Sunday, June 30, 2013

Marcela and Mariano visit us in Chile

Arriving back from the island, we were greeted by a very exuberant Winston. Isabella and her family had taken very good care of him and he had even given up his bed to their dogs in return for sleeping on the couch. He also looked a little “gordo” (fatter) than when we left him. Hmm, must have been eating well! One thing, it assured us that this was a great family for us to leave Winston for our upcoming three week trip back to the States. We are renting a car because Mariano and Marcela are flying from Argentina to visit us. The last time we saw them was in February when they took me to San Martin de los Andes for Carnival (Mardi Gras), Tom has not seen them since before Christmas, so we are really looking forward to the visit. They are only coming for two days and we want to make the most of it. As soon as we get back to Algarrobo, we book them a room at the Pacifico Hotel which is only a block from Hans’ place where we have the motorhome parked and a short block from the beach. The rest of Friday evening, we played with Winston, cooked dinner and unpacked. Saturday we drive back to Santiago to pick up Marcela and Mariano from the airport. By the time we parked and got inside, they had cleared immigration and customs and were waiting for us. It was so good to see them. During our time in Rada Tilly and their subsequent visits to various parts of Argentina to see us, we have become remarkably close. Now they are here in Chile for yet another short visit. On our travels into Santiago on the bus, Tom and I had passed a really pretty bodega (winery) called Indomita up on a hill in the Casablanca valley. Since they advertised having a restaurant, we had decided that we would stop there, wine taste and have lunch. We told them our plan for the afternoon and they readily agreed. Indomita winery is beautiful and the restaurant is very clean, well lit and definitely upscale. After consulting with the waiter, we ordered lunch and a bottle of the winery’s best wine. Everything was delicious and the service, excellent. From there we went to the tasting room and browsed their vast selection of wines, while sipping on a few of their samples. I also checked out the small store they had and we bought two pretty wine stoppers which had a top featuring a globe of the earth made from lapis lazuli and the continents depicted in a variety of other colored semi precious stones from Chile. We also bought a case of their best wine, Zardoz in Cabernet Sauvignon. We then drove to Algarrobo and Winston gave our friends a happy welcome although we think he wondered where Pelusa was. We took Winston for a walk on the beach and showed Marcela and Mariano the small town. They loved it and started eyeing a house for sale close by, even going as far to check out prices with a local realtor. Mariano’s father had lived in Chile, as had his mother and he is currently looking into the possibility of getting a Chilean passport, so this entire visit has a particular meaning for them. We ate dinner at Ahi Azul, a restaurant recommended by Hans. Serving primarily seafood, it was delicious and with a bottle of wine, we had a wonderful time catching up on friends from Rada Tilly and telling of our trip to Easter Island. Sunday, found us heading back to Santiago, this time to meet up with Felipe for lunch. We had told him that Mariano and Marcela were going to visit and he wanted to see them again. They had met once before when visiting with me in Bariloche and they too had liked Felipe and were looking forward to a lunch together. As it is Sunday, Felipe has to say two masses, one in the morning and one in the evening but his afternoon is free and he picks a restaurant close to his parish. Another seafood restaurant but this time a small local neighborhood gem that was fantastic. I ordered the sea bass which was really good while Tom and Marcela followed Felipe’s recommendation and had a crab dish which was spectacular. Mariano opted for another of Felipe’s favorites; a beef stew that he said was extremely good. After lunch, Felipe took us to another area of Santiago that hosts an artisan fair. Filled with arts and crafts made by local artisans, we happily browsed the stalls and we realized that Felipe knows a lot of people and is stopped frequently to converse with friends of his and his family, parishioners and people he didn’t know who simply wanted his blessing. We have noticed that Felipe is very happy and content with his new parish and his role in the church. He is, quite frankly, an ideal minister and we can see he is very well liked and respected in the community. The time together flies by and by four o’clock we say fond goodbye’s to him and start the one hour plus drive back to the coast. After another walk on the beach with Winston, we part company to take a rest and agree to meet for a pre dinner drink at the hotel bar in a couple of hours. When we get there, Marcela and Mariano are waiting and we order the Chilean specialty, pisco sours. The Pacifico Hotel makes them just the way I like them with a rim of sugar to counteract the sour of the drink. Delicious. We also give them a gift of the wine stopper and a bottle of the wine from Indomita, to remember their trip with us. In addition, I had made a slide show for them from photographs of all the trips we have taken together and put onto a USB drive. They are surprised and are looking forward to watching it. Dinner is at another small seafood restaurant along the beach and whilst it was not as good as Ahi Azul, the food was still delicious and filled with laughter and chatter. Tomorrow, Tom will drive them to the airport, return the car and come back to Algarrobo by bus and I will stay with Winston. For tonight, it was just fun to revel in my time with these wonderful people who have become very dear to us, laugh about some of our trips and experiences and try to come up with a plan of meeting again. Soon, I hope!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Vai Te Mihi and final thoughts about Easter Island.

The venue for the show is next to a restaurant by the cemetery on the north side of Hanga Roa and Juan (the restaurant owner) dropped us off with plenty of time before the 9pm show. On the way, he also clarified what we had been told by Belem, that the show is the best in town. The room was very basic with a stage, a bar set up in the corner and about 6 rows of chairs. Red plastic, the stackable kind that you can buy at most home stores and not the most comfortable. There was two men checking off reservations and as soon as we said our name, one went in search of Belem. We hardly recognized her. At the hotel, she is always very demure in skirt and blouse with her long hair either in a braid or cinched in a ponytail. Here, she wore a much tighter skimpier outfit and her gorgeous long black hair cascaded down to her waist. “Wow, we hardly recognized you” both Tom and I said as she came up. Laughing, she chatted with the two men at the front and then led us to the second row, showing us where to sit. Bless her, as the place filled up; she had made sure no-one was seated directly in front of us. Belem is tending bar and as I settled into the not-too-comfortable chairs, Tom went to get some wine and chat with her. Mark arrived not too long after having been up to the Tahai Complex to watch the sunset. He also leaves tomorrow and wanted to check it out one final time. Then the lights went out and to the sound of drums, the show started. It was mesmerizing and within minutes, I forgot about the chairs, Tom next to me and the world outside, as the dancers gave their interpretation of the island’s history through their movements, chanting and music. The muscular young male dancers who wore very little besides loin cloths and body paint, postured and danced, slapped themselves and shouted the tribal chants of a long ago people in the loud warrior-like ways similar to the Maori of New Zealand. The delightful ladies of the group dressed in the traditional grass and/or feathered skirts with matching halter or bra tops danced the islanders take on the hula, which was much slower and precise than the Hawaiian or any other we had seen. Over the space of one and a half hours they wove the story of the Rapa Nui from the time they arrived via boat, through the stone and carving and revering of ancestors and then onto the Birdman cult and finally the demise of a civilization due to war, famine and illness and the introduction of Christianity. Intensified by the subtle, judicious use of colored and flashing lights to create various effects and backed by an absolutely fantastic band playing updated versions of the traditional melodies of the Rapa Nui, the show was spectacular. Time seemed to be suspended and I was surprised when the show wrapped up and how quickly the hour and a half had gone by. We said a fond goodnight to Belem and thanked her for recommending the show to us and went in search of a taxi. The night was filled with stars and the taxi driver took us the coast road back to the hotel. The next morning we packed and went to the dining room for breakfast. Teddy will be here at noon to take us to the airport so there is time to walk the garden one last time and reminisce on the island’s past and future. The history of the Rapa Nui is tragic to say the least. Overpopulation on the island caused for bloody wars between clans just before the Europeans ‘discovered’ the island. Only a century later in the 1860’s, Peruvian slave traffickers captured more than half of the population and set them to work as slaves in Peruvian mines. Under international pressure they were allowed to return home but they returned with smallpox and other diseases. It is reckoned that the Rapa Nui population of over 15,000 in the 15th century had dropped to only 111 in 1877. One hundred and eleven! Needless to say much of the culture was lost. Fortunately, there is still some of the Rapa Nui culture left and among the young people there is resurgence in the desire to again educate and learn their native language and understand their cultural heritage. They also understand their island like their culture is a fragile commodity and are very cognizant to the dangers of environmental exploitation. That very fragile balance between tourism and native culture. At its widest point Easter Island is only 15 miles long and 8 miles wide and yet there is so much to see and appreciate it is extraordinary. It is an amazing place and is worthy of being one of the top 10, every year, of places to visit. Tom said it best of all as we were waiting to board the plane “It wasn’t long enough. Five days is not enough. This is a fantastic place.” Never were truer words spoken.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shopping and dinner – last night on the island.

Our final day and we need to spend some time shopping. We need gifts for the family who is taking care of Winston and also some mementos for ourselves. Besides the municipal artisan fair in town, there are also numerous other smaller stores, some a little chintzy with cheaply made moai statues, birdmen figurines and other classic styles of the island, some stores were more upscale with beautiful but expensive moai carved from semi precious rock primarily lapis lazuli which is mined in Chile and a variety of quartz. Some were tiny while others were carved from large chunks and stood a foot tall or more. There was also the ubiquitous number of T-shirt and island clothing stores and even a small boutique called Colette’s. One of Tom’s sisters is named Colette and laughingly we took a photograph to send to her. She loves to shop. After a couple of hours, we had purchased shirts for Jaime and his son and earrings for Isabella and their daughter. Winston’s caregivers will be happy. We also purchased shirts for the family to take home with us when we return for a vacation in a couple of weeks. And then there was us. Tom bought several shirts for himself and I found a beautiful carved wooden bowl. And then there is the moai. At the first store we had purchased two small lapis statues, one for us and one for a gift. At the artisan fair where I purchased the bowl, Tom saw a second carved lapis moai, standing about 6 inches tall. Had to have it. The final store we went to had a fabulous carved Lapis moai, this one about 12 inches tall and quite expensive. Had to have it. Yes, I now have a perfect ahu of my own with three gorgeous Lapis Lazuli moai. The credit card got a lot of use but we are happy with our permanent reminders of Easter Island. Returning to the hotel we began our packing, one bag holding the gifts, snorkeling gear and some of our clothes. Our plan is to have an early dinner because we have reserved tickets for a dance show for tonight. There are three island dance groups in town with ne Kari Kari being the longest running and most well known. However with suggestions from Belem at the hotel, we decided on the dance troupe Vai Te Mihi which she strongly recommended. She may have been a little biased since she also works with this particular show but we were willing to try it. As we were making the reservations, Mark wandered up and since he also has not seen a show yet also decided to book with us. Belem also recommended purchasing the medium priced tickets. She told us the most expensive was the first row but it was really close to the stage and you are looking up the whole time. The medium priced are rows 2 and 3 and she would make sure we had good seats in that section. Deal done! For our final dinner we have chosen a small family restaurant, close to the hotel but on a side street off the beaten track. Here they have outside wood ovens and a fire over which they cook whichever fish they have caught that day. There is no menu; you simply eat what is available that day. When we arrived there were three varieties of fish. While I am not sure of the names, one looked like a cod, one flat fish like a sole or flounder and the other a sea bass. As they were laid over the fire on a bed of banana leaves, the owner tended to a wood oven to prepare some bread and cook the potatoes and vegetables that would accompany our meal. That taken care of he went inside to make us our pisco sours. It is a beautiful evening, still quite light and we walk around their garden as we sip on our drinks. In the meantime, his wife is setting up our table on the deck overlooking the ocean. The garden is well taken care of and whilst there are plenty of gorgeous exotic plants and flowers, there is also a large area dedicated to growing a variety of herbs and vegetables for both the restaurant and presumably their own use. We also wander over to the fire to check on our dinner, especially when they remove the leaves to check on the cooking. The aroma of fish and herbs sweeps through the air and we sniff in anticipation. More wood is added both to the fire and the oven and we chat with the owners as we wait. We are told another 15 minutes or so. Finishing our pisco sours, I order a glass of wine and Tom a beer and we settle at our table to eat the salad that has been set down along with freshly baked, hot bread. We are the only customers and feel quite at home. The fish along with a big pot filled with potatoes and vegetables was then brought over. With the three whole fish laid out on a platter, it is quite a feast and we are hungry. During the meal, the sun sets in a blazing red ball over the horizon. Our final sunset on the island and this was a great place to watch it. Gushing appreciatively over the meal, we ask the owner to call us a taxi to take us to the show. “Taxi” he said. “No, I will drive you. You are our guests”. We thank him and his wife profusely and decide if the remainder of the evening is half as good, it will have been a fabulous way to spend our last night here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Diving for moai on Easter Island

In case I have given the impression that Easter Island is only burial sites, moai and ancient relics of a people long past, think again. This is a beautiful island and although more remote than some of the others, is still considered part of the Polynesian chain. The water around Easter Island is supposedly the clearest in the world and we are ready to try out that theory. We have already visited Anakena Beach a couple of times and have swam and snorkeled around the small coral inlets but there is plenty of ocean to explore. Close to the hotel, the town of Hanga Roa has several small beaches and a darned good surf break that Tom has been eyeing since we arrived. Most afternoons there have been quite a few surfers and boogie boards out to catch the waves and as Tom went to join then but only to body surf, I found a small lagoon at Playa Pea from which to swim and snorkel. There were only a couple of other people at the playa and I quickly undressed (swimsuit already on underneath) and sat on the rocky lava edge. Like Anakena, the water was cool at first but quickly felt warm after only a minute or so. Here there are no waves and peering into the water it is crystal clear. Imagine my surprise as I snorkeled around to find a total of three rather large turtles sharing the space. Excitedly I swam alongside them and watched as they glide so effortlessly through the water, surfacing only now and again to delight the people sitting on the grassy bank. One gentleman in the water tried to catch one in his hands to show his family who were part of the group watching but some workers from nearby Restaurant Pea came down and admonished him quite loudly and harshly. Embarrassed he tried to confront them but I think it was simply to save face. He knew he was wrong and he quickly got out of the water, dressed and with his family trailing behind him departed. This left just me, a Japanese girl and three very relieved turtles to enjoy the late afternoon sun as we played in the water. Tom came back just as I was toweling off. He had caught a couple of waves but without flippers it was difficult. I told him about the turtles and he could see them as they came to the surface. The next day we had arranged a scuba dive trip. There are several dive shops on the pier at Hanga Roa and although they have different names, I think they are all related to one another. Actually Tom will scuba and I will be content with another snorkeling session. The water is chilly enough that wet suits are needed and after suiting up we are given a brief talk about the place we will dive, what the expectations will be and what to look for. The dive will go to a depth of 70 feet (22 meters) and this will be the deepest Tom has dived in a very long time. He is excited. Later, as he told me about it, the added bonus was that they dived to an underwater moai. He said it was incredible and had photos to prove it. I on the other hand had the pleasure of snorkeling at my own leisure with more turtles. The water is indeed the clearest we have ever swam in. Even the Great Barrier Reef was murkier than this. The exquisite turquoise blue/green water was incredible. Definitely worth taking a break from the moai.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Ceremonial village of Orongo

Our final site left to visit is not known for its giant moai but is really the final setting for the Rapa Nui culture. The village of Orongo was built in the late 17th century on the crater's rim at Ranu Kau, at the point where a 250 meter sea cliff converges with the inner wall of the crater. Around this period, island society stopped building the monolithic stone carvings of the ahu and moai and of practicing their old religion of ancestor worship and replaced it with a cult dedicated to honoring the Make Make god and more commonly referred to now as “The Birdman Cult”. Orongo is believed to have been a ceremonial center for the birdman cult and it was used for a few weeks of the year every spring for an annual ritual known as “Tangata-Manu”. For a period of about 200 years the tribal chiefs (or their representative) practiced ancient rights and tests of skill. Most famous was the spring ritual of Tangata-Manu whereby contestants would scale down the sheer cliffs of Orongo, swim to the off shore islet of Motu Nui and then fast on the island waiting for the first manutara (sooty tern) to lay her eggs. Having procured an egg, the contestant swam back and he (or his chief) was declared birdman (Tangata-Manu) for that year, an important status position in which special rights and privileges were granted them. The last competition took place around 1867. One of the most sacred places at Orongo is called Mata Ngarau, where priests chanted and prayed for success in this annual egg hunt contest. However, due to the spread of Christianity less and less locals used Orongo until it was finally abandoned in the mid 19th century. Through the 1970’s, restoration work was completed by William Mulloy (of Ahu Akivi and Tahai fame) together with Chileans Claudio Cristino and Patricia Vargas and now Orongo has World Heritage status as part of Rapa Nui National Park. The restored village now consists of 54 houses built from stone slabs and their design looks similar to those of hare-vaka (boathouses), prevalent though unrestored in the rest of the island. One of the most famous motifs on Easter Island is that of the Birdman and the rocks at Orongo are carved with hundreds of petroglyphs of this half man/half bird figure. Although history tells us that statue building was overtaken by the birdman cult there are ties between the two. In one of the houses at Orongo, an 8' high moai named Hoa Hakananai’a, complete with a loin cloth bas relief carved on it was found in 1968. Unlike other moai, this one is built from basalt, the hardest rock found on Easter Island and carved into the moai body were petroglyphs of the birdman and other symbols of birdman rituals. So it appears that the two groups had somehow come to terms with the differing beliefs that were present on the island. That same year, the crew of HMS Topaze removed Hoa Hakananai'a from ‘Orongo and this unusual rare basalt moai is now on display at the British Museum in London. Walking around the ceremonial site, history and tradition seem to seep through my bones and all the while the Pacific Ocean pounds against the cliff below us providing beautiful views of the nearby islets including Motu Nui. However it is not until we got to the very top of the trail that you see the whole picture. And what a sight it is. The giant panorama stretched out before us. Ahead of us to the west, the Pacific Ocean is endless contributing to the illusion that Easter Island truly is “in the middle of nowhere”. To our right is a crater with a large lake and marsh reeds dot the floor of the crater. Birds are riding the thermals along the lush green walls and the wind threatens to lift us up and over the edge at any moment. Orongo, like much of Easter Island is simply magical. As a side note, Orongo like Rano Raraku is in a fragile state and to attempt to preserve and protect the fragility of the area; visitors are only allowed to visit one time.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cave Adventures – Ana Kai Tangata, Ana Te Pahu and Ana Kakenga

The cave systems are a lesser known but equally intriguing attraction on Easter Island and venturing into them requires only a little agility, a big sense of adventure and a really good flashlight. The lava tube caves provided an ideal place to grow crops and fruit as the caves provided wind protection and the rain water retained and seeped through the lava rock provided an easy source of water collection for irrigation. During the time of warfare, many Rapanui took refuge in lava tubes as was evident from household items found later. They fortified the entrances and in some cases removed stones from ahus and hare paenga (houses) to help with the reinforcement. “Ana” is the indigenous word for cave. The first cave we visited was Ana Kai Tangata, located on the outskirts of Hanga Roa. A small sign just past the airport points toward the cliffs and the isolated cavern on the coast that has the island's only cave paintings. Dramatic cliffs shelter the cave from the crashing surf and hundreds of birds were swooping over our heads as we climbed down the rocky cliff to the cave. This is also known as the “cannibal cave”. However, the translation is ambiguous and it could mean “the cave where men eat” as well as “the cave where men are eaten”. It has even been suggested it means “the cave that eats men” presumably because they disappear into its black interior and die due to the turning tides and impossible high surf. However, there are many locations in Polynesia where cannibalism occurred to at least some extent; so it is possible that cannibalism took place on Easter Island and perhaps in this cave. There are also some references to cannibalism in Easter Island legend but there has never been any archaeological evidence that it actually occurred on the island. Given that the true interpretation of the name remains another mystery. Our main reason for visiting the cave are the paintings of manutara or sooty tern, the bird closely associated with the birdman cult that is the focal point in nearby Orongo. The drawings originally were painted in red, white and black pigments created by mixing volcanic dust and powdered coral with shark oil. Unfortunately, they are not well preserved and the continuous salt spray contributes to the erosion. We can see some imprints left and can still define the birds and figures painted on the rock but we can also see where layers of rock and in some cases larger chunks have fallen off. There used to be more paintings and over time there will be fewer and fewer. Leaving Ana Kai Tangata we were more than a little disappointed but could not come up with an ideal way of preserving the paintings without altering their natural state and we only hope the other caves are more interesting. Next, we visited Ana Te Pahu, “Ana” means cave, “Te” is the and “Pahu” is a Polynesian musical instrument, similar to a type of drum, so probably the indigenous name means “Cave for playing the drum”. Located almost in the center of the island, the entrance is shielded by an overgrown banana plantation as well as avocado trees and sweet potato plants. As we pushed our way through the thick banana grove, it became clear why this cave is nicknamed the “Banana Cave”. Access into the cave itself was down some fairly steep slippery lava steps and I was glad to have the guys to give me a helping hand. I was also glad to have a headlamp as it is quite dark. Once inside, the tubes open up to an enormous height although the continuous moisture from water dripping off the ceilings kept the floor slick and slippery. Watching for low hanging rocks and climbing over the lava boulders whilst being underground I realized that this adventure was not for the claustrophobic. Although there was plenty of fresh air, the cave was dank and dark, damp and desolate and I loved it! To think that people lived and thrived in these tubes was amazing. The cave was segmented into several parts and tunnels and it was obvious that this had been one of the larger dwellings. There is an actual lava tube system that leads underground from this cave several miles to the next one we will visit but it is closed off and besides, I think driving is better. Our final cave is Ana Kakenga which is also called in Spanish “Dos Ventanas” (Two Windows). I can only say that reading about the description of the cave’s entrance, “entrance to the cave is very small and interesting” and actually negotiating the entrance are two different things. Here is my more accurate description of the cave’s entrance. After approaching an extremely narrow opening, it is obvious that the only way to enter is backwards, in total darkness. Tom went in first and I followed with Mike and Mark coming after me. There are some footholds in the rock but no room to turn so searching for them is done one foot at a time whilst holding onto whatever rock surface you can. There is a low hanging rock which presses into my back and forces me to bend over more and another nasty sharp one that I have to move my head to the left to avoid. After about 7 feet (2 meters) of this, my feet hit the rock floor but I can’t stand because the roof is only about 3 feet (1 meter) high, but I can turn around and inch my way forward. It is another 15 feet (3 meters) or so before the cave suddenly expands to a huge underground system that goes on for as far as I can see. That, my friends, is the entrance to Ana Kakenga and I was feeling pretty darn pleased with myself, let me add. The central cave opens and splits into two passageways that we can see pinpoints of light at the end of them. These are the dos ventanas (two windows) that open to the sea, two tubes that the lava made millions of years ago to flow to the ocean. We walked first down the tube to our left and at the end we were rewarded with a totally amazing view. The “window” opening from the tube is about 300 feet, built into the cliffs. The drop is precipitous and the ocean crashes into the rocks below us. With the sun high in the sky, the view is incredible. I was cautious and stopped about a foot or so from the edge, as did Mark. Mike and Tom went to the very edge but we all got great views of the coastline all the way to town. We then ventured down the other tube to the right of the main cave. Interestingly, this one opened, still high in the cliff but with a view looking north, not south. From this window we could see the coastline stretching as far as the eye could see. We were mesmerized. “And to think I almost turned back and didn’t come” I told the guys. “Thanks so much for helping me and encouraging me to do this. If I had known what it would be like, I may never have tried it and I would have missed out on a really great experience”. That said, the way out was the same as the way in and equally as tortuous although at least heading out I was climbing into the light, which after being in the cave seemed brilliantly bright. Our way back to the hotel to drop off the car was filled with our excited chatter about the caves. This is a truly great experience and more importantly “If I can do it, anyone can.”

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ahus Vinapu and Akahanga, Puna Pau quarry and Ovahe.

Easter Island has more than 600 moai, in various stages ranging from the beautiful restored sites to some fallen but still fairly intact and with distinguishable features to still others that through erosion and decay have virtually disintegrated. Although it may seem otherwise, these moai are not scattered around the island randomly. Most are organized and grouped in such a way that it is evident that some type of shrine was built, often close to the remnants and remains of ancient villages. In addition, almost all are aligned and oriented with their backs to the sea facing the center of the island, possibly overlooking their communities. While the effort to restore the ahus with the moai is impressive and the restored sites are truly spectacular, there is a stark quality to the sites in their demolished and unaltered state that is lost when they are restored. Although it is tempting, often for tourist reasons (the restored Ahu sites are a huge tourist draw) to raise all the moai that have been toppled due to war by doing so pieces of the island’s history is changed and lost and there are many islanders who still consider these sites sacred and do not wish them touched nor the moai moved. The first of the unrestored sites we visited is at Vinapu. The ceremonial center at Vinapu includes one of the larger burial sites on Rapa Nui. The stone ahu has some extraordinary masonry work consisting of large, carefully fitted slabs of volcanic basalt rock. Some archaeologists believe that the stonework is similar to that used by masons in Peru but this is dated earlier than the Peruvian work. Mark has his tablet with him and reads some of the history from a book he downloaded, giving the site a very real and poignant feeling. We then went to the large ceremonial center of Ahu Akahanga which consists of several ahu and has the highest concentration of toppled moai on the island. The site is about 55 ft (18 meters) in length and there are a dozen or more statues ranging from about 15 to 25 feet (7 – 8 meters) long, some lying faced down and others on their backs with their features remarkably discernible. There are some red scoria rocks laying around that make us wonder if originally some of the fallen moai had the “pukao” or topknot. Also visible at the entrance to the site are some well-preserved ruins of an ancient village with a number of earth ovens (uma pae) and boat-houses (hare vaka) as well as paved areas which help show a little of the layout of the village. As Mark again read from his book we learned that Akahanga is known as “the platform of the king”. According to popular legend, at Akahanga are the remains of Hotu Matua, the first king of the Rapa Nui, who came to govern the island around the fourth century. Apparently, the place was chosen by Hotu Matua as his final resting place because of its location on the island. At Ahu Akahanga the deceased monarch would be able to see both sides of the island equally and his spirit would continue to favor all of the inhabitants. A nice legend and as I turn in a 360 degree circle, in some bizarre way I can imagine sensing the goodwill emanating from the land and sea and can understand why many of the islanders are deeply spiritual, ritualistic and protective of these ancestral sites. I can also imagine that one day this might be another restored site and whilst it will be as spectacular as the others that have been restored, the spirituality and history of it will be lost and forgotten. Driving inland takes us to the red scoria quarry at Puna Pau. Puna Pau is where the Rapanui extracted the stone used in making the distinctive red pukao or topknots, which fitted on top of the heads of some moai. Although unknown, they may have represented hats, hair styles of the day or feather headdresses. We do know that they are a later innovation, so not all moai had them and only about 100 have been found. As we climb the side of the crater leading to the quarry, we can see a group of pukao moved out from the crater, awaiting transportation to unknown destinations. Their shape suggests rolling to move them though it is not known whether this occurred. Carving for the pukao was completed on the ahu, so the pukao here are larger than they would end up being and they are unfinished. However, even if unfinished, some have petroglyphs etched into them. The average pukao was 7.5 ft high, almost 5 feet in diameter and weighed between five to a staggering 12 ton. It appears that they may have been added to the moai statue using a ramp of small stones, after the moai were erected. The view from the top of Puna Pau gave us views of almost the entire island, coast to coast, north to south. It seems amazing that so much legend, history and folklore can be seeped into such a small place and I am again astounded at how little we really know about the lifestyle of this enigmatic group of people who saw the sense in carving stone statues of their ancestors to watch over them and because of that leaving us indelible and concrete proof of their existence. My reverie was broken by the group ready to move on to the beach for lunch. Our goal was to stop for lunch at Anakena again but first we want to visit the smaller pink sand beach at Ovahe. Difficult to find and even more difficult to get to, Ovahe beach is the other sandy beach on Easter Island but because of its location and size, not nearly as popular as Anakena. Turning from the main paved road and onto a dirt track, we follow a few sparse signs pointing to Ovahe beach. After getting lost twice, we finally arrived at a small parking area with a narrow path track leading up and over a rocky cliff. Did I say that this was difficult to get to? Well, after climbing over a cliff and scrambling down the other side, we saw another small mountain of rocks ahead of us. At high tide, this beach would be impossible to reach and as it was the waves kept surging over the sandy path but we had gotten this far and we were not going to be denied. With a helping hand now and again from one of the guys, I was able to keep up and we stepped onto the prettiest pink coral sand beach I have ever seen. I immediately took off my socks and shoes and waded in. Mike and Mark looked at me in astonishment. “I have gotten here; I will not be back so I want as well feel the sand between my toes and get a little wet”. Tom agreed to the logic of my remarks and joined me. We stayed perhaps 20 minutes or so but with the tide slowly coming in and encroaching over the rocks on the path out, we decided we better move. Anakena beach was much as we had seen it the day before. Quite a few people, clear sparkling water, swaying palms, glistening white/pink sand and those enigmatic moai. Tom and I went into the water again while Mike and Mark wandered over to get a closer look at the moai and walk around. We gathered for lunch at one of the open booth kiosks and planned our afternoon of cave adventures.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sunrise at Tongariki

Tuesday morning and we are up early. Fortunately sunrise at this time of year does not come until about 7am or so but we do not want to miss one second of it. We had arranged the night before with Mike to pick him up from his hotel at 6:30 for sunrise at Tongariki. He was not late and neither were we and we were actually on the road by 6:25. It is pitch black and cloudy but no rain and we are hoping the clouds break up a little. We had been told to drive slowly because of the wildlife and horses. Driving yesterday the one thing that surprised us was the number of herds of horses wandering around. Sergio had later told us that owning horses was very prestigious and many islanders claimed the herds but to our eyes they seemed to be unchecked and untamed. They are obviously breeding because we did see many foals and quite a few mares that looked pregnant so their numbers, if unchecked, will just grow. Arriving at Tongariki in the dark was amazing. We were the first group to arrive and after parking the car, quickly turned our headlamps (we use the Princeton brand and they are fabulous). We have found headlamps to be better than flashlights as it leaves our hands free to do other more important things. On this trip it was to prepare our cameras. As Tom positioned himself beside a wall at the back of the site, Mike and I wandered down the road to get closer. By now a few more people had arrived but there is plenty of room and the sheer silence that surrounds us is permeable and we find ourselves speaking in whispers. Gradually the sky starts to turn from pitch black to streaks of creams and pinks. It is still cloudy but that does not deter us from taking pictures and just soaking in the phenomenal atmosphere of being in such a special place at a magical moment. Tom was correct in his assumptions the day before and the sun did indeed rise over the left side of the moai. As the 15 moai slowly began to take form in the lightening sky we were left simply with feelings of wonder at this marvelously restored ahu. After day break as we slowly made our way back to the car, Mike summoned up all our feelings pretty well “If I see nothing else today and nothing else happens today, this will be enough”. Of course our day is full of sightseeing again but first, breakfast. We drive back to the town of Hanga Roa and find a small cafĂ© by the ocean. Over breakfast, all we could talk about was Tongariki and our experience. After breakfast, I ordered a second cup of coffee, Mike took a walk down to the water and Tom went to talk to someone at the dive shop to see about a snorkeling or scuba trip. There are a few options but we finally decide that a trip on Thursday afternoon would fit our schedule better. As we gather together again, to start touring the island again, Mark from Ottawa who is staying at the hotel wanders by. He is thinking of renting a bike but since we have the car, a Suzuki SUV, we invite him to come along with us and he quickly accepts. We sit and review what we have all seen, what we still want to see and come up with a plan. For the rest of the morning we will visit some of the unrestored ahu burial sites, the quarry at Puna Pau and take in visits to Ovahe and then Anakena beaches. Later we will explore the lava tube caves that riddle the island. Another full day of sightseeing is emerging.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Anakena Beach, Ahu Akivi and sunset at the Tahai Complex

Anakena Beach. There is nothing written that does this beach justice. It is truly one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere that I have visited. Gorgeous white/pink coral sand, clear, turquoise water, coconut palms (albeit brought over from Tahiti in 1960) swaying in the breeze and all against a backdrop of two restored ahu sites. Walking from the car park down a hill through the sandy grove of palms, the view is spectacular. Over to our right we see the restored moai and to our left, the sea is sparkling in the afternoon sun. Even though we are hungry, we decide we can’t wait. The water is just too inviting and we quickly find a spot on the beach. Fortunately we had worn our swimsuits and had brought our mask and goggles as Sergio had told us that this was a good snorkeling place. The day is warm and at first the water felt cool but after a couple of minutes it was delightful. Tom immediately put on his gear and headed over to some rocks and coral areas, whilst I just kept turning in 360 degree circles, soaking in the views. According to island folklore, Anakena was the landing place of Hotu Matu'a, the Polynesian chief who led a two-canoe group here and founded the first settlement on Rapa Nui, although the nearest date anyone can pinpoint this event is somewhere between 300AD to 800AD. It was later used as a ceremonial center for the islanders. These days, it is the most popular site for tourists as it is the only sandy beach suitable for swimming on the island. From the beach it is an easy walk to the ahu. Ahu Nau Nau has 7 moai although the two on the far right are very small and the features, indistinguishable. By contrast the other 5, four of which have pukau (the red scoria topknot that is thought to represent hairstyle or headdress of the period) have the most detailed features of any of the other restored moai on the island. Thought to have been built between the 10th and 14th centuries, this ahu was restored in 1978. There is also a second ahu off to the right (Ahu Ature Huki) where there is a single moai but right now this is covered with tarps and scaffolding and is being cleaned. With the sun now behind us, we get some nice photos of the moai with Anakena Bay behind them. Having put off lunch for a while we climb back towards the parking lot where there are a couple of small restaurants. At an outdoor table overlooking the beach and moai, we order what turned out to be the largest empanadas we have ever seen, filled with shrimp and cheese. They were delicious and gave us the energy needed to keep sightseeing. Pledging to return for a second visit the next day, we drive inland to another restored moai site, Ahu Akivi. Thought to have been built in the 13th century, Akivi with its seven moai was restored in 1960 by an American and Chilean consortium headed by American archaeologist Dr. William Mulloy. Ahu Akivi is interesting largely because of its symmetry. Unlike many restored sites where the moai vary by large degrees in height and weight, all of the seven moai are roughly the same size, about 14 feet tall and weighing around 12 ton and the facial and body lines are very distinguishable. It has been postulated that during the time the ahu and moai were built, eight chiefs could have ruled the region and that perhaps the statues where built by the 8th chief who was most likely a direct descendant of the others. At the end of the 13th century, new statue construction ended and the 8th chief never got his recognition after building such a beautiful monument to his predecessors. It is getting late and we have one final stop before our day is over. The restored ahus at the Tahai Complex is supposedly the place to be to watch the sun set and on our first full day on the island, we don’t want to miss out. There is a direct road down the coast that Sergio had told us was in terrible condition but if we drive slowly we should not have any problems driving it. The road was not only in terrible condition but hair-raising with narrow tight turns on a narrow dirt and gravel rutted road complete with gut wrenching, vertigo drops from the cliffs to the ocean far below us. Tom kept the wheel tightly clenched as I kept a hold onto anything I could grab as we slowly wound our way down the coast towards Tahai, which lies just a little north of the town of Hanga Roa. Like Akivi, the Tahai Complex was also restored by Dr. William Mulloy in 1974 and in fact both William and his wife Emily are buried at Tahai. Although referred to as Ahu Tahai, the complex has three distinct ahu platforms. The most northern and the first we came to is Ahu Ko Te Riku which has a single standing moai that has not only a topknot made from the red scoria at Puna Pau but brilliant (and in my view, a little creepy) eyes made from sea shells and coral with obsidian for the pupils. It is thought that some of the moai were given eyes when first built but this is the only one that has been restored with the eyes and it is strange. In the middle is another single moai, Ahu Tahai for which the complex is named and then on the southern edge is the largest platform Ahu Vai Uri which consists of 5 moai, all very different from one another in both size and shape with the largest of them in the center. Unfortunately, with the sunset tonight there are quite a few clouds but the place is still beautiful, perched on the cliff above town and the sun descending like a flaming blood red orange ball into the ocean behind the moai. I think tonight we will dream of moai but hopefully not that one with the creepy eyes!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Rano Raraku, Ahu Tongariki and Ahu Te Pito Kura

After breakfast, we picked up the car keys from Constancia and with a little advice on where to start we were on our way. Our first stop is going to be Rano Raraku. This is really where the story of the moai begins. It is a huge quarry which is part of a dormant volcano where the moai were carved out of the distinctive yellow-brown volcanic tuff and then moved to the ahus (burial sites). Based on the evidence from the quarry, the moai were carved out of the rock as if lying on their backs. They were then detached from the mountain, moved to the lower slopes and pushed erect. Then the carving on the backs was completed. Finally, the moai were moved from the quarry along one of several roads to the places where they were to be erected permanently. As we walked up the sides of the mountain there are lots of the statues scattered around the hillside, some are erect and we can see where over the years landslides have partially covered them. Others are still in the place where the carving began under rock shelves but it was easy to discern the features. As we climbed further up the volcano, we could see rain clouds starting to form. Just as we rounded the mountain to descend on the other side, the rain started to fall in sheets. We quickly scrambled back up and took shelter under a rock overhang to wait out the deluge. After about 10 minutes the rain passed and we began to go down the path again, this time very carefully as the rain had made the soil slick. It was as we came around the point that we got some great views of the ocean and our next stop, the restored moai site of Ahu Tongariki. We plan to be at this particular site tomorrow morning at dawn as the sun rising over the moai is supposed to be spectacular. We take a few photos from this elevation and then move on. There is about 160 or so moai in various stages of completion left in place at the quarry and whether they are unfinished or not is debated. A moai called Tukuturi is considered the most unusual on the island. Unlike all the other moai, it is made from the red scoria at Puna Pau quarry and its beard and kneeling position distinguish it from standard moai. How it got here is also debatable. As we climb up the other side of the volcano we get to the interior of the volcano which contains a large fresh water crater lake. The water is covered in reeds which were used by the Rapanui for thatched homes and about 20 moai are scattered around the lake. Maybe because of the weather, there are not many people and it is incredibly peaceful. From Rano Raraku it is an easy few minutes’ drive north to Ahu Tongariki. This restored Ahu (burial site) is the largest on Easter Island with 15 moai facing inland including an 86 ton moai that is the heaviest ever to be erected on the island. The moai were first toppled during the island’s Civil War when it was thought that by toppling the enemy’s moai there would be no ancestral spirits to watch over them and then, in 1960, the ahu platform itself was destroyed by a tsunami caused by an earthquake off the coast of Chile and the moai were swept further inland. In 1992, under an official agreement worked out between the governments of Chile and Japan, a team from Japan working with Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino undertook the job of restoring Ahu Tongariki. The restoration took 5 years and now Tongariki is one of the most iconic and most photographed ahu on the island. It is also supposed to be the place to be at sunrise when the sun comes up over the moai. At the summer solstice the sun rises over the center of the ahu but now with winter approaching, Tom calculates that the sun will probably rise over to the left of the moai and possibly because of early morning cloud cover may not be as spectacular as in summer but nevertheless we are committed to being here at sunrise tomorrow regardless of the weather. This ahu, built in the shadow of Rano Raraku is truly a phenomenal site and after taking a ton of photos and picking out our spot for tomorrow’s sunrise adventure, we continue our drive north. Our final stop of the morning is at Ahu Te Pito Kura. This is an unrestored site with a single fallen moai that in its prime was quite large but over time has disintegrated and eroded. However, walking beyond the ahu is the Te Pito Kura for which the site is named. It is a round rock, one meter (38 inch) diameter which according to legend was brought to the island by Hotu Matu’a. Surrounding it are four additional stones on which to sit. This is the only site, to my knowledge were it is permissible and even encouraged to touch the stone. The large round stone has the delightful name “the belly button of the world” and by sitting around it and placing hands on the rock, energy will flow into you from the earth’s core. I had to wait my turn as there were quite a few people waiting to “absorb the earth’s positive flow of energy”. I don’t know if any energy is indeed imparted through its core but the stone is warm to the touch and there is a certain meditative quality to sitting around it, gazing out at the Pacific Ocean and contemplating the centuries that people have sat and done this, even Tom give it a try. As we leave there is still a line of people waiting for their turn to sit around “the belly button”. It is lunchtime and time to drive on, next stop Anakena Beach.