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.