Day 12: Rapa Nui

July 10, 2019

The morning sunrise continues to both amaze and awaken us. We have our breakfast routine down pat and even had time for a much-needed second cappuccino. It took us to our last full day at an Explora hotel, but we finally achieved “private tour” status by being the only ones on both of today’s explorations.

Easter Island sunrise

We met our guide Nico at the map and drove west to Ahu Tahira, a moai platform where the statues are made from basalt, and even feature a female moai. Nico explained the key influences that changed the culture of the island in the 1700s when European explorers made first (recorded) contact with the Rapa Nui people. Nico showed us the uniform shape and clean lines of the platform which is why some people believe this particular ahu was made by the Incas (but Nico doesn’t really buy that theory).

Moai hide and seek


Top knots are the new pot of gold

From this platform, we started our hike towards Rano Kau crater. We had a little rain to start, but the weather soon cleared. After all, Nico said it is “rainbow season.” We had a great view of the coastline behind us and didn’t see any other people on the way.

Good thing the animals aren’t this nimble


Hiking up to the rim of the crater

When we reached the rim of the crater, we had a stunning view. We could see the entire rim, the lake within its basin, and the tiny islands off the coast. We circled the crater and ended up in Orongo, the ancient ceremonial village where the Birdman competition took place.

The Birdman islands from the rim of the crater


Reached the top


Steep walls keep most things out of the crater… or in it


We found a use for the fisheye lens!


Navigating the aggressive vegetation


Island crater life is ruff

For almost five centuries (until the 1860s), the Birdman competition took place once a year, during the first two weeks of September. One tribute from each district (aka villages) would climb down the side of the crater, swim nearly one mile to the far island, climb up the rocks of the island, and wait for a Sooty Tern to lay an egg. They would then gather the egg, tie it to their head in a reed basket, swim back, climb back up the steep, rocky cliff face on the main island, and present the egg to the elders. If he succeeded, his tribe’s leader would become the king for the next year. A few years ago, Red Bull came to the island to scope out the route to potentially host a Birdman-inspired competition, but finally determined that it was WAY TOO dangerous. That’s right, Red Bull – the company that condones people going off Niagra Falls in kayaks – found it too dangerous.

Bird-inspired carvings in Orongo


Tight quarters but you’re paying for the location

We returned to Explora for lunch and a quick break with delicious cocktails, including what can best be described as a tropical Moscow mule (obviously not the official name). For our afternoon exploration, Sebastian was our guide (same as Monday), and we headed to Rano Raraku, the quarry where the moai were cut and carved. Our approach to the quarry followed one of the three moai transport routes the Rapa Nui used to move the statues around the island. Legend has it the moai “walked” to their platforms, much the same way a Weeble would. Statues often fell in transport and were abandoned, as this loss of mana, or spiritual power, was not covered under the warranty.

Impersonating the rare face-up fallen roadside moai


Nice hands, but not meant to be

As we walked around the quarry with a few other tourists, we got an up close and personal look at moai in various states of construction. The quarry itself has some of the most iconic images when you think of Easter Island. The many moai heads that are buried in the ground are full statues (with bodies and all) that were intentionally moved down the hill into cup-holder type pits so the carvers could work on detailing their backs. When the tradition of carving moai ceased, the statues remained in their pits, which filled in over time, leaving the buried statues we see today.

Moai in various stages of completion


Demonstrating the hidden bodies of these moai


The strong, silent type

Many of the statues at the quarry have more details than the ones we see on the platforms. Some have red body paint, tattoos, and/or ear piercings that match the person the statue represents. We also learned that the word moai literally means statue, and is the proper term to use before it reaches the platform. Once they make it, the true name is aringa ora o koro, meaning “the living face of our ancestors” as they now embody the spirit of an important, deceased, tribe member. The quarry also holds a few ginormous statues, that were apparently too large to move. Somebody obviously bet a carver that they couldn’t make a Godzilla-sized moai and the carver had to prove him wrong, but didn’t say anything about moving them.

Carved from the right tuff


Leaving so soon?

The park closed and we made our way back to the hotel for a sauna and jump in the cold pool to refresh. We enjoyed dinner and have every intention of going to sleep on the earlier side so tomorrow we can see the sun rise over Ahu One Makihi, a platform with 15 statues, before we head to the airport and fly back to Santiago.

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