This is an old journal, from our trip around the world in 2002, taken from the diary I wrote at the time. Apologies for the poor quality photographs, they are scans of prints taken with a compact camera and images from the scrap book I made afterwards.
31.10.2002 - 31.10.2002
We are woken by the sound of cockerels this morning; we had left the window open during the night. There is a net covering it, otherwise we would not have risked the open window – before we left the UK we were warned about a Dengue Fever outbreak here in Easter Island. We have no electric this morning, but as we are off on a sightseeing tour, it doesn’t really matter. We find the laundry list this morning though, much to David’s dismay.
Everything looks better this morning. The hotel’s staff are super, it has a lovely swimming pool and it is right in the centre of town. ‘Town’ is a great overstatement for the little settlement of Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island. A handful of restaurants and cafés, a smattering of shops, a few guest houses, a bank, a vegetable market and a post office, all joined together with a couple of roads, make this metropolis. There are just as many gauchos on horseback as there are cars here. With their dark complexion, bandanas, combat gear and long hair blowing in the wind as they gallop down the main street, they look rather menacing. Do not worry; it’s only a fashion thing.
The strap on my bumbag brakes this morning on the way to the bank. I never seem to have much luck with these things. We have been having long discussions with Marcia the receptionist about how much money to change. She warns us that the prices are much dearer here than in mainland Chile. The set menu dinner at the hotel is US$20, but we will be eating out anyway. It will be cheaper outside of course and although you can pay with US$ in most restaurants, the exchange rate will be bad. Today is Thursday; the bank is closed now until Monday as tomorrow is Day of the Dead and a Bank Holiday. We leave on Monday. We finally agree on an amount to change and also call in the post office for postage stamps and a couple of pretty stamps in our passports.
Victor arrives with a Rav4 to take us on our first taste of Easter Island. Easter Island is very remote and desolate, as all its inhabitants live in Hanga Roa, there is nothing outside the city except barren isolation and hundreds of Moai. At our first stop we see archaeologists working on the restoration of a kayak slide. Victor knows them all and they tell us all about their finds. At Akahanga the craggy volcanic coast is impressive, with waves crashing in over the boulders.
Former cave dwellings
There are caves which were occupied by ordinary people surrounded by the remains of their gardens. The royals lived in stone houses shaped like upturned boats, and we see such remnants too. Victor finds an obsidian axe tool which he quickly hides under a stone. Again at the second stop there are more fallen moai and lots of village gardens, houses and kitchens.
Topknot, showing carving
It wasn’t until I started reading about the history of Easter Island before we left the UK that I realised two things about the place. 1. The sheer number of statues and 2. That they have all been toppled since. However, several moai have been restored and driving along the road we suddenly spot a row of 15 of them. Victor has timed the visit so that we should have the place to ourselves; we are being followed by two largish groups of tourists. I can’t believe we are really here, this is another ambition fulfilled.
If the restored moai are fantastic, the quarry at Rano Raraku is mind-blowing. 400 moai line its slopes in various stages of completion.
The only kneeling moai on the island
We climb higher to see where the builders removed them from the rock.
Victor assures me that the climb to the top in order to see the volcano is the most strenuous part of the entire visit on Easter Island, but I wish I had worn my walking boots.
No-one knows what inspired the islanders to build these colossal effigies, how they were transported from quarry to site and why the production suddenly ceased with hundreds of unfinished sculptures in the quarry. Perhaps it was down to clan warfare, which is generally attributed to the fact that all the moai were toppled again. The sheer enormity of the effort involved in their creation and the great concentration of ruins indicate a much larger population in the past than its current 3000 inhabitants.
Victor is a local man with a passionate interest in the history of the island and its people. He tells us that for him, seeing the moai, ‘every time is like the first time’. The fact that he gets so excited about the relics makes it all the more interesting for us. The one thing that strikes me about the islanders is their pride: everyone we meet takes such delight in their heritage and treasures and show an immense respect for the future of their heirlooms. There is a great community spirit and they all pull together: during the building of the highway last year, the entire population turned out for its construction and surfacing. Their philosophy in life appeals to me. I commented to Victor that I had seen no beggars around, and his reply was: “If people beg, we give them work and pay them”. Most people have several professions: Victor is an electrician by trade, tour guide, taxi driver and he dances in a local troupe.
At the bottom of the slope of the quarry there are picnic tables and Victor serves a delicious lunch of hot chicken stroganoff prepared by his wife. His wife is Brazilian; they met in Italy and have two children. She has also made a couple of cakes, I thoroughly enjoy the banana cake but the other one which is made from manioc and coconut does not suit my taste. I only try a small piece and even that I cannot finish, but discreetly drop on to the ground and kick it about a bit until it is covered in mud and is indistinguishable as a cake. Victor loves it and finishes it all. The drink is a fruit and vegetable juice mainly from carrot and is very tasty.
Everywhere we go, we see falcons soaring above, not just one or two, but dozens and dozens of them. There aren’t many other birds around, so the falcons are even more noticeable. Victor is very blasé about their presence, but we get quite excited. The island is also home to a number of free-range horses.
Pito te Kuno was considered to be the Navel of the World by the early settlers, and is marked by a magnetic stone. It is a totally spherical stone of rock not found on the island. How did it get here?
Easter Island only has one proper sandy beach, and we stop for a quick dip and a look at its seven restored moai. We borrowed some towels from the hotel this morning, but there are no changing rooms on the beach so we ‘hide’ behind a tree to take our clothes off. The water is cold and we don’t stay in for very long, but at least we can say that we swam in the Pacific. Despite being very careful when we change back, sand gets everywhere.
Ahu Nau Nau
We stop to take a picture overlooking the capital before returning to Hanga Roa.
Overlooking Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island
When we get back to the hotel, the electric has returned and we sit on the balcony watching the video of Canada (we can boast that we have seen polar bears on Easter Island) and drinking Bacardi & Coke. I can’t believe that Canada was only really last week. We’ve only been away for 1½ weeks. Absolutely amazing. My face, arms and feet are sunburnt from walking around today, even though the weather wasn’t actually that bright.
We have dinner next door where we sit outside as the only customers. We order Lomo de la Pobre and a bottle of wine. The bill comes to £18 with tip and the food is good.
I have grown to love this small island. The atmosphere is laid back and relaxed and it’s a great place to chill out. The pace is slow, shops and restaurants appear to open as and when they feel like it and everyone is friendly. The ‘town’ has got a nostalgic hippy feel, with no luxury hotels, restaurants or shops. There are talks at the moment with an international chain to build a five star hotel and a golf course on the island. The general opinion of the local people is that this would completely ruin the ambience of the place and attract the ‘wrong’ sort of tourist. The increase in visitors would not benefit the locals to any great degree; most of the profits would line the pockets of international magnates. Although it may bring more jobs, at present there is no problem with unemployment on the island. Neither would it benefit the tourist: with more people sharing each archaeological site, official paths would have to be created, the statues would need to be fenced in and the enjoyment of ‘having the place to ourselves’ would be gone forever.
The island is shrouded in mysteries, and there are more questions than answers. Many theories abound as to who the original inhabitants were, where they came from and how they arrived at such a remote spot in the first place. Being 3700km from the South American coast and 4100km from Tahiti, Easter Island is one of the remotest places on earth. From looking at the current inhabitants, you can detect mainly Polynesian traditions, but also some South American heritage.