The most isolated and intriguing island on earth
Easter Island is incredible.
It may conjure up images of huge stone heads, a treeless barren landscape, tales of a red-headed pale skin race without explanation of origins, the journeys of Thor Hyerdahl and, well, a Kevin Costner box office flop.
To me Easter Island has always been one of the most fascinating places on earth, with much of my childhood spent researching and pondering the whys and hows of the rocky outcrop. What only just exceeds the indescribable feelings I have after a week there, is the feeling of mission accomplished, that mission of living out one's childhood fantasies. Growing up on an isolated farm, and then being isolated at an all boys boarding school, I had many about the world beyond my view. Visiting Easter Island and answering those questions I had is like time travel, going back and saying to myself at 8 - I lived your dream.
And what a dream it has been. After covering several thousand kilometres of blue expanse, the motus of Easter Island's western edge came into view, as did the gigantic crater of Rano Kau, the place of the Birdman competition.
Around the airport and town, Hanga Roa, there is an astonishing amount of timber, which I was not expecting, having heard the tales going back to Captain Cook about the barrenness of the island. Aparently there was a major push by the Chilean Government to revegetate the island after the Second World War - with none other than the humble blue gum.
The first day, my feet didn't touch the ground. I was surrounded by myths and stories and .giant stone heads, called moai, which is how the island etched itself onto the world map of intrigue.
After exploring the town and the museum, we headed off on a hired scooter to Ran Kau, the crater which forms the eastern point of the triangular island, and as soon as we rose onto the hill out of the protected timbered town area the windiness of the place became so apparent, with gusts able to pick up a man with his rain jacket outstretched - seriously, just wait till I post the footage.
The edge of the crater meets the sea, and a sheer cliff of a few hundred metres falls down to the motus, or rocky pyramid-like islets off the coast, where the Birdman competition was held.
The cult grew out of the need for the island's diminishing resources to be managed better, so what would happen is the warring clans would put forward a competitor who would scale down the cliffs, swim a few hundred metres into the ocean, scale the motu cliffs and find the first egg of the migrating birds, then swim it back to the clan's chief. It was that clan who then had first access to the island remaining resources, with the Birdman himself receiving godlike treatment for the next 12 months. The area on the crater rim where the competition was held is a mass of stone dwellings with tiny entrances, where the high priests and competitors would live leading up to the event. As well, the rocks of the area are covered in petroglyphs, etchings of the Make Make god and the Birdmen from the hundreds of years of the cult.
Leaving the cyclonic winds of the crater, we set off to explore an ahu, or ceremonial platform, which the moai were placed upon. This one in particular shows an exact resemblance to the octaganal, perfect fitting rock walls of the Peruvian Incas, which lead many, including Thor Hyerdahl, to believe in the idea of settlement from South America. It's hard not to come to the same conclusion, especially since the moai here closely resemble the kneeling Incan figures you see in books.
After seeing the topknots quarry (toward the end of the statue building era the islanders adorned the great heads with giant red pokao or topknots' cool hair dos) we ventured off up a seemingly small mount to see an erection of crosses. The mount was massive, and the views of the island incredible, it just goes to show how keen the Catholics are to put their stamp on the island.
The next few days we hired horses and explored different sections of the island, including the massive caves that became so important as the islanders denuded the island of trees. It became so apparent that they were so mad keen on erecting the moai on ahus around the entire island, because there is no section that lacks for a ruin of some kind - which begs the question why did they use all their resoucres to build the megaliths?
The answer it seems lies in the moai not being religious at all, but a form of ancestor protection of the land and its people, as the moai actually face inland.