Thursday, 2 September 2010

The last day on a wonderful island...

Next stop on our whirlwind stay on Rapa Nui was the ceremonial village of Orongo, situated 400m high on the top of one of the island’s volcanoes. Walking along the coastline and up to the summit, we passed a cave cut into the shore with some well-preserved rock paintings painted in a rich red hue, before heading up for our final hike of the trip. The crater of the volcano was amazing – it looked like some prehistoric algae pool, all green and set deep within the near-perfect crater (it is often described in guides as a ‘witches cauldron’ and I can definitely see the resemblance!).

Orongo itself is an interesting place – some of the houses have been reconstructed and the use of different materials and building practices to those we had seen at sea level to withstand the harsher weather was fascinating to see. There were petroglyphs everywhere – nearly every large rock we saw had some sort of carving showing details of the birdman ceremony that took place there every year (the village is dated much later than the main periods of Moai construction). I could have spent much longer wandering around but the weather got the better of us – after two days of glorious sunshine it was a little overcast, and although there was no rain the wind at the top of the volcano was fierce, and after threatening to take our information sheet, jackets and food out of our hands more than a few times, we gave up and started back to town. Even the stray dogs who had attached themselves to us on the way up seemed relieved!

The walk down was very pleasant and offered great views over Hanga Roa, and after arriving back, our legs complaining after being lulled into a false sense of relaxation (i.e. no uphills!) over the past couple of days, we treated ourselves to huge ice-cream sundaes by the harbour.

After reading plenty of recommendations for the Polynesian dance shows that a local dance troop put on, we decided to go for our last evening. Settling into the small theatre, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but it was worth every penny. The dancers threw themselves around the stage in an explosion of dance and music, dramatic warrior performances in traditional costumes (which for the most consisted of some sort of loin cloth, a bit of body paint and not much else) which were absolutely incredible. Definitely worth going to see!

It was time to say goodbye the following morning, and I was very sad to do so – Rapa Nui is one of the most interesting and relaxing places I have been to and I hope to have the opportunity to go back again one day.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Magnificant Moai

For our second day on the island we decided to take a tour to tackle the site-filled south coast, hoping to benefit from the expertise of a local guide. We were extremely lucky to be given a guide who had an absolute wealth of knowledge, and offered plenty of fascinating information about each area we visited.

One of the wonderful things about the island is that it is basically a giant open-air museum, and the south coast has some of the best examples of Moai, evidence of their construction and erection, as well as gorgeous coastlines and crystal clear waters. We stopped at the biggest reconstruction of a Moai platform on the island (15 in a row), foundations of the boat-shaped houses of islanders, petroglyphs carved into rocks, and possibly my favourite area – the quarry where the Moai were carved, which still holds hundreds of Moai, some complete, some buried, and some still joined to the rock, frozen in time in the middle of construction. It was an amazing area – so many statues dotted along the hillside in various states and forming out of the rocks. We climbed up a steep path to see the largest Moai ever made – at 21 metres it was never finished, but the scale seemed almost impossible.

As we travelled through the south coast we saw numerous other platforms which were unrestored, their Moai lying face down over or next to them. The statues are so impressive it is quite moving to see them toppled over, face down. Towards the end of the tour we stopped at ‘the navel of the world’ – a sea smooth large stone with a high iron content and a magnetic field which was sacred to the islanders and apparently still exudes energy (although I didn’t feel anything when I touched it unfortunately!). Arriving at the only main beach, with a small platform of six Moai, it began to rain, which was disappointing until we saw a beautiful rainbow arching over the platform which looked spectacular over the statues and was a picture-perfect ending to the day. Taking a tour turned out to be a great decision – our guide was incredibly informed and very passionate about both the history and modern life of the island, and really made everything come alive even more for us.