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dannygoesdiving This is a blog & photo journal of the trips that I (Danny) and Jo (wifey) have taken over the past few years.

The Easter Islands - I did it moai way!

CHILE | Wednesday, 3 October 2012 | Views [705]

Rano Kau

Rano Kau

A long held dream was about to be fulfilled - we were off to the Easter Islands.

Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it is more commonly known, is a Polynesian island found in the south east Pacific Ocean at the Southeastern most point of the Polynesian triangle.  It is a territory of Chile; a World heritage site; the most remote inhabited island in the world, oh and of course home to those famous wierd looking statues thingies (moai).

With LAN Airlines commencing twice weekly flights from Lima, Peru, the Easter Islands were firmly in our sites.  We were not even to be put off by the ridiculous departure time of 01:20 AM or the 5 hour flight.  New flight route meant a nice new shiney, comfortable plane - still not sure why they choose to serve you a meal at 02:00 in the morning though ?

We landed at 06:00 and were presented with a customs fiasco, which even made Miami International look efficient (and I never have anything good to say about that airport).  What better way to be welcomed into a Country than to present a plane load of weary passangers with just one agent at the customs desk - it took us 1.5 hours of standing in line to get through and humour was at a low point !  This seriously needs to be improved upon in my humble opinion.

Once through we were met by Marcello, the owner of Kaimana Inn, which was to be our home for the next 5 days.  He gave us a quick tour of the town (only settlement on the island), pointing out all the key amenities and attractions before bringing us to his hostel.  We checked into our room (basically 6 wooden rooms built out from a central covered deck), had breakfast (eggs - which were to become a stable part of all our breakfasts both here and in Peru) and arranged for a guided half day tour for the following morning (Marcello is also a licensed tour guide).  All that done and not wanting to waste any of our time on the island we headed into, and walked around the town, found the bank; then the dive centre to book diving for the following day and got a look at our first moai 'Ahu Tautira' which overlooks to small harbour.

Continuing along the coastline we passed the cemetary (worth a detour) before arriving at the ceremonical complex of 'Ahu Tahai'.  The complex comprises of 3 principle 'ahu' ( an 'ahu' is the platform upon which the moai stand).  These are Ko Te Riku (only moai with restored eyes), Tahai, and Vai Ure; the first 2 comprise of solitary statues, whilst there are 5 moai on the platform of Vai Ure.  We walked on about a mile to a final solitory moai Hanga Kio'e before retracing our steps.

I am not sure which was more amazing, the moai themselves or the complete lack of tourists, anywhere else this place would swarming with people, the moai would be fenced off and protected and you would be able to buy every souvenier you could imagine.  Here though the site was approached by a dusty dirt track (upon which we were passed by people on horseback simply going about their daily business), there were simple signs asking that you respect and don't climb on the moai, but nothing to physically prevent you from doing so, a handful of equally awestruck tourists and not a souvenier in sight ! In fact there were a more local dogs wandering around than there were people, we soon learned not to fuss them though, not because they were aggresive, infact they were so friendly and that was the problem as they would follow you.  At one point we felt like the pied piper of the dog world with half a dozen dogs joining us on our walk.

There can't be many places like this  left in the world and this remoteness and unspoiltness was evident at every site we visited during our stay.

Our early start was beginning to make itself known so we had a coffee and empanadas before grabbing a couple of hours sleep - after we had shooed a cockeral out of our room !  We returned again to Ahu Tahai in the evening hoping to see the sun setting behind the statutes, but it remained overcast (we failed to see the sunset during our entire stay) so we ate at the Kiamana restaurant - had the most tasty ceviche I have ever had and tried our first Pisco sours of the trip - they certainly were not our last.

 

The sun rises late here (07:30) however the chickens and wailing of the cat on heat ensured we didn't oversleep.  After breakfast we headed out for our half day tour, there were 5 of us in total, including a couple that we had hit it off with over breakfast the previous day (Ravi & Daphna).  We first visited Ana Kai Tangata - a sea cave with some ceiling/wall paintings, before heading onto our first Moai site - Vinapu.  This site is unique for 2 reasons, firstly it is the location of the only female moai (only 2 have ever been found, the other is in the museum), secondly the 'Ahu' closely resembles Inca stonework, leading to speculation that the incas visited the Easter Islands - it is the only 'Ahu' on the island constructed in this way.  There are only toppled moai here as well as several pukao (topheads) scattered on the floor.  We continued onto the awesome spectacal that is Rano Kau volcano, a fresh water crater lake which has its own micro climate. Our last stop was Orongo (1 of only 2 sites that you have to pay to visit), a stone village and ceremonial centre of the birdman cult. 

Back in town we had empanadas before heading to the museum to learn more about the Rapa Nui and the birdman culture, there were also a number of intersting exhibits, including the other female moai, the only surviving moai 'eye' made out of coral, birdman stone carvings and examples of tools, jewelery etc that have been excavated.

Heading to the dive centre we watched the 3 green turtles that live in the harbour before  taking a 15 minute boat journey out to the island rock of Motu Nui. The Easter Islands are renowned for their great water visibility but nothing prepares you for it as you roll backwards off the boat and into the sea.  There was easily 80 meters of visibility, the water was so crystal clear that it made depth perception nigh on impossible.  Whilst there was little marine life, the sides of the rock were adhorned with hard corals, to the extent that there was not a bare patch of rock to be found.  In over 5000 dives I don't think I have seen such (and so much) healthy hard coral.  There were alot of cornet fish, some brightly coloured pufferfish and numerous moray eels. A beautiful dive made a little more challenging by the surge which was evident even down at 30 meters, and very evident ( and entertaining) at the safety stop.

Back on land we had ice cream and in the evening a menu del dia - juice, soup, tuna steaks with vegetables.  A couple of pisco sours and we hit the sack.

 

Day 3 and we awoke to a downpour, Josie chose to chill while I headed back to the dive centre for another dive (yesterdays surge and 20 C water temperature put her off another dive). This time it was a short 5 minute boat journey to the divesite - Anchor Reef, instead of a sheer wall we dove the seabed which had numerous coral coated pinnacles to swim around, additionally there were a number of huge coral encrusted anchors and even a moai (all be it an artificial one).  Conditions were much calmer than the previous day, no surge but the same stunning visibility. 

After the dive I headed to the market for some souvenier shopping before meeting up with the others for our second tour with Marcello.  This time we drove to Anakena, a white coral sand beach, dotted with palm trees and home to both wild horses and two ahu - one with a single moai and one with a line of 6. It was a perfect setting for a spot of lunch.  Following the coastal road we stopped at 'Ahu Te Pito Kura', the location of the largest moai ever moved (its toppled) and a magnetic, healing rock (or some new age rubbish anyway).  The next stop was Tongariki, which is the largest 'Ahu',  home to 15 standing moai and probably the most famous photograph of the islands.  Any photos you see fail to do it justice and in no way prepare you for its wonder, you could  just sit there for hours marvelling at the feat of engineering. The lack of tourists and sound of crashing waves in the background all add to the experience.

We continued on to Rano Raraku, a volcanic crater which was also a quarry for 500 years until the 18th Century and was were all the moai on the island were initially quarried.  It is also home to 397 moai in various states of completion and the only other site on the island that you must pay to visit.  On the outside of the quarry are a number of moai, some of which are partially buried to their shoulders in the spoil from the quarry. They are distinctive in that their eyes were not hollowed out (this was done once they were on the 'ahu'), and they were not cast down in the island's civil wars.  Additionally there are many partially completed moai carved into the rock including the largest moai ever carved at 21.6 m (71 feet) in height, almost twice that of any moai ever completed and weighing an estimated 270 tonnes.  The quarry is also home to the moai 'Tukuturi' which is unique as it is the only moai with a beard as well as being  the only seated moai found to date.  The whole site was difficult to take in as everywhere you looked there were moai, even when you looked at the crater walls, half carved moai became evident.  I think you could have spent days just wandering the site, we however had to make do with a couple of hours.  That said it is a memory that will last a lifetime.  Our final moai stop for the day was 'Akahanga' then we headed back to the town via the small port where fisherman were bringing ashore their daily catch.  There were 3 huge tuna on the quayside and I was offered (and accepted) a taste of tuna heart - chewy and fishy is the best description I can provide.

That evening we took the advise of a Californian couple and went to eat at 'Kataro' a Japanese restaurant.  It was a great recommendation, it was a small setting with only 3 tables and upon arrival you sat at the preperation counter and chatted to the chef, who determined what fish you likes/didnt like; what sauces you prefer and how hungry you are, and then prepared your dishes accordingly.  The place had a wonderful atmosphere and the food was great, we had sushi, miso soup and fish cooked in a ginger sauce. An eating must to anyone visiting the island !

 

It was already day 4 !  With all the main sites visited it was time to rent a car, both to enable us to revisit/spend more time at those sites that we really enjoyed (the downside of guided tours is always the timeframe at individual sites) and also to explore some new and less visited sites.  Our first stop was 'Puno Pao'  where the red stone 'pukao' were quarried, there were about a dozen roughly shaped 'pukao' dotted around but not much else.  We continued onto 'Ana Te Pahu', one of the submerged agricultural caves that exist around the island before heading onto 'Ahu Akivi', the only inland location of moai on the island and also the only site where they face out to sea rather the inland.

We were feeling hungry at this point so headed back to Anakena as there were a number of small huts there serving food.  We had the most amazing homemade  tuna and cheese empanadas (probably the best of our trip) and a large slab of banana cake and spent the next hour just chilling out.  We continued to retrace yesterdays steps; stopped at 'Papa Vaka' which is home to numerous petroglyphs before returning to 'Tongariki'.  Continuing back to town we drove back to the volcanic crater ' Rano Kau', this time taking the opportunity to walk around the rim of the volcano.

The day passed quickly, we returned to the hostal at 6PM and went to eat at 'Au Bout Du Monde' based on Ravi and Daphnas advise.  All I can say about the place is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. Polynesian raw fish in coconut and lemon; Rare tune with a green curry sauce and sweet potatoes and a chocolate mousse cake - all  washed down with red wine and pisco sours.  A perfect end to a perfect day.

 

It was already our final day in the Easter Islands.  To remind us that you should never cease to be suprised we were joined for breakfast by a Glaswegian who had just arrived that morning - not too out of the ordinary you say ?, except that his luggage included an ebay purchase - a full size easter bunny outfit that he planned to wear throughout his stay !

We started our final day, at Marcellos advise, with a visit to the Catholic church for the sunday service and to hear the Rapa Nui singing.  We then drove inland, as it was a sunny, warm day we decided to climb to the top of Maunga Terevaka, which at 512m altitiude is the highest point on the island.  It was about an hour and a halfs walk to the sumit, but well worth it for the views as you have a panaramic view of the whole island.  Its a little wierd to stand there gazing out over the ocean and realsing that you are 4500km from the next inhabited land mass.  After the climb back down we headed to a natural sea pool that Marcello had pointed out a few days earlier.  Returning to the hostal we asked Marcello when we should head to the airport, his reply was ' when the plane flies over the hostal' !

We had a wonderful trip to the Islands, the moai are magnificent; the island is mystical, however what I think we will miss the most is the solitude, that and having to keep stopping the hire car  to let dogs, horses, cows and chickens cross the road !

Next stop .... Peru

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