travelling the seven parts of the world
Mar 24th, 2008

Easter Island is one of the most mystical places in the world. It is one of those places that can make you small and irrelevant the moment you land on it.

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, as it is called in the local Polynesian language, is the most isolated place in the world that you can fly to. Flights happen 4 times a week from Santiago, Chile and 3 times a week from Papeete, French Polynesia. The Santiago flight is slightly shorter, taking just below 5 hours! That's more than flying across the whole of Europe.

Before coming to Easter Island, I suggest reading a book about it, just to spice up your experience. We read Thor Heyerdahl's Aku-Aku, which described his 6 months of research done on Easter Island, and it provided a nice mystical background to the trip.

The draw of Easter Island is the mystical collapse of a highly skilled civilization. At one point the inhabitants of Easter Island numbered 15,000, lived in houses, had a developed culture, and cut huge stone statues. Cutting out just one statue would be a feat even in modern days, but these, effectively stone age men, cut out around 600 statues by banging stone against stone in a single spot in the island, figured out a way to transport them over some of the worst terrain imaginable without damaging them to all around the island, and then managed to place them on platforms in an upright position, never mind the fact that some weigh as much as 200 tonnes.

How did they do this? Nobody really knows. There are some educated guesses, but it is virtually impossible to prove any are right.

Then, just a hundred or so years later, the next time Europeans visited the island, the population was reduced to a few hundred cannibals who lived in caves and ate each other. All of the statues were knocked over. There are no written records of what happened, where the original inhabitants came from, or why they built the statues.

What happened? Nobody knows, and after years of research it is doubtful we'll ever manage to figure it out.

We landed in Easter Island on Saturday, the day before Easter. We had the best welcome in the airport we've ever had, with flowers and all that. We were transported to our hotel (pictured above :D), a very nice place that had little as far as amenities went, but was perfect for the place we had come to.

There are some statues right at the edge of Hanga Roa, the main town in Easter Island, which we walked to on the very first day. We also explored some parts of the town, found out that most places were closed due to Easter, and that food was really expensive. Our hotel didn't have a restaurant, so we dined in a nearby place, which was very nice. We went to sleep early, still jet-lagged from the trip from USA.

The next day was Easter, but unfortunately, nothing special happens here in Easter. I thought there would be some sort of a celebration, but there wasn't. Most locals call the island Rapa Nui, and don't care for the Easter Island name. The only difference was that most people were dressed quite nicely (they are all Christians after all) and most shops were closed.

For the first full day of exploration, we decided to rent out bicycles. It was $50 for the 2 of them for a full day. Bicycles are great, because you can drive pretty much all the way around the whole island, and see most of the best places, in a single day. The total distance we biked was 50 km, and we set out at 10:30 and got back at 7:30.

One of the most noticable things about Easter Island, apart from the statues, is the huge number of horses. There are horses everywhere, and apparently they even make up a big part of the Easter Islander diet, though I can't imagine what horse meat might taste like. Needless to say, I dare not try, especially after my encounter with crocodile meat in Australia.

Now, all the statues in Easter Island were knocked over. Some of the statues have been restored to their former glory (that is, upright) by the national park rangers and the scientists that have come here over the years, partly for research, partly because it would be disappointing for tourists to come to the island to see statues only to find them all knocked over.

For the first part we cycles near the ocean, passing great knocked over statues. Some of the knocked over ones are not half bad, and really make you appreciate the size of some of these stone statues.

After that we rode to Rano Raraku, the birthplace of all the statues. Nearly all of them have been cut out here. What's weirdest is that it seems like the work on the statues stopped in one day. There are unfinished statues everywhere, some are only just started, some are near finished. There are many statues in the same stage of completion, indicated that the old people used to work on several statues at the same time.

Rano Raraku is a volcano, like every mountain on this island is. So some of the statues, which are standing near the hillside, and are supposedly waiting to be moved to their locations, have sunk into the ground.

We walked inside the crater of the volcano, which was the place with some of the most spectacular views of the statues.

The crater has a lake in the middle of it, where a plant reminding me papyrus plants grows. There were also lots of horses, at least a hundred, as the lake provides plenty of fresh water for them.

From the top of the crater you can see great views of the surround area, the ocean, and some restored statues in the background. After visiting the volcano, we rode down to them.

This was the place with most of the restored statues. It was a bit strange though, as the statues didn't match exactly, so it looked like you could find statues from different times of development.

After that we headed to Anakena, the beach where the original people had supposedly landed. Them, and Thor Heyerdahl. It is a very nice beach, though the palms there are planted. There are some restored statues, as well as one really old one, which I think was the same statue that Thor Heyerdahl manage to put back up on its platform on his expedition to here.

We spent an hour or so on the beach getting even more sunburned than we already were, which was a big mistake. Sunburn was a big deal later on, as the total time we spent outside in the sun was about 9 hours, and it ended up being quite painful. We had difficulties getting out the next day.

On our second full day in Easter Island, we decided to go for a walk to explore the small bit of the island that we still hadn't seen.

The walk in total was about 20 km and took us about 4 to 5 hours. It was pretty easy, but there is not much to the Easter Island coastline - the coast is rugged, with cliffs and no beaches, and the island's soil is distinctly black from the lava that makes it up.

We came down to one of the caves the locals had supposedly lived in, but I'm not entirely sure in which age that happened. They had one large entrance, and another hole at the end of the cave that was used for cooking.

By then we were pretty tired, but we did walk on, and found what was probably the best row of statues on the whole of Easter Island.

These statues looked older than the previous ones, and looked more genuine. They also had the bonus of being a bit out of the way, so there were less tourists, and Liene sneaked on the platform to get a picture. That's her in the blue! Makes you really appreciate the size of these things.

By the time we got home it was evening already, and we went to eat and then sleep. On our last day, we didn't get to see much. The only thing we missed out of the whole island was the largest volcano crater, which was in the south of the island. We had seen so many volcanoes by this time we just didn't care about that too much, but apparently it is a great sight.

The whole island can be covered in two full days, in fact, if you're fast enough, you can do it in one day. It really is a very small place, but a very powerful place.