Sunday, April 20, 2008

Island at the End of the World

I'm finally getting around to posting my Easter Island photos. I took 375 photos/videos which is about a 500% increase over my normal amount. These are just a selection - basically a cut and paste from my Picasa album. The "Blog This" function only allows 4 photos to be uploaded at a time, and I am too lazy to merge them all into one big post, hence a dozen different entries. This was really a fantastic trip. Off the beaten path, for sure, but extremely interesting. Two recommendations:

1) If you are thinking about Easter Island, it is worth the visit. It is pretty far out there, but not that tough to get to on LAN.

2) If you are thinking about traveling to somewhere random, and everyone you tell thinks you are crazy, ignore them and go anyway. Most of my friends thought I had lost my mind when I told them that I was going to Easter Island, but I have had more requests to see my pictures than for every other trip in the past 5 years combined. Ignore the critics, hop on (better than Orbitz) and book a ticket. Oh, and drop me a line so that I can tag along.

On the plane - A tiny spec of land in a sea of blue. Easter Island is the farthest place from anywhere. The most remote inhabited place on earth. I was starting to get really excited at about this point.

The Ahu (platform) and Mo'ai (statues) at Anakena beach on the far side of the island. Four of the Mo'ai have their pukao or "topknots" on.

The backside of the Ahu at Anakena. Note the carvings on the backs. All statues face inland. A common misperception is that they face the ocean. The palm trees visible in the background were re-introduced in the 20th century. The island had up to 16 million palm trees on it when first settled by humans between 600-1000 AD. By the 1600's, the island had been completely deforested and not a singe tree remained. This was part of the downfall of the statue building civilization, and contributed to the isolation of the island as no wood for boats existed.

Also at Anakena beach, the first Mo'ai ever re-erected. When first discovered by western sailors, all of the statues on the ahus were intact and standing. By the late 1700's all of the mo'ai had been toppled, many with their necks intentionally broken. This was a result of internecine warfare between various clans on the island. Breaking the neck destroyed the "mana" or spiritual power of the statues. All statues standing on ahus today have been re-erected. This one was re-erected using traditional methods by Thor Heyerdal (of Kon-Tiki fame) in the 50's.
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A view of Anakena beach from the north side of the island along the shore of the Mataveri plateau. The Poike peninsula is seen the the background. Anakena is the only beach on the island, the rest of the shoreline is pretty rocky. Note the small ahu in the foreground. Most ahu did not have mo'ai on them.

The desolate north side of the Mataveri plateau. This only reachable by horse or on foot. Not many locals, and very few tourists come to this part of the island, but I wanted to seen the whole island, so on my first day Andrew (a tollbooth operator from Wales with whom I ended up sharing a hotel room - long story) took a cab to Anakena, then walked around the north and west coasts of the island back to town.

A small cove along the north coast of the island.

A well preserved ahu at the cove in the previous picture.
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I stuck my head into the small opening in the ahu above and saw a few bones. I thought they were probably from animals who had crawled in and died, so I grabbed the closest one and pulled it out. This was clearly a human femur. I'd forgotten that the ahu were used as burial chambers. I put the femur back and we hurried off, hoping not to be haunted by the ghost of an ancient islander.

The seven Mo'ai at Akivi. These are far inland, a mile and a half from the sea.

Also at Akivi. These are in a field along a dirt road. There was no sign along the road, they were just out there in the field. We were the only people at this site, as was the case for many of the locations on the island.

My dirt/sock line after the 13 mile walk around the Mataveri plateau.
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A Mo'ai in the town of Hanga Roa. This is one of the few that is lighted at night.

Rano Raraku, the Mo'ai quarry where most of them were carved. This was by far my favorite place on the island. This a volcano, and around 200 mo'ai, in various stages of completion, are present along the exterior (seen here) and within the volcano crater.

Some of the mo'ai at this site, like this one, are "fallen". Likely abandoned while moving them from the quarry to other sites on the island. Please don't stand on the mo'ai.

The mo'ai were carved on their backs, then lowered into holes that were dug to finish carving their backs. Many remain in the holes today, buried up to their chest or neck. It is unknown if they were intended to remain in this position, or if it was temporary, prior to moving them to another site.
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A partially buried mo'ai.

Pathways wind through the many mo'ai along the exterior of the site.

Leaning mo'ai.

This was my favorite of the 800+ mo'ai on the island.
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From the exterior of Rano Raraku, looking east to the fifteen standing mo'ai at Ahu Tongariki.

The interior of Rano Raraku. Note the many mo'ai along the slope.

From the top of the crater rim, again looking east toward Ahu Tongariki.

Some unfinished "mo'ai in-situ" near the top of the interior of the quarry.
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A fallen mo'ai, likely abandoned in transit. One of the greatest threats to deterioration of the mo'ai is not weather, or even humans. It is the livestock left to roam freely among them, constantly rubbing up against them and using them for shade from the sun.

Exterior, Rano Raraku.

The 15 mo'ai at Ahu Tongariki, one of the most magestic sites on the island. This site was restored in the 80's by Japanese scientists with help from a crane company who donated equipment to lift the statues.

Several of the top knots at Tongariki in the foreground.
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Before restoration, these statues were washed several hundred yards inland by a tsunami in the 60's.

The largest mo'ai on the island, nicknamed "Paro". Piles of stones were placed in front of the statues, centered at the neck, before they were toppled, with the intention of breaking the neck.

A petroglyph at Orongo, along the south side of the island. The petroglyph shows "Make Make", the creator god.

The interior of the volcano crater at Orongo. There are no mo'ai at this site, but it was an important location of the birdman cult, who took over after the decline of the statue building civilization.
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From Orongo, looking north. The airport is in the foreground, with the town of Hanga Roa behind it. The Mataveri plateau is seen in the distance.

A mo'ai at Ahu Tahai. The only mo'ai on the island with restored eyes. The eye sockets were not carved at the quarry, but at the ahu. This is not well understood, but the placement of the eyes is believed to complete the mo'ai. Only one, partially intact, eye has been found. It is in the museum in Hanga Roa.

Some of the mo'ai at the Tahai complex. Along the west coast of the island, just north of Hanga Roa.

The top knot quarry at Puna Pao. The top knots were carved from the red scoria stone here, then moved to the final sites.
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Sunset on Easter Island.

The runway extends from the east coast of the island.... the west coast. At one point this was an emergency landing strip for the space shuttle, but it is no longer used for that purpose.

More toppled mo'ai. There is controversy regarding restoring and re-erecting more mo'ai. Some want to restore all sites, primarily for tourism, while others believe they should stay as is. The toppling of the statues is as important a part of the history of the island as their carving.
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