map source: Great Circle Mapper.
Since we set out from London shortly before the end of November until this point, some three months later, we have travelled a rough 36,000 kilometres (24,000 miles) from west to east, in eight countries across nineteen time zones. We have taken sixteen flights (four long haul), twelve intercity buses, two ferries, two hired cars, and one long distance train – in addition to numerous local buses, suburban trains, underground trains, minivans, taxis, trams, pickup trucks, four-wheel drives, assorted tuk-tuks, two small boats, and one large elephant. We have crossed the Equator once (and we’ll be crossing it three more times), the Tropic of Cancer also once (and we’ll cross it once more), the Tropic of Capricorn three times (another three to go), and we have crossed the International Date Line, just the once. As the crow flies, we have completed over half of our trip around the world. All this to say that it has been an extraordinary journey to get here.
The very hospitable owners of the B&B we stayed at in Hanga Roa – the island’s only town, where practically everyone lives – were kind enough to lend us a brilliant guide book for the duration of our five-day stay: A Companion To Easter Island (Guide To Rapa Nui) by James Grant-Peterkin, the British honorary consul, which starts with this quote by Pierre Loti:
“In the middle of the Great Ocean, in a region where no one ever passes, there is a mysterious and isolated island; there is no land in the vicinity and, for more than eight hundred leagues in all directions, empty and moving vastness surrounds it. It is planted with tall, monstrous statues, the work of some now-vanished race, and its past remains an enigma.”
The book was indeed our perfect companion while we toured the island and visited most of its UNESCO World Heritage Sites by ourselves – we don’t really like guided tours. It is definitely worth reading even if you never come to Easter Island – though of course you should absolutely visit if the opportunity arises. It’s not just the “monstrous statues”, the island itself is insanely beautiful. There are white sand beaches, volcanic craters, caves… Thousands of semi-wild horses roam freely all over the island. You can spot sea turtles in bays of crystal clear waters, and caracaras (a bird of prey) flying all around. The people who live here are warm and friendly. It will blow your mind, as it has blown ours.
To paint a quick picture of Easter Island, it measures only 23 kilometres at its longest part; its nearest inhabited neighbour is Pitcairn Island, some 2,000 kilometres away, and its nearest continental point is in Chile, about 3,500 kilometres away. It sits on the Nazca plate and moves with it towards South America at a rate of 3.7cm per year (roughly the same as the Moon spins away from the Earth, or your fingernails grow), and will eventually be dragged under the ocean and then subducted under the South American plate – but not for a while yet. It is thought that the first humans to reach Easter Island did so by canoe from another part of Polynesia some time between 600 and 900 AD after what must have been an astonishing voyage. These people took the Polynesian tradition of ancestor worshiping to a whole new level with the carving of hundreds of enormous stone statues – moai – that were placed on sacred platforms around the island, a practice that would ultimately decimate the island’s resources and cause terrible upheaval some 200 years ago. All carving stopped abruptly as civil war erupted, and all the erected moai were toppled by the islanders themselves; the moai we see today have been restored since 1955. The first Europeans landed on Easter Sunday in 1722, and gave the island its present name. It was annexed by Chile in 1888 – some locals are still very upset about this; the language spoken is Spanish, along with Rapanui. About 6,000 people live in Easter Island. There is a daily flight to and from Santiago, and a weekly one to and from Pape’ete, plus the occasional stop by large cruise ships. The food is alright, as long as you like tuna.
map source: Wikipedia.
Despite its small size, and as we learned, it takes several days to get around the island and actually see it in any meaningful way, especially as large areas are only accessible by foot or on horseback. We hiked to the edge of the crater at Rano Kau – almost getting blown over it by a sudden freak storm – and walked through the ruins of Orongo, where the Birdman was crowned; we drove inland to Ahu Akivi, where the moai face sunset during the Spring Equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the Autumn Equinox; to Anakena, on the north coast, where it is said that Hotu Matu’a landed with the first settlers and where I had the best swim I have ever had in any ocean in my entire life. We stood on Rano Raraku, where all the moai were carved and where dozens lay abandoned (the rather exotic annual men’s triathlon takes place inside the crater, as part of the Tapati Festival – which we missed by about a week). We drove to the south coast, to Ahu Tongariki, the biggest restored site on the island and certainly its most spectacular, and continued driving along the coast, practically stopping every few hundred metres to see another site, or just to take in the staggering views – and a lot of the time while we were doing all of that there was nobody else around. Hanga Roa itself was pleasant enough, despite the heat. There were some passable restaurants and generally enough to keep us entertained after a long day sightseeing, and we barely minded the heat, the sunburn, the insect bites, or – most definitely – the cockroaches. It is a very long way from home, but if there is a place on Earth that I would love to see again some time before I die that place is Rapa Nui.
Here are some of the many, many photos we took:
Having now crossed Oceania, this is also the end of the second leg of our trip (the first being Hong Kong and South East Asia). We are now in South America, the third and final leg. If everything goes according to plan, we will travel from Colombia to Argentina, crossing Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia on the way. We will be visiting again some of the places we know from previous trips, as well as going to many others for the first time. It will be a great chance too for Simon to brush up his Spanish, and for me to reconnect with a culture which is very close to my heart.
All media in this blog © Xavier González | Simon Smith unless otherwise credited. All maps from Google Maps, also unless otherwise credited. Please note videos may play at low res depending on the settings on your device; you can easily solve that.