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Entries about moai

Easter Island

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I got up early as hell to be in time for the transfer leaving at 5am. Though I couldn’t find the new batteries I just bought here in Santiago for my portable baggage scale why I had to pack my baggage with my gut feeling and with a little anxiety for having to pay for over-weight on the flight. When time was 4.45am the receptionist phoned up to my room and announced that my transfer had arrived. Since I was already half stressed to death (over not finding the batteries) this announcement didn’t ease my stress at all! I pressed down the last stuff in my baggage and more or less forced the zipper closed. “Shit! I’ll never make the weight limit”, I thought to myself and shrugged… there was nothing I could do now. I wanted to bring everything with me back home and not leave anything behind. Took the elevator down to the reception and checked out, loaded the baggage into the transfer and sank down on the seat in the car. Boo so early in the morning it was!

I arrived well in time at Santiago Arturo Benítez International Airport. The flight to Easter Island (Isla de Pascua) was originally departing at 8am but was later changed to departure at 9.05am. I guess my travel agency forgot to delay my transfer to the airport with one hour as well… well, it’s better to be too early than late! I got in line to LAN Airlines check-in desks and nervously waited. Now for it! Not more than 23 kg was allowed for the baggage. And if someone wonders – yes, flights to Easter Island counts as international flights (even though the island belongs to Chile) so that’s why the weight limit for checked-in baggage is 23 kg. I was super nervous when they called me up to a desk and I told the man behind the desk that I had no idea what my bag would weigh in at before I it up on the scale. I saw how the digital numbers on the scale just went higher and higher to finally end up at 22,9 kg! Wow! I made it with a hairbreadth! Sometimes you need a little luck too ;) I got my boarding card and walked away to the security check with light steps and since it was so early in the morning there was no line. Nice! I bought myself a sandwich and some water that had to do as breakfast. Then I had some to kill and I barely could stay awake.

When it was finally time for boarding I was just as tired and slow-witted as any. The airplane was quite big though, a sort of Dream Liner model but with 2+3+2 seats per row and my travel agency had pre-booked window seats for me just as I wanted. Between Santiago de Chile and Easter Island the flight took about 5 hours and 45 minutes and therefore food was included onboard. I made a few attempts to get some sleep but as always it’s hard to get any quality sleep during flights. Finally when the plane started to descend for landing I couldn’t see any island in sight but that’s not so strange since Easter Island is a very small island with an area of only 164 km2. Easter Island is more or less shaped like a triangle and the islands only airport Mataveri International Airport is situated in the south corner. Since it’s a small island means practically that the runway starts at the southeast coast and stretches 3,3 km east and stops at the northeast coast. So the pilots can’t afford any mistakes during landing or take-off or they will end up in the ocean! So with delight mingled with terror I could only watch through the window and hope for the best when the ocean got more and more close underneath the airplane.


Eventually I could spot the coastline of Easter Island and reinsure myself that the island was within reach when the plane took ground and braked. Luckily the passengers cannot see the end of the runway (that ends with cliffs into the ocean) getting closer and how much or little marginal the pilot actually has.


I disembarked the airplane with tired legs when an intense moisture heat hit me and since I just had left a chilly and cold Santiago I had quite warm clothes on me. But here on Easter Island it was +25 °C, nice and sunny and freshly but warm winds. Mataveri International Airport may be the vastest airport in the world but I want to state one of the smallest ones too, since we had to walk from the airplane on the ground and in to a small wooden building that represented the actual terminal building. I was in a real hurry to get inside since I really needed to use the restroom, but I noticed people stood in line at a small booth just by the entrance to the airport. But I had to walk them by to find a restroom. Even though the airport is small they did have a baggage belt where all the bags arrived on but the space around the belt was too small so people almost stood on top of each other to get their baggage. When I finally spotted my bag I literally had to push myself through the crowd to get it. It was really hot inside the arrival area, just as hot as the outside temperature.

Now all tired in both body and mind I had to find my transfer and I started to glance through all the signs one by one and found a sign with my name on it. It was a relatively tall man that I assume was a native rapa nui, he gave me a flower-necklace and welcomed me and for a short moment I thought I had arrived to Hawaii instead. He loaded my baggage into his transfer bus and asked me if I had bought my ticket to the national park. “Uuuhm, what ticket?” I said and felt totally confused. Then I remembered that it was probably that ticket all the people in line was waiting for to buy, when I had just walked by in search for a restroom. Except from the airport you can only buy the ticket to Orongo National Park (Orongo Parque Nacional) in one other place on the entire island, so remember to buy the ticket on the airport if you plan to visit Easter Island. So I had to go back to that booth to buy the ticket (30000 CLP = 30 Euro) and then back to the transfer. I sat down in the transfer next to another passenger named Emily. While the driver was waiting for a third person Emily and I started to chat a little. Emily was originally from London and been travelling around the world for 3 months and now just arrived with the same flight as I had. When the driver had gathered all three of us he drove off the airport and towards Hanga Roa and our hotels. First stop was Hotel O’Tai, my hotel where I was staying. The driver thought that Emily was the one staying there so when I said “That’s also my hotel” he got confused. So he had to look in his papers and realized that yes, this was my hotel and Emily was staying at another hotel… I’m lucky I was alert and noticed it was my hotel. Who knows where else he could have dropped me off at?

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I checked in and got the key to my room. Hotel O’Tai is beautifully situated in a blooming garden decorated with native flowers, palm trees and small replicas of moai. The hotel’s 40 rooms are embedded in the lushly garden divided in separate buildings and my room was in a corner of one of the buildings – perfect! My room was in a clay-house-building so it was nice and cool inside and from my room you could hear the ocean but in order to see it you had to walk further away. There was no TV in the room and in order to get WiFi you had pay an extra fee. I quickly changed into more suitable clothes before heading out to grab something to eat. I found a restaurant on the main street Atamu Tekena. If you visit Easter Island it’s a must to try out one of all the local fish dishes they have to offer. I dared a tuna fish with rice and a tasty orange/pineapple juice. Then I walked down to the beach and walked along the coastline to Hanga Roa and photographed some moai.

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Unfortunately the sun shined from behind so I decided to get back another day for pictures when the sun shined from another angle. It was really windy along the coast, almost chilly, in the late afternoon but as soon as you got in lee it got hot again. I got to experience a beautiful sunset over the Pacific Ocean later that evening and soon thereafter it got really cold outside. The few street lights that do exist in Hanga Roa were lighted up and it was time to get back to the hotel again. If you plan to visit Easter Island, do remember to bring some kind of flashlight or your cell phone to light up the way in front of you after sunset. Because there aren’t many street lights in Hanga Roa and it gets dark really fast and on top of that the sidewalks are of insufficient quality, rough and edgy and along many sidewalks runs deep slots… so you really need to watch out where you’re walking in the dark.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged traveling easter_island moai Comments (0)

Easter Island on horseback

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged easter_island moai horseback_riding Comments (0)

Getting to know the moai

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Woke up again to the intense bird-warbling outside the window as a sign that sunrise had began. I ate breakfast in time to make today’s first guided tour to Orongo. The clouds were hanging low and the fog had a steady grip around Hanga Roa and the rain was about to start so the air was completely different this morning from all other days. Pick-up at 9am outside my hotel and the guide, Pablo, spoke well English. Emily, whom I met two days ago, was also on the tour bus and I soon discovered that almost all other passengers spoke English as well. It’s always nice to communicate with people having English as their native language. They drove us 10 minutes to Ahu Vinapu where we made our first stop. Ahu is Rapa nui and translates as shrine. Vinapu is a part of Rapa Nui National Park that in turn has declared as world heritage by UNESCO, and as a tourist you are informed about that several times and that you really need to respect and honor the boundaries around the statues. You are also strongly forbidden to climb or even touch the statues and by the most popular moai are posted guards (sometimes even police officers) that can give you a fine if you violate the restrictions. I don’t remember exactly how large amount you could get but it was noticeable.


Decapitated moai

Vinapu is a historical important archeological place and represent the exchange between the Incas and Polynesians. The platforms that all moai – once raised here – stood at witness about incredible skilled stonework consisting of big strictly fitted stones cut out of basalt and as spirit level they used the ocean to horizontally build the platform after. As all the other moai on Easter Island, the moai at Ahu Vinapu were destroyed during civil wars between the 18th and 19th Centuries when they put big stones in front of each statue and tipped the statues over so their necks fell right on the stones to decapitate the moai. That’s why you nowadays see all these repairs in the neck areas in almost every moai on Easter Island that has been chosen to be raised up again. Moai were placed on top of platforms (like those in Ahu Vinapu) in belief they represented spirits from dead ancestors or relatives that had been buried inside the platforms.


A female moai

Almost all moai are men but 10 female statues have been identified and characterizes by two heads, breasts and vagina. Pablo pointed at one statue here in Ahu Vinapu and said that was one of the 10 recovered female moai. It was not easy though to distinguish the female features due to external influences like human and nature, but using your imagination you could anticipate them.

Next stop during this tour was Orongo. We rode the bus for a while and when we arrived the weather had changed into raw and chilly. Strong winds and heavy rain made you almost want to stay inside the transfer bus but we all made an attempt to continue the tour. In order to visit Orongo I needed to show up that ticket (I bought at the airport) to clear the entrance to Rapa Nui National Park. But as soon as we entered the park the weather got even worse and the wind made the rain falling almost horizontally and due to the strong wind we couldn’t hear what Pablo said. So we gave up and went back to the entrance building where Pablo continued to tell us all about the traditions that were performed here in Orongo. Tangata-manu (the Birdman): was an annual ceremony celebrating Make-Make (God) and fertility that started during a period of time when the tribal chiefs lost their status and competed in keeping the title Birdman. The purpose of the ceremony was for the contesters to climb down the rocks at the south cape of Easter Island, swim out to the island Motu Nui (south of Easter Island). The ones who did survive the downhill climbing and the swimming out to the island then had to wait for days, sometimes weeks, for the arrival of the sea bird Manutara that was breeding on the island during the springs. The first contester to find an egg and returned it to the village was designated Tangata-manu - the Birdman - for one year. The designated Birdman was sacred and was honored during the year. It should be mentioned that the only moai found here in Orongo named Hoa Hakananaia (The Stolen Friend) was removed from the island during a Poki-Manu ceremony to Great Britain in 1868 and was introduced to Queen Victoria. The statue never came back to Easter Island and can nowadays be seen in a British museum.

Totally soaked, cold and frozen we walked back to the bus and Pablo told us we could re-use our tickets another day to visit the park (without a guide) when the weather was much better. The staff in the park takes notice of the weather and allows visitors to return another day, but unfortunately this was my last 24-hour-day here on Easter Island so I wouldn’t be able to utilize that deal anyway. Such a pity!

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On the way back to Hanga Roa we made a shorter stop at a cave just down by the ocean called Ana Kai Tangata, the most accessible and available cave on the island. Probably due to its name (Ana = cave;Kai = to eat; Tangata = man) stories and rumors occurred about cannibalism on Easter Island. But the name can be translated in two ways; “cave where men ate” or “cave where men was eaten”. Also the word Kai in old Rapa nui means; “to gather”, “to count” or “to teach”. And there are no certain archeological findings that proof cannibalism were practiced according to Pablo. There are several cave paintings to be seen but they are in very bad condition due to the high humidity and constant influence by the salt from the ocean water. The cave is just down by the water's edge but as a visitor you never have to worry about tide water since the difference is so low that the ocean water never reaches into the cave. But you can see the mighty power from the ocean waves hit against the rocks a few meters outside the cave.

Back in the hotel I took a warm shower and changed into dry clothe before heading out for lunch. An Empanada with chicken had to do and now the weather had changed into bright sunshine and warm winds again so I went down to the little harbor Hanga Piko and just rested for a while. It was soothing just sitting there listening to the ocean waves. By 3pm it was time for Half day Akivi, in other words the second guided tour for the day. It was the same tour bus that picked me up as earlier this day, the same guide (Pablo) and the same passengers were in it (except two people that had booked a private guided tour in the afternoon).


First stop during this afternoon tour was Ahu Akivi and the moai here are sacred and have a special historical meaning since they are the only moai on the entire island that are facing the ocean. All other moai are looking away from the ocean towards villages to guard and protect the people. But these seven moai at Ahu Akivi were, according to Pablo, facing the ocean to greet the arrival of the seven explorers but the explorers died here on Easter Island and never returned home. You can’t stop wondering if it was bad luck to face the moai towards the ocean then? All moai had white/bright eyes made out of corals but all eyes were destroyed during the civil wars except from one eye that has been found in one piece. The moai that today have been re-raised and restored have no eyes but only hollow outs where the eyes once were attached. According to the Rapa nui belief, a moai without eyes has no soul. That’s why it was so important for moai to have eyes and especially being raised on a platform representing the spirits of ancestors or relatives.


Next stop was at Puna Pao where all the moai hair (Pukaos) was carved out in stone for the statues, and yes all moai had hair - not hats. The hair was carved round so they could be rolled away to the statues all over the island and was later painted red to mark their dominance. 95% of all moai were carved out of stone from the slopes of the volcanic crater Rano Raraku and where then transported out to the rest of the island. The theories conflicts about how the Rapa nui-people managed to move around all the enormous statues but the most logical theory is that the moai were moved standing up and wobbled sideways forward with ropes. The separate manufactured hair was put on top of the moai by building a temporary ramp and rolled the hair up on the head. In and on and around Rano Raraku are 397 unfinished moai still standing left. You can tell by the partially buried statues so the people could easier access and sculpture at the very top of the moai.

Third and last stop for the tour was at Huri A Urenga which displays a lonely moai who was thought to have astronomical meaning and protected the winter crops since the statue was/is turned so it faces the sun during the winter solstice. This moai is also interesting since it has four arms and four hands and according to Pablo those represented the four clans once living here. According to researchers the phenomena with four hands and arms may be a result of the original two arms and hands being damaged during transportation that two new arms and hands were carved in on top of the old ones.


Next to this moai you can find one of all crematories around the island where the islanders burned bodies. The remaining bones where used as tools within the family but that tradition ended when all the trees once were gone on Easter Island (so the bodies couldn’t be cremated anymore).

During the bus ride back to the hotels Emily told all of us about a restaurant she had visited and ordered a sandwich. The restaurant was called Club Sandwich and she recommended all of us to visit and try out one of their gigantic sandwiches. So I just had to walk over there and try one. And just as I walked into Club Sandwich (situated along the main street) I noticed four other people from the guided tour were already there and had ordered sandwiches. Since they had already eaten, I never saw how big the sandwiches really were. But I ordered one anyway and damned how big it was! My first thought was… “How do you even eat something like this???” It was enormous and all over the plate. Of course you had a fork and knife to eat with so you just could dig in. Ha ha, at least you didn’t have to leave the place hungry, that’s for sure. Once back at the hotel I started to pack down everything in my bags since I was going back to Chile and Santiago again tomorrow. Unfortunately all clothes felt a little damped due to the high humidity here on Easter Island so I was a little afraid that my clothes were going to be ruined if I packed them down like that, but what was I supposed to do?

Posted by bejjan 16:00 Archived in Chile Tagged easter_island moai Comments (0)

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