Saturday, December 22, 2012

Island Mysteries, continued.

Now that I've got a more functional keyboard, let's get back to this.

Easter Island.

It was definitely an expensive trip for just a half day, but guys, it's Easter Island.

Few people get to go and see the moai and no one really knows much about them anyway. In a world that's more and more connected through technology and social media, a world where we seem to be losing our wonder, standing on Easter Island, looking at massive stone statues that people moved with just ropes and brute strength, it's fascinating that we can't explain something so seemingly simple. It's nice to know there's some wonder and mystery left in the world and that there are still some answers we can't find on the interwebs.

My taxi driver/tour guide, Alex, is from outside Santiago but has lived on Isla de Pascua (Easter Island in Spanish) for 20-25 years. His English is limited, but it was better than my Spanish, so we managed. He took me first to a site where the moai had been toppled by a tsunami in 1960 and never pulled upright again. Not far from this site, some horses were wandering and grazing. They are everywhere on the island and the preferred mode of transportation as they minimize the impact of tourists on the island. There's a problem with sick horses though as there's some plant on the island that is apparently toxic to the horses, but they eat it anyway and die. We saw several that were very sick or near death and it's incredibly sad. One bolted in front of the taxi and we nearly crashed, so not the way I want to go.

The water is stunningly clear and incredible and the air is also very clean. Alex talked about the pollution in Santiago and said it's not that way on Easter Island. There's only about 5,000 people living there now, apparently less than half are descendants of the native population and most work in tourism from the looks of it. I heard from another traveler that moving to Easter Island is a tough thing to do, but hard to say what the real rules are.

Side note, if you go to Easter Island, which you should, DO NOT walk too close to the moai. They're considered sacred ceremonial sites and it's completely improper and disrespectful to the locals.

The photos do not do justice to the beauty of this place.
We chatted some about my trip and his taxi business. Mostly, I just stared at the blueness of the ocean and the sky and the immenseness of how far from anything I was...and I loved it. Cruising along dirt roads in a rickety Nissan with a local on one of the most mysterious islands on Earth is a far cry from sitting in D.C. traffic trying to get somewhere I don't really want to go and being stressed about nothing all the time. One of my favorite things about travel is the perspective you get when you see how others live with so little and seem so happy and are reminded of real problems and what truly matters to you. Cut off from the world with no cell phone, social media, tv, whatever, you just meet new people, learn about their lives and cultures and feel small in a big world again. It's a good feeling.

We stopped at Rano Raraku, which was the quarry for the moai on the island and has the most moai of any site on the island. It's part of the Rapa Nui National Park and you have to pay to enter, not much, but I opted to just stop on the road and take a photo and stare from there. It's a World Heritage Site and I'm stoked to check another of those off my list. Though I'm just blown away by how they carved these massive statues and hauled them all over the island. I have no idea why they did it, and well, that might be the best part. The big one carved in the mountain in the photo is the largest moai on the island, Alex told me.

I saw people up on the site walking awfully close to the moai, hopefully someone up there set them straight. We hopped back in the car and headed to the next site, which was the one I was most excited to see. Some of the ones in this photo are pretty recognizable, but the next site might be the most iconic of the place.

Ahu Tongariki is amazing. Just amazing. There are 15 moai at this site, with their backs to the ocean, but they face sunset during the summer solstice. The statues were toppled during the island's civil wars from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Many, like those at Ahu Tongariki, have been restored. During the 1960 tsunami, these moai were swept inland and have since been returned to their original positions. There's also a cave nearby that someone actually lives in, which seems crazy, but practical really. Learn more about the moai, the island and the restoration projects here.

I spent quite a bit of time just staring at this site. With the bluest ocean behind it, clear skies and a breeze, it was one of those incredible "I am here" moments.

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