The past couple months have been great for checking off items on my bucket list. I sailed to Antarctica, felt the mist of Iguazu falls on my face, and studied Spanish in Buenos Aires. And of course, this whole South American journey started off by going to Machu Picchu back in July last year. For me, and for many others, a visit to Easter Island was on the bucket list and I could not leave Chile without going out to see it. So I hopped a flight and six hours later (it’s waaaay out there) I was in the land of Rapa Nui.
After the previous couple of weeks in rainy, cold southern Chile and Argentina, landing in a tropical paradise was certainly welcome. I much appreciated my window seat so I could watch this beautiful island come into view out of the wide, blue nothing. I was warmly welcomed at my hotel and went for a sushi lunch with the girl that runs the place, and she pointed out my first moai – right there in town! I walked around town that day and had a beer while watching the sun sink into the Pacific behind a line of moai. The perfect day.
Over the next few days I scoped out a couple of the volcanic lava-tube caves that riddle the island, climbed up one of the three main volcanos, saw oodles and oodles of the the famous maoi, and learned a bit about the history and the culture of the island. Such as
- I had this conception of “the Easter Island head” as if they are all the same – but they are all very different. Each statue represents a very specific individual and the name “moai,” as the statues are called, actually translates to “who’s it for?”
- In some cases, the statues are more than statues – they are tombstones, with the ashes of the person it represents buried in front.
- The “hat” they wear is believed to be a representation of their top knot hair style. Rapa Nui men didn’t cut their hair (or their nails), and by the time they were wise old men they had quite the top knot bundle. The long fingernails and tattoos are often represented as well.
- At the height of their civilation, there were 12 clans. Having so many different groups on a tiny island could only lead to tensions boiling over. It was during this civil war that many statues were toppled – what better way to hurt your enemy than topple the sacred ancestors that represent connection to the gods.
- Post-civil war they developed the birdman competition to pick the island’s leader. Every year, when the migration of a particular bird rolled in, men would jump off a cliff, swim out to the rock where the birds nested, and race to snatch the first egg. Men, right?
- Much of the culture and the language of the Rapa Nui have been lost forever. After decades of inter-clan warfare and pillaging by Europeans, particularly Spanish who stole the natives for slaves, the population dropped to just a few hundred. Who knows how much of the island’s story was lost with them.
I ended my trip with a sunrise view at Tongariki, the largest line of standing moai. Even though we hit a free-ranging horse on the way (we’re all ok), it was the perfect end to the perfect getaway and what an incredible way to end my time in Chile (for this year anyway…) Now for Colombia!