My week in Easter Island gave me a much needed break from the city of Santiago, and I loved the crash course in all things “Rapa Nui,” the original name of the island and the people here, meaning ‘navel of the world’.
While I could gaze at my own navel, this island has some unexpected treasures.
The basic fact that you are nowhere near anything is perhaps the most interesting – most islands have either the mainland or other islands around. La Isla de Pascua has nothing within thousands of kilometers.
Of course the island is famous for the Moai, the giant face statues on the island. I feel like the general ‘mystery’ surrounding them is less intriguing that you might imagine, especially in the current political climate of the world, where I’d hardly bat an eye were a modern government to declare that we’re going to start building statues to contain our souls for the afterlife.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about the Moai, and the history of the island and its’ people, even though the basics are known (the Moai were burial statues erected to hold the souls of important people). However, I think there are a handful of conclusions that I drew:
The island suffered because they didn’t pay attention to the impacts of their actions on nature. Erosion is still a problem today because of the stupidity of cutting down most of the trees hundreds of years ago and not controlling the population of the island.
The island suffered from the arrival of the Europeans, though the locals here have fared better than most indigenous populations (crime here is largely done by tourists or people who have moved from other countries).
The Rapa Nui religion led to ridiculous practices (Moai building) and huge amounts of effort – in the end, you could say it’s a brilliant move by a forward thinking mastermind who knew it would attract tourists half a milennia later… Generations of wasted effort towards something that just doesn’t exist.
Of course, we could never, ever learn from these.
Then again, what right do I have to parachute in and make judgements after a week? My conclusions are more a reflection of my inner self than the outer reality.
The island is wonderful, in that once you get out of Hanga Roa, it’s gorgeous. There is no cell signal in most of the island (awesome), and everywhere you look are volcanos, hills, ocean, green vegetation.
I rode a mountain bike around the island, hiked up the Poike and Orango volcanos, and seemed to always be walking or biking somewhere, which was great. And anywhere you looked, amazing waves were crashing brutally against the shoreline.
The food is good – the fish is fresh and you can get a greal meal in a bunch of restaurants. It’s also not cheap – as you expect because everything is shipped here other than the tuna and the moai.
I didn’t expect to make friends on the island, but Marie-Pierre, Gordon, and Bruna were so wonderful to spend time with, and I hope I’ll find a way to stay in touch.
Another surprise: A lot of memories of childhood came back from my time in King Salmon, Alaska, where I spent birth to 9 years old. King Salmon is an isolated community only reachable by plane or boat. Everything is half-modern, everyone knows each other. And of course Hanga Roa (8,000 people) is 20 times the size of King Salmon (400 people?). You see great displays of small town affection and the feeling of a large family. You also see small town logic where they are just missing the facts of the bigger picture (the explanations I heard for why they don’t wear seatbelts are laughable. It’s just tough island guy fashion, own up to it folks).
I also ended up 28 meters underwater, something I have not done for almost 15 years. While the diving in Easter Island is rather mundane, it was a great excuse to put the gear back on and see if I still knew what I was doing (well, not really, but now I feel like I can follow a dive master around and not do anything stupid).
My wallet disappeared on my 4th day on the island, which screwed up the next couple of days where I was supposed to go on a tour of the West coast of the island, and then kayaking. But, it gave me a couple days to frantically try and find the wallet (which turned out to have been left in the rental car), as well as plan a trip to the Galapagos and research my bike ride along la carretera austral a bit more.
The experience taught me more about the divide between the cultures on the island. The Rapa Nui treated me like family when I asked for help, but work entirely through relationships. The Chileans who have moved to the island largely don’t care to help that much. My Western approach to use information and action to solve the problem, along with my friend Bruna’s incredible kindness, ended up being the solution.
A Love Poem for Easter Island
Because I have been reading an early book of Pablo Neruda’s love poetry, I have wrote my own love poem on (and about) la Isla.
Tu boca es más hermosa que el oceano
Tus hombros son más bien proporcionados que los volcanes.
Más bien proporcionados
Tus labios son más delicados que el atardecer
Pero tu amor es como los osos en la isla de pascua
Tu amor es como el wifi en las Cabañas Tokerau
Tu corazón crecería si pudieras sentir mi amor
Pero tú no tienes corazon
Tú solo tienes mucho atun.
Soñaría sueñas hermosas sobre ti
pero todas las horas de la noche
los mosquitos están picando
los perros están ladrando
los gatos están luchando
los gallos idiotos están gritando
aunque el sol no va a levantar por muchas horas.
Your mouth is more beautiful than the ocean
Your shoulders are more shapely than the volcanos.
Your lips are more delicate than the sunset.
But your love is like the bears on Easter Island
They don’t exist.
Your love is like the Wifi in the Tokerau Cabanas.
It doesn’t exit.
Your heart would grow if you could feel my love
But you don’t have a heart.
You only have lots of tuna.
I would dream beautiful dreams of you
But at all hours of the night
Mosquitos are biting
Dogs are barking
Cats are fighting
Idiotic rosters are screaming
even though the sun won’t rise for many hours
(I know you are moved.)
Overall, I would not prioritise visiting Easter Island over Patagonia or other natural areas, unless for some reason the Moai have captured your attention. If you have a week to spend, and you’re in Chile (or coming from Tahiti towards South America), it makes sense to check it out. But I would not fly across the world to see this place, even though it’s beautiful, surrounded by ocean, and shrouded in fake mystery and fake magic. But maybe that’s the wonder of it – stumbling across it, your first footfalls on its land arriving with ignorance, and your final step leaving with more questions than answers.
I loved my week on the island, and I am really glad I visited, and I’m in a great place.