Man! Are those boys handsome, both the stone and the live ones!
2.16.06 0 °F
Middle of the night, Friday, February 10
I arrived in Santiago at 1:30 am. Immigration took a while as I did not read the signs and was in the wrong line for some time. $100 to enter Chile as a ding against the US who has made it harder for people from Chile to enter the US. The airport was dark but one shop open, so I bought Gatorade, candy (my standard first purchase in any country), and pretzels and looked for a place to work on the computer.
Lots of people were with me as Santiago seemed to be where flights arrive after midnight and then people wait for their connection.
At 5:30 am, I checked my bags and paid the exit tax, went to the ATM for Pesos, bought a dunkin donut and a small cup of coffee whipped cream on. I scooped off the cream and kept going.
I went through security, which was no problem and found an obliging piece of floor, pulled out my pillow and rested for an hour.
Lan Chile flight loaded at 8:30 am and I found that I was at the window in a 2 seat section without a seat partner YAAAAH! I could have upgraded to business class for a mere $150, but I decided against it, even though the sleep would have been welcome.
Out came the eyeshades, earplugs, my pillow + 2 pillows supplied by Lan, two blankets and I tried to sleep as I would arrive at 2:00 pm and didn’t want to miss my first day on Rapa Nui.
When we were 20 minutes out from landing, we could see the island. Quen insisted on a picture looking out the window. We kept looking for the giant heads on the island, but could not see any. As we landed, it was obvious that we have found the tropics. Off came the sweater.
Cecilia from Residential Taniera met me with lovely lei of purple bougainvillea and a white waxy flower. I love being met in Polynesia! Short ride to the hostel and then guava juice and I began to walk to get the lay of the land.
Jack, the resident guide was introduced and he explained his program. It was pricey, but it would be personalized and goes in the opposite direction of most of the tours, so you have the sights usually to your self with unlimited time to explore. I agreed to a one-day tour with him beginning at 7:30 am which would include breakfast on the coast to watch the sunrise, 11 major stops, lunch on the beach and ending close to 7:30 at the southern tip of the island at Orongo where the birdman competitions took place. I could decide if I wanted a second day later. He recommended lots of sun block, hat, and sunglasses. He supplied lots of water and colorful commentary on not only the island itself, but also the history and politics. He is from Poland originally, is a photographer, artist, writer, formerly in the French army and speaks 8 languages. Needless to say, he was very interesting and could speak on many things.
Off I went to the ATM for money for the tour only to find out they only take MCard and I had VISA. While I had a MCard with me, I could not remember the pin. So, off to the gas station, as the bank was closed, to cash travelers checks. Mission accomplished and back to the hostel.
I was in Easter Island during the 2 week Polynesian festival with native dance, singing, cooking competitions and sporting events. In fact, the brochure we received upon entering the plane in Santiago featured Jack’s photos. My first night, beginning at 10pm, was the choir competition. I sat on my bed reading thinking about dinner and the festival and decided on a short nap. I woke up to singing at 10:00 pm. While I thought I would get up in a minute, I woke up again to singing at 1:00 am. I finally roused at 7:10 am, just in time to meet Jack for the tour. I would have to wait for another night to partake of the evening festival. Sometimes, no matter how interesting the event, sleep wins!
Saturday, Feb 11
7:45 we are loaded, Jack, Coti (his assistant) and I were on our way to catch the sunrise and have breakfast. It was still pretty dark, but you could tell the sun was coming up. By 8:05 I was sitting in a camp chair with breakfast of tea, bread, ham, cheese, local marmalade and guava juice. It was wonderful.
Early impressions of Easter Island are;
It is much bigger than I thought
It has much more vegetation than expected
It has loads of horse wandering all over
It has a lot more trees than expected
I knew that the island was made of 3 volcanoes, but was not expecting the other 50 vents and volcanoes that had allowed lava and steam to escape.
The first major site, Ahu Tongariki, was a tomb with 15 statues that had been decimated by the tsunami for 1960. All 15 are back in position thanks to a Japanese Crane manufacturer, but perhaps not in the correct order as no one is really sure what went where. What I have learned on the island and from my reading is that all of the statues were face down after the clan wars of the 18th and 19th centuries. The few sites that have standing Moai (moy i) have all been restored since the 1950’s. Most of the Ahu (pronounced ah who) are still destroyed with the lovely statues face down and broken. Even on the ones that have been put back, you can see where they were cemented back into place.
As I stand in front of the line of faces, it is hard to get a true feeling for their size, as you are not permitted to walk on the Ahu, so at times you are 15-50 feet away from the base of the statues. It was also hard to get a good look as I was facing into the sun. I learned all about how they were made, how to tell if a statue was ever on the Ahu and the ceremonies when they were raised. I was in sight of the volcano Rano Raraku, which is the quarry for all the Moai, but could not see any from where I stood. Only one of the statues at this site had the red Pakoa (pronounced poo cow which might be a hat, hair or crown) on the top of his head. There are 5-8 more Pakoa in the area that have not been put back. I was photographed next to one and I finally have a feeling for the size of the statues, based on the size of this headdress. WOW!
Next off to Ahu Te Pito Kura, for the largest Moai on an Ahu and the navel of the world. This Ahu was where I saw my first fallen Moai. This lovely statue was broken into three parts and the corral and obsidian eyes were pried out. This happened to all the Moai when they were destroyed because the attacking clan felt it would take the Mana away from the people. Mana was given to the Moai by the king and the holy men when they were erected. Mana gave the community a feeling of safety and wellbeing on which they depended. I began to see how the destruction of the statues could bring a feeling of helplessness and despair to the people.
The naval of the world is a perfectly round rock that was supposed to be brought to Rapa Nui with the first king, Hotu Matua. It is surrounded by 4 smaller round rocks in the directions and the main rock has magnetic energy.
According to Jack, when NASA began using EI, they found three areas on the island that had electromagnetic energy. Jack demonstrated this by turning off the car in a certain area, and yet the car climbed the hill without engine or wind assistance. NASA has also built a larger than normal runway as a possible emergency landing site for the space shuttle, as well as placing other atmospheric measuring equipment on the island.
Next to the beach of Ovahe, which was absolutely deserted except for Coti and I. Quen and I had our pictures taken and I dipped my toes into the Pacific. It was pleasantly cool and not as cold at the dip I took in Peru, which has an Antarctic current.
Then on to the largest beach, Anakena and the royal Ahu. This site was the first to be restored by Thor Heyerdahl (famous for his Kon Tiki expedition in the 1950’s). He had his crew and 20 local men, lift and place one of the fallen Moai using the old techniques of levering it up and placing stones underneath. It took about 20 days to do this. There are 7 Moai on the royal Ahu, 4 with red pukoa all of different shapes. It is wonderful and you could see the white sand and the water just beyond the statues. This is also one of the sites where palm trees have been planted. They were planted in the 1950 and are now sterile. These are not the palms that normally would have been on the island.
This was also my lunch stop and we went to a small shack selling food on the beach. I had a lovely lunch of fish, veggies and potatoes and pineapple juice to drink.
Next we took the road diagonally across the island and stopped in a eucalyptus grove for a coffee and cookies. Eucalytpus is another tree that was brought to the island in the 50’s. It also is hard on the land and as they go forward, these trees will not be replanted.
One of the festival competitions that was going on was the triathlon in the crater at Rano Raraku, the quarry. Coti and I climbed up the hill, in the heat and sun, and looked down into the crater. We got there just as the competition started. In reed boats made my the contestants, the men would row across the lake trying to be first and obstructing the path of other men trying to be first. As they get to the shore, they jumped out of the boats with their oar, dropped the oar, picked up a yoke of two bunches of banana’s and began to run counter clockwise around the lake to where they had put the boats in. Did I mention they are only in a loincloth, body paint and tattoos? The guy who was first out of the water, was overtaken just as part three began where they drop the bananas, pick up a reed raft they made themselves, and do the final leg where they swim across the lake on the rafts to the finish. I can’t remember who won, but the whole event took less than 25 minutes to complete. The field was 8 men and the boys competition followed.
Coti and I returned to the car and at this point, I decided that I would take a second day tour in order to do the quarry with less people and better temperatures.
Next we came to Ahu Akivi where there are 7 standing Moai. At this site, all the Moai face the sea, whereas at all the other Ahu’s, the Moai face away from the sea and over the land they are supposed to protect. An American Mulloy and a Chilean Figuora reconstructed this site in the 1960. It was determined that this site had astrological significance and was perfectly lined up the light during the solstices. This pair of archeologists also determined that all the Ahu’s were lined up with great astrological precision.
Quen and I also had the opportunity to enter one of the many caves. It was a welcome change because it was out of the sun and cool. The three volcano’s left the island full of lava and porous caves, which is why even though it rains a lot, the fresh water filters quickly away. The cave was interesting and we entered in one area, and exited from a small hole in the back. Without Jack, there is no way I would have made it out of the hole. During the clan war and the time when Peru and Chile were raiding the islands for slaves, the islanders lived in the caves to hide.
Next we went to the second Volcano, Rano Kao, and looked down into the crater. It was amazing and very close to the sea. The walls were very steep and had fruit trees and crops growing. The islanders learned that the volcano’s craters formed a perfect microclimate for crops and began farming in small stone circles to protect the crops.
The final destination today was the village of Orongo, on the backside of the volcano and high in the cliffs on the southern side of the island. For several weeks of the year, the people lived in circular houses on the cliffs and prepared for the birdman competition. Men would climb down the cliff, swim to the bigger of two small islands to the south and wait for a smoky terns to lay eggs. Then, the men would repeat the journey back to Rapa Nui with the egg in a headband on their forehead. The first one back with a complete egg and was able to hand it over to the priest won. Did I mention shark invested waters and possibly having to wait up to a week to be able to procure an egg? The last of these competitions was in the last 1800’s and now is illegal.
By this part of the trip, I was pooped with the heat and sun. I was happy to come back to the residential and take a cool shower and find dinner.
Before dinner, I went to the western most part of the city and sat looking at the ocean and watching the waves crash. There were body surfers and the temperature was just right.
It was a perfect way to end my first full day on Easter Island.
Sunday, Feb 12
I managed to set my alarm the previous night, so I had ample time to get ready to leave. As I knew we would be going back into the crater, I opted for my hiking boots instead of sandals.
It was very over cast, which was fine by me because the sun really did me in the previous day. As we sat on the coast with breakfast again, from the clouds on the horizon, we knew that we would not see the sun rise and might get rain instead.
The quarry at Rano Raraku was what I most wanted to see. On the island, almost 300 Maoi were originally placed on the altars. Another 500+ Moai are at the quarry, some of them still in position to be carved, as if the artisans are simply on break and will be back in a minute. When you arrive at the site, you see over 40 heads dotting the hillside, some leaning to one site, some face down, some on their backs, and some with just a little of their head showing. I don’t know why, but this site was the most impressive to me. You should see the largest one, El Gigante, which weighs over 90 tons.
We walked all over the face of the volcano and saw many places where 4 Maoi were all being worked on simultaneously in very close proximity. Then we went over the volcano wall and into the crater where there were more Moai. I found it hard to believe anyone would want to carve one inside the crater considering you would have to send it down the hill, then over the volcano crater lip, then down the side of the volcano to the new destination. We sat on edge of the crater that faces the sea and overlooked the site from yesterday with the 15 Maoi.
The wind was fierce and cool as the clouds rolled past. As we sat there, there were birds flying overhead and riding on the wind currents. Easter Island seems to have three types of birds, pigeons, red hawks and a small sparrow size bird that has lots of blue and gray. While we sat on the edge, a feather from a hawk fell from the sky. I picked it up and thought I would carry it with me throughout the year. (MORE ON THIS LATER).
Just as we were leaving Rano Raraku, the sun finally broke (10:30 am) and the first tourist arrived. Jack and his amazing timing strikes again.
Next we went to the quarry where the red topknots where carved. Although there were over 200 Moai in place, only 90 topknots or Pakoa were ever quarried. Archeologists don’t know for sure their meaning and they also feel that this was a later development. There were different stages and styles of Moai during the 400+ years they were used by the society. It appeared that they kept getting larger and larger as time wore on and the wars between the clans began. Maybe El Gigante, was supposed to be so inspiring, that the wars would stop. (Jane’s theory!)
There was another cave to explore and this one had a stone bed that would have been covered with plant materials and leaves. By the end of the 1800’s,the society had been so depleted and downtrodden, most of them were living in the caves. Add on top of that most of the rulers and wise men had been taken away (with most of the oral traditions and written languages with them) it appears that the remaining people could not tell the explores why the Moai where even there. That is why Easter Island is still such a mystery and the scientists can only make educated guessed on the meanings, the society and their culture.
One of the festivals most interesting events would happen this afternoon so Coti and I got in the car and went to a hillside I had passed yesterday. It was a huge hill with no trees on one face and a worn path in the middle of the hill. The competition is where men (sometimes boys and women as well), lay on their back on two banana tree trucks that have been tied together. They latch in one foot and hold on to handles on the side, and in this position, they slide down the hill that is at a 45-degree angle and where they can reach up to 80 km/hour. All this is done again wearing loincloths, tattoos and body paint.
Coti and I arrived and set up our camp chairs, pulled out our water bottles, put up my umbrella and waited for the festivities to begin. We had to wait awhile as the ambulance we passed as we arrived had to come back before the competition would begin. Previous competitions had serious injuries with broken legs. I had a wonderful time watching the crowd come and go and see the family dynamics at work. These are a handsome people and I so envy the women with their gorgeous long black hair. There were lots of tall spindly weeds ending in a flower, and several of the ladies where braiding them into lovely headdresses. Family members where collecting the weeds and bring them to the craftswomen.
The first two contestants were boys ages 11 and 13. I had thought they would go down the track in the middle of the mountain, but they all ended up going to the right of it through the grass. There had been lots of rain during the night, which might have made it too dangerous. Both boys made it with no problems and were cheered loudly.
There were 13 adult participants and most started off with no problems. At times, some of the sleds would slow down, so you would see the rider raise his torso off the sled in an attempt to pump the sled down the hill. There were different techniques with the legs, some were up in a V, some had their knees bent with their feet on the raft, but most came down with the legs straight in front of them. By the time they were at the bottom of the hill, most of the men would stand up on their sled and then jump off and run down the hill shouting and dancing, probably happy that is was over and that they were alive. One man only made it half way down before he slipped off the sled and went hind-end-over-tea-kettle along with the sled down the hill. He managed to stop and stood on the hill and gave us the I am okay sign. All the guys who had already finished met him at the bottom of the hill with hugs and congratulations.
The final contestant was a woman, who just like the men, came down the hill and made it successfully. She got the loudest ovation, even though she did not have the fastest time, and both Coti and I were glad that no one needed the ambulance. One of the successful contestants walked past us and I got a nice view of the body paint. Lovely eye candy! The men were about my height, medium framed and muscular. Very nice!
Coti took me to see the last three Ahu sites with standing Moai that were close to village. These were very impressive sites, all close to one another one, one with 5 Moai and two with single Moai’s. One of the single Moai had been reconstructed with the white corral eyes and the dark pupil. When I looked at the Moai from a distance, I thought he looked sad. Apparently, all the standing Moai at one time had these eyes, but when they were destroyed, the eyes were pried out and carried away.
I was again pooped and was happy to come back to the residence.
I went off to find dinner at a wonderful café called Café Taa that had been recommended by the residential. They also had Internet access, albeit on the German language keyboard, so some of the letters were AWOL for a time. My apologies for anyone who had e-mail that night. Dinner was scrumptious with gazpacho and a fabulous fruit salad. During dinner, the monsoon and torrential rains began, but by the time I walked home, no problem.
Monday, Feb 13
I SLEPT IN TODAY! YAAAAAAAAH! It was so much fun.
There was the agricultural part of the festival today where each of the competing families would bring in their produce to be weighed. It was amazing! Tubers that I never understood what they were, pumpkins that make ours look puny, huge stalks of bananas, pineapples and sugar cane, all to be weighed.
I had an adventure at the bank to get money out of my Visa account. I love doing everyday things in a different culture. It is very informative and interesting.
Cecelia graciously agreed to wash my clothes, as the items I wore for the last two days were dust streaked and VERY smelly. The simple pleasure of freshly laundered clothes is one of the many things I am thankful for. I spent the afternoon catching up on my blog during the heat of the day and intended to nap so that I could enjoy the evening dance spectacular at the festival.
Jack tells me that he had talked to the priest of the village about the new parochial school that will be finished in March. They are looking for English teachers and will pay people to come. Jack has offered me his house to stay in, as he will be in China for 6 months studying at a monastery with his 3-year-old daughter and adopting two other girls from China. I am to contact him after I get back to the US, if I am still interested. One option for 2007.
Two new people, in addition to the mom/daughter team of Victoria and Pilar from Chile, are David and Jenny from England. They are lovely and are doing a 6-month journey around the world. David has quit his job at the bank and Jenny has a job to go back to, if she wants it. The jury is still out.
The lights at our residential went out at 9:15, so we sat in the dark and chatted until it was time to go the festival. David, Jenny and I headed out with flashlights in hand, but the almost full moon also helped us along. As the sidewalks tend to end abruptly in places and where you would end up in a trough, we walked down the middle of the street. The entire village was without power, but the dance area must have had a back up generator as it was partially lit. The dancing began at 10pm and we ended up eating dinner at the site. We had kebabs of supposed chicken, but ended up being pork and chicken.
All of the seats were taken so we stood and watched. Lovely women doing hula type movements with their hips (I swear that Polynesian women have an extra joint or hinge in their pelvis!) As Jenny and David had a 7:30 appointment with Jack, we made it an early evening.
Tuesday, February 14
My last day in Easter Island, and I left feeling a little sad, but also that I had seen what I had come to see. I did walk to the museum to see the replicas of the written language of the people. Only replicas were on display, but they were interesting. Very few of the originals exist and since they represent concepts and not actual words, and the wise men were taken away, they cannot be transcribed at this point. I also did a little shopping and walked around the village.
Let me describe the village.
The streets are on a partial grid of about10 streets North to South and about 6-8 East to West. The airport makes up the southern border. The streets have lots of trees with vegetation, so unless you are a block away, you don’t see the shore line. There are bananas, and other fruit trees all over as well as the ubiquitous bougainvillea in all sorts of color. The poinsettia trees were well over 6 feet in height, looked a little spindly, but you could not miss the red leaves.
It is tropical and when the wind is not strong, humid. I am here at the hottest time of the year and Jack assured me that after the summer, the temperate is really very nice for the rest of the year. I will need to return during a different month next time and see. OH yes, I will be back, because the statues are just too interesting.
Horses roam not only all over town, but also in the surrounding areas so you need to watch where you walk, no matter where you are. It is not uncommon to hear the clatter of hooves on the pavement behind you, or coming down the street at all hours of the day. At one point, a horse with two riders was cantering down the street. As they approached one house, three dogs leapt into the street barking at them. Rider number two kept shouting HI HI HI trying to shoo them away. As that pack moved back to their house and the horse proceeded I could tell when the next pack found them form the Hi HI HI I heard in the distance. Most of the dogs are owned and let you know in no uncertain terms if you are approaching their perimeter.
One afternoon when Victoria, Pilar and I were walking down town, we were met on the sidewalk by a kitten around 4 weeks old. He was timid, but responded to petting. We left him and I asked Francis and Lillith to take care of the little mite. Luckily, he was not around when I returned several hours later.
There are 3800 permanent residents on the entire island, including one polish man. I don’t have a clear picture, but I think it is 40% islanders and 60% from the mainland, predominantly Chile. Is it a small community, so everybody knows everyone else. You can pretty much do what you want and no one minds.
Cecilia told me that my flight was delayed, so I didn’t even go to the airport until 2pm. As the plane was delayed, we all received vouchers for a sandwich and drink. I took the drink, but I had just finished my favorite lunch from EI, an empanada, chips and coke, so I was full.
I had an aisle seat, not my favorite, but oh well. As the flight was only 4 hours due to the excellent tail winds, we landed about 10:30 Santiago time. I shared a cab with two other girls to the center of town and I got to Hotel Paris before midnight.
Wednesday, Feb 15
Today I went to Auckland en route to Bangkok.
By the end of the day, I had learned the following.
1. Think twice before you book a budget hotel. The room was fine, bed was clean, and I was safe. End of story.
2. FedEx, DHL and the Chilean post office will not send food, candy, coffee or alcohol to the US. Our customs officials don’t allow it. Hence, those items stayed in the backpack waiting to get back to the room.
3. If you stuff your backpack into a locked at a museum, having dropped it on the floor first, you are likely to find when you return to the locker, liquid dripping out of it.
4. When you get the nudge from the universe to dump the aforementioned items you have been carrying since PERU, DO IT!
5. When you call the reconfirm your flight, ASK FOR A WINDOW SEAT.
6. Even when you have asked for a window seat, arrive at the airport early and ask for a window seat. If you do not get a window seat, ask again to a different agent.
7. Once you have cleared security and are in the gate area, find the customer service counter for your airline and check on something about your flight. ASK again for a window seat. THREE ASKS IS THE CHARM!
Suffice it to say that I am in Auckland, at a Comfort Inn that has a washing machine in the room. I AM IN HEAVEN and all is clean around me. Next entry, from Bangkok.