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Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

CHILE | Sunday, 21 May 2017 | Views [695]

I landed on Rapa Nui on a bright, sunny day with a gentle warm breeze, and that's how it stayed until I left.  Who could ask for more?

Rapa Nui is a small island (only 650 square kilometres) and the locals tell me you can drive around it in about one and a half to two hours.  So why did I need to take 2 half day tours and a full day tour?   Because that's what you need to do if you want to see everything and get the history and information from a local.  All guides are islanders who have extensive knowledge about their history.

Rapa Nui is renowned for it's large statues called moai (pronounced mwy by the locals), but I was surprised by just how many there are on the island.  When I arrived, I walked down to the waterfront and assumed that the moai there were imitations for the tourists, but I was mistaken - they are the real thing.  They may not be in their original positions, but they are genuine carvings.

There are moai all over the island, in various states of repair.  They were erected when someone died; the person was buried usually in front, and the spirit was thought to inhabit the moai, so they became objects of reverence.  When the missionaries arrived, the locals were ordered to knock them down because they represented ancestor worship, however more recently they have been restored where possible and remounted on their platforms.  Because restoration has not always been possible, there are many broken moai lying where they fell.

The only unbroken one is that of the first chief of the island, and it's thought that the islanders gently lowered the moai instead of pushing it, out of respect.

One of the most impressive sites is Tongariki, a site right beside the sea with an expansive flat area in front where the chiefs used to meet for gatherings. At the solstice, the sun rose at that point. Between the sea and the flats is an enormous platform with 15 moai.  Originally there were another 7 moai on each side, but they were too damaged to be restored.  The sight of 29 huge moai at solstice sunrise with the sea behind must have been extraordinary.

Apart from moai, there are petroglyphs and remnants of dwelling areas, as well as natural phenomena such as the caldera at Rano Kau, a volcanic crater 1.5kms across at the top.  Because it is a volcanic island, Rapa Nui doesn't have the wide sandy beaches you might associate with Pacific islands.  There are only two beaches on the island with only one safe for swimming, but the rugged black volcanic coastline is beautiful.

Rapa Nui has only one town, Hanga Roa, with the airport about 20 minutes walk from the centre. It is virtually unspoilt and you feel more like a visitor than a tourist.  In fact, there is very little allowance for tourists except for tours and car/motorbike/quadbike/bicycle hire.  Don't go there looking for five star hotels. The hotels are clean and tidy, but basic.  The rooms don't have tea or coffee making facilities (something I really missed) and there's no TV.

Most visitors come from Chile or other Latin American countries, so a smattering of Spanish would help, although there are enough people with some knowlege of English to be able to get by.  I only saw one restaurant advertising that they had an English menu.

I must mention the dogs and chooks.  Large dogs, such as German Shepherds, roam at will around the town, sometimes you have to step over them when you're walking down the street.  But they're all very friendly.  Once I was waiting outside my hotel when a German Shepherd sauntered up, lay down at my feet and stayed there till my minivan came.  The chooks aren't so obvious because they spend their time in the scrub around the houses, but it's not unusual to see them run across the road to a better patch.

But there's a down side.  The dogs bark and howl at each other during the night and you can hear them all over town, and around 5.30am the roosters start to try to outdo each other.  I guess the locals are used to it, but the first couple of nights were a bit iffy.  In fact, on the flight out at 11.30am, I've never seen so many passengers asleep almost as soon as we took off.  I guess it wasn't just me.

I really enjoyed my stay in Rapa Nui, but two half days and three full days were plenty to see everything and spend time doing some independent investigating.


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