#1 Easter Island, Oct. 8, 2007

Dear Everybody,

I left Minneapolis at 2:00 PM, and thirty-two hours and four flights later, I landed on Rapa Nui or Easter Island. The last flight from Santiago, Chile to Rapa Nui went straight out into the Pacific for five and a half hours—think New York to San Francisco. I wondered if the pilot could actually find that tiny 8 X 12 mile speck of land in the dark. And if that seems like magic, what about 6-12 centuries ago when they traded with Pitcairn Island, which was a thousand miles away? There are four flights per week from Santiago and two from Papeete.

In the airport I made the rounds of the ladies standing at a counter, all offering rooms in their houses, showing pictures of the facilities. I chose Ladia and Sergio’s and they drove me to their house, which has three ‘motel’ type rooms for guests like me. Ladia and Sergio are about my age and are lovely people.

The next morning I got my wake-up call from the neighborhood rooster and after breakfasting with Ladia and a Spanish man, I walked a couple of miles to see some of the moai—those huge strange statues that define this island. Catching first sight of them gave me butterflies in my stomach—did I ever think that I would actually see them? The bright morning sun lit them beautifully along with the background of the blue Pacific Ocean throwing white foam over the blackish lava costal rocks. What a sight!

The main town of the island, Hanga Roa (population 3800) is a laid back, flowering tree lined, pleasant place to hang out—how laid back? When I bought stamps at the post office to mail cards to the grandkids, he couldn’t change a bill worth $10 and I only had a little change—not enough. Oh well, he stamped the cards and I mailed them and he said to pay the remaining 60 cents the next day. I finally found one coffee shop that brews coffee—every other place uses instant. Over coffee I had a nice chat with five women from New Zealand.

The church here has some of the most unusual hand carved wooden statues that I’ve ever seen. They are spectacular, if strange.

Poking about in the artesania markets, the cemetery, the fishing harbor and viewing more moai kept me busy until lunch, which was a pisco sour and fish with light green mashed sweet potatoes in a restaurant hanging out over the Pacific.

That evening at sunset I revisited my morning moai and snapped many colorful and dramatic pictures and then walked home in the dark—I managed to find my house at the end of the unpaved lane!

One morning I went to the market to buy a papaya, and the fish catch was in—several huge black tuna and two four-foot long, six-inch thick eel-like creatures, plus lots of little fish. The museum was a nice walk along the ocean and had its own moai. It explained that the island was settled around 500 AD by people from Polynesia but much of the later history is unknown.

I discovered free Internet service at the public library here. Two computers were donated by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Remember Jeanne, Bob, Judy, Jim and Wolfie—we found the same in a small town in Cornwall. It’s getting to be a small world.

Lunch was ‘take out’ rotisseried chicken and fries, along with a really good grocery store bottle of Casillero del Diablo Chilean Cab. Sauvignon. Gosh, that was GOOD! Another day I enjoyed tuna carppaccio—raw tuna with capers and onions, while viewing the colorful fishing boats at a cute dockside restaurant.

The weather has been perfect—highs of about 85 degrees F., but with a cooling Pacific breeze. Nights require a blanket for comfortable sleeping.

Sunday morning I had a few minutes to attend mass before going on a tour. The church was packed—the people look very Polynesian and the music was fabulous—also Polynesian. I don’t get Thor Heyerdahl. In the ’40’s his theory was that Rapa Nui was settled by South Americans who came on a reed raft, which feat he duplicated with his raft, Kon Tiki, and wrote a book by the same name. (Even ‘Kon Tiki’ sounds Polynesian!) I remember reading his second book, “Aku Aku”, (about Rapa Nui) in the late ’50’s. I think it was a “Book of the Month Club” pick—which my sister, Jeanne, subscribed to. Anyway, I think it’s plain to see that the people came from the west, not from the east.

The tour that I took included several sites with moai standing on their ahus (platforms) and some where they were toppled face down. About the time Europeans got here (18th C.) there were no standing moai anymore, as there had been civil wars between the “long ears” and the “short ears” competing for food that population pressures had caused. Jared Diamond reviews this example in his recent book, “Collapse” which should be a warning to us about our planet Earth. Anyway, a number of moai have been reconstructed and put back on their ahus and are now standing upright, some with their red topknots on their heads. They are magnificent statues, always turned inward from the sea, casting their ‘mana’ (power) over the village that was in front of the platform. They are not religious symbols, but are representing actual ancestors.

We also saw the volcano quarry from which they were carved. There are dozens of them still in the middle of being carved, discontinued about 1550; then dozens upright on the shoulders of the volcano, buried to their shoulders for more fine carving on the faces; then a few were prone, ready to make their journey to their final destination. One moai still ‘in situ’ was 21 meters (about 65 feet) long—the largest one on the island.

After visiting several sites and having lunch, the day ended with a swim in the Pacific at Anakena beach. This was heavenly refreshing after a warm day in the sun. The water was crystal clear with tiny bright blue fish for swimming companions.

It was interesting to chat with our young male tour guide who definitely felt that the legends were true—Hotu Matua led an original band of settlers from the west—Polynesia— in about 500 AD. He said that Rapa Nui is his first language (he dreams in it), which they speak in their home, and in school, along with Spanish, since Rapa Nui belongs to Chile now. He had been off the island only once when he served two years in the Chilean navy at Valparaiso, but chose to return to his family, his island, and his culture.

Rapa Nui really is what I had hoped it would be—a unique place in the world, I think.

Cordially,

Carol

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