If you are thiking about getting isolated, this is the place! Most likely the most magic and otherworldly place we have ever been. One of the more mythical places on earth, those stone statues are engraved in the psyche of anyone remotely interested in the weird and unexplainable.
Absolutely in the middle of nowhere, one of the most remote populated places in the world, the whole island is something else from the rest of the world. The nearest populated place is Pitcairn island, around 2000 kilometres away, Chile is 3500 kilometres away, and the other direction lies Tahiti at mere 4200 kilometres distance. It was a lifetime goal of especially Ørjan to visit Easter Island, since he was a kid, he had watched the great Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl on his adventures, and the visits to the figures on Easter Island captivated a young kid. Check out his movies and documentaries online, they are documents of a bygone era when explorers really laid their lives on the line.
We flew from Tahiti to Easter Island (and we visited during Easter) a stopover for the LATAM flights on their way to Santiago De Chile. This is the only way to get to the island, so if you are planning on a visit on a around the world trip, it’s important to choose the right airline. LATAM is today (as per 2020) the only airline servicing Easter Island, and they are part of One World Alliance.
We stayed in a hut like run down hotel with cardboard walls, didn’t really matter though. It was located just by the sea, so we fell asleep and woke up to the wonderful sound of waves thundering onto the shore and beautiful horses roaming on the lawns outside. It was a short walk into Hanga Roa – the main, and only city on the island. There are just under 8000 people living on the whole island. The settlement of the island is debated, like many other things about the island, legend has it that Easter Island was populated by chief Hotu Matu`a who arrived in one or two canoes with his extended family. They are believed to be of Polynesian ancestry, and today DNA links all living direct ancestors of the indigenous people to Polynesian heritage. Literature suggests population from 300-400 AC, but some claim that this could be a late as 1200 AC.
The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen “discovered” Easter Island on the 5th of April in 1722 (easter, hence the name), giving the first accounts of the inhabitants and tall (around 2 metres) and they had distended earlobes with great discs in them. On the early visits of Europeans in 1722 and 1770 (Spanish) all statues were standing up, when James Cook visited in 1774 many were reported toppled. The huri mo’ai – the “statue-toppling” – continued into the 1830s as a part of internal conflicts among islanders.
The first day on the island we did a guided tour around the island. Just to see the main sites, and there is no better way to see a new place than having a local tell the stories about the different places and the myths behind the giant stone statues (called Moai) that the island is famous for. The quarry on the Rano Raraku volcano is where you see the statues in most pictures, as this is where they made them from the volcanic stone. You only see about 1/3 of the statue itself, the rest being buried in the ground. The reason for this being that after they had hewn the statue from the rock, they put them in holes in the ground, so that they could work on the details without scaffolding. The statues that are finished have intricate carved tattoo like patterns and hands engraved on their bodies.
Dotted around the island are ceremonial stone platforms called ahus, where the finished statues were placed, with a red volcanic stone hat, and eyes made of stone and corals. The statues most likely depicted ancestors, protecting the people, they were put on their ahus, facing inland, thus keeping an eye on their tribe. There are over 900 statues around the island, weighing up to 13 tonnes, the biggest being a hefty 82 tonnes. The production was likely stopped after environmental consequences of deforesting brought on by either climate change or war between the tribes of the island (the two prevailing theories), and the statues were toppled from their ahus during internal wars or by tsunamis. There are no written records from the inhabitants of Easter Island, just observations from the first Europeans, and scientists of the modern era trying to understand what happened when they changed from their ancestral worship of the statues, to the Birdman cult of Orongo that followed it.
The Rano Kau volcano is also something to behold, the biggest on the island, and a very cool lake at the bottom. The main reason for visiting this site is to see the remains of the birdman cult and the Orongo ceremonial village. Composed of about 50 ceremonial elliptical stone houses, and only being inhabited in the days before the ceremony of The Bird Man or Tangata Manu. A competition between the island clans to collect the first egg of the manutara bird (sooty tern) on the small island opposite the volcano (they had to swim there and back, plus scale the huge cliff of the volcano) and the first who came back with an egg claimed government and a godlike status for their chief and for their tribe for the next year until next birdman ceremony. I urge you to read up on the history of the island, it is fascinating.
So, we saw most of the best-known sites, and some unknown that first day. The next day we rented an old jeep beat up jeep with no licence plates from a local dude and drove around ourselves, revisiting some of the most interesting sites. We had the whole site of Rano Raraku alone for hours and walking among those stone statues in solitude was epic. We walked into the inner part of the volcano, the bigger statues are on the outside of the volcano wall, but on the inside, there are also many smaller statues, waiting to be put on their ahus. It was very cool to walk amongst the Moai and look at the difference in their faces and demeanour. One of the nearly finished statues was looking into space at an angle, and there is also a smaller kneeling statue at the edge of the area.
We had one of our most special swims ever at the beach thought to have been where the first islanders arrived, with moai standing guard at the beach. At a small kiosk you could buy a beer and a Fanta, and drink this in a 50/50 mix, this was a very local thing we found out. Beautiful horses are roaming freely around the whole island, owning horses is a big deal for the families living on the island today. We followed a map we had and saw some really remote sites with ahus and toppled moais. The feeling of being alone and on a remote part of the world was very palpable, we saw no one for hours, only horses and moais keeping us company.
During our walks in the village, we were adopted by scruffy the dog, he followed us for our whole visit. It was like he could smell us the moment we left our hut, and staying by our side, and under our restaurant table every night. We were explained that dogs roamed freely, but were looked after by everyone, and they often adopted tourists during their stay. We attended a local dance, and it was very similar in both music and feel to what we saw in Tahiti and other parts of the Pacific we have been to. The food was great, lots of fresh fish of course, with our dog placed to warm our feet below the table. We called him Thor, naturally.
When we arrived at Easter Island, we had no cash, thinking that there must be a cash dispensing device at the island. The only machine only took Mastercard, and we had Visa. And since it was Easter the bank was closed. An elderly lady overheard us saying to our guide the first day that we had no cash, so we could not buy any lunch on our guided tour. This lady was from USA, and she offered to lend us some money, paying her back whenever we could when we got back home. She hoped that her own kids would enjoy the same courtesy and help if they ever got in a pickle abroad while on travels. This gesture of kindness still lives with us today, always remembering her kind and generous offer, she basically gave us 100 dollars, without any collateral. We of course tracked down a dodgy money dealer on the island (and paid a premium to get cash from him) and got her money back before we left the island, but still, this is a rare thing, trust among humans. It touches us still.
The otherworldly magic, the feeling of remoteness and the friendliness of the locals made Easter Island a unique experience, it is still a visit we reminisce about often. We would go back in a heartbeat if asked, is was like no other place we have been. Needless to say we loved Easter Island, and a dream came true for both of us.