helmet if I wanted (voluntarily though – I chose to wear my cap instead to protect my face from the intense sun). Since I was participating in a 7 hour trail ride today I had prepared a pick-nick that was packed down in a saddle bag. Except from the guide I was the only rider today and we rode off along the islands west coast. Even though it was windy the wind was warm and the intense sunshine demanded wearing long-sleeves.
Even though Easter Island nowadays has a barren landscape research shows that has not always been the case. When the first Polynesian settlers discovered the island the landscape was covered in subtropical forests but after 400 years of colonizing the tree-devastation was substantial and after another 300 years all forests were gone. The causes for the extensive devastation have many theories and are complex, but everyone agrees to climate changes in association with the Little Ice age together with human itself had significant influences. The human devastated the forests in order to cultivate the land, construct canoes and tools and also a large amount of firewood was necessarily to cremate cadavers. But when the forests eventually were gone and the broken boats couldn’t be repaired or replaced with new ones anymore Easter Island got isolated since the inhabitants couldn’t leave the island. Fishing out at the ocean was replaced with chicken farming which together with rats became the primarily food, and the lack of firewood forced the human to use sugar beets, grass and such which instead depleted the land. This substantially increased the population during the next 200 years. The Polynesian people were primarily farmers (and not fisher men) cultivating sweet potatoes, bananas, cassava and yam, but without the trees protecting the crops from the salty ocean winds remnants shows that the people started to plant the crops in underground holes and covered the soil with rocks to prevent dehydration. During rough periods of time cannibalism existed on Easter Island which is supported by bone findings in and around cooking areas (especially in caves) and by oral stories. The island has also been severely afflicted by soil erosion during the last centuries probably directly caused to the extensive forest devastation that took place. The sheep farming during the 20th Century is also believed to have hastened the erosion.
As soon as we had left the settlement in Hanga Roa and rode out on more secluded roads we sped up the pace. After long distances of trotting and galloping the green meadow landscape changed into a more dramatic, barren and rocky nature, but you could tell the horses were steady on their “feet” and knew how to zigzag their way through the volcanic rock landscape. There were not many moai along the trail we rode but more of ancient remains like houses, hide-out places, caves and archeological findings like rock engravings and paintings.
In one place we dismounted the horses and walked up to a hide-out place and you could only enter through a narrow hole in the ground (not wider than my shoulder width). The guide crawled down easily through the hole and waited for me down there. You really shouldn’t have claustrophobia if you want to crawl down into one of those hide-out places! The guide told me that this was a place used by her ancestors to hide out during times when conquerors came to take over Easter Island and enslave the population, but when the hide-out places were discovered the conquerors captured and killed everyone in it. The people on Easter Island have not only suffered from conquering but also civil wars, colonization, and epidemics of diseases like tuberculosis (brought by explorers) have also affected and decreased the islands population through times. When it was time to get up from the hide-out place and back to the horses I turned around and looked at the little hole. Had I just crawled down through that? I’m never going to get up again… The guide climbed up first and then it was my turn. After many ifs and buts I had made it half-way through and not only was it muddy, narrow, cold and wet, I was starting to get the feeling I might not get out of there. But I couldn’t start to freak out now! I just had to suck it up and be clever and after additional juggling I managed to get out of there. Now afterwards thinking about it, the guide wasn’t that much thinner than me… but she was shorter, perhaps 15 centimeters and that probably helped her passing through that 90 degree bend since she was shorter.
Well back mounted on the horseback we kept on riding along the coastline and passed pastures with livestock and horses, and right out in the middle of nowhere we passed the most secluded houses that perhaps where abundant already. After about 4 hours of riding we arrived to the volcano Terevaka, also the highest peak on Easter Island with its 507 meters above sea level. Easter Island is the result of volcano activities and constitutes of peaks out of the underwater mountain range that rises 300 meters from the ocean bottom. About 3 million years ago the volcano Pua Katiki roughly began to shape and posed alone an island for hundreds of years before the volcanoes Rano Kau and Manga Terevaka were formed and together shaped the island we now know as Easter Island.
After another hour of horseback riding we arrived at Anakena Beach where we stopped for a break and ate our pick nick. Anakena has a beach of white coral sand and is one out of two sand beaches on Easter Island in an otherwise rocky coastline. According to legends Anakena was the place where Hotu Matu’a (a Polynesian chief and the first settler on this island) chose to stay and settled. And sure it felt a little odd after 5 hours of riding in a barren landscape to suddenly arrive to a white sand beach with palm trees and tourists. After the pick nick we headed back towards Hanga Roa again and rode for a long time along the road that links Anakena Beach and Hanga Roa. Since it wasn’t high season for tourists now on the island there was no heavy traffic… but horses are still animals that can get scared and flee no matter how safe in traffic the owners says they are.
Then we took off into a forest of Eucalyptus trees. Except from the characteristic smell I recognized how the trees looked from my journey to Portugal a couple of years earlier. It began to cloud up and the warm winds switched to chilly ones. But we made it back to the stable without any raindrops. During the way back we also saw packs of horses curiously following us at a distance. I would describe the typical Easter Island horse as an Icelandic horse in size XL but only with the paces walk, trot and gallop. When we arrived at the stable and I had gotten my 7 hours in the saddle (and even more) I felt pretty tired.
I got transferred back to my Hotel O’Tai and after a quick shower I went down to Hanga Piko to behold yet another magnificent sunset over the Pacific Ocean. On the way back to the hotel I stopped by at a restaurant for a late dinner. I loved their fantastic pineapple/orange juice so I ended up ordering one more before leaving. Fell asleep pretty un-rocked that night.