Daily Archives: February 18, 2009

A Long Way From Anywhere

moai-on-hillside2Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth.  It’s a tiny speck on a map, located in the South Pacific approximately 2,500 miles east of Tahiti and 2,300 miles west of Chile. The nearest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, roughly 1,200 miles west.  Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it is known by its 3,000 residents, is triangle-shaped, with an extinct volcano at each corner.  As if those aren’t enough good reasons to go there, it also has those mysterious giant statues carved out of stone.


 Since there are only a couple of flights into its little airport each week, Easter Island isn’t exactly overrun with tourists.  Perhaps 10,000 visitors find their way to it each year; souvenir sales are not a high-volume business.  Sally and I were among the few guests in 2002.  Here are a couple of excerpts from my journal for April 12 of that year:

The statues for which Easter Island is famous are known as moais (MOE-eyes), and they are situated on stone platforms known as ahu.  Each site — and there are dozens — has a name, but given the paucity of consonants in the Rapa Nui language, they all begin to sound pretty much the same.  Also, many of the moais have been toppled over, centuries ago, by victors in tribal warfare.  After the first two or three sites had moai which were face down, Sally pointedly asked our guide Hermann, “Are we going to see any moai which are still standing today?”

About noon we went to Ranu Raraku, the quarry which had been the factory, in effect, where the moai were made.  It is the cone of an extinct volcano; the moai were carved out horizontally and somehow transported down the mountain.  There are various theories as to how they did this, but the fact remains that each statue weighs tons.  There were several standing moai near the base of the mountain.

The five of us (two Swiss young men, our guide, and the Reeders) walked a path over the blasted-out edge of the volcano, into the caldera.  A reed-covered lake is inside.  Hermann led us up the inside edge, all the way to the peak of the volcano — about 300 meters high.  There was a fine view from there, of course, and a precipitous drop in all directions.  We took another “path” back down.  The footing was treacherous; in some cases we had to get on all fours to ease ourselves down.  It was a challenge I probably would have declined if I’d been given a choice about it beforehand…

…We had been promised a swim at Anakena Beach, which is virtually the only sand beach on the island.  By the time Hermann took us through his preordained route — and shared his jumble of facts and opinions with us — we didn’t reach Anakena until about 5:15 p.m.  There were several moai on the ahu at Anakena: I saw an opportunity for a photo with the beach behind them.  This required a climb up a hill through waist-high weeds.  I had taken my pictures and was on my way back to the group when I saw a couple of cows a few feet away and headed in my direction.  I picked up the pace a bit to get out of their way, and saw that there were actually a couple of dozen or so, being herded by a Rapa Nui cowboy.  A few moments later, two riderless horses bolted past me, headed for the beach at a full gallop.  It was a surreal moment, and probably a frightening one for the people on the sand…