Day 3: Thursday
Next day – horror. It rained all day. Bea and I were going to rent a jeep ($70 for 8hrs) but it rained. I saw the good in that because if the sun were out I’d turn fried red rather than roasted pink. I spent the day in Lidocaine and the night in the other disco which was younger and less heavy. There are a lot of workers on Easter Island; they were extending the runway and asphalting the road to Anakena.
In fact the airport would close end of March for about 3 months minimum. The islanders were of course upset. God knows how they would watch TV. Would the Chilean air force parachute the tapes? All these workers (male, single with a contract 50 days on 10 days off and wages 300 percent of normal) hung around in that disco where a lot of girls hope to be picked up and led to the mainland. Everyone wants to leave the island but can’t.
Where did these people come from ? A debate has been raging for centuries with most scientists accepting that the islanders are Polynesians. Famously, Thor Heyerdal insisted that the island might have also been colonised from South America. In the 1950’s he set out in a raft (Con Tiki) from Peru and reached the Marquesas purely by ocean currents.There are legends in Easter Island mythology which speak of a Battle between the Long Ears and the Short Ears (also depicted in Kevin Costner’s movie Rapa Nui). The Short Ears prevailed – these according to Heyerdahl are the Polynesians currently there. The Long Ears were supposed the South Americans who were exterminated. However, DNA testing has proven that the inhabitants are Polynesians, and no skeleton or human remains tested have had any connection with the mainland. Still it would not be Easter Island if there were no unsolved mysteries.
The first concerns some wall structures, whose precision fitting is more akin to the Incas. Compare the wall picture for instance with the ‘chicken houses‘ of Orongo. It’s true, this wall could be found in Cuzco.
The second concerns a lone statue by the quarry called the kneeling statue . Clearly this does not match any others and some say they look like some statues found in Tiwanaku, Bolivia. I can not get excited about this statue. It sits next to the Rano Raraku quarry and, yes, it is clearly dissimilar to the others. However, whereas Thor Heyerdahl saw a resemblance to Bolivian Amerindian art, I think this resembles the sitting ‘tiki‘ statues of Tahiti much more. If anything, it can also be shown as evidence of Polynesian ancestry.
Day 4: Friday, February 23rd
How wonderful – at 10am, a huge rainbow came out of the sky and my heart skipped a bit. Bea and I rented a jeep, we had great weather and travelled around the dirt roads (flooded, impassable) skidding, speeding but also overwhelmed by the sights. Rano Raraku – the quarry – has over 700 moai some erected, some reclining. I did my bit for restoration as you can see.
The quarry is vast and you can clearly see the beginnings of moais being carved against the rock.
The whole place looks as if they all downed their tools at once and left for some mysterious reason. Could that be the civil war that wiped out the Long Ears ? I, speculation, speculation..
The most spectacular site is right below Rano Raraku where 15 moai stand next to each other restored in Ahu Akahanga, ‘Ahu’ meaning ‘platform’. All statues are facing inland and the Ahus are all by the sea. There is an exception to that of course: seven statues on a high hill facing towards the sea in the complex of Ahu Akivi. All standing statues are restored. When the Europeans arrived in the late 18C, they were all destroyed and knocked off their Ahus.
There is only one beach on the island. It’s in Anakena on the north, the legendary place of arrival of the first settlers according to local folklore. You can swim in the shadow of six moais and the tomb of Thor Heyerdahl who, although terribly wrong in his theories, did more than anybody else for the island. Perfect end to an extraordinary and fun day – part of the fun was driving that Suzuki jeep dangerously. No seatbelts, no insurance, skidding on muddy roads – YES! All this adventurous sightseeing will disappear soon, as an asphalted road between Hanga Roa and Anakena is being built.
Day 5: Saturday
So what of computers and mobiles ? There are no comms connections to the mainland and no satellite, so flight seat reservations are by hard copy. Everyone seems to be in a gigantic waiting list which is sorted out on the airport as people are boarding. Great fun for those who stay behind, because they did not queue up for 3 hrs ( I did) to get that boarding ticket. Gil had warned me.
Souvenirs from the island ? Some T-shirts with the birdman motif – cool, eh ? – and a reminder of the last mystery of Easter Island: a carving of Rongo-Rongo characters. This is the only written language in Polynesia, and a hieroglyphic one to hoot. By the time the script was discovered, the ones who knew how to read it were dead in the guano mines of Peru. Only in April 1996 did a New Zealand scholar come up with a reasonable attempt in deciphering it. He thinks it’s a genealogical chart.