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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Easter Island: The Sights, Part 2

Gretchen is very serious about the Moai
To round out our trip to Easter Island, I'll cover the rest of the sights that we visited over the course of the week.

We had a day or two of cooler weather with clouds so we stayed close to the hotel - but never fear, there were resurrected Moai to be seen within walking distance of the Hanga Roa Hotel.  These statues seemed to be in worse shape than some of the other that have been restored.  The sea was a bit more aggressive on this part of the island, maybe they have been through a tsunami?  Maybe caught in tribal warfare?  No one in our group knew...
They certainly make for a great photo opportunity.  It was amazing to watch the girls running around on the grass in front of the statues - they had no concept of how remote/sacred/unique this place was to visit.  It was just another fun place to roam for them - and I guess, in a way, it's the same for the adults...

There was also a vibrant, well cared-for cemetery between our hotel and the Moai platform.  It was quiet when we passed by the first time, but we returned again a few days later and the place was buzzing with people.  There were very few faux flowers, all of the pretty plants were real and growing in the cemetery.

Having additional days to spend on this type of vacation allowed us to kick back and spend time just watching the waves and being with friends.  Sometimes the best way to spend a day is to share a strawberry with your best friend.

The island is a prime place for fishing as well, so one morning, Daddy and Uncle Jeff went off, risking their lives with the local fishermen.  They spent the morning fishing with nothing but a hook, a piece of raw chicken, a fishing line and a rock and were more successful than they thought possible.  

We spent the morning with Play-Doh, which (to my delight) was also more successful than the Moms thought was possible.  Play-Doh kept these two busy for a solid 30 minutes - it was nothing short of a miracle!

The second day that we decided to rent a car, we drove to the other big tourist draw on the island, the Rano Kau volcano. This volcano is thought to be the first, originating, volcano of the island.  Basically, this is where it all began.  There are 3 volcanos in total that make up the island, but Rano Kau is widely regarded as the most beautiful.
Now that the volcano is extinct, it serves as the largest location of fresh water on the island.  This is also the most important part of the island to one of the more recent civilizations, the Birdman Cult.  The Birdman Cult people took over after the statue-building civilization, though the exact timeframe is unclear (somewhere around the 1550s).  The name of this civilization is based off of the way in which the people chose their leaders - previously through a heredity system - which was now done through a yearly competition.  Each year, boys of a certain age competed to collect the first egg laid by a certain species of migratory bird, the sooty tern.  The sooty tern arrived once a year to breed on a small island off the coast of where the Rano Kau volcano is located.  The competitors scaled the far side of the volcano, down 340 meters, into the ocean where they swam across shark infested waters to arrive on a very small islet and awaited the birds to begin laying eggs.  The first to arrive back on the island with an egg was the new "royalty" of the civilization.

Luckily, we didn't need to do all that, we're all friends here:

We also visited one of the many cave sites on the island - Las Dos Ventanas.  It was very cool, and very dark, and a bit scary (both the ride and trying to navigate the cave in the pitch black).  The only lights we had were a cell phone, and the flash of my camera. It is named "The Two Windows" based on the 2-way view you have of the ocean from the inside of the cave.

One Ventana
Dos Ventanas
We had lots to eat at our hotel, but we ventured to the Haka Honu restaurant twice on our trip, and both meals were incredible.  The drinks were fresh (they had fresh fruit juices like papaya, mango, strawberry, etc for the girls) and the seafood was to die for.  This was the best ceviche we had on the trip, and possibly the best seafood I have had ever.

And then, even though it was cloudy at the hotel, we ventured to the beach once again on the other side of the island.  We were in luck!  The beach was beautiful, clear and sunny!
Daddy and Gretchen enjoying the waves
A little cool, but too pretty not to get in!

Gretchen and Talia's baby pool
And some Moai to watch over us at the beach...
What an amazing trip.  One of the places that we will almost certainly never visit again - but recommend to anyone that is interested in history, mysterious cultures, remote locations or beautiful beaches.  We are so lucky to be able to travel to these fantastic locations - Easter Island was pure joy.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Easter Island: The Sights

Many people have asked me what there was to do on Easter Island besides see all the heads.  Though I won't say that there were unlimited other things to, there was plenty to occupy the days that we spent on the island.

The island is small, and I'm sure taxis would have sufficed, but with little ones, we decided to rent cars a couple days of our trip so that we could go at our own pace and not worry about being stranded anywhere.

Our first stop was Rano Raraku, a quarry that is believed to be the origin of all of the Moai (stone head statues) on the island.  Rano Raraku originated as one of the volcanos that formed Easter Island, and became the creation point for the Moai.  The stone statues were carved out of the volcano, then transported to various points around the island. If you look closely, you can see where there are three Moai statues who's creation was halted mid-carve.  There are two lying down, one in front of the other, and another diagonally placed on the side.  This is one of the amazing things about the island, it is as if the island has been frozen in time, and you can see how weather, water and time have taken a toll on how the statues were abandoned.

All around the quarry there are close to 400 Moai, in various stages of decay.  Landslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, wind, saltwater and tribal warfare (and other types of human destruction) have left the Moai half-buried, tipped over and crumbed all over the quarry.  It was eerie, and incredible at the same time to see so many of these interesting statues seemingly thrown all over the landscape of this site.  The pictures barely do it justice, the heads are enormous and made of solid rock, and they are thought to have been made around the years of AD 1000 - 1100 - a thousand years ago!  How the heck did they do that?! Remember how remote this island is?  This is a mystery in and of itself.
Once again, the Dads carry the girls...
While the adults were marveling at the wonder of Rano Raraku, the girls were alternating between driving each other crazy, and sharing.  Here is a sweet moment where Talia shares her blanket with Gretchen - and I'm leaving out the moment, 5 seconds later, when Gretchen throws it onto the dusty ground.

 It's difficult to see from this photo, but the inside of the dormant volcano is home to one of the few freshwater reservoirs on the island.  This attracts herds of wild horses, which are present in this photo - the little brown dots between the dark Moai statues.  There have been satellite photos and GPS mapping that have identified other completely buried Moai, but there are a few still visible on the inside ring of the volcano.

The volcano is an interesting landscape because the center is water - not what I think of when I think of a volcano, and the surrounding area is plush and green.  If you cross over the crest of the volcano, you'll find red-ish, desert-like dirt with no life whatsoever. They are extreme soil climates and they are within a few yards of each other, it was a bit strange.

The next site we drove to was Ahu Tongariki, the most recent restoration on the island.  These statues were resurrected in 1995 in the largest restoration to date on the island.  Only one of the statues has been reunited with their topknot, though many other stones that look like topknots are strewn about the landscape.  They are a formidable sight to see, the 15 Moai with the Pacific Ocean waves crashing in the background.  Also, one of the stranger things to happen on the trip was that we encountered a whole flock of chickens at this site.  It started with one chicken, then a few more joined, and it turned into a whole flock of chickens that were following us wherever we went.  We enjoyed it regardless of the chickens, it was a beautiful site.

We also enjoyed the fact that along the road there were toppled Moai that have yet to be replaced to their original locations.

Our last stop for the day was the lovely Anakena beach - a small beach with pure white sand and crystal clear water.  Complete the picture with this platform of Moai statues presiding over the beach, and you have a perfect spot to spend an afternoon.

There are also 2 or 3 places at the entrance to the beach where you buy fresh fish items, including fresh tuna empanadas, a small selection of beers and some other snacks and beverages.  There is a changing room and a surprisingly clean bathroom facility, but it will cost you $500 Chilean Pesos (approx. USD$1) to use it.

The girls spent the afternoon in the fort that Jon and Jeff built, it was tough work, but someone had to do it...

Gretchen was in her glory as the fairest person on the beach -  

The beach is small, but there were very few other beach-goers that day, so we had prime, waterfront locations.  The water was cool, but completely transparent.  The Newhooks are made for the beach!

So, most of our destinations on the island had something to do with the Moai, but at times it was easy to forget that they were even there!  The beach, the quarry, the drive itself was serene and beautiful - with wild horses and herds of cows crossing the road more than once - and the fact that we could visit so many places in one way was a breath of fresh air from some of our more recent trips.  Stay tuned for more Easter Island goodness, there were more sights to see in the following days...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Easter Island - More Than Just Some Heads!

We spent last week on the most remote, inhabited island in the world.  We took a trip to Easter Island, known as Isla de Pascua in Spanish speaking countries or Rapa Nui, as it is referred to locally.  They all refer to the same place, a teensy, tiny island off the coast of Chile.  Waaaayyyyyy off the coast. In fact, Easter Island is 2,300 miles west of South America - its closest neighbor - and the next closest piece of land is Tahiti which is 2.500 miles further west.  If you have Google Earth handy, search for the island - and then you'll have a good idea of how amazing it is that anyone ever found it.

Obviously this is a less amazing discovery now that we have satellites and aerial views, but there is strong evidence that suggests that people lived on the island as early as 400AD, and that is truly remarkable.

The island is full of mysteries, there is little left of the original culture, so many of these mysteries go unanswered.

The island received its western name from Jacob Roggeveen, a Dutch navigator that first spotted the island on Easter Sunday 1722.  At this point in history, the indigenous trees of the island were extinct, the island population had been decimated by overpopulation and deforestation.  Since then, trees have been planted and some of the statues that had been knocked over by time, water, weather, or people  have now been restored to their original posts.

We visited the island via Lima, Peru, which was a decently longer trip than the more traditional route through Santiago, Chile, but the flights got us to the island with only one day of travel instead of taking an additional night to get there.

The only airport in Easter Island was a 2 minute drive from our hotel, yet we never heard a plane on our trip.  We stayed at the Hanga Roa Hotel, in the town of Hanga Roa, and it was a beautiful location. Our room was spacious and comfortable, our porch opened to an ocean front view.

It was a great hotel, great location, with inconsistent service.  We had many small incidents that could have been handled better by the staff, and discussed them with the manager prior to leaving the hotel, but the facility itself was fantastic.

This trip was intended to be a go-at-your-own-pace vacation, so instead of having tours lined up we rented cars for a couple of days and then spent the rest of the time exploring the island on foot.  It was an amazing, once in a lifetime experience and it will take more than one post to cover it all.  Here are some previews to the rest of the vacation: