Rapa Nui; Un Sueño Cumplido
I’m dedicating this post to my trip to Rapa Nui, aka Isla de Pascua aka Easter Island. Whatever you call may call it, I call it absolutely incredible.
This place has been on my radar since I first heard about the most remote island in the world with hundreds mysterious statues scattered about. Both my mom and myself dreamed of visiting this place while I was living in Chile. Rapa Nui is Chilean territory, so it made sense to make use of my current residence. The only problem was that it’s not exactly cheap to get there. Plane tickets are costly, and limited –they limit the number of people coming and going from the island. With my departure date approaching, we thought, well it’s now or never.
The ride there was wonderful. Somehow, we sat in business premium on our flight there. I imagine there isn’t a surplus of men and women traveling to Rapa Nui to do business… We felt like royalty in our fancy chairs that transformed into beds at the touch of a button. We were given drinks in real glasses and a gourmet breakfast. On our seats there were little bags waiting for us filled with everything we could possibly need for the 5.5-hour flight.
After a restful flight wrapped up in my duvet, we landed on the rainy island. My first thought was, are we in Ireland? With the dark overcast, rain and acres of greenery, it looked identical! We immediately got a taste of the kindness of the Rapa Nui people we’ve heard so much about. Our hotel picked us up and donned us with flower leis upon our arrival. We were over the moon, and in the middle of nowhere.
We spent our first day exploring. Shortly after we set out on our walk, the clouds rolled in and a soft rain began. After a while, we were soaked to the bone, but we really didn’t mind. We were so excited to be seeing our first moais in person. We also enjoyed greeting all of the dogs around the island. Many of the dogs stayed with us and joined us on our walk.
That night, we went on a stargazing tour. It was probably my favorite tour we took. Our tour guides were a comedic duo, that really made the tour so fun. One guide was a tattoo-covered old hippie originally from England and the other was a young (very attractive) Rapa Nui guy. The Rapa Nui was so kind and had such a light-hearted happy spirit. He loved to sing and was so enthusiastic about sharing his family’s music with us. I love seeing people so genuinely passionate about sharing their culture with others.
We drove far from the city to a remote field. The tour guides set up a very expensive telescope and calibrated it to show us several different star clusters and even planets. We saw Saturn, mars, the jewel-box cluster, the southern cross, Scorpio and the milky way. I can’t express the sheer magnitude of stars we saw in that remote field on the most remote island in the world. Words that come to mind are stunning, breathtaking and incomprehensible. We drank hot chocolate and ate local banana bread.
Before the tour was over, we drove to Anakena Beach which is believed to be the place where the king first arrived to Rapa Nui. It’s a very spiritual and sacred place to the locals. Our Rapa Nui guide had us sit under the moais and he sang us a Rapa Nui song under the stars. Listening to his song, with the silhouette of 13-foot moais towering over us under thousands of stars with the distant sound of waves crashing was one of the most surreal moments of my life. It was truly a spiritual moment. I can’t explain it. Those who have visited Rapa Nui can confirm that there is an energy on the island that radiates throughout. It is one of the most magical places I have ever visited.
A little bit about Rapa Nui, and why is it such a tourist destination. The moais are just a bunch of statues right? Wrong. We have very little concrete information about what happened there because the Rapa Nui culture had no written records –they were an oral culture where everything was told through song or story but they had no written language. Much of what they do know about Rapa Nui comes from stories passed down through generations. It is very important to the locals to continue to share their stories to anyone that will listen.
So much of the things you hear about Rapa Nui is speculation. There are several theories on what the moais were used for, how they were moved etc. I learned this because we took a tour with a local Rapa Nui woman who drove us around the island. She told me that most of the information written in books and documentaries is not true –it was written by Europeans. I really enjoyed hearing her take on things and her theories based on stories she heard from her grandparents.
She told us that it is believed that the purpose of a moai is to be a mausoleum for a person of prestige or power, similar to the pyramids of Egypt. The person was buried underground, usually cremated, and an ahu or platform was built on top. The moai was then lifted onto the platform. It was believed that the spirit of the person entered into the moai and was able to see out of the moai’s eyes. The eyes were made from coral from the ocean. If you look today, the moais don’t have eyes. This is because when pirates arrived to the island, they looted all of the eyes. Since the moais don’t have eyes, the people of Rapa Nui don’t believe the moais are alive anymore. They’re simply there, they have no life anymore. Only one eye was returned to the island which is now in the museum.
Something to note is how enormous the moais actually are. Most average about 13 feet tall and weigh 14 tons. They were constructed with such precision that they were actually just balancing on the platforms –with no cement of anything to hold them in place. In some pictures, you’ll notice that the moais have something on their heads. Many people believe this represents the hair of the Rapa Nui people. The locals have long thick black hair that they tie up in a bun on the top of their heads. Others believe they are hats. What’s interesting about it is that those top pieces are made from a completely different stone. By themselves, the hair can weigh up 2-3 tons and was inserted on the top of the moai like a Lego.
^^Rapa Nui cave paintings
^^My mom's horse's name in Rapa Nui meant "messy hair"
^^This rock is considered the "belly button of the world". They believe someone brought this rock here, which is perfectly round, because it is not from the island. It is perfectly placed in it's location. If you hold a compass or magnet above it, the magnet will never stop spinning because of it's magnetic charge.
Nowadays, all the moais you see that are standing upright have been restored (with cement). Originally, all of the moais were knocked down. There is a lot of dispute over why all of the moais were knocked down, but I will share the theory of my tour guide –the one I also believe.
As time progressed, Rapa Nui began to grow over-populated. So much so that they have found evidence on stones that they believed they used to keep track of how many children each family had. People disregarded the rules and continued to have more and more children as the population increased. This started to cause tension between the people because there was not enough food on the island. All of the trees had been used –if you visit the island, there are very few trees nowadays. Eventually, this led to cannibalism. In an effort to try to control the over-population, the Birdman ritual was created. It was an annual ceremony each year where several men competed and died, ending with one victor –think The Hunger Games.
This was a tense time during their civilization. Eventually, people started to arrive to the island from other parts of the world. The Rapa Nui had originally believed they were the only people in the world. With them, these people brought disease. Slowly, their entire belief systems began to crumble in front of them. The Rapa Nui became angry with the gods and decided to knock down the moais as a form of protest. My tour guide told us that many local people don’t want the moais to be restored to their original positions because it wasn’t what their ancestors wanted.
So far, they have counted upwards of 800 moais. There are moais scattered all over the island. Several have their bodies buried underground. It’s actually safer for their bodies to be underground since with time they’ve become so fragile. The moais were carved out on the side of a volcano. It was a meticulous and tiring process that took years and years. But my guide told us that the Rapa Nui didn’t have the concept of time like we do. They were so passionate about creating moais. There has also been a lot of dispute on how the moais were moved. Our guide said they they suspect it took close to 100 years for a moai to arrive to his final resting place.
^^The mountainside where the Moais where created
^^A very rare moai, the only moai with feet. He also has a bald head and beard.
Since I arrived in Chile, I’ve wanted to get a moai tattoo to symbolize my time living here. But I felt that I couldn’t do it until I actually visited the Island. During our visit, we learned that tattoos are very important to the Rapa Nui people. You’ll struggle to find a Rapa Nui person without tattoos. The Rapa Nui culture is centered around artistic expression through art, words and song. There’s actually one Moai that has tattoo-like designs painted on his body. The ancient Rapa Nui people loved tattoos but didn’t have the ink or materials, so they painted their bodies.
Kim in Rapa Nui means "wind". Although in Mapuche (another Chilean native language) it means "wise".
^^Wash your "cockery"
^^I had a bad sunburn so our guide pulled over and picked aloe for me off the side of the road
Our Hostel (nice place, private kitchen and they bring you to and from airport, friendly staff)
Stargazing Tour (100% recommend)
Local Rapa Nui Tour Guide (100% recommend, contact her through FB, she doesn't speak English)
Varua Tattoo (super kind and knowledgeable, clean and professional)
(I wanted my tattoo done at the popular Mokomae Tattoo, but the guy was out of town)
A collection of furry friends we encountered during our trip (I definitely got it from my mamá):
I’m so happy I was able to make this dream of mine come true alongside my mom. It was the most incredible trip to be one of my final destinations in Chile.
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