Friday, February 2, 2007

First day on Easter Island

Our first full day on Easter Island couldn't have been better. In the morning, we hiked to Maunga Terevaka, the highest point on the island, one of the 3 inactive volcanos (also the youngest). It is about 1500 feet above sea level. It was a pretty easy hike because even though it was high it was not very steep. Our guide that morning was Ule (sp?), the only female guide at Explora. Ule means "black" in Rapa Nui.

There were 3 other in our group - Becky quit her job as a lawyer in Georgia last summer and just started a year of travel by herself. Betsy and Craig recently retired to Sonoma, CA and are on a 2 week trip that includes Easter Island and Patagonia. They were great hiking companions!

From there, we went down the other side of the volcano toward the beach. Along the way, Ule found us some fresh grapes that were delicious. It was a beautiful hike with scenery that seemed to change every few steps. After a few hours we arrived at one of the 2 sandy beaches on the island called Playa de Anakena. There the Explora group had a nice lunch waiting and we were able to jump in the water and cool off. A van was waiting there to take us back to the hotel to rest a bit before heading out on the next hike.

Also at the beach we saw our first Moai (the big carved heads) at Ahu Nau Nau. This is also the site of the first Moai that were restored, including the only one that was restored by hand instead of with cranes. These were not very large compared to some, but were still quite impressive. Larger Moai are the ones created last. Smaller ones are not less significant just older. The Moai were carved to honor kings of the different clans. Very important Moai have red stone hats on the top. The Moai were all placed close to the water where the people lived, but facing in towards the village like they are watching over the people.

They are on large stone platforms called Ahu which are really tombs where they would bury the dead. There are places where by removing a large stone they could crawl into the platforms to place the dried remains of the deceased (similar to mumification).

After a brief rest, we set out on our second expedition to see more Moai and hike along the coast. Becky, Betsie, and Craig were our hiking companions again. The van dropped us off at Ahu Te Peu, another Moai site. Here we saw more ruins from a village and our guide Yoyo pointed out the stone foundations of houses where important people lived, greenhouses, and chicken coops.

Our new good friend Yoyo...

Then we started a hike from Ahu Te Peu along the western coast of the island towards the only town on the island called Hanga Roa. It was breathtaking as we walked along cliffs and ever changing scenery. Along the way, Yoyo pointed out 2 different caves that were created by lava tunnels and we were able to go inside and explore.

We ended the hike at Ahu Tahai, another Moai site close to the town. Here there was also an ancient boat launch where the Rapa Nui send out boats to go fishing. There were modern Rapa Nui houses on the hill above the site, and Yoyo told us that the same family that lives there has been there since the time of the Moai and has passed it down from generation to generation. Talk about prime real estate!

After that we got back in the van and went back to the hotel, where a feast was waiting for us. The food at Explora is fantastic, and from me that is saying a lot! Quality, presentation, and service were comparable to the best restaurants in NYC.

We had no idea when we scheduled our trip, but Feb 1 marks the beginning of an annual 2 weeks festival on the island called "Partida de Rapa Nui". Each year families compete to win points to select a Queen. In the evening, they had the opening ceremony which included music, dance, food, and more. Half of the island must have shown up. It was extra special to get to participate in an event that was not focused on the tourists but was for the local people.

By midnight, we were pooped and headed back to the hotel to go to bed!

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