Rapa Nui Oct. 2010

Oct. 26   Easter Island aka Rapa Nui aka Isla Pasqua

For years Easter Island has occupied a top slot on our must-see-list. The native name for this place is Rapa Nui while Chileans call it “Isla Pasqua.” The first explorer came ashore on Easter Sunday. Like many Western adventurers, he never asked about the indigenous island name ─ consider Denali (Mt. McKinley) and Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Located over 2200 miles from Chile and almost 2000 miles from Tahiti, Rapa Nui is the most isolated place on the planet. This mystical, triangle of land is a renowned archaeological site famous for enormous stone statues scattered along the entire coast. Rapa Nui has a tumultuous history replete with warring clans, slave traders, and disease brought by Europeans. In the present there are problems with garbage disposal, health care, and conflicts with Chilean authority.

Archaeologists estimate that about 300 million years ago, a volcanic eruption occurred and island formation began. The black rocks are distributed everywhere so that the coastline resembles Hawaii. The first humans to arrive came in the 5th century and are related to New Zealand Maoris and other Polynesians. Even today, all of these people who live thousands of miles apart speak an almost identical language.

Our first escapade happened because Mark often opens conversation with other travelers. In August, on a 6AM Helsinki airport shuttle in the pouring rain, Mark chats with a Chilean. Upon learning of our Rapa Nui plans, she writes a cell phone number and says, “You must contact Guata and he can show you around.”

Two months later, from our island hotel Mark leaves a message for Guata and we  explore a village studded with restaurants, souvenir shops, and transportation rentals. At a local café we meet Sabrina, a vivacious tour guide. She advises us on culinary choices and family linkages ─ she is Guata’s niece.

Guata phones and announces that he’s coming to take us to a family dinner. Guata means “fat” and so he is, but with a great disposition. This burly man is tan with a huge belly, sparkling eyes, a mass of graying curls, and a paucity of English.  His truck is loaded with stuff but we pile in next to his cute 4-year old grandson, Enrique.

Guata’s Uncle is barbecuing fish for dinner. We hang out with Guata, Enrique, and other family ─ relationships are a bit unclear. Guata phones Sabrina aka vivacious tour guide, and she joins the dinner crowd.

When the fish is done, Guata takes a handful and puts it in my mouth. (Is this Laos?) As guests, Mark and I are given forks and plates but everyone else eats with fingers. Other healthy dishes appear like fry bread, cucumber-tomato salad and yams. Everyone grabs chunks of fish directly from the grill. Before leaving, Mark buys a small wooden statue from Uncle the Carver. What a wonderful Rapa Nui welcome!

The next day our tour bus comes to the hotel where we learn that 14 other people are joining us, not our preferred MO. Mark says, “The good news is that we paid ahead, the bad news is that we paid ahead.”  Our tour guide Rosa explains everything twice – once in English and then in Spanish. Her knowledge is vast.

Once we leave the town, large stone figures called moai dot the landscape. The moai are placed on stage-like platforms called ahu. The faces show indentations for eyes, nose, and an unsmiling mouth. Supposedly the moai are images of tribal chiefs. For the natives these were considered to be living ancestors and part of the supernatural world.  Archaeologists have spent years uncovering the statues and deciphering their meaning. Sometimes there is just a head over ten feet tall and sometimes a figure will be more than 20 feet high. One well-known archaeologist wasThor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame.

A most impressive moai site is along the side of the volcano where the moai were carved. The volcanic rock today is covered with lush grass and flowering lantana weeds.The hillsides are studded with moai. Using hard stones, the carvers literally extracted the statue from the volcanic walls. A lever system of tree trunks and rocks was used to move the moai to distant locations and then set them upright. Even today archaeologists are uncertain about the exact method used to transport these massive statues.

A Unesco World Heritage Site has 15 moai in a line almost at the water’s edge. A tsunami once toppled all of them down but after many years and enormous efforts including a giant crane, the moai are standing tall. A few are crowned with red stone blocks, called “ top knots.” Today, many men have long thick pony tails and some wear their own top knot. Standing on this shore amid these massive figures and the crashing ocean is a humbling experience.

In addition there are petroglyphs but unfortunately most are not well-preserved. Yet one rock carving clearly displays a female outline – no one is certain of the meaning. Even now archeologists are trying to uncover mysteries about the petroglyphs and the moai.

On our last day, we take a long hike from town up to a large caldera. This ancient volcano has long been dormant and a lake lies deep down covered with plants and reeds. Hiking along the edge among the lupine and other dry weeds, the sun is out, the sea is blue-green and we feel like early explorers alone in the world. A collarless dog suddenly appears and accompanies us.  When we descend she follows us into town. We seemingly lose her at the hotel, but early next morning we find her asleep on our back porch. We are saddened by this feral animal who “relied on the kindness of strangers.”

Rapa Nui is also described by the natives as Te Pito o te Henua meaning “The Navel of the World.”  There is a special magic here that is unforgettable.

Oct. 26   Easter Island aka Rapa Nui aka Isla Pasqua

For years Easter Island has occupied a top slot on our must-see-list. The native name for this place is Rapa Nui while Chileans call it “Isla Pasqua.” The first explorer came ashore on Easter Sunday. Like many Western adventurers, he never asked about the indigenous island name ─ consider Denali (Mt. McKinley) and Uluru (Ayers Rock).

Located over 2200 miles from Chile and almost 2000 miles from Tahiti, Rapa Nui is the most isolated place on the planet. This mystical, triangle of land is a renowned archaeological site famous for enormous stone statues scattered along the entire coast. Rapa Nui has a tumultuous history replete with warring clans, slave traders, and disease brought by Europeans. In the present there are problems with garbage disposal, health care, and conflicts with Chilean authority.

Archaeologists estimate that about 300 million years ago, a volcanic eruption occurred and island formation began. The black rocks are distributed everywhere so that the coastline resembles Hawaii. The first humans to arrive came in the 5th century and are related to New Zealand Maoris and other Polynesians. Even today, all of these people who live thousands of miles apart speak an almost identical language.

Our first escapade happened because Mark often opens conversation with other travelers. In August, on a 6AM Helsinki airport shuttle in the pouring rain, Mark chats with a Chilean. Upon learning of our Rapa Nui plans, she writes a cell phone number and says, “You must contact Guata and he can show you around.”

Two months later, from our island hotel Mark leaves a message for Guata and we  explore a village studded with restaurants, souvenir shops, and transportation rentals. At a local café we meet Sabrina, a vivacious tour guide. She advises us on culinary choices and family linkages ─ she is Guata’s niece.

Guata phones and announces that he’s coming to take us to a family dinner. Guata means “fat” and so he is, but with a great disposition. This burly man is tan with a huge belly, sparkling eyes, a mass of graying curls, and a paucity of English.  His truck is loaded with stuff but we pile in next to his cute 4-year old grandson, Enrique.

Guata’s Uncle is barbecuing fish for dinner. We hang out with Guata, Enrique, and other family ─ relationships are a bit unclear. Guata phones Sabrina aka vivacious tour guide, and she joins the dinner crowd.

When the fish is done, Guata takes a handful and puts it in my mouth. (Is this Laos?) As guests, Mark and I are given forks and plates but everyone else eats with fingers. Other healthy dishes appear like fry bread, cucumber-tomato salad and yams. Everyone grabs chunks of fish directly from the grill. Before leaving, Mark buys a small wooden statue from Uncle the Carver. What a wonderful Rapa Nui welcome!

The next day our tour bus comes to the hotel where we learn that 14 other people are joining us, not our preferred MO. Mark says, “The good news is that we paid ahead, the bad news is that we paid ahead.”  Our tour guide Rosa explains everything twice – once in English and then in Spanish. Her knowledge is vast.

Once we leave the town, large stone figures called moai dot the landscape. The moai are placed on stage-like platforms called ahu. The faces show indentations for eyes, nose, and an unsmiling mouth. Supposedly the moai are images of tribal chiefs. For the natives these were considered to be living ancestors and part of the supernatural world.  Archaeologists have spent years uncovering the statues and deciphering their meaning. Sometimes there is just a head over ten feet tall and sometimes a figure will be more than 20 feet high. One well-known archaeologist wasThor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame.

A most impressive moai site is along the side of the volcano where the moai were carved. The volcanic rock today is covered with lush grass and flowering lantana weeds.The hillsides are studded with moai. Using hard stones, the carvers literally extracted the statue from the volcanic walls. A lever system of tree trunks and rocks was used to move the moai to distant locations and then set them upright. Even today archaeologists are uncertain about the exact method used to transport these massive statues.

A Unesco World Heritage Site has 15 moai in a line almost at the water’s edge. A tsunami once toppled all of them down but after many years and enormous efforts including a giant crane, the moai are standing tall. A few are crowned with red stone blocks, called “ top knots.” Today, many men have long thick pony tails and some wear their own top knot. Standing on this shore amid these massive figures and the crashing ocean is a humbling experience.

In addition there are petroglyphs but unfortunately most are not well-preserved. Yet one rock carving clearly displays a female outline – no one is certain of the meaning. Even now archeologists are trying to uncover mysteries about the petroglyphs and the moai.

On our last day, we take a long hike from town up to a large caldera. This ancient volcano has long been dormant and a lake lies deep down covered with plants and reeds. Hiking along the edge among the lupine and other dry weeds, the sun is out, the sea is blue-green and we feel like early explorers alone in the world. A collarless dog suddenly appears and accompanies us.  When we descend she follows us into town. We seemingly lose her at the hotel, but early next morning we find her asleep on our back porch. We are saddened by this feral animal who “relied on the kindness of strangers.”

Rapa Nui is also described by the natives as Te Pito o te Henua meaning “The Navel of the World.”  There is a special magic here that is unforgettable.

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