“Now, where is this?” I was talking to my travel-anywhere buddy, Ernestine, as we were flying into Santiago, Chile on our first leg to Easter Island.
“It’s off the coast of Chile, in the Pacific. Here, look at this flight map.” She put it in my hands and I tried to focus my eyes – it was the tail end of a nighttime trip from Miami.
“Oh.” That was all I could manage.
“Yea,” she said. “It’s another 5-hour flight after this.”
“OMG! It’s five hours to nowhere.” In my mind we were going to an island that is in the middle of nowhere. We were flying over the Pacific for 5 hours to reach the most remote inhabited island in the world.
“I have to ask,” I said. “Tell me again, why are we doing this?”
Thus began our adventure to Easter Island.
We were the only flight that morning. No, actually, we were the only flight that day to arrive on Easter Island. In fact, there is only one airline that flies there – once a day – round trip from Santiago to Easter Island. After disembarking and walking to the concrete block building that was the terminal, we were driven to our hotel-lodge in the town of about 5,000 people. There is a population of a little more than 5,000 on the island, so we were all together now. We’d arrived in the spring, which was September; the area was blooming and the temperatures a bit chilly.
From that moment on we were engulfed in the culture and history of Rapa Nui, what we call Easter Island. And, we were there to learn in the next eight days all we could about the moai – the monolithic stone statues from 700 AD, maybe earlier, that stand by the sea and are believed to represent the ancestors of now-extinct tribes on the island.
The experience of the moai was palatable – you could feel the energies at the different sites. More about that later. What amazed me initially were the numbers of wild horses everywhere: walking in herds through the streets of town; running across the mostly unfenced fields; walking across the moai sites to find tender grass between the ancient quarried stones, petroglyphs, and massive statues that were there first. Horses were introduced by priests a couple of hundred years ago; but now, they have the run of the place. And, there are horses’ bones in fields, by the roads, all around. Even our driver had a hat and matching necklace with their bones. He said he made them. He just walked out in a field near his house and got the bones.
The story of the moai was woven by Christian, our guide and historian of the Island and a descendent of the Rapa Nui peoples. We visited the lava site where the master carvers made the moai, saw unfinished works still in the stone walls, as well as moi that were being dragged to villages but toppled over on the way. As we worked our way around the island, we saw various platforms of moai that had been found toppled over but now recently restored to upright positions, with reddish “hats” and eyes pasted into the carved sockets.
When I checked the sites with the compass on my walking stick, each site was “true” to its direction – north, south, east or west. One of the last sites we visited had not been restored. There, the moai were toppled with their faces down in the ground. Getting off the van, I could feel the energy of defeat and sadness. This was how the hostile, aggressive tribes at the ending of the moai culture treated their neighbors – they toppled the venerated ancestors as a form of humiliation and degradation. Then the moai worshipers disappeared; other cultures developed; trading ships from Europe finally arrived (no one knew the island was there); slavers from Peru and Chile came to steal workers; almost everyone died off from diseases or disappeared.
Now, there is an occasional small cruise ship that stops by – it has to anchor off the rocky coast and tender folks to shore as there is no harbor, only volcanic rocks into the sea; and, the airplane arrives with a load of tourists every day. Like I said, the most remote inhabited island in the world. After eight days there, nothing else seemed to exist in the world, only Rapa Nui, the moai, the sea, and the sky.