Easter Island was up there with Antarctica and Greenland for most random and tricky-to-get-to places that were high up on my bucket list. Greenland was, luckily, not so hard while living in Iceland, and Antarctica kind of fell into my lap even though I couldn’t afford it and hadn’t planned to go there until after traveling some easier-to-get-to countries. But, it was the last continent and 2009 was the perfect time to go, when voyages were undersold for the first time in years because of the economic recession.
I was going to Chile for my friends wedding and promised myself next time I was in Santiago I had to bite the bullet and dish out for the trans-Pacific flight to Rapa Nui. Flights were between $688-$1100, and I couldn’t convince myself it was worth it. Then I realized that LAN Airlines was part of the One World alliance, which my mom had just given me 50,000 miles for my birthday, and I managed to book a round trip flight from Santiago to Mataveri for $157 and 20,000 miles, and still had enough miles to get from Santiago to Vancouver one way for another $300 and 30,000 miles. I even got all the right dates I needed to stay a comfortable 5 days. This was the perfect amount of time to spend on the 70 sq.km island with 800+ monolithic statues and almost as many horses.
I took a red-eye flight to Rapa Nui and arrived at 6 am in pitch darkness on a jumbo plane that unloaded 300 passengers. I couldn’t imagine this little island had the infrastructure to host us all, but we dispersed from the tiny ‘airport,’ which consisted of a small building, a driveway and a couple taxis, to our respective homes.
The island has a population of 5 thousand, and almost everyone is working in the tourism industry. There are no chain hotels or restaurants, but family-run guesthouses and a few luxurious eco-resorts built in the style of the stone and turf houses the settlers used to build. Camping is popular, in the breezy sub-tropical climate, but your tent heats up alot after sunrise since few trees are left to provide any shade. There is only one ‘town,’ with a main street and a few overpriced supermarkets. There is a soccerfield and a couple beaches, just wide enough to lay a towel and give the only access points to the sea if you’re trying to surf the waves on a board or a boat.
The rest of the island is rolling green hills, a few volcanic craters, and dirt roads leading you from fallen statues to risen statues, underground caves and stone carvings. A large chunk of the island is national park (split into two areas), and another large chunk is a biological reserve area. Cows and horses graze in most pastures, and people use horses, mountain bikes or quad cycles to get around if they don’t own a jeep.
Most of the Island is a world heritage site, littered with these huge stone faces. I still haven’t figured out the Moai’s, what they meant, how they were made or transported, and why they made so many. I guess there are a few theories, but noone’s really sure, and all I can say is they spent a whole lot of time and energy making them and moving then for some very important reason. They all looked a bit different, some made in the likeness of some VIPs or chiefs, some had red stone hats, some were small, others big (4 metres) and they all weighed a tonne or more.
I went to one of the quarries, where unfinished moai’s laid unfinished in the mountain. I biked around the island and saw many laying on their backs or on their faces, barely recognizable from another pile of rocks that probably had no historical significance. Some were left in transit, as if one of the seven plagues had just hit, and all the moai deliveries were dropped and left exactly where they were. All were raised facing land (except a handful of rare exceptions at Ahu Akivi) theoretically because they were built to watch over towns and perhaps the Rapa Nui people respected the sea in some special way.
My favourite way of exploring the island was on horseback, and I was lucky enough to find a guy with a mare he could lend me for a couple days. I ran around on her bareback through Hanga Roa and along that Ana Kai trail, and if it wasnt for the hordes of tourists taking photos of every statue, I could have escaped through imaginary time travel and ridden over to the next village to ask alot of burning questions about the Moai’s and the Rapa Nui people.