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!

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