The DougBlog
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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Rapa Nui Blog, Part 5: Easter Island (Part 1)

After a night at the surprisingly nice Santiago Airport Holiday Inn “Express” (Sleep faster! Sleep faster!!) I went back into the airport for my flight to Easter Island. The weather was beautiful and we finally had a clear view of the mighty Andes on takeoff:

Getting there, slowly but surely:

Finally, there it was: Easter Island (a.k.a. Isla de Pascua, a.k.a. Rapa Nui):

The bustling Mataveri Airport. The US Space Program built them the longest runway in the Pacific as an emergency landing spot for the Space Shuttle, and it is a little weird to have this huge runway for one flight a day into a little shack of an airport:

This was Lela, the dog that sniffs all of the luggage for some reason. But she couldn’t have had any less interest in the luggage and was running all over the place while her trainer tried to get her to do her job:

A driver welcomed me with a lei [insert your own joke here] and took me to the beautiful Hotel O’tai. It is one of the few hotels on the island and beautifully landscaped with fragrant blossoms and a cool pool—and a wonderfully helpful and friendly staff (well, except for the surly breakfast waitress):

I spent the rest of the day sleeping in the bed above. Sad, I know, but after two 7AM mornings and a lot of flying, I was exhausted. In the evening I walked into town for an empanada and then went back to sleep. The next day I began my touring in earnest. My rental car arrived—a pickup truck! It was my only choice for a car with an automatic transmission, and ended up being great for handling some rough roads:

I began my first day with a drive along the south coast. In this shot, you’re pretty much at the western end of the island and can pretty much see all the way to the eastern end:

If the rock on the left looks like a face, that’s because it is. Before we get to the “heads”, a word of explanation ((if you’re not historically inclined or don’t what to know what the “heads” are all about then you can skip this nerdly paragraph and get right to the pictures!) While a lot of uncertainty surrounds the history of Easter Island, it is generally believed that it was settled by Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands about 1500 years ago. They landed here and built up a great civilization (Rapa Nui), which may have topped 10,000 citizens at its height. They surrounded the island with altars of worship (ahu) in which they buried their dead and on top of which they placed giant statues to represent their ancestors (moai). These statues were carved from volcanic rock (the island is comprised of 3 extinct volcanoes) from a single spot on the island. Each was topped by a red stone “topknot” which came from a different volcano and may have represented hair, a hat, or a headdress. Some if not all of them also had eyes made of white coral and black obsidian. However, eventually the population got too large, and giant projects like building all of the ahu and moai exhausted the island’s resources. They completely deforested the place; with no trees they couldn’t build boats to leave or even get out to sea to catch fish. Some people starved to death, and others resorted to cannibalism. Civil unrest ensued, and tribes of people fought and toppled each other’s moai. Most of the ahu and moai today remain in ruins; the ones that are standing have been restored. I’ll relate the rest of Easter Island’s tragic tale later…now let’s get to some sights!


Tongariki is the largest ahu that has been restored, with 15 moai on it that are in pretty good shape (one even still has his topknot). It’s also just about the most impressive sight on the island—when you drive up and it suddenly appears, these massive statues with vacant eyes staring at the sky, it is truly breathtaking:

I revisited it a few times during my stay, because it is so impressive and the expressions on the moai seem to change with the changing light:

Here they are overlooking a fallen comrade:

There was a small, single, lonely moai nearby:

There were also a lot of animals that fun wild on the island, so you’ll see them in some shots. For example, here are some wild horses overlooking Tongariki in the distance:

Here are some chickens that were running by:

This bird is disrespecting the moai:

A random cow:


For the mot part, the coast of Easter Island is very rocky, and the waves are very rough because it has no protective reef:

However, there are two beaches suitable for swimming. One, a little more secluded, is called Ovahe:

The other, bigger and more famous, is called Anakena:

This beach is also notable because it contains another restored ahu, the Ahu Nau Nau. These are among the best-preserved moai on the island because they had been buried protectively in sand:

And being a natural gathering place for tourists and natives alike, there are plenty of souvenirs for sale—including these lovely ladies who gave me a free keychain:

Of course, there are hundreds of moai and statues that have not been restored, and continue to lie in ruins as a testament to a fallen civilization. It is a haunting tableau (and made me particularly sad whenever they had fallen face-first!):

This one (Ahu Te Pito Kura) was the tallest moai ever transported to an ahu—he stood 33 feet tall:

Here are some petroglyphs, of which there are plenty on the island (great ones are coming up in Part 2!). The Rapanui had a written language called Rongorongo. One of the reasons we know so little about their history is that it has never been deciphered:


Finally, I’ll end this entry with Tahai. Within walking distance of the one town on Easter Island (Hanga Roa—more on that in my next entry) are a few moai, one of which even has his eyes restored:

Is it just me, or does this guy look like Mr. Magoo?!:

There are a lot of stray dogs in Hanga Roa. I just said “Hola” to this guy and he followed me around Tahai for an hour:

Being on the west coast and close to town, Tahai was a great place to watch the sun set (and the moon rise):

Note the moon:

Coming up in part two, we’ll visit the volcano where the moai were “born” and learn about the cult of the Birdman and the fate of Easter Island…


  • Looks like you got a lot of head in Easter Island.

    By Blogger Elisa, at 8:56 AM  

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