– Easter Island –
It is believed that Easter Island’s Polynesian inhabitants arrived on the Island sometime near 1200 AD. The first known European visitor to Easter Island was the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who arrived in 1722. The Dutch named the island Paaseiland (Easter Island) to commemorate the day they arrived. By that time diseases and migrations reduced the population to around 100 people. Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world; the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 3,512 kilometres (2,182 mi) away. (wikipedia source)
In my opinion this island suffered a lot because of colonists who exploited the resources (already few) and use the people as slaves. Only at the end of 19th century, when the last French colonist died, the land became part of Chile who considered the island strategic for the position in the middle of the Ocean. For this reason the Chilean government sent a chilean scientist with German origins, Dr Walter Knoche to install a meteorological and a seismic station. Together with the science, also common virus reached the island and they began to claim victims.
Even today the history cannot properly explain the fast decay of original population and the disappearance of the native trees. But also WHY the population stopped from a day to another to build the huge rocks called MOAI. The virus? the Colonizations? the slavery? A lot of theories but few sure answers. Other questions not completely clarified are about HOW they were able to move those huge stones from where they were built (under a volcano) to all the coast. So I can tell you that it’s an island full of mysteries and you really can feel it!
We visited Rapa Nui at the end of January, a good period because the rains come between April and June. We spent there one week. Most of the people told us 4 days were enough to visit it but I’m glad we spent more days. If you are visiting the South America I really suggest to find the way to go there.
All the island is a national park protected by the government, so when we landed we must buy a ticket and register our presences. Some of the most famous places are not able to be visited twice, so it’s important to choose the right moment and day to visit them, especially if you have the passion of photography, the direction of the light could be fundamental.
We staid in the village of Hanga Roa, on the west coast. There are simple but comfortable apartments you can rent.
Hanga Roa is most populated area and all the kids can swim and jump in the water in the only accessible part of the bay. It’s also possible to surf, the spot in front of the village is not dangerous if you follow the instructions of locals about the seafloor depth and currents.
In the village there is also a luxury hotel but it’s not well seen by locals, because built over a sacred place. In January we could still breath the revolutionary movement exploded in Chile the October 18th that of course arrived to the Island too, bringing disorders and financial issues.
If you decide to visit Rapa Nui it’s important to know their story and respect this land as they deserve. The tourism is the main economic support for the people who lives there but this raised the imports from the continent reducing to nothing the local production and increasing the poverty of this place. They now only farm pineapples fields selling the fruit for high prices.
But…they really value the price.. the sweetest pineapple I ever ate in my life!
If I should do a list on WHAT to DO in Rapa Nui it would be this one:
1- HANGA ROA and Surrounding
Probably this would be the best place to stay because all the restaurants and the grocery and shops are there. Walking around is the main thing we did in the village.
During the day you can rent bikes, or cars or quads and visit alone the island. Otherwise is full of options with guided tours, especially for photographers there are beautiful night sessions to try. It’s also possible to have a photo session with local typical costumes! 🙂
Walking from the center of the village to North direction there is the first Moai Satues site you can visit – TAHAI.
If the weather is not so good to go around and visit the island, it could be the right moment to find a nice souvenir for family and friends, remember always to support local people. We found a shop where we bought old posters (reprinted) with beautiful graphics and colors of the most important local festival (I will talk later about it).
Close to Hanga Roa village there is a nice trekking to visit the volcano RANO KAU. It’s possible to reach the top also by car. The view was incredible! The volcano of course is inactive and now inside it there is a lake.
On top of the volcano, at the end of a path, there is an important archeological site ORONGO… but that day we didn’t have the time to reach it because Nico has been stung by a bee and we needed urgently a pharmacy. On the way back, despite of the pain he had the forces to make new friends on the road! My little Mowgli…
Finally the day after we had the chance to visit the archeological site of Orongo with Nico closed in the car, still in pain and too afraid to meet another bee.. poor boy!
I have to say that I appreciated the history behind that site, why it’s so important but I think that it’s not so well conserved. The site shows the old “houses” of the locals, built with stones with very small entrances. Now this small buildings are so embedded in the soil that they look more the Hobbit houses! In any case it’s something to see, the view is priceless and I learnt a lot about the MAN OF BIRDS religion. In Rapa Nui the Chief Gods was Make-Make with birds semblances. It was celebrated in a lot of petroglyphs.
The Tangata manu (bird-man) was the winner of a traditional competition on Rapa Nui. The ritual was annual and different warriors of different families competed for the title of Chief of the island. The warriors had to collect the first sooty tern (manu tara) egg of the season from the islet of MOTO NUI, then they had to swim back and climb the sea cliff of Rano Kau to the clifftop village of Orongo.
The exploits were hard, risky and sometimes the warriors lost their lives attacked by sharks, or falling from the cliff or sometimes starving on the small island waiting for the first egg. So the one who came back with it would have been considered the head of the warriors and his family was able to lead the island.
We decided to have a first taste of the island by bike. We rent 4 mountain bikes and from Hanga Roa we arrived on the other side of the island, around 13km far. We made it in around 1 hour and half but only because the last 5 kilometers was all downhill!
Before reaching Anakena we stopped in the previous beach. A fast jump in the water after all the efforts sounded like being in heaven!
From this beach some guides start a snorkeling tour to see turtles. If you have the time you can also rent a kayak and go around the mountain reaching Anakena on the other side.
After the check in at the entrance of Anakena we spend part of the day at the beach, the kids made friends as usual and we had a lovely fish empanada who gave us the right energy to go back to Hanga Roa.
The way back has been very intense! But we made it! If you are sportive and a little trained I really suggest this way to discover Rapa Nui! And above all it’s a good way to put your kids in their bed earlier! 🙂
3- AHU TONGARIKI
In Ahu Tongariki we have been twice. It’s a magic place closed to Rano Raraku, so you can easily do those 2 archeological sites together.
What’s exactly a MOAI? The word Moai stay for Moai Aringa Ora that in the native language means the alive face of our ancestors. They were built after the death of an important figure of the village in order to preserve his energy. They believed that after death the men became energy and with the Moai they could canalize this energy in the land to protect things, animals and fields.
4- RANO RARAKU
Rano Raraku is a volcano but more than this is “the Moai factory”. Probably the most impressive site I’ve seen on the island. This place is were all the “magic” began.
More we get closer to this site and more we had goose bumps. It was incredible how native artisans were able to shape the rock bringing to the life all those giants. They should have shaped more than a thousand of them. Some are perfectly conserved all around the island, others are laying down, others are half inside the ground and half outside.
On the other side of the site it’s possible to see the inside of the volcano Rano Raraku and also there are some Moai statues to protect and oversee.
Here the native people still celebrate the traditional festival El Tapati ( I really suggest to click on the link and discover one of the most popular festival of all Polynesia)
5- AHU AKIVI
Ahu Akivi is the only Ahu with the orientation toward the sea and not toward the island. Furthermore it has a particular connection with the constellations. The special orientation (from north to south) helped the native to read the sky and understand when a new season was starting.
From this site it’s possible to start a trekking or riding horses to reach the highest part of the island TERAVAKA volcano. Unluckily the weather and the path condition didn’t allow us to do it.
Our last day as been quite intense, we decided to visit an hidden place near Hanga Roa:
6- THE CAVES OF THE ISLAND
We didn’t know what to expect. We just left the car near the first archeological site and we started to walk. The caves are quite hidden, there are no signs to show them to you, they look like simple holes in the ground but when you are inside is extraordinary!
Actually I was pretty scared to go inside because at the beginning the hole is quite small and you don’t see anything. Be prepared with a light so you can avoid to fall on a rock. The sensation is quite claustrophobic but I was pulled by the hands of my kids ready to live a new adventure! They love discovering new scary places! lucky me…
There are FOUR CAVES but we only found the entrance of two. I suggest to go there already prepared with all the information about them and where all the entrances are. Here a useful link about it.
7- LAST THINGS TO DO ON THE ISLAND
The Island really offers beautiful little spots and archeological sites to visit so my suggest is to go around by bike or by car and stop when you see some ruins. Once I saw some tourists touching some balls of rocks, I thought was a sort of table with chair (it reminded me again the Hobbit house), only after I realized it was a magnetic rock, used to increase women fertility! Lucky my that I didn’t touch it!!
An important experience to make is the Dinner with the Traditional Dance. There are few places with a good show so take some time to reserve the night as soon as you arrived to not miss it. My kids adored it and the show really catapult you in another world.
The day we have been to visit the caves we stopped by a school we heard about from a Ukulele seller. The TOKI School of music and art. It has been built in 2012 thanks to few local people and the local famous pianist Mhane Teavi. They called it TOKI as the ancestral instrument used to crave the Moai, to remind to the young people that even on that far island they can build their future. The school was free for all the kids wanted to learn to play an instrument. Around the school they also started a project to teach the people how to grow a vegetable and fruit garden but they were very disappointed by locals who preferred to import them. I really suggest to visit this place all eco-friendly and maybe if you can support it with a small donation would be super helpful.
Our trip ends here. Happy to had the chance to visit this magic place, breathing ancestral mythologies and I will never forget the sensation to be in the middle of knowhere surrounded only by the ocean.
Thank you Rapa Nui!
Sorry for the mistakes I could have done writing in English or if I referred inaccurate information. Here some useful website you can link to reach more information about Rapa Nui
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