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easter island


From chilly Patagonia, we caught a couple planes. Two days later we were in tropical Easter Island.

Easter Island was a huge surprise. We expected to wander around and see the Moais (giant statues carved from volcanic stone) standing on their altars. We didn't know the island would prove so interesting.

We stayed with a Rapa Nui family at Cabanas Vaianny. Theresa Tepano welcomed us at the airport with polynesian flowers, and gave us a very good breakfast each morning. We enjoyed seeing Theresa's large family come and go, and the loving attention given babies and children.

We are welcomed to Easter Island with flower leis,

by our kind hostess Theresa Tepano of Cabanas Vaianny.

Fellow guests from Lisbon let Dave drive their ATV.

Early Rapa Nui built these stone corrals to hold moisture for plants.

We climb down to a bay with crashing surf...

where ancient bird paintings grace a cave wall.

We hike upward to the volcano rim to visit Orongo.

... far above the town of Hanga Roa.

Finally we reach the crater rim.

In the distance are the birdman motus.

The furthest island is the motu where the birdmen swam to await the return of the nesting frigates. The first one back to the island with an intact egg won chiefdom for a year for his tribe.

Easter Island was peopled by the birdman cult, later than the people that carved the moai. The birdmen tribes carved thousands of petroglyphs and left cave paintings in lava tube caves. Every spring each tribe designated a man to swim to a bird rookery on a motu, where they huddled in caves to await the return of the sooty tern, and later when those did not come, the frigates. The first man to return to the island with the first egg of the season intact determined which tribe would rule for the next year. A ceremonial village at Orongo high on the crater's rim was used only in the spring, for the annual birdman ceremony.

His tribe's leaders waited ashore in these ceremonial round houses...

This cutaway shows the arched roof contstruction from flat stone.

Tiny doorway into Orongo round house.

Nearby petroglyphs show the birdman symbol.

There are hundreds of rock carvings.

This face guards a round house door.

Many of the birdmen appear to be diving.

On the way home Dave makes a new friend.

We rented a car and visited the standing Moai, but were more interested in the fallen ones, and the ones in the "nursery". Easter Island has a fascinating history. Pre-Columbian population stood at maybe 10 to 12 thousand, decimated by diseases brought by slavers, whalers, and missionaries to a low of 111 in 1860. This catastrophe resulted in the loss of their written language, so their histroy is fragmented and incomplete. It is known that the island was populated from Polynesia in 300-400 AD. The statues were carved from maybe 500 to 1500, then abruptly halted. Of the nearly 1000 made, only a third made it to their altar destinations. Once erected, their eyes were "opened", insets carved and inlaid with white coral. At this time they were invested with their mana or power.

The Moai stand facing inland, and are thought to be images of ancestors marking tribal boundaries.

In the 1700s and 1800s the Moai were toppled from their altars, and their white coral eyes removed and shattered. Much later some were re-erected, only to be toppled again by a tsumani that hit Tongariku.

This single moai guards the island's tiny harbor...

while his buddy naps in the field.

The ruins of "boathouses" are clustered in ancient townsites.

Every so often we come across a moai face in the rubble.

About a hundred years ago the moai were deliberately toppled.

No one knows why.

Occasionally the ahu stonework is as fine as the Incas'.

Cows are free to dine in this outdoor museum.

The toppled moai lie everywhere, usually facedown.

Scoria hat.

Pucker your puss and thrust out your chin to get the Easter Island Look.

We find a cave, created by volcanic vents.

Once inside, you can stand and look out 2 windows at the sea below.

The exit is back through this slot, soon on hands and knees in the dark.

We find a number of other caves, which contain graves, and sometimes exposed human bones.

More petroglyphs lie in fields.

At the island's highest point, Dave adds a stone to the cairn.

Seven moai have been stood back up on this ahu.

At Rangariki, 15 moai mourn this fallen comrade.

Their hats line up nearby.

We come back at daybreak to watch the sunrise.

The Japanese raised these moai, but a tsunami bowled them down. So they had to be raised again.

Usually the hats are left off.

Time and weather are eroding the moai.

Here's a hat-on exception.

A lizard man carving and recycled moai face are in this ahu.

Birdman motus over the crater rim.

We visited the scoria - red lava - quarry where the Moai's hats were carved. 25 still litter the hillside and the crater interior.

The hat quarry.

The moai originally wore what look like red hats, though they have also been described as topknots, or alternatively women's clitorises. Hmmm. The topknots were carved from red scoria, volcanic stone, taken from a separate volcano quarry. Unfinished hats are still in the quarry.

Then we visited the crater where nearly all the Moai were carved, to find hundreds still partially entombed in the hillside, some with only faces carved. They were carved lying face-up until only a "keel" remained down their spines anchoring them to the side of the volcano. Once broken free, they were slid downhill and stood upright in holes for finish work.

No one knows exactly why the Rapa Nui abandoned work on the Moai so suddenly. They simply laid down their tools, and walked away, leaving more in progress than completed.

Buried moai.

Embryo moai. Note Dave standing at base.

Unfinished giant.

Please don't walk on the moai.

The bodies were buried in holes to allow the workmen to finish carving the face details.

Bruse has been to Easter Island in a former life.

Thank goodness for digital cameras...

when the moai are so photogenic.

Keeping a sharp lookout.

A few moai have detailed carvings.

We had fun finding the hidden moai.

Here are a pair under construction.

This small moai lies under the chin of its parent.

We hike inside the crater of the moai nursey...

where we find dozens more.

These are in conference.

Guy on the right sports an earring.

We hiked around and down into craters, and to the top of the island, where we were treated to a 360 degree view of the curving horizon, water everywhere.

We bumped over the worst roads we have ever seen to visit lava tube caves and burial caves.

We enjoyed the small but excellent museum, and enjoyed late lunches at the Queen of the Empanadas.

Easter Island was a treat. This remote island offers so much, including a glimpse of a nearly extinct culture in the Rapa Nui.

After a week of hiking and exploring, it was time to turn homeward... back to Baraka to resume our voyaging.

Time to move on. Fascinating Easter Island will hold special memories.

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