Saturday, March 24, 2007

Emerging from the South Pacific

Today, Tyler and I arrived in Auckland, New Zealand. It's a little strange to be somewhere so...familiar....and easy. Signs are in English and things look more or less like they do at home or Canada. We're using a few days in Auckland to catch up on travelling 'housekeeping'--laundry, blog entries, and such. And there's much to catch up on! And with pictures we actually took! (For a better view, double click the photos to enlarge them.)

We arrived late on Easter Island to step out of the plane onto a humid tarmac and our host waiting for us with beautiful flower leis. After a short ride with others at our hostel in the back of a pickup truck (along with our luggage), we settled in, not quite sure where exactly we were, but ready to experience the island and the moai the next day.

Tyler still contends that one of his favorite moments of our three days on Easter Island was that first morning. After waking up with the heat and roosters crowing, we decided to wander about for a few minutes before breakfast. Since we'd arrived at in the dark, we didn't really have a sense for where our hostel was in relation to anything else. So we walked to the road, realized we were only two blocks from the ocean and could see downtown Hanga Roa (the only town on the island) as well as our first set of moai that are close to town.

We decided to rent a car that day to make our way around the island. While it's fairly small, it's not walkable, and the main moai sites range all across the island. Because it was a manual, Tyler got to do all the driving on many bumpy, off-road feeling roads. You can tell he minded terribly:

We started driving up the eastern coast in a counterclockwise fashion, until we stumbled upon our first overlook. We pulled the car over, mostly to look at the coast, when all the sudden, I noticed that the boulders I saw were in fact pukao, or the topknots that some moai have on their heads. Then Tyler noticed that we were also looking at a set of knocked over moai.

Though I had heard that seeing the knocked over moai might seem anticlimactic after some of the more spectacular restored moai, I actually found them quite moving. The first book I read on the trip was Jared Diamond's Collapse, which chronicles the falls of various societies, including Easter Island. Basically, the Cliff's Notes version is that the Easter Islanders first started building the ahu, or raised platforms for burial and ceremonial purposes. Then they started erecting the stone figures, or moai. At some point, the six societies on this small island started trying to outdo the moai building with each other, used all their energies and natural resources to this purpose, knocked other tribes' moai over, until they basically collapsed. Knowing all this made the fallen moai seem that much more tragic.

We had also heard and read that eventually you find yourself just tripping over ruins and moai, which was totally true. At every turn, you could see all rock walls, house foundations, circular walls used for agriculture, ahu and the moai and pukao.

One of the most amazing places we visited was called Rano Rarako, aka the "nursery." All the moai were carved out of the same volcanic stone from one place on the island. When the civilization petered out, there were more carved and partially carved moai on this volcano than there are on the entire island. It was really an incredible site.

And they are massive. It's hard to appreciate their size, but we tried to catch their looming quality in this photo. In the next, at a nearby site where a Japanese corporation helped re-erect the largest stand of moai, I'm the small pink dot in the center.

It seemed very strange and amazing to be surrounded by the reminders of a civilization that had nearly disappeared. As I mentioned, there is one town on the island, where really everything is. No homes, hostels, gas stations, anything on the rest of the island. Just remains and lots and lots of wild horses. Here are two more moai pictures:

On our second day, we decided to do some exploring on foot and headed up to an old volcano on the southeast end of the island. It had a huge crater lake and is a significant site for the birdman cult on the island.

While I expected the anthropologist in me to be blown away by the moai and cultural artifacts, the nature-hiker in me also was in awe of the volcanic geology and landscape. On a hike we found down from the crater lake, we encountered tons of amazing coastline, with bright aqua water next to black, craggy rocks. There are also lots of lava tube caves, places where rock solidifed around flowing lava and other beautiful and strange rock formations.

I really can't say enough good things about our experience on Easter Island. While some people at our hostel found it a little quiet for their tastes, I would have been really happy to have had an entire week there, to continue exploring the coast, enjoying the two white sand beaches, and just soaking in the island. I'd have to say it's been the high point of our trip for me so far.

Oh, and here's probably my favorite picture of Tyler from the trip yet.


Ma. Luisa said...

You both have a very beautiful blog, adventures are great and photos amazing.

Greetings from Mexico!

Tim said...

Thanks for posting the pictures--they're awesome! A couple of questions: I've read that the island was pretty much deforested at one time. It seems there are at least some trees in your photos. What was your impression of the level of "forestedness"? I've also read that the majority of moai were knocked over and that most have not been re-erected. You took pictures of lots that were standing, but were most knocked over?

Tim said...

I was taking a closer look at some of your moai pictures and I saw something I had never noticed before: the moai have arms and hands with very extended fingers carved alongside their torsos. It's most visible in this picture of yours.
Very interesting!

Did all the moai originally have a pukao?

Sarah said...

Thanks, Ma Luisa! We would have loved to include Mexico on our itinerary. Another trip!

Tim--compared to Tahiti, it seemed very deforested. While there were some trees, I understand that almost all are non-native. And much of the island was just grassland.

As far as the moai--more are knocked down than standing (though I don't know if the heads in the nursery count in that number or not). All the standing ones have been re-erected at one point or another. There were probably only about half a dozen places with standing moai, they just made more dramatic photos. And more sites than that with knocked over moai.

As for the pukao, I believe that was a later development, so not all of them have them. And I think that more had them than were re-erected. At the site with the 15 standing moai, there was (I think) one with a pukao, but many pukao lying on the grounds.

Oh--in addition to arms and hands, they also have carvings on their back sides as well.

The General said...

...and, more explictly, they have carvings of "Moai bottoms." The people living on Easter Island say the carvings on their backs are "tattoos." But, the tattoos look suspiciously like, well, butts.