Hotel Taura’a Fake MoaiThe power is out when we wake up around 6 am. Easter Island is powered by diesel that runs generators and they can be finicky. It’s still inky dark outside so we snooze a bit more. By the time we are ready to face the day, the power is back.
Overnight, our travel exhaustion conquered the non-stop barking dogs and cock-a-doodle-dooing roosters. The usual first night sleeping in a strange place bugaboo apparently didn’t even bother to show up as we wake up rested.
I enjoy a breakfast that includes thin crepe-like banana pancakes wrapped around a grilled banana. There’s more fruit, French press coffee and a smoothie made from fresh guava, banana, mango and a touch of watermelon. Mike opts for granola instead of the pancakes.
Our tourist companions from yesterday and China, our guide, meet up with us for an all day tour. We will start on the south coast and end up on the northeast end of the island. There are eight of us in her group and two other Spanish-speaking guys with another guide, so today we have a van. Yesterday we were in smaller SUVs. I, of course, get the seat with heat blowing on my feet next to a window that does not open. I am sweltering.
Yesterday, I borrowed a hat from Edith, Hotel Taura’a owner, but the wind was so brisk, it wouldn’t stay on my head. Mike and I are both getting fried. We need better head coverings before we do anything.
A quick hike a few blocks down the hill takes us to the supermercado on the corner. Half of the building has food and the other is filled with vendor stalls selling souvenirs. Not everyone is open yet. We have three minutes to find something and buy it.
A sweet woman who doesn’t speak any English comes to our aid. We pantomime that we need head covering. The first hat I try on fits. Sold! It screams tourist but I buy it anyway because it has a wider brim. ($8 US/$4.000 CLP)
Then we address Mike’s mucho mas gigante cabeza. None of the pinhead hats fit him. We all share a quick laugh as we race through the open stalls in search of a solution. He ends up buying a small pareo to wrap around his head Lawrence of Arabia style for $14 US/ $7.000 CLP. I’m digging the marauding pirate look. Plus, it’s bright orange with flowers and bigger heads than his on it so he’ll be easy to pick out in a crowd.
Monday is moai day. Our first stop is Vaihu. Like yesterday at Vinapu, more moai lay face down, this time by the crashing sea. I don’t know what it is but I find them fascinating. It looks like a moai massacre. Eight of these guys are still where they fell. The round topknots rolled away from their heads. Two had to be fished out of the bay.
Was it the lack of food and resources that pissed everyone off enough to topple these titans? How did they do it? It’s hard to imagine that they just snuck in and pushed them over. Didn’t somebody see them doing it? Why didn’t they stop them? “Nobody knows” but I want facts!
In front of the ahu is a circle of stones. It’s called paina after a ceremonial ritual of the same name that took place on this spot. Someone asks a question and we hear the familiar answer that “nobody knows” all of the details. Obviously this amuses both Mike and me and he mouths the familiar saying.
Our next stop at Akahanga has several interesting attractions. First we run the gauntlet of souvenir stands by the entrance. Unlike the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, Egypt, these vendors are not pushy. They are available to answer questions but don’t accost people as they walk by.
We stop for a few moments as China explains the replicas of the rongorongo tablets. None of the few existing real ones are on the island, long scattered to museums and private collections. No one has been able to translate the language but it is known that to read it, you start in the bottom left-hand corner reading left to right. At the end of that line, rotate the tablet 180 degrees and start on the next line. This reading style is called reverse boustrophedon. Try to say that three times fast or even once slowly.
A better comparison would be when editing photos on a computer, to start at the top of the picture, then, for the next line, rotate the pic two clicks and read the next line. Continue doing this to read the whole document.
I am interested in some moai magnets that, I’m told are $1.000 CLP ($2) each but when I reach for the one I want, I am told that those are more expensive at $2.000 ($4) each. Nope! They’re not that nice. I walk away and the vendor doesn’t try to stop me to bargain.
Just past the vendors’ tables, there are remnants of boat houses. They are called that not because they were for boat storage, but because they were low to the ground and resembled upside-down boats. That theme is used over and over throughout the island architecture. Our first encounter is the entrance to the arrivals area at the airport.
There is a cluster of ovens or umus near the houses. Maybe it was a communal kitchen. One of the interesting things is that the ovens all over the island are always made of 5 large stones.
Next we walk to the cave on the hill. This is a one-room affair but it has a killer view of the ahu and the ocean. Free-range horses are grazing nearby. This little place might have been used for rituals, to hide from slave traders or for storage. I’ve read and heard a few theories.
We turn our attention to the rocky bay with waves crashing high in the air. On our way down towards the water, we pass a huge moai that is face down in the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” position. Amazing!
A few more steps and a whole ahu of toppled moai are straddling the platform, with their pukaus on the ground. Another moai rests in circle of stones. I am truly fascinated that these giants were pushed face down. They look like the end of a wild night at a college frat party. The only thing missing are the empty beer cans and chips bags.
In my opinion, the highlight of the island is Rano Raraku – the quarry. From the approach, we see a stony facade to the east and a grassy hillside to the south. As we get closer, it looks like big boulders are hanging on that hillside. Then it becomes clear that those boulders are moai in various stages of birth. Magnificent! I can’t wait to get up there and walk amongst these silent giants.
But first, nature calls. This is the only place we’ve stopped that has bathrooms. I dash in because I have been slurping down bottles of water. The fact that we’ve been told we need to pay $.500 CLP ($1 US) goes in one ear and out the other. I am on a mission and I’m not stopping for anyone.
There’s a small kiosk just past the ladies’ room door where they are selling rain jackets and a few other things so it never dawns on me that I should have paid to pee. And no one says a word going in or coming out.
It’s an easy walk uphill on a mostly flat path, taking no more than 10 minutes to be surrounded by the moai. They are everywhere! Some are in a reclining position, others are poking out of the ground every which way. I try to keep in mind that these have bodies that are buried underground. One of the most famous ones is at an odd angle, looking slightly quizzical. I am smitten.
There are quite a few other tourists here; my guess would be around 75 of us spread out in the park at this time. Not the giant crowds of the Louvre in Paris but enough that it’s hard to get a clean shot of the stony faces.
We hike up a skinny, treacherous stairway to find a couple heads in a half-finished phase of being carved from the mountainside. One face is on the left and the other on the right. We can see that this was a moai factory.
Three-hundred ninety-seven catalogued moai in various states of completion remain in the quarry. All we can do is wonder how many people were working here at the height of manufacturing because “nobody knows.”
A bit further up is the largest moai ever found. He is 71 feet long and is estimated to tips the scales at 270 tons. It’s pretty obvious that he is still emerging from the stone around him. A work in progress now at a standstill. Or lie still.
Then there is Tukuturi. He is the different moai, thought to be the last one made. Kneeling and with a beard, he looks nothing like the rest of the statues. He’s made from the same red scoria stone that the pukau or topknots are, meaning he was brought here from the other side of the island. “Nobody knows” why.
The final jaw dropping surprise is just beyond Tukuturi. On the shore in the distance, we catch our first glimpse of Ahu Tongariki. This is the ahu on the beach with 15 restored, upright moai. Wow! Words escape us. Tongariki is our next stop.
Then we spy the building with the souvenirs. The girls just have to shop. The guys join in too. Mike finds a pair of yellow touristy island pants for me that might keep the sun off my burning legs. I gladly fork over $10.000 CLP ($20 US) for them knowing I can use them for my Pilates class if not on the island. Great fashionista that I am, I believe it’s crass to wear souvenir clothing in the location where it is purchased.
I also get a deal on those moai magnets that I walked away from at Akahanga. For $5.000 ($10 US) I have 4 different magnet heads instead of $6 for one. These make great small gifts – easy to pack and very inexpensive. Lastly, there’s a mini moai for Mike for $6.000 ($12 US).
Everyone piles back into the van. Stomachs are audibly rumbling so we break out our bags of cashews. All I can say is that they are lifesavers! China promises us a chance to have lunch on the beach at Anakena but we have a couple of stops before we get there.
It’s a different drive down the dusty dirt road leaving Rano Raraku. No longer are those boulders poking up out of the ground. They are faces of people who walked this island hundreds of years before. All have slightly different expressions and features. I could stay in this magnificent national park for hours. We vow to come back tomorrow when we have a car.
We turn left off of Rano Raraku’s road and onto a more rutted dirt road. It’s a short drive to Ahu Tongariki but it seems so much longer because of bumps. The van driver drops us off at the parking lot on the south side of the ahu. We will meet him at the lot on the other side so we won’t have to backtrack.
I have seen numerous pictures of Tongariki but they are always of the 15 restored moai. I never imagined that there is a lone guy standing near the entrance and another on the ground in the field in front of the large ahu.
As we make our way to the grounds we come upon yet another rickety turnstile gate. They remind me of something out of a Monty Python movie or the toll plaza with no purpose in the movie Blazing Saddles. Thinking about it later, I’m guessing that it helps to keep the free-roaming horses and cows away from the artifacts. But that theory is shot when I look at pictures and see tiny horses in the background by the ocean. Somebody “probably knows” why they are there but this intrepid traveler failed to ask the question.
It’s mid afternoon and us kids in the car are getting cranky because we are all really hungry. We have one more stop before lunch. Enduring another bumpy ride we make a quick stop at Ahu Te Pito Kura, the allegedly magnetic navel of the world. Okay, it’s not really a belly button. It’s a
smooth round rock that is said to have mana or magic powers. A bunch of guides whip out compasses and they act a bit weird, but those of us with digital iPhone compass apps don’t see anything out of the ordinary. Skeptics that don’t go for the mana theory might explain that because it is volcanic rock it has a high iron content and that’s what makes the compasses go wonky.
Nearby is a moai known as Paro. This is the largest moai ever transported from Rano Raraku weighing around 100 tons or 200,000 pounds! He was still standing when a French explorer visited the island in 1838. Now he is face down with his topknot near his head. I wonder if he was pushed or if he just lost his balance and fell. “Nobody knows.”
Finally, at 3:30 we pull into the parking lot of the South Pacific beach of Anakena. We ignore the three ahus and all of the moai at the moment and make a beeline to the empanada stands. Two of three are open. The first one sells only empanadas. The choices are cheese, tuna & cheese or shrimp & cheese. Not being a big fan of cheese, I walk on to the next stand.
Some of the group have beaten me there and are already chowing down on skewers of grilled pork and sausage. Works for me. I order a skewer and a soda and join some of our group at a covered picnic table. The pork is good, but the sausage is not my favorite. The aji pepper sauce that’s on the table adds a really nice kick to the meat. This is enough to hold me over until dinner.
Mike is wary of the cooking conditions and normally is not in the habit of eating much meat or fried foods so he goes for the healthy option of two small bags of chips. The first one is potato chips and they are just fine. The second bag contains pale thin imitation Cheetos and is inedible.
Fellow travelers George and Elaine get lunch from the empanadas stand. They say the empanadas are so delicious that they will come back again tomorrow.
The many stray dogs are well fed. They get all of the leftovers. The woman running the skewer stand takes our uneaten portions and combines the leftover scraps of meat onto one plate. She then throws the scraps into the air. The dogs are on cleanup duty. No ribs showing on these pups.
When we are finished eating we go back to the counter to pay for our meals. There are no prices so we have no idea how much we spent. As hungry as I was, I am ready to pay any ransom for food. Happily, my tab is a reasonable $4.500 CLP or about $9 US.
With food in our bellies we can focus on our surroundings. The Spanish-speaking guys in our group planned to go paragliding from the top of the big hills to the south. Unfortunately, the wind isn’t right and prevents them from soaring above the moai. We feel bad for them and a bit jealous. We didn’t know this was an option.
And I cannot stand in the sun for another moment. I am fried. I try to get some pictures from the skinny slivers of shade from the palm trees that were brought here from Polynesia in the 60’s. There is no way I can walk out on the white beach sand without the rays reflecting back onto my skin.
Instead, we walk over to the building where there are changing rooms and toilets ($.5000 CLP). They sell a few souvenirs but more importantly I am looking for burn relief. I happily buy some Banana Boat Aloe Mist for an outrageous $8.400 CLP (about $17 US) but it is vitally necessary at the moment. The sticky spray seems to help a bit but this doesn’t look like any ordinary sunburn. I am afraid I have sun poisoning.
As someone used to the sun, spending my teens and early 20s in Florida, I always thought I could handle it, being careful to wear sunscreen. Then I went to Hawaii and got sun poisoning on my first day while sitting at the hotel pool on a drizzly day. I was really sick for that whole trip. I am worried about a repeat and not particularly looking forward to 20+ hours of sitting on planes and in airports with sad skin.
China has been telling us that in addition to being vice president of the island’s tourism group and guiding tours, she also has a restaurant. She sources mostly local ingredients including fresh caught fish. Good marketing China – this ravenous group is sold. Ten of us make plans to dine there.
Her place in Hanga Roa is called Restaurant Manuia. Our group takes three of the five tables on this rustic deck overlooking the colorful cemetery across the street and the ocean in the distance. A drink called a Pisco Sour is a must.
The Brits got here before us and have already ordered. James gets the Ceviche Vaikava ($8.000 CLP) made with super fresh yellowfin tuna, cucumbers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, lemon juice and pepper. On the side are a few fried sweet potatoes and some rice.
Liz has the Tropical Salad with shrimp. It has local vegetables, pineapple chunks, green onion and a ginger dressing for $8.500 CLP. Both look delicious but we are really hungry and want something more substantial than a salad and some raw fish.
Things on the menu listed as appetizers turn out to be the size of an entrée. Mike and I want to try the ceviche because neither of us has ever tried it. Looking at James’ plate, we decide that it’s way too much food in addition to the Pasta Thai that’s calling to both of us.
China’s solution is to give us a half order of the ceviche and charge us half the price. When it comes, I think we could have polished off a whole order. It is that good. And talk about fresh, as we are waiting for our food, a man delivers a fresh off the boat yellowfin tuna. Yum!
Our Pasta Thai arrives with rice noodles that are light but filling. They are topped with shrimp, sautéed veggies, spicy curry paste, and coconut milk for ($9.900 CLP). It’s good but not a home run. The ceviche has already hit the ball out of the park and it’s really hard to compete with that.
Elaine seems happy with her cheesy shrimp chowder ($8.5000). China had warned her that despite the name, it’s not really a soup in the classic sense. It’s listed on the menu under “Hot Entrees.” George has some of that very fresh tuna.
Gloria and Wolfgang go for steaks. Gloria orders the simply named Beef, which is a steak with rosemary and wine sauce for $9.800 CLP. When it comes out less than incinerated, Gloria sends it back for more time on the fire. Wolfgang’s Poor Man’s Beef is a steak, French fries and onions under a fried egg for $9.500 CLP.
The final dinner damage includes a half order of ceviche, 2 Thai Shrimp, 2 pisco sours, 2 beers for a total of $34.600 or $70 US including tip. I think that’s a really good deal for all of the food and drinks we consumed.
The relaxed island service is on the slow side so we practically run down the street to make the 9:00 Rapa Nui music and dance show at Maori Tupuna. China has reserved seats in the first two rows for us. Tickets are $20 US/$10.000 CLP each. We are definitely late but the show has not yet started. We conclude that because everyone is so tight on this island, they held the show until we arrived rather than start and have us disruptively file into this intimate setting.
I would love to know more of the story behind the dances. In spite of a quick English remark at the beginning that tells us it represents the history of Rapa Nui, we are clueless as to what is going on. But even without knowing the story, it’s a really good show. The music is incredibly good. Mix that with good-looking, athletic dancers and revealing costumes. Ooh-la-la. It’s a great way to end a fantastic day.
Wolfgang and Gloria give us lift back to our hotel. On the way, we stop so they can get money from the ATM at one of the two banks. We’ve all heard that the machines can be finicky or empty. Everything is in Spanish but they manage to press the right buttons and walk away with the requested amount of pesos. Language is rarely a barrier for English speakers on this island paradise.
Hopefully the dogs and the roosters have had a long day and will let us get some sleep tonight. In case they didn’t, I’m going to try using the earplugs I brought along. There is still so much to see. I want to be ready to take on the day.
Still to Come: Solitude at the quarry and frightened by furry things in the dark!