Friday, June 3, 2016

Te Pito O Te Henua - finally

We flew to Easter island from Tahiti yesterday; somewhere I have always wanted to go since I first read about the remote island in the South Pacific, thousand of miles away from the nearest landmass. Where ancient people made giant stone statues that no longer stand; where tribal wars, explorers and Chilean slave traders almost killed off the population entirely. On many an occasion I looked at the island through Google, tracing the island's coastline in search of Moai, and researched flights from New Zealand.

Then somehow, it became easy. A 5 hour flight from Papeete and here we are. Most people were transiting through and carrying on to Santiago, but the 30 or so of us that got off the plane for good were met with leis from our hosts and driven away. First impressions from the airport to Hanga Roa were of a sleepy town. The hotel Taura'a is at the end of the Main Street / town; unfortunately the hosts seem to belong to that group of people in the wrong line of work - they seem perfectly good people but they had no desire to offer information - in the way a good host always wants to shout about their piece of home - so without a map or welcome book to read in the room of the many activities to do and places to eat we decided to head straight out and see what we could find. 

The Main Street has gift shops, coffee houses, supermarkets and restaurant galore and even a fantastic sushi restaurant (Sushi Ohi) where we took a punt of ordering from the Spanish menu and happily both got what we wanted! An afternoon nap later, we went back out to explore and I found our 1st Moai - then promptly got told off by a passing Rapu Nui man on a scooter for getting too close to the statue. But as I now know the Moais are actually figureheads for burial chambers, I very much understand his anger. 

After a wander around the harbour we settled on Te Moana as a good place to have a beer or two and some snack food. Note, snack food in Easter island falls on the American side of the scale - as in, could feed 4 people as a main meal. We sat outside, waiting for the sunset and watching the surfers whilst eating a giant bowl of smoked fish tartare with avocado and toast (looked like dog food, tasted amazing!) and drinking beer. 

On a whim we ordered a bottle of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon wine and enjoyed the music (Parov Stelar!) and people watched. Instead of sensibly heading back to our home, we decided to have another drink on the way in a random and deserted restaurant. Then some more food and another beer at a deserted pizzeria ran by an very odd man. The pizza was like no pizza I'd ever seen before; oval shaped dough with veggies, sauce and cheese piled high on top. Still, after 4 beers and 1/2 a bottle of wine it tasted pretty good to me. 

The next day was the full day tour with Green Island Tours. Our guide was Patricio, a Chilean man who married a Rapu Nuian and has lived here for 40 years. He certainly knows his stuff and really understands and loves this island. We went first to pick up a park ticket, you need one to go into any of the national park sites which is pretty much anywhere of interest on Easter island. You can get them as soon as you exit the airport but I couldn't see the ticket office there and in keeping with his not arsed demeanour, our host hadn't bother to mention this fact to us when he picked us up. 

Our first stop was Hanga Te'e, followed by Akahanga. Both showed broken Moais and Patricio explained how this was done by the short ear tribe, who had arrived at the same time on the island as the dominate long ear tribe, likely as their slaves (and probably picked up from New Zealand!). There is no known date for this colonisation of Easter Island but common belief dates it around the 14th century AD. After centuries of being leave workers the short ear tribe finally rebelled and wars broke out in the 17th century. When the short ear tribe triumphed they pulled down all the Moais. By the time the first explorers (late 18th century) found Easter island the Moais were all laid on the ground, face down. 

He also explained that these platforms, Ahus, were actually burial chambers for the great Chiefs of each tribe and their bloodlines, when one chief died his body would be dried out and placed under the stone platform. Then a Moai would be carved in his honour and placed on top of the platform. Then when another prominent member of that tribe died he too would be placed on the platform and it would gain another Moai. The lesser members of the family were cremated and their ashes buried under rocks by the platform. Around these Ahus would have been villages, with tiny houses and chicken coops and vegetable patches, a which have all now been scattered around the island due to disrestful rule, British farming walls, thievery and tsunamis.  Around Akahanga this was easier to see, as now Rapa Nuians govern their own national park they have made various reconstructions of how the village would have looked then. 

The highlight of this trip for me was the next stop, the Rano Raraku which was the quarry used to create all those Moais. As we wandered around the heads (with buried bodies!) Patricio showed us the cuttings in the quarry face, where Moais has been carved directly from the volcano face and only moved once the Moai was ready. This was so they would only use what was needed to make one Moai and at any one time several Moais were being carved at the same time (the small ears would have been the ones carving) Many still sit in the volcano waiting to be finished. The thing that blew my mind the most was that the heads around the grassy slope were the finished articles waiting to be taken, almost like a shopfront. So your chief's recently deceased? Wander over to Rano Raraku, pick the one that most fits his size and then transport it back to your village and add the final features that make it unique to your chief, and of course the red hair (top hat). Stick it up on the platform and voila! The perfect tribute to your fallen chief. Of course, no one still really knows how those Moai were moved from the quarry, or up on to the platforms but Patricio's theory was by mana (magic) and after wandering around today I like this theory the best. There was only one female Moai (Easter island was a very patriarchal society) and also one small eared man Moai - no one knows either why these two were created. 

We stopped here for lunch, empanadas and local Easter Island beer, Mahina. Both the porter and pale ale is highly recommended! After lunch we went to Tongariki, the reconstructed platform of 15 Moais. An earthquake from Chile created a tsunami that hit both Easter island and Japan in the late 80s which caused the fallen Moais here to be moved 300 metres further inland. This prompted a Japanese company in 1990 to begin restoration as a means of advertising a company. The Japanese are apparently regular visitors to Easter island and hold it in great respect and to show even more faith they returned a Moai they has taken from the island. If only Chile, Britain and the many others would do the same.....Anyway, for 4 years this company painstakingly recreated the Moai using images from before the tsunami of the fallen Moais. It's magificent to see. Around here lay the ruins of the village with visible petroglyphs. 

We stopped at another petroglyphs site, Papa Vaka where again the turtles, doubled hulled canoes and sharks where very visible in the volcanic rock. We also stopped at Te Pito Kura, which not only has one of the last standing Moais (drawings made by a European ship in 1888 of this statue standing tall prove it outlasted the rebellion wars but then sometime after this it was toppled too) but also a rock bought from the great island the ancients came from. This was believed to be an island somewhere between Tahiti and Hawaii, that suffered some horrible fate that required all its inhabitants to find a new land. The leader, Hotu Matu'a led his people (and those slaves) to Te Pito O Te Henga and with him he bought his shiny round magnetic rock as a talisman. Like the Motaeki boulders in NZ, is was a perfectly spherical shape but unfortunately we could not confirm the magnetic qualities as there is now a wall around it to prevent touching. Scientists believe it's actually a meteor. Either theory works well for me.

The final stop of the full day tour was Anakena beach,(which is also where the half marathon ends!) it's a beautiful white sandy beach with several more resurrected Moais and imported Hawaiian coconut trees. We took a walk around, had a little paddle then stopped to just watch the waves coming in and going out again. Very peaceful place and one we will revisit before the week is out. The drive home was via the half marathon route (only backwards) and it helped quell some fears we'd been having about the hills!

 Patricio showed us Haka Honu, a cafe on the harbour front that is great for sunset viewing so we got out there and said goodbye to him. It was a brilliant tour and he was a great guide, We ordered a snack to share (see previous point about food sizes) and a couple of beers and looked at all our photos. After a brief respite back at the hotel, we went to the Internet cafe to get wifi codes (the readily available internet promised to us on the hotel website has not worked since we got here and surprise, the host did not seem to care when we told her!) and sat ourselves in the restaurant Krava downstairs.   We ordered a tuna, rice and salad plate to share and watched some of the Chile v Mexico football game whilst also catching up with the world on Facebook and with emails. 

Such an amazing day in one of the most beautiful places in the world! Life is good. 

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