Jagged coastline, the immutable sea and moai
29.03.2012 - 05.04.2012 28 °C
I had a lovely week on Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui). The island is small (about 25km long and half as wide) and extremely isolated. It´s closest neighbours are far: the mainland of Chile (3700km to the east) and Tahiti (4000km to the west). It was a 4.5 hour flight from Santiago (check out the map on my blog)! Given this isolation, people have taken to calling Easter Island the "end of the world" (move over Ushuaia). Legend has it that Rapa Nui was colonized by a Tahitian king about a thousand years ago and Rapa Nui's people are of Polynesian descent (same cultural group as Hawaii, Tahiti, and the Maori in New Zealand). I attended a few dance shows and there was similarities to Hawaii in the music, the costumes and the style of dance (gyrating hips and soft arms). Not that I know much about the Maori in New Zealand, but the locals had similar tattoos (the black swirls and curved lines).
People rave about the island being "paradise" with a mysterious history. At first, I have to say, I wasn´t feeling it. The island was pretty, very green (lots of grassy hills/extinct volcanoes), but not exactly lush (few trees and no jungle). Easter island is famous for its moai (very different from other Polynesian islands). These are enormous statutes carved from basalt, which are on average 4m high and 15 metric tons each. The moai were set up on platforms in groups along the coast of the island with their backs to the sea. Carbon dating suggests that this of practice carving statutes started around 1100 AD and continued until the 17th century. The Rapa Nui people (like many indigenous people of south america) were nearly wiped out by disease in the 18th century and much of the historical record was lost (including how to read Rapa Nui's written language). Tradition suggests that a platform was built in a place of honour in each village. The statues represented tribal leaders or spirits and they "watched over" the village. About 300-400 years ago, things started to fall apart in paradise. There was a period of tribal warfare (probably due to scarce resources) and most of the moai were pushed off the platforms and left face down on the ground. Over the last 50 years, foreigners have restored various platforms and moai, rebuilding some of the majesty of the past. Today, the island is a giant open air museum. My first few days were spend driving around with a tour group visiting the various platforms in dramatic settings (e.g., set off by a white-sand beach and palm trees or framed by the green hills and sea) This was very cool, but I must admit, I wasn't seduced by the magic. The moai are enormous, but they don't look it. The are positively dwarfed by the backdrop of cliffs, sea and coast.
I finally came around. I had to get out of the car and start walking. The island of Rapa Nui was created by 3 erupting volcanos (now extinct). The rugged coast is composed of jagged, bubbly black and red rock (hardened lava) forming coves, caves and little peninsulas that jut into the sea. The sea! The waves batter the coast constantly throwing white geyers of spray into the air at each collision, but the coast seems un-perturbed. The rock is still as pointy and jagged as the day it was formed. The restless sea constantly changed colour from grey to turquoise to deep blue (somewhere between royal and navy) depending on the weather and the time of day. I fell in love with the rugged beauty of coast and the power of the sea. I could just watch the fireworks created by crashing waves for hours!
The Rapa Nui economy was clearly built on tourism, but there was a small and charming feel to it. The countless small hotels and restaurants were family-fun. The handicrafts were hand-made and not imported from China. Thankfully, no starbucks or macdonald's to be found. For example, I asked for a taxi one day and a woman drove up in her car with a small hand-drawn sign in the window. I never thought I would say this, but I am sick of tuna (grilled, cerviched, sashimied). No more!
I am sad to report, my 3 month adventure is winding down. I am spending my last week in Argentina. This afternoon I arrived in Mendoza. I look forward to couple of very nice meals in wine country.