Glenn spent our first night on Easter Island writhing in pain on the bed in our hotel room. We had come to the island, whose true name is Rapa Nui, to visit the stone figures called moai. (sounds like “mow-eye”)
Unfortunately, Glenn decided to bring some stones of his own in the form of kidney stones.
It was a stressful time.
We had arrived around midnight and quickly found ourselves in unfamiliar surroundings. We had no idea where we were in proximity to town or who we could ask for help, much less if there were any medical services should he have complications.
After 12 (looong) hours Glenn successfully passed the kidney stones and although he was exhausted, he was ready to get out of the room and begin adventuring.
Rapa Nui is a very charming island with an interesting blend of Latin American and Polynesian cultures. The only town on the island, Hanga Roa, was both sleepy (we were there during the off season) and full of construction activity in preparation for the throngs of tourists that will be coming in a few months.
Over the span of several days Glenn and I explored the island via driving, walking, running, hiking and biking. The moai statues, as well as other archeological and geologic features, are located in multiple far flung locations which makes for a new adventure every day.
About half of the moai statues are located on platforms around the perimeter of the island and were integral to the Rapanui’s worship of deified ancestors. Contrary to popular belief, they faced inland not out to sea (with a few exceptions) to watch over their respective villages.
The other half of the moai statues are still located at the main quarry, in various states of completion, where they were being carved from the mountainside of volcanic tuff.
It wasn’t until nearly 1980 before it was discovered that the finished installed statues actually had eyes made of white coral with pupil insets of obsidian or red scoria.
The Rapanui people later abandoned the moai and ancestral worship in favor of a new religion referred to as the Birdman Cult. Each year the various tribal chiefs (or their representatives) would take part in a competition that involved scaling down a deadly cliff 1,000 feet above the sea and swimming out to a nearby islets.
The competitors would search the islet caves for the first egg from migrating birds called Sooty Terns. The first man carrying an intact egg that made it back to the waiting priests in the sacred clifftop village of Orongo was the winner, and that tribe’s ruler was blessed with expanded religious and political power…until a new winner emerged from the competition the following year.
The islanders themselves knocked over the standing moai after their civilization broke down – sometime after 1722. Although several have been restored, many more remain in ruins scattered around the island.
It is said the breakdown of their civilization came about due to resource depletion. They had cut down all of the trees so they could no longer make canoes for fishing. There was also a decline in birds and crop yields which led to starvation (and some cannibalism).
The slave trade later decimated the population, and those few that escaped being taken as slaves were at the mercy of Christian missionaries that destroyed their culture’s artwork, buildings, sacred objects, tattoos, language, traditional dress, etc.
From indigenous rights protest marches and local uprisings to reclaim management of the national park, to children speaking the native language and late-night traditional dance and music practice sessions, we were heartened to see several examples during our visit of the Rapanui people seeking empowerment and working to reclaim and rebuild their vibrant culture.
Another striking feature of the island was the proliferation of free-range dogs and horses.
We heard an estimate that there are over 3,000 horses that roam the island. Most of them are owned and branded, but they are semi-wild and don’t seem to serve any purpose but to beautify the landscape.
There was no shortage of puppy love.
Both Glenn and I are avid dog lovers and we found ourselves surrounded by friendly four-legged fuzz-balls everywhere we went. Even as I sit typing this in the Rapa Nui airport there are packs of friendly dogs wandering among the waiting passengers looking for some final belly rubs or pats on the head. Suffice it to say, if we lived here we would have no less than 30 dogs in our home!
Some additional pictures of our adventures below.
Some fun with perspective…
A hike to the rim of the Rano Kau volcanic crater
A bike ride to some of the more remote moai sites