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Easter Island, The Navel of the World

January 9, 2018

I could get used to this. I awoke to the sweet smell of freshly peeled oranges and the sound of the surf. Ol, was already awake and out on the verandah. The sun doesn’t rise until after seven a.m., and the cool breeze made it easy to sleep in.

When I remembered where we were, I rolled over and grabbed my Rapa Nui Park visitor guide (the entire island is a national park). It was time to plan our first full day on the island. 

After looking at the map, I thought that it might be prudent to take it easy on the mountain bikes that we had rented for the week. Maybe we should keep our mileage low for the first few days and save the more ambitious rides for later in the week. The map showed that the island had one main road that ran along one the beach and looped back through the middle of the island. The total distance to make the loop was about forty kilometers.

There also appeared to be a smaller loop that followed a dirt trail along the other coast leading to several archeological sites before it looped back to town.

Ol quickly agreed to the shorter route. I started the arduous part of my day, slathering on loads of sunscreen. By the time we packed our bag and hit the door it was a little after ten a.m. The sun was also getting stronger, but thankfully there was a steady sea breeze on the trail.

After five minutes of going down hill on a dirt road riddled with volcanic rocks, I had to reassess my judgement about the weekly bike rental. The fact that people were passing us on four wheelers didn’t give me any comfort! 

To avoid the rocks, I had to stand on the pedals and hope that I didn’t wear out the brakes. The road was a series of potholes, rocks, bumps, and hills. There would definitely be an off road dirt bike learning curve for me. The fact that the trail ran along the ocean which was at least five shades of the most beautiful blue didn’t help. It was hard to look down at the dirt path. I was hoping that this got easier.

We took our time and passed two platforms of Moai, Tahai and Hanga Kio’e, which we had explored the day before.  We learned that all of the statues on Easter Island had been knocked down, probably during wars between the tribes on the island. The Moai that are standing today have been restored.

We made our way up the coast to the park entrance where our first stop would be for a series of historical caves. We visited with the two park guides who were enjoying a fresh cut watermelon. They offered us a taste. 

As I looked through our bag for our park tickets, I realized that I had left them in our room with our passports. I wanted to die. It was hot and my bootie was more than a little sore from the tiny bike seat. It would take at least an hour to go to the hotel and back, and now the sun was out in full force.

The park ranger told us not to worry and offered us another generous chunk of watermelon. We each bragged about who had the sweetest watermelon, Rapa Nui or Mississippi. He then offered to drive Ol back to our hotel to get our tickets and passports.

I took the time to visit with the younger park guide. He shared his love of surfing and talked about the different seasons on the island. His stories of the whales made me want to come back during their winter. I shared with him photos from our journey and pictures of home. 

It took Ol and the other ranger about an hour to make it back. Apparently, the road is so bad that a four wheel drive truck isn’t any faster than a mountain bike.

After we registered, Ol shared his sunset photos with our new friends. They were thrilled to have his beautiful sunset images of their home. We then continued down the road on our journey looking for the first cave. We almost missed it because we did not realize that it was only a small hole in the ground. The trail was so rough that I had to laugh at myself. Like hiking and skiing I do better on the uphill sections, and I need the entire hillside for the downhills!

We did not see the small entrance to the cave the first time we pedaled by. I was distracted by a cool shade tree and a group of cows. Ol bravely entered into the narrow opening. I was worried that we might not fit as it seemed so small.  As soon as we entered we turned on our flashlights.

The cave was cool compared to the midday sun. We learned that the cave was actually a lava tube which soon opened up to a larger area where we could stand upright. The tube  branched in two different directions, and the light shining in from the other end was almost blinding in the darkness.

When we reached the end of the cave, we looked out and were treated to views of the crystal blue sea and rugged coastline. The cave opened onto the face of a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean. We were awestruck. It was beautiful. After enjoying the view we ventured down the other branch of the tube which again opened onto the sea below. 

The caves were used by the native people for safety, ceremonies and storage. I’m sure over the centuries they were also used for romantic getaways by the island's young lovers. 

Thankfully, getting out of the cave was a lot easier than going in. When we exited, the ranger was sitting on a hill above the cave. I think that he was curious to see Ol’s photos.

The next cave was just a few minutes further down the road. We visited the cave and the site of Ahu Tepeu, which was a large archeological site with the remains of a village and an unrestored Moai platform. The second cave was not as impressive.

The third cave was the largest on the island and it was literally an oasis. One section of the cave was used to store water. The cool and protected entrance made it a perfect sanctuary for many native plants and banana trees. One large area was used for ceremonies and on the walls there were etchings. The entire cave was  impressive. I didn’t want to leave it’s cool shade. 

Even though we had a full day and were almost out of water, Ol, the sun worshipper, wanted to continue uphill to one last site, Ahu Akivi, which is a stunning restored platform. 

I admit that I was getting a little whiney. I wanted to skip the sightseeing and return to town. Ol agreed to let me drink the rest of the water. It turned out that the site was only a few minutes up the hill. I was excited to see that it had a cabana with water and snacks for sale. I enjoyed the much needed shade and watched Ol take his pictures.

When we arrived we were the only ones there, but just as Ol laid down in the grass to take a few pictures, a tourist bus arrived. He looked a little crazy lurking in the bushes. Though he patiently waited he never quite got his shot because too many tourists were in the way. 

I was happy that our ride home was mostly downhill. Even though I was exhausted, I kept a hand on my brakes during the downhill glide (when did I become such a chicken? I used to race cars and jump snowmobiles!).

After a much needed shower and a nice dinner, we ended our day with another beautiful sunset. Our little loop had ended up taking us about eight hours and I was having a little bit of trouble sitting and walking. So much for easing into the biking!

To give our bodies a break,  we decided to sign up for a full day tour of the island the next day. My bum was thankful! We thought that it might be good to have a professional guide tell us the history of the island and to help explain what we were seeing.

Unfortunately, our tour reminded me of why I don’t like most tours. Our guide was very nice, just not very passionate about her job. She was from Germany and had been living on the island for five years.  She didn’t impart any information that wasn’t already on the signs at each site. 

The thing I found most irritating was that she would not wait for everyone to gather around before she started talking. We could have rented a car for the day for the same price and read the signs on our own.

After lunch, our guide didn’t even bother to get off the bus. She would tell us to simply wander around and enjoy the site and be back in forty minutes. However, without the tour we may have missed the navel of the world. The mysterious stone was believed to have been brought to the island specifically by the first king, Hotu Matua. The name of the stone comes from the legend that it is the navel of the world, from which all life sprang, although this is more likely due to its perfectly round shape. No matter the origin, the rock does display a few abnormal traits. For instance, when a compass is placed on the rock it loses its direction, likely due to magnetic elements in the rock itself. 

The day was still fun however because the sites were amazing and there were only six of us in the group. We quickly became friends and everyone had a lot of fun. Ol and I decided that we would revisit several of the sites on our own via our bikes. 

For both Ol and I, our favorite archeological site was Rano Raraku, the quarry where the Moa were carved. There are many theories on how the Moai were created, moved, and erected.  It was fascinating to see the statues in different stages of creation. No one knows the reason, but it looks as though the tools were simply laid down and the stonemasons just walked away.

Each statue was carved in the likeness of a village leader. Over time, the statues got bigger and bigger. My theory is that they finished carving the largest statue and an argument broke out about moving it. Obviously the leader thought a little too much of himself! 

Overtime, the soil covered some of the statues in the quarry. This is where internet hoaxes about the statues having bodies that are hidden underground arose. If you look at the images on the platforms you will see that all of the statues have bodies. 

We also loved the restored platform Tongariki which Ol was excited about visiting for sunrise.

Tongariki has the largest erected Moai on the island and the platform is also the longest.  Like all of the Moai on the island, they were knocked down for some unknown reason. These statues were then carried away from their platform by the tsunami that hit the island in the 1960’s. 

The Japanese government donated the money to restore the platform in the 1990’s. Only one of the red hats were placed back on, because archeologists couldn’t determine which statue wore which hat. The other hats are off to the side all lined up. 

Our last stop on the tour was Anakena. The large sand beach on the island. It also had a beautiful platform. The beach was beautiful with coconut trees, little grass roofed restaurants serving fresh juice, cocktails and the best ceviche of our trip. It was paradise.

 

We had an hour to enjoy the beach and our tour was over. We said goodbye to our new friends.

 

Tomorrow we are back on the bikes!

 

 

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