When I was supposed to be staying on Easter Island for three nights, the plan was to take two full day tours that would cover all of the main sights. The tours weren’t cheap but it’s the sort of place that you’ll only visit once and having spent a lot of time and money getting there, you want to make sure that you see everything. However by losing a day to the flight delay I had to rethink my plans. The tour locations tend to run on alternate days so if you’ve only got one full day, you have little choice about where you go, unless you opt for an eye-watering expensive personal tour that cost well into three figures sterling. Today’s tour covered the southwestern part of the island, maybe about a ten-mile radius around Hanga Roa. I’d planned to hire a bike, set off early and to see as much as possible, which would hopefully have covered more stuff than the tour. When I was telling this to a man at the hotel last night, he told me not to bother with this as I wouldn’t be able to get around very much of the island. Therefore I booked on a tour. In hindsight I probably would have been better on a bike. The tour was good but we seemed to spend quite a bit of time hanging around and waiting for group member who were faffing about. While a bike would have been quite hard work for some of the hilly and windy bits, it was hardly equivalent to a stage of the Tour de France as was suggested. In fact cycling seemed to be a popular way of seeing the island.
I was collected by tour guide Ana and the driver at 9.30am. In laid-back Pacific Island style there was no need to start too early. It wasn’t as though there was much traffic around or the place was overrun with tourists. We had quite a few of the sights entirely to ourselves, providing an excellent opportunity for photos without people getting in the way of the view.
We began by driving up a hill just outside of Hanga Roa. This led to the Rano Kau volcano. This was the second volcano I’ve visited this week following that mud volcano in Colombia. Rano Kau was as impressive as the mud volcano was unimpressive. The crater looked amazing, especially set against the ocean backdrop at one end. Next it was a short drive to Orongo, a village containing restored stone houses along a clifftop. Ana explained that this was also the site of the traditional annual bird man competition back in the day. Competitors would scale down the cliff before swimming out to the nearby island, collecting a particular bird egg and swimming back ashore with the egg in a basket on their head. This contest was extremely prestigious and many competitors were killed through a mixture of falling off the cliff, drowning or via shark attacks. The Christian missionaries put a stop to this tribal ritual during the 19th century. This morning’s third stop was Ahu Vinapu. While many of the historic structures look similar to the uninitiated, they often have distinctive features. Ana told us how the platform wall found here, the Ahu Tahira, so closely resembled Inca architecture that it may point towards past contact between the two cultures. Considering the remoteness of Easter Island this would have been amazing. Many of the moai around the island that had previously toppled over have been stood back up and in some instances restored to something like their original condition. However at Vinapu they have been left on the ground. Initially the site appeared to be a pile of rubble but if you looked closely at the rocks the shape of the moai could be clearly seen. All around were broken bits of statues including a half-buried head in the grass.
The afternoon tour went a bit further out of town. We stopped off at Puna Pau, a crater where the red rock was obtained to build the pukao (or hats to the uninitiated) for the moai that were adorned with headwear. We weren’t able to get a look into the quarry itself but there were a few pukao lying around. The rich green landscape was also great to look at. Next up was possibly the highlight of the day and certainly the best collection of moai that I’d get to see. Ahu Akivi was home to the only moai that look out towards the ocean. The line of seven intact statues were impressive to look at and commonly appear on Easter Island photographs. We were fortunate to have the place to ourselves for about five minutes before a tour bus pulled up and the hordes descended. This enabled unobstructed photos to be taken from every conceivable angle and the custom moai selfie. I tried to get an Italian man from our group to take a photo of me from behind the moai at an angle where it looked like I was standing on the end of the row. It didn’t work as he either didn’t understand what I was asking or couldn’t comprehend why I would want such a photo! He also didn’t strike me as a particularly patient or obliging fellow. The final stop was at Tahai, where I’d already visited yesterday so that was slightly disappointing.
So that was all the sightseeing on Easter Island. It was a really good day and I got to see a fair bit of what I wanted. Realistically that was about as much as you could get to do in one day without your own transport. I missed the volcano at Rano Raraku where the rock was obtained to carve most of the moai, the El Gigante moai which was so big that it couldn’t be moved, Ahu Tongariki which is usually regarded as the best collection of moai and Anakena Beach where a row of excellently preserved moai reside after being recently dug up following centuries of being buried under the sand.I don’t want to be negative though as it has been a privilege to have visited the island.
Writing today’s blog entry has been a nightmare with the auto-correct speller changing all of the local names. If anything doesn’t make sense that could well be the reason why!
I finished off the day by wandering down to the harbour to watch the evening sunset. There was plenty of activity going on with the last surfers leaving the sea, plenty of people chilling out on the benches overlooking the ocean and an 11-a-side game of football taking place. I’m used to rugby being the game of choice for Polynesians and it’s easy to forget that you’re in football-mad Chile. Even a large proportion of the substantial stray dog population appeared to congregate around the harbour at this time of the day. The moai statues, rugged coastline and the fishing boats provided some great photo opportunities against the setting sun.