compass Land of the Big Heads compass March 22 to March 30 compass

Big Head

A quick overnight flight from Tahiti had us on Easter Island! James was very excited. Easter Island was a place high on his list. I think he was excited to be in a land where his head wouldn’t be the biggest.

We had pre-booked a double room at Mihinoa Camping (sleeping on the ground for 8 days didn’t sound all that fun without proper gear) who met us at the tiny airport with flower lais. I instantly fell in love with an island that treated their “campers” so special.

Once checked in to a spotless room that had a fantastic ocean view not 30 feet from the ocean I fell sound asleep and James, all excited went to explore the tiny main (and only) town of Hanga Roa.

James woke me with later and we went for a walk… grocery shopping. Hanga Roa has one main road and a second busy road that runs vertical with the main street along the coast. The main road has minimarts, souvenir shops, restaurants and a few quest houses. The road along the shore has a tiny beach, dive shops and more restaurants. 90% of Easter Islands residents live in Hanga Roa and once out of the tiny town there isn’t much more that horses, rolling hills and moai statues. One main road runs around the island that is paved, but everything else is red dirt roads. In summary – I loved it! What a fantastic place, full of mystery and superstition and old tales.

Wednesday March 23. We got up early (for me) and headed off for a hike of the island. It was a loop of about 15 km and we saw a beautiful part of the island that some would skip if they only had a few days. In total we saw 2 bikers, a small tour on horses and a couple of cars. The island is fairly small and you are free to walk pretty much where ever you want. We loved just wandering around, over rocks and cliffs and through fields and fruit trees.

Our route went something like this:

From Camping Mihinoa we walked along Hanga Roa’s shore line past the fisherman’s wharf, Ahu Tautira, Pea Beach and the island’s first Christian cemetery. As we followed the coast it got quiet. It was quite amazing; only about twice did we see people at the entrance to sights trying to sell stuff in the whole week. Very refreshing.

As we walked we stopped at the different sights, all labeled with wooden signs explaining what you were seeing. (although we suggest “ A Companion to Easter Island” guide for about $30, it’s well worth it)

Tahai - An original Rapa Nui village with 3 separate platforms and extensive archaeology.

Ana Kakenga

Ana Kakenga - Lava tubes with twin flows through cliffs over the ocean, or rather looked for but did not find the entrance that was a pile of rocks in the field. (not ones to be beat, we went back the next day and found it)

Ana Te Pora - A cave to provide shelter in the ancient times.

Ahu Te Peu - Unrestored platform with numerous archaeological vestiges in the vicinity. This place was pretty cool, tons of pieces of moai lying around. James was better able to compare head sizes. It makes you appreciate the amazing work it takes to piece them back together.

Ahu Akivi - Island platform with seven restored moai, and one of my favourites. Perched up on a hill these seven maoi seem to be looking out to sea but in fact moai are placed overlooking their villages and their descendants. The platform itself is 90 meters long, while the central platform is 38 meters. Each of the moai are over 4m tall. Pretty impressive.

Ahu Akivi

By this point we had walked away from the coast and along dirt roads through farmers’ fields full of horses, cows and the odd stay dog. And at this point I feel I should add that both James and I are fairly nervous around stray animals. At any point they can just turn on you. As we were walking down the road minding our own business a dog ran up and started barking furiously at two horses that were behind us. They got scared and started to run at us, we panicked and took off running in opposite directions but towards each other so we ended up bouncing off each other. Once we made it to safety we were very embarrassed to see a truck full of locals had drove up – witnessing it all. Great! If nothing else we love to amuse locals. (ie double biking in Siem Reap)

After Ahu Akivi we walked for what seemed like a year (the sun was scorching and I was using an umbrella as shade) but beautiful and definitely worth it. We picked Guavas (an edible round yellow fruit with a pink interior) that were growing wild along the side of the road and stopped at Ana Te Pahu for our peanut butter sandwich picnic.

Ana Te Pahu - Lava tube that was later used as an inhabited cave. Had banana trees at the entrance that we sat under for shade.

Puna Pau

Finally we arrived at Puna Pau. - A small volcanic crater made up of red scoria stone, the quarry where the “topknots” (hats) were made. Topknots were a latter addition and only about 100 exist for the almost 1000 moai scattered around the island. It was up a small hill and had a specular view of Hango Roa.

From here we courageously took a horse path back to Hanga Roa for popsicles.

Thursday March 24. We got up early to rent a car (originally wanted a scooter but you need a motorcycle licence to do so) to see the sights further away.

It was an easy day and thankfully with air conditioning.

Ahu Hanga Te’e (Vaihu) - Unrestored platform and an excellent example of toppled moai. It was sad to see them all face down. Most of the unrestored, toppled moai have been like this for over 300 years, the same way early explores would have seen them. Pretty crazy.

Ahu Akahanga - Another unrestored platform with toppled moai, and remains of a village.

Rano Raraku – Unmissable!

The quarry where nearly all the moai were carved and almost 400 unfinished still lie, some attached to the quarry still, some buried up to their ears and some excavated. The $60 /person (includes the entire National Park for the time you are on Easter Island) is a bit steep but as we saw two guys walk away and refuse to pay we thought they were crazy. Yes, they can charge whatever they want but it’s why we came. I’d been reading up on the different theories as to why they stopped so suddenly, eerily it looked like they just set down their tools and walk home for the day and of course as James was off taking picture after picture I was coming up with my own. It was that sort of place.

Rano Raraku

Ahu Tongariki - Easter Island’s largest ceremonial platform with 15 restored moai, the largest ceremonial structure anywhere in Polynesia with a length of 220 meters. WOW! It was so huge. From a distance it looked small against the black volcanic cliffs but standing in front I felt very tiny and insignificant.

Ahu Tongariki

Ovahe Beach

We decided to take a break and head to a beach. Ovahe was the definition of secluded beach. Light pink colored sand and backed by a tall black cliff it was the perfect place for a rest.

We also stopped at Anakena beach. A busy beach with snack and souvenir huts where 1300+ years ago Polynesians sailed up to the island. It also has three original platforms of moai that are some of the best preserved. Once toppled the sand gradually blew over protecting them from the elements. The details were amazing; you could even see a belly button on one.

After the beaches we headed back the long way, past the NASA Facility and to find the caves we couldn’t find the day before.

That evening to celebrate the Mihinoa owner’s birthday they had a $6 BBQ. Salads, chicken, ribs and whole fresh fish were served. The best we’ve eaten in a very long time.

Friday March 25. Diving! We did two fantastic dives today. There wasn’t tons of fish and fauna but we saw a few we’d never seen before and landscape, caves and swim thrus were amazing. The second dive had a strong surge that I wasn’t use to and I fought it but it ended up being one of my favourite dives. I prefer lazy drift dives so after this one we headed back for an afternoon nap.

Saturday March 26. In the early morning it started to rain off and on and thankfully when our alarm whet off it was still cloudy outside. Our hike for the day was postponed. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

We spent the rest of the day lounging around, reading, catching up on emails and facebook (when the internet was up, James says it’s not related but every time the wind blows the internet goes down).

The Crater

Sunday March 27. The hike was back on. Off we went to Orongo. A ceremonial village where the Birdman Competition took place. Also perched between the rim of Rano Kau’s crater and 1000-ft cliffs. As usual I moaned and groaned on the hike up (why, oh why is everything worth seeing UP?) but man was it worth it. Five times windier than Hanga Roa, I asked James at one point it we could actually be blown off the cliff. It was very windy!

With diminishing resources on the island tribes had to come up with a new way to decide how leadership would be decided. So each September when flocks of migratory Sooty Terns (birds) arrived at offshore inlets to lay their eggs the Birdman competition would take place. Competitors (the guy in the tribe who trained the hardest all year, so never me) would scale a cliff and swim to the inlet (3 km away) and camp on the island until the first egg was laid. The first guy who grabbed the egg wins.. as long as he can tie it on his head and swim back and climb back up the cliff without it breaking. So really….once on the island – you snooze you lose.

Orongo was interesting with restored houses and the crater, about 1 km in diameter, was quite a sight.

Early in the morning, just after leaving Mihinoa a dog fell into step with us and stayed with us the whole hike, never leaving until a few blocks from our camp ground. It was the second time it’s happen in about a week. Not sure if we were supposed to pay him a tip or not.

Turtle At The Wharf

It was while making dinner that I got asked a surprising and what I think is a really gross question. A girl wanted to borrow my flip flops. YUK! Ewwww YUK! All I have to say is would you ever even consider borrowing another backpackers flip flops? I got mine a few years ago when Kyle still worked at Sport Experts for a few bucks. Since then they’ve gone to Korea and thru South East Asia via the streets of Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi, into sooo many squat toileys and even thru a road side ditch in Seim Reap. Ewww! Not to mention how many moldy hostel bathroom showers I used them in. I am even sure while on Easter Island while trying to read the travel guide and walk I stepped in countless piles of horse poo. Ewwww! My flip flops gross me out, but to lend them? She seemed really upset, but I was practically speechless.

Monday March 28. Diving! We did 2 amazing dives, relaxing and full of fish. I saw my favourite fish of the dives; a white spotted blow fish. They are so cute and shy.

Dance Show

Tuesday March 29. A day off! We slept in (well I did) and saw a traditional show in the evening. I am giggling as I write this. First of all the girls dancing were great, they really were talented. All the shaking hips and hand movements were beautiful. But….the show its self was a cross between a high school play and a resort’s evening performance (2* resort). The men in the show wore grass skirts and grass skirt legwarmers (James was really hoping for the traditional cock socks often seen on advertising and the occasional swimmer) and were incredible cut, very energetic and throughout the show kept grunting, very loudly. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It was an hour long and at $20 /person it might not be for everyone.

Tips on Easter Island: Leave yourself lots of time to explore the island on foot, car and bike. It’s safe, clean and the people friendly. It’s a bit pricy so a place with a kitchen is helpful on the budget.

Most memorable: White spotted puffer fish (it was huge!), Rano Raraku quarry, the friendly people, the sound of the ocean that you can hear from almost everywhere on the island and horses, horses and more horses.

A little Easter Island information…..Easter Island was formed by three separate volcanic eruptions from the ocean floor, between 3 million and 750,000 years ago. Somewhere between 600 and 900 AD a group of intrepid Polynesians travelled over 2000 miles to reach Easter Island bringing with them everything they needed to start a new society. The island theses first settlers arrived at was very different from today. It would have been a tropical paradise covered in palm trees and plants with an abundance of seabirds and fish.

Ancestor worship was common and when a chief or important member of a tribe died a statue was commissioned. Creepy side note – the eyes were never finished (detailed and filled with a coral inlay) until the statue was on the platform when the eyes would be become open or now have the person’s mana. This moai broken or cracked in delivery were just abandoned and left where they were which means you walked by bits and pieces all day.

They were so obsessed with carving bigger and bigger moai that soon the island was depleted of its natural resources, especially rope and wood. The largest moai ever carved measures 21 meters (69 feet) in length (the head alone is 7m long) and could weigh up to 200 tonnes. Could this have been the first case of deforestation? At one point the island was down to a population of 111.

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