Sunday, October 10, 2010

Isla de Pascua (Easter Island)

That’s right.  Four days in Chile and we’re calling it “Isla de Pascua,” not “Easter Island.”  By the time we leave we’ll probably be calling it “Rapa Nui”, it’s indigenous name.

The number two question we got when we told people about our trip was, “Easter Island? What is that?  Where is that?” *  So, let’s kick off our summary of our six days in the South Pacific with some quick facts.

Where is it?

Easter Island is really, really far away.  It’s the most remote inhabited island in the world.  To put it in some perspective, it’s a 5 ½ hour flight west from Santiago.**  It’s also really small, only 117 square kilometers (that’s 45 sq. miles for you Gringos).  

The island was created from three volcanic explosions, each of which form a corner of the triangular island.

We´re glad they´re all dormant volcanos.

 Who lives there?

Scholars, historians and our tour guide Esteban think that Easter Island was first settled by Polynesian explorers venturing out from other Polynesian islands somewhere between 450 and 800 A.D.  Contact with westerners didn’t occur until Captain Cooke “discovered” it in the 18th century, and in 1888 Easter Island came under Chilean sovereignty.  In the intervening years you have the usual history of subjugation by foreign powers, decimation by smallpox, conversion to Catholicism, etc.  Today, of the approximately 4,500 inhabitants, about one-third are Chilean and the rest are Rapa Nui or mixed Rapa Nui/Chileans.

Local peoples, doin' their thang.
What’s the big deal?

Because the Rapa Nui lived in isolation for centuries, they developed a very unique culture which evolved from Polynesian culture.  All over the island, they built ceremonial alters, or ahu, and erected massive statues, or moai, representing their ancestors, gods and/or rulers.  The moai were carved from a quarry in the center of the island from soft volcanic stone, but erected miles away along the island’s coasts.  How the moai, weighing hundreds of tons were moved that distance is not known.  The last moai standing was toppled in 1836-37, many moai have since been restored and/or repositioned into what scholars (drawing on the Rapa Nui oral history) believe were their original positions.  These restored maoi are far more impressive and fun to see then the toppled, face-down, and partially destroyed maoi. 

Restored (and standing) Moai - way cool

Au natural (and face down) Moai - kinda cool
Obviously, much of the restoration effort was undertaken by the Japanese, whose relevance and importance to the preservation of Easter Island was so obvious, our tour guide actually told us “it goes without saying.”  We were too embarrassed to press for more information, but I’m sure many of you savvy readers will of course know.  Please leave any thoughts or speculations in the comments.

Is it actually cool?

Definitely.  These pictures hardly do these massive statues justice.  Its way cool.

Dave and a Moai at Sunrise (OK, it´s sunset, we couldn´t wake up in time)

Classic Easter Island Shot (Do you think they kind of look like Obama? A new birther argument?)

I think we got the head tilt down.

These dogs are huge!  Good thing we had a big lens.
Dave helps with the excavation effort.
He has plenty of experience in this field.

Moai at sunset.

* The number one question was, of course, “You are doing what?  For how long?”
** 5 ½ hours really fly by if you sleep (Dave) or watch Sex and the City 2 (blech) and Ironman 2 (fun) and read half a book (Jesse).


  1. Just returned home in Boston, sorting out my pictures. Feeling almost surreal that I have been actually in Rapa Nui.. It was really great meeting you both! I will be keeping eyes on you both, so try to behave...

  2. Dave certainly picks his nose with the best of them!Didn't your mother teach you any manners? She should have told you don't pick your nose while your picture is being taken! hahaha!!!

  3. Toshie, great to meet you too. I was thinking of you in the front of the plane when the person sitting in front of me reclined their seat into my lap.

  4. Why are some of them wearing hats?

  5. They're not sure if they're hats or topknots (like hair). Only some of the topknots got restored.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.