Thursday, March 19, 2009
I can still remember the cover of the National Geographic issue. Huge statues on some remote island photographed in the sunset. “Someday I would like to see those statues” I thought. But the location of “those” statues, Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua or Easter Island, was about as remote of a place as you could go and not somewhere on the beaten tourist track.
Fast forward to 2006 when I was working on our Round the World itinerary and exploring South Pacific Islands. I was trying to find an island for us to visit on our way from New Zealand to South America. We would be hitting that area in the rainy season which, for some locations, meant up to 17” of rain per month – not sounding like a lot of fun to me. I came across Tahiti which not only had less rain fall that time of year than other islands, but had something even more enticing, a flight to Rapa Nui – the place with those “huge statues.” This for me was a no brainer.
Rapa Nui, as it is called by the indigenous peoples, is considered the most remote place in the world. There are no inhabited islands for thousands of kilometers. Like the Maori of New Zealand, the people came here from other islands in the South Pacific, by canoe, looking for a new home. While Rapa Nui means “large land”, this island is anything but large. If a road were to go around the perimeter of this triangular island (which it doesn't) it would run for about 65 km. - not even 40 miles. Looking down on it from a plane, it looks like a speck in the ocean.
There is only one town on this island, Hanga Roa, with only one bank, one gas station... you get my drift. There are 4500 residents and the two handfuls of tourists who make their way here, travel from either Papeete, Tahiti, or Santiago, Chile, the only two airports that service the island. Lan Chile is the only airline that flies here. They have electricity, but it is not uncommon for it to go out for hours at a time for no apparent reason and the island has no sewage system. It's remoteness is truly felt every time you walk into the grocery store which may have empty shelves if a new shipment of food has not yet arrived.
Much of the island is considered a National Park and most of the island is considered a UNESCO World Heritage site. You need only walk down the street in town to see one of those “huge statues” called Moai which date from 800 AD to about 1500 AD. The Moai are located all over the island but were quarried from only one source, the volcanic hill of Rano Raraku.. Carving these Moai with rudimentary tools is one thing, but moving them and erecting them without today's technology is another. There are all types of speculation of how this was done and many of these have been tested for validity, but the reality is, with no written history, no one will ever truly know how this feat was accomplished.
I am in awe of these Moai and I can't pass one without stopping and taking a look. They are remarkable statues which embody the spirits of the Rapa Nui ancestors and who give their energy to this island even to this day. This is an amazing place to be and I can't believe that I am lucky enough to be here.