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Rapa Nui(Easter Island)

Total Pictures Taken: 102

Summary

Facts

Detail

About Rapa Nui

Getting There / Leaving There


Summary

We spent 3+ days on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island or Isla de Pascua.  Rapa Nui is considered one of the remotest places on earth – it is a six hour flight west from Chile in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The island is famous for the huge stone statues (moai) on platforms (ahu) and its mysterious and traumatic history.  Much of the detailed history of the island has been lost and no one knows how the Rapa Nui people moved the 80-100 ton statues from the quarry to the platforms.  The island has only 3000 people and no stop lights, no franchised or non-local restaurants, and only one TV channel (Spanish, of course).  Our private guide, who grew up on the island, provided us with many interesting facts and fiction about the island.  

Leaving Rapa Nui was an adventure -- check out Quito-Getting There.

Facts

Number of TV stations: 1 (Spanish)

Language: Spanish, Rapa Nui

Currency: Chilean pesos

Dial-in access: none

Number of franchise (non-local) businesses: 1 (LANChile office)

Population in 1871: 111

Population in 2000: 3,000

 

Getting There

We flew from Santiago to Rapa Nui -- a 6 hour flight on LANChile.  There was only one seat available in first class, so we flew in business class (bulkhead, again).  The service was pretty much non-existent on this flight so it felt quite long.  When we got near Rapa Nui we flew around 2/3 of the island to get to the airport. You could see the entire island from the plane even as it was close -- the island is that small.  There was absolutely nothing on the part of the island we flew around.  The runway spans the entire width of the island, about 330 meters.   The airport was tiny and became crowded with lots of tourists and locals whenever a flight was landing or taking off.

Detail

Once we decided to visit Easter Island, we bought the movie Rapa Nui (Kristen had seen it before).  The movie gave us a glimpse of the moai (statues) and ahu (platforms) and depicted one theory behind why and how they were made.  It covers as its main story line the 'Bird Man' contest which is very interesting -- let us know if you want to borrow the movie.  In theAbout Rapa Nui section we provide some of the many things we learned about Rapa Nui from our guide, much of it is either not covered or is changed in the movie.

As far as our trip goes, we arrived mid-day on Tuesday, and our guide, Alexandra, was also our transfer from the airport to the hotel.  We had on our itinerary a full day tour for  Wednesday and a half-day tour on Thursday.  Clearly, things are quite laid  back on the island because she was open to do the half-day on Tuesday and the full day on either Wednesday or Thursday.  She basically drove us around in her jeep and told about the history of the island.

For lunches and most dinners we ate at the hotel, mostly because it was included in our package and there were not that many other obviously better choices.  The hotel food consisted mostly of a buffet of 1 (sometimes 2) choices, always including tuna of some sort.  We found out from another guest that they were charging $34/pp for the buffet if it was not included in your package -- it was worth at most $10.

A big night out

One night we did go out to a local bar/restaurant for dinner on the island.  Like Santiago, dinner started around 9:30.  We walked to the Playa Pea, a restaurant in the town of Hanga Roa on the ocean, and got a table overlooking the water.  We sat down around 9PM and ordered a bottle of Chilean wine.  As soon as the waiter brought over the wine he asked if we were staying for the band starting at 10PM.  We had no idea that they were having a band, and the waiter, on his first day on the job, had just arrived on the island from Chile and did not know anything about the band either (especially whether any of it would be in English).  It was a $15/pp cover charge which was quite expensive compared to the cost of everything else on the island.  Since there was almost no one else on the deck where the band was going to play and it was still an hour before start time, we said we would decide just before the band started.  At 9:45PM we had finished dinner and the first bottle of wine, the deck was packed with people waiting for the band so we decided to stay and paid the cover.  We figured we would order another bottle of wine and wait for the band.  They ran out of bottles of our wine so they brought half-bottles -- very deceiving!  It turned out that the band was a very good duo from Hawaii -- the man, clearly of Hawaiian decent, was amazingly talented on the guitar and all types of singing from pop to opera.  It turns out they spoke only English (no Spanish) and almost all the songs were in English so we were having a blast.  At one point they engaged us in conversation from the stage during a break between sets, since we were two of the very few English speaking people in the place.  At around 1:15AM they were still playing strong, and they were giving us a hard time about not dancing yet -- there had been a few local stragglers dancing occasionally.  The waiter had been replenishing those half-bottles of wine, btw, and we had not gotten up from the table since dinner (except for Kristen visiting the bathroom outhouse across the street!).  At around 1:45AM they played 'I Can't Help Falling In Love With You', one of our wedding songs.  So we had to dance!  When we got up on the dance floor and started into our dance, the whole place cheered since 'that American couple' was finally dancing.  Very soon into our dance we  leaned over to tell the lead singer that this was our wedding song, and in the confusion of lights, and the microphone, and the half-bottles of wine, we fell over into the singer, jammed the microphone into his mouth and almost toppled the whole band set-up!  I could see it happening in frames as I tried to maintain support of Kristen and keep us from falling further.  We did catch ourselves before toppling the band, but we were so embarrassed -- I could hear the lead singer say something like 'you almost broke my mouth with the microphone!'.  We defiantly danced the rest of the song (once the band picked back up the beat), but as soon as the band ended, we left the place immediately.

To make matters worse, the next day when we asked directions from the woman at the hotel reception desk, she said 'it is just past that restaurant you were in last night, do you remember the one?'  The dangers of a small town/island!

Leaving There

Our departure flight from Rapa Nui was delayed 18+ hours.  We were supposed to leave at 10:30AM Friday, stay in Santiago a day then continue on to Quito.  At 2AM Friday morning the receptionist left us a message that the incoming plane (thus our departure plane) had "issues" and we would not take off until 3:30 Saturday morning.  She said that LANChile would pay for our extra night in the hotel, lunch and dinner in the hotel (yuck!), and the transfer to the airport.  Pretty good service from an airline!  So we stayed an extra day and rented bikes and rode through the neighborhoods of Hanga Roa.

Dan waiting for bags in the very small Rapa Nui airport. rn-airport-dan-herd-600.jpg (89361 bytes)
rn-sign-post-600.jpg (58535 bytes) A sign post showing how far Rapa Nui is from everywhere in the world.
A view from our hotel. There are more horses than people on Rapa Nui. They roam free -- no fences...  rn-hotel-pool-view-horses-600.jpg (78548 bytes)
rn-hotel-pool-view-horses-drinking-600.jpg (91793 bytes) ...and they make themselves at home!
Ahu Tongariki -- one of the largest upright moai arrangements.  They were raised back up in 1960's. rn-ahu-tongariki-and-sign-600.jpg (91471 bytes)
rn-ahu-tongariki-dan-1-600.jpg (77506 bytes) Dan in front of Ahu Tongariki.
Kristen in front of Ahu Tongariki. rn-ahu-tongariki-kristen-600.jpg (68686 bytes)
rn-hanga-tee-o-vaihu-600.jpg (92861 bytes) Ahu Hanga Tee O Vaihu -- a set of fallen moai.
A view of Motu islands from the Orongo altar.  These are the islands that the 'birdmen' swam to (see Rapa Nui, the movie). rn-orongo-alter-view-motu-600.jpg (54679 bytes)
rn-orongo-house-kristen-alexandra-600.jpg (102042 bytes) Kristen with Alexandra, our Rapa Nui guide, looking at the birdman temporary houses at Orongo.
We are on the Orongo side of Rano Kau crater. rn-rano-raraku-crater-dan-kristen-600.jpg (67119 bytes)
rn-rano-kau-dan-kristen-600.jpg (91692 bytes) The  crater at Rano Kau  volcano served as a water source for the Rapa Nui people.  Supposedly, the water is hundreds of feet deep.
Rano Raraku quarry is the source of all the moai on the island.  This moai is one of the two most photgraphed moai.  This is Dan's favorite picture! rn-rano-raraku-moai1-dan-600.jpg (71883 bytes)c
rn-rano-raraku-moai1-kristen-600.jpg (104169 bytes) And Kristen with the other famous one.
We get them both in the picture (sort of). rn-rano-raraku-moai1-dan-kristen-600.jpg (69693 bytes)
rn-rano-raraku-trail-kristen-2-600.jpg (79375 bytes) The moai line the path at the quarry -- many were never moved to their ahu and were left partially completed at the quarry.
Our 'big' night at Playa Pea, a local restaurant. rn-restaurant-dan-kristen-600.jpg (65380 bytes)
rn-restaurant-hawaiian-band-600.jpg (85413 bytes) The surprise Hawaiian band.  They were very good -- until we knocked them over.
Dan on the shore while a local fisherman catches his family's meal. rn-vaihu-ocean-rocks-dan-600.jpg (74874 bytes)
rn-vaihu-ocean-rocks-kristen-600.jpg (83627 bytes) Kristen on the same shore.
All the moai have been destroyed by warring tribes or even by the family that built them. rn-ahu-aka-hanga-back-dan-600.jpg (113896 bytes)
rn-ahu-aka-hanga-dan-kristen-600.jpg (83759 bytes) Here we are violating every local law, getting too close to the ahu -- oops!
Here are some sunsets over the days we were there. rn-hotel-sunset1-1-600.jpg (53034 bytes)
rn-hotel-sunset2-4-600.jpg (60740 bytes) rn-hotel-sunset2-10-600.jpg (69416 bytes)
rn-hotel-sunset2-4-600.jpg (60740 bytes) rn-hotel-sunset2-9-600.jpg (49004 bytes)
We know this is overkill -- but they were awesome! rn-hotel-sunset4-2-600.jpg (46794 bytes)
Check out the sunset in Kristen's glasses. rn-hotel-sunset2-kristen-glasses-600.jpg (47897 bytes)
 

About Rapa Nui

Over the day and a half tour of the island, we learned a lot about the history of the island.  These points are in no particular order.

The United States extended the runway to accommodate the Space Shuttle in emergencies – so the one runway the width of the island (literally) can handle any type of plane.

Used to have only 2 planes a week – as of January 2001 there is one plane every day

We missed the big Rapa Nui week-long festival that takes place at the end of January – we could already see their month-long preparation.  They elect a ‘queen’ from a long list of competitors – hey compete in history knowledge, local skills, tattoos, etc.  The festival also includes moai carving contests – it takes about a week to carve one from the right stone.

The island has more horses than inhabitants.  The horses run free – they are branded to identify their owners.

Hanga Roa is the only town on the island – there are no traffic lights, pretty much just dirt streets with restaurants, small beach/pool/bathing areas, festival site, etc.

Every married Rapa Nui couple over 21 is given a piece of land by the government (this program was instituted within the last 5 years).  It is hard to move far away from the main town because of the expense of importing materials and building more than a non-government-material-provided flimsy house.

They export nothing.

There used to be  lots of lobster and other important fish off the shores of the island, but most of that is gone now.  Some think this change was brought about as a result of the nuclear testing 3K miles from the island (then Tahiti would be worse!)  Fishing is also not major because there are no reefs around the island  – it is just in the middle of Pacific Ocean.

Extremely dependent on tourism.  When the tour ships don’t come because of weather issues it hurts them.  There is no major port, so cruise ships have to taxi people in.

There are 2 discos in town – they are medium size 1 story structures with no windows.  One of them does not open until 2AM.  

No commercial/known restaurants.

They can now get one TV station on the island.  The one TV station shows CNN and soap operas.   No newspapers get to the island.  

Rapa Nui, the movie, changed a lot of things.  It brought lots more tourists to the island.  Most of the people on the island worked on the movie (they used tons of extras) so they all made ‘lots’ of money.  With the money they bought cars and fixed up their houses – so there are more cars as a result of the movie.  Also, since the movie, people now rarely do each other favors for free, but instead now want to get paid for helping out.

Unlike the movie, popular belief on the island is that the moai's were created to extend the power of a powerful/respected family member.  Families created the moai in honor of the family member then positioned the moai looking over the family's land/house so that the moai could protect the family.  Notably, all of the moai face inland, rather than out to sea.

At one time (sometime 1000-1500A.D.) there were 10,000 people on the island.  Like the movie, it is believed that they killed each other during huge conflict.  The natural resources were being way-overtaxed, which likely played a part in starting the conflict.

Rapa Nui people no longer have tribal conflicts as in the past.  Now most of the issues are with the Chilean government.  When Chile took control of the island (not sure how) in the late 1800’s they sold the rights to use the island to French, then British, to raise animals.  The island had tons of sheep on it during this period.  They moved all the inhabitants to Hanga Roa to segregate the people from the livestock farms.  Consequently, Hanga Roa is the only inhabited part of the island.  Because the people were given no rights, as the land was sold out from under them, they are/were unhappy.  Now there are almost no sheep on the island and people are slowly moving outward.

On Orongo (site of bird man contest -- see the movie) there are 47 earthen ‘houses’ where the competitors and some relatives lived while waiting for the birds to migrate.  The houses were dirt/rock/grass covered structures with a small entry opening – no other source of light.

There are three main volcanoes on the island. Rano Kau has a huge crater with pooled rainwater and grass at the bottom.  Supposedly the pools of water are 100’s of feet deep, but with very dense grass etc blocking people from discovering the depth.  In the past generation this is where they came to wash clothes and bathe.  On the far side are the bird man houses and past that is bird island.  Lots of fruit grows at the bottom of the crater so the locals pick/eat it. It is open to anyone to harvest the fruit, but they are not allowed to sell it for a profit.  

Using dating techniques archaeologists have determined that the moai/ahu’s were built from 1000-1500AD, though there are some ahu dating earlier.  It is believed that the first immigrants to the island built ahu’s, and the second wave of immigrants developed and refined the moai.

All standing moai on the platforms (ahu) have been re-erected this century – none were standing when archeologists starting investigating the island in 1955.  Most of them were destroyed (pulled down) by warring tribes, but some were destroyed by the family members who created them. The family members may have felt that the extreme hard times they were facing were not being thwarted by the moai - spirits of their honored family members.

All moai were carved from the quarry Rano Raraku, which is basically a rock mountain/volcano.  The quarry has very heavy, porous rock that carved easily.  The craftsmen would carve the statues from the side of the mountain and then somehow they would move it 10’s of miles to the platform.  No one knows how they moved the statues, which weighed between 10 and 160 tons.  The largest positioned maoi is 30 feet high and weighs about 80 tons.  There is a 60 foot moai that was left unfinished in the quarry weighing an estimated 160 tons.

One of the most photographed spots is Ahu Tongariki, where 15 moai have been re-erected.  In the 1960's a huge tidal wave, caused by an earthquake in Chile hit Rapa Nui in this spot washing the moai inland hundreds of feet.  Prior to the tidal wave, the moai had not been re-erected, but instead were laying on the ground where they had fallen centuries earlier.  Archaeologists used earlier photographs of the moai to determine their proper location on the ahu and then re-erected them.

The tops or ‘hats’ for the moai were all carved from a different quarry many miles from the moai quarry.  The hats were moved to the platform and placed on the moai before being put on the platform.

The eyes to the moai were not carved until they reached the platform.  Once they were erected on the platform the eyes were carved and inlaid with a black onyx-like stone so that the moai could "watch over" the family.

The Rapa Nui people wasted little material.  The quarry is a maze of carved structures – back to back, side by side  works in process statues.  Old moai were sometimes used as part of the platform.

The island has had a difficult history.  Much of what we know about the history is the result of guesswork because there is no written history except some petroglyphs, about which the interpretations are disputed.

In the early 1860’s slave traders came to Rapa Nui and took away hundreds of people, including the king, to sell into slavery in Peru.  A missionary convinced the Peruvians to send back the slaves in the late 1860’s.  But the returning people brought new diseases (e.g. small pox. leprosy, etc) to the island that killed many people.  In 1871 only 111 people remained on Rapa Nui.  This is also part of the reason much of the history is lost.

 

 

 

Contacts

Name Contact Info Comment
Hotel Hanga Roa

Isla De Pascua

(56-32) 100 299

reshangaroa@panamericanahoteles.cl

 

Maybe the nicest on the island (not saying much).  Be sure to get a cottage, not a regular room.
 

 

 

 

 

Rapa Nui