My dream of visiting the land of the Moai came true at the end of 1991. The Bickfords began a Polynesian journey during the Christmas-New Years holidays. Before sharing the tale of our most excellent adventure, I will remain faithful to the structure of my publications by giving you a short background about this tiny dot on the map on the South Pacific. Easter Island - also knows as Rapa Nui or the Navel of the World - is a special Chilean territory annexed in 1888 and is the most remote inhabited island in the world. While we lived in Chile, this island was administrated by the V Region government out of Valparaiso. It appears that as of 2008, the island was negotiating to have its own government. I am not sure how that process is unfolding. Continental Chile is 3,510 km (2,180 mi) to the east and its closest inhabited neighbours live in the Pitcairn Island, only 2,075 km (1,289.35 mi) away. The remaining neighbours are a few uninhabited island such as the famous Robinson Crusoe Island and with its crustaceans and fish. The locals have endured a series of famines, epidemics, civil war, slave raids, colonialism and near deforestation. The island at the time of our visit housed a population of several thousand inhabitants predominantly of native origin. These people were traditionalist and proud of their roots.
Upon our approach to our first Polynesian destination, we could see outside the window of the plane a mix of small hills and volcanic craters all along the almost barren island. The shortest airport runway I had ever seen was built on an incline in order for planes to land and take off without the need of a larger strip. The island itself was particularly small, covering an approximate area of 163 km2 (or 63.1 square mi). The city of Toronto without taking into consideration the greater metropolitan area, accounts for an area of 630 km2 (243.2 sq mi). In short, getting around the island was not a difficult task even when considering the tough natural terrain. My father had booked us on a tour from Santiago, so a representative was at the airport to greet us and take us to the hotel so we could settle in and leave our suitcases. I cannot recall much about the building or its name, but the guest rooms were very basic. The beds seemed similar to those one would find in a hospital and the walls were painted in a solid unfriendly gray. The windows were small. It was the kind of room that encouraged the guests to spend more time trekking through the local attractions and sights. This was exactly what we did. Our first day was primarily a scouting mission to see what was close to our hotel and the main village of Hanga Roa. We walked down to the airport, looked around the capital city in hopes to find a nice restaurant or a market. We did find a quaint artisan shop displaying many hand carved figurines and other souvenirs for passersby to take away a part of the island with them.
The following few days were dedicated to visiting various places throughout the small island. Our tour guide, a young local, came to pick us up early in the morning and he was equipped with either an amazing knowledge of history or a bunch of crafted fairy tales. I was not too concerned about the narration at the time as all I wanted to see were my Moai buddies that I had read about in school. It did not take long to spot the first ones once we were on our way in the tour van. I remember the excitement when that happened and announcing my finding to everyone accompanying us on our activities. These Moais are statues of human beings carved out of the abundant volcanic rock and can date back to the 1200s A.D. The main production centre the ancient tribes used was located inside a crater called Rano Raraku. The slopes of the dormant volcano are completely covered with finished monuments and others stuck in an eternal work in progress. It is difficult to imagine the tools such an isolated civilization could have used to carve the rough material as, aside from the Moai, no other constructions dated back to that same ancient era. What tools were they using for carving these magnificent giants? Why were they obsessed with creating so many of these replicas of man? What was the purpose of these giants? So many questions with answers lost in history. It is amazing to stand in front of these giants who cannot help explain their existence. Their curiously humongous heads are disproportionate to the size of their bodies and the observer can be left to wonder if this was simply an artistic touch or perhaps people came from a different gene pool from the one we are acquainted with today.
There are around 900 statues of different sizes located around the land and others were taken by foreigners to display throughout the world. When I visited the British Museum in London, England, I saw one on display and this brought back many lovely memories I hold of the Rapa Nui people. One of the tallest Moais we saw on this trip measured about 10 metres (33 ft) and weighted close to 80 tons. With such a sparcely populated island, it was difficult to imagine the ancient people moving these monuments from Rano Raraku to different places around the island. Perhaps they came from a similar gene pool as Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our guide mentioned that ancient people used palm tree trunks as rollers under each statue to move these across the island, a reason why there trees appeared to be close to non-existent throughout the island. This seemed a probable argument. Some of the monument building seemed to have been interrupted, such as the biggest structure that could have measured several times more than the biggest Moai. Some of the monuments also sported a classy pukao, which is an indigenous word for a hat. The pukao was also elaborated using volcanic rock. The giants seem to be attempting to communicate with the locals as most of these faced inland. There is only one set of Moais sitting on a large stone platform called ahu, facing outward toward the ocean. This powerful statement from the volcanic protectors was not explained through ancient legend, or at least no ancestor's version of the story survived the passing generations. The carvings and petroglyphs leave even further enigmas regarding the ancient culture or what event forced the abandonment of the projects.
|Brian and I hanging out with a burried Moai|
My family and I appreciated the many sights and we were convinced the time we had was sufficient to gather a full perspective on the island's hotspots. Along the rocky coastline, we settled for a quiet afternoon lunch in Anakena. This place was one of the only sandy beaches in the entire island and had two ahus with Moais protecting the access to the ocean. We sat with our tour group on North American-style picnic tables eating a bag lunch under the hot sun. Afterwards, we walked along the beach, also one of the few areas with palm trees, where Brian and I dipped out feet in the refreshing Pacific Ocean. As we enjoyed the cool water, Brian began looking through the sand searching for new items for his rock collection back home. Dad and I followed suit hoping we could find a great treasure for my brother. Maybe we could find a tiny Moai! During our scavenger hunt, Brian stepped on sharp coral cutting his toe and suddenly the ocean began to show some traces of red. Luckily, Maman was around to wash the wound with the salt water and patch it up with a cloth handkerchief. I remember walking next to Brian lending my shoulder for his support and balance. Maman said it was best he did not walk on the foot so the wound would not get dirty. She would be able to clean out his cut back at our hotel. She always traveled with an emergency kit. After Anakena, we would be off to rest at our hotel and continue onward on our Polynesian adventure. Our newly acquainted Moai friends had to remain behind, except for a small wooden one we bought at an artisan market. He currently watches over my parents' basement in Ottawa, Canada.