Day 16: second day on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
Today we were picked up by Ramon and our driver, and then went into town to pick up another couple of tourists who would be joining us for the day's tour. We stopped at the convenience store to get some food and water for lunch (though there wasn't much food in the store), and headed off to the first destination.
We visited a few of the more important ahus on one side of the island, hiking over to see the mostly unrestored stone structures and what remained of their moai. At one time all of the hundreds of moai on the island had been toppled over (during the tribal wars prior to the European's arrival), and, except for about thirty that have been restored by archeologists in the last 100 years, they all remain toppled, usually onto their faces. They've all been eroded by the centuries of weathering, and many were broken when they hit the ground.
The moai on this ahu all lie face-down where they fell. Two of the red volcanic
"top-knots" lie in the foreground, where they rolled after the moai were toppled over.
A close-up of one of the toppled moai.
After visiting a few ahus, we were taken around to the side of one ahu (Ahu Te Pito Te Kura), to near the water's edge. There lies a sacred roundish stone, which was smooth and did not appear to be volcanic in origin. This stone is called te pito te kura, which means "the navel of light". It is believed that it represents the Navel of the Earth, and it was supposedly brought to the island by the leader of the first islanders to arrive here. The stone is said to contain a magnetic energy, which some people can feel when they lay their hands upon it. We all tried to feel its energy, and I even put my forehead to the stone (along with my fingertips) and opened myself up to what it had to offer. I don't know exactly what I felt, but I did feel that I was getting some sort of energy, and that (unlike the sacred energetic stones of the Incas that we had come across earlier in the trip) this rock did seem to have some kind of inexplicable power.
Here I am (trusty camcorder in hand), with the te pito te kura, or "Navel of the Earth". This
sacred stone meant as much to the islanders as the Intihuatanas meant to the ancient Incans.
The next stop was at the most photographed of all of the ahus, Ahu Tongariki. This was a incredibly long ahu that originally had about thirty moai standing upon it, though they were all toppled in ancient times. The site was virtually destroyed by a tsunami in 1960, but in recent decades fifteen of the moai have been restored to their place on the ahu, thanks in part to a huge crane that was brought onto the site from Japan. The crane still sits nearby, and restoration efforts continue to the present day.
The fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki.
Here I am in front of the only moai of the group that had its topknot restored. I'm holding a Surfrider Foundation bumper sticker, which I've carried on all my travels. It's been a tradition to pose with this sticker in front of a representative ancient site during all my trips, and this seemed like as good a place as any for a photo.
Nearby the row of fifteen moai was a line of red lava topknots, either waiting to be restored to the standing moai, or perhaps permanantly here in their own line. In the background you can see the side of the Rano Raraku crater, from which most of the moai were quarried.
Next we travelled to the Rano Raraku quarry. Sometimes called "the rookery", this is the place where most of the moai were "born". There are about a thousand moai on the island, and about four hundred of them are in this massive lava rock quarry, in various stages of development. The moai that had been detached from the quarry were moved down the adjacent slopes, and were usually stuck in temporary holes while the rest of the features were carved. (The eyes were always done at the last moment, when the moai was at the ahu.)
This is a photo from a postcard I bought, showing moai 'marching' down the slopes of Rano Raraku. This is the classic scene that people think of when they think of Easter Island. "Stoic statues stand abandoned, some at odd angles, littering the tree-less island.... if only they could speak, and solve the mysteries!"
Just to prove that we were there, I stand next to a moai on the Rano Raraku slope. (By the way,
DON'T TOUCH the moai!) Note the moai to the left of me is buried all the way up to his neck.
We completed our hike to the top of Rano Raraku, where we looked down into the crater's inside. Hiking back down the slope on another path we arrived at a picnic area, where the van was waiting for us. We sat at a picnic table, and had lunch, which included eggs and bananas that Ramon had brought.
The final destination for the day was the beach at Akapana. This is one of the few sandy beaches on the island (most of the waterfront is lava rock). It was a very scenic spot, and was used by both the tourists and the islanders as a recreation area. A ways back from the beach there is an ahu which has had its moai restored, complete with topknots. The balancing act of those heavy topknots is impressive, but they seem to be able to stand up against all the forces of nature that they endure.
The moai at Akapana beach had the sun behind them, making them hard to photograph.
We were given some free time at Akapana, and after we photographed the two ahu there, Sue combed the beach for seashells, and I went down by the water and relaxed by watching the waves and soaking in the scenery. Eventually it was time to go, and we got back in the van for the drive back to town. We passed through the various fields and farming areas in the center of the island, and saw walls made by European sheep herders, which were constructed using stones and pieces of moai from some of the desecrated ahus on the coast.
Back at the hotel we had another nice dinner in the hotel restaurant, and did a little shopping in a couple of the small souvenir shops at the hotel. These shops were only open from 7-9pm, and some of them were never open while we were there. I ended up buying a 10 inch high moai replica made of grey lava rock, complete with a topknot made of red lava rock.