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December 12

December 12, 2008

Aaah, it’s been a long and very good day.

I’ll start this post at the technical beginning- midnight found me on the terrace of the hostel, learning to make pisco sours both ways and drinking the spoils with my fellow hostelmates. Tom had decided he wasn’t up for much of a night, and was instead ‘laxing in front of the telly with a beer. The occasion was “takillers”- a night run by Luz Azul originally to raise money for a conference, but now just because it’s fun. The night started with empanadas and ‘piscolas’ (nowhere near as good as the sours), and we there were roughly twenty of us under the pergola in our travellers’ best- which for me was a dress I cunningly purchased in Uruguay just in case.

Around one thirty, in typical Latin American style, it became time to seek out a club- the choice of our hosts was “Subterranea”, and we were all piled into taxis and taken to some neighbourhood somewhere to have a bit of a dance. The club was a little place with some decent music, and we all danced in a big circle pulling the occasional move in the centre. The bar maintained the annoying Chilean standard of queuing once to pay (and receive a drink ticket) then again to actually receive your drink, but it was a small price to pay. At three-thirty I opted for the early cab home, and managed to sneak in an hour and a half’s sleep before getting up for our morning flight.

We made it to the airport on time, even managing to make good use of our regreso bus tickets, and filled our waiting time with donuts, coffee and a spin in a massage chair that had been thoughtfully placed by the gate. It was with much relief that we boarded our lush LAN plane on time and promptly took off. I managed to sneak in another hour’s napping before the breakfast arrived, then watched ‘Bottle Shock’ on the nifty little personal entertainment system. Tom indulged in a re-watch of ‘Tropic Thunder’ before setting up my movie on recommendation. The film was a decent rendition of a true story by which the Californian wine region grew to fame and followed the fates of some small vineyards selected to compete in a blind taste test against French wines. The ending was pretty dismal and completely disregarded one of the main characters, but the bulk of it was most watchable.

The flight was a five and a half hours long, and we landed at Easter Island a little after midday. The airport is one of the kind we’re used to in rural Australia- a strip of tarmac, a parking lot and a walk off to a tin shed to collect your baggage. Perfectly understandable, I think, since they receive less than one commercial flight a day on average. We talked to the desk of Camping Mihinoa, were told we could pitch our tent with them for 4500 pesos each (an acceptable price) and threw our bags in the back of a ute as they transferred us the three minutes to the place.

The campground is a big grassy lot on the top of a small cliff overlooking the ocean, where we can see waves being forced metres into the air as they crash around jagged volcanic rocks. The field was quite packed with tents, but a huge open pergola and fully stocked kitchen make for lots of shade and an agreeable stay. We took in a coffee to make up for our lack of sleep before starting off on some sightseeing, beginning by trying to walk to the main street, but taking the wrong direction. We ended instead at a little grotto of diving shops clustered around … well, for lack of a better word a beach, but so small it could fit in your back pocket. Here we purchased a snack from an old woman standing on the sidewalk with a barbecue, and my heart did a little leap- old women with barbecues on the sidewalk were the mainstay of our eating habits in Centroamerica, and I’ve sorely missed them since. An amazing range of food can be cooked by an old woman with a barbecue on the sidewalk, but this particular barbecuer profferred slightly greasy quarter chickens with crispy skin and a piece of bread as cutlery. We chowed down to the envy of four or five stray dogs as we sat on the wall of a small statue.

We wandered on and presently found ourselves on the main street, Hanga Roa is small so it was nigh on impossible to stay lost for long. We went fruitlessly searching for a bank before catching sight of a sign with an arrow pointing to “museo”, which we decided to follow. Very soon though, our arrow started pointing to nowhere, and we once again found ourselves differently placed to where we ought to be. We tacked back towards the coast, usually a good orientation technique, and caught sight of a wonderful thing- our first giant head.

The giant heads consist of three parts- the ahu, a raised platform with a ramp that serves as bedrock for the statue; the moai, the statue itself; and the pukao, or topknot, a kind of hat carved from red scoria. They were carved in place in a quarry leaving tongue of rock connecting them to the mountainside, which was then broken before the statues were transported to their platforms, mostly along the coast. They were raised facing inwards toward the land for the most part.

Although no-one can say for certain, they’re believed to be the ceremonial focus of ancestor worship- some of the ahu also served as burial grounds, though it is uncertain whether the remains might be those of the people the statues represent or of sacrifices. There are about 300 moai in total, though large scale clan warfare in the 17th led to most of the statues being toppled. The Chilean government has restored and remounted many of them at various sites around the island- the one we caught sight of lay just to the north of Hanga Roa, and had had it’s eyes painted on.

After a good gander and the odd “yep, it’s a giant head”, we found another sign to the museum and walked back up the hill away from the coast, and this time managed to find the place. The museum was housed in a red and black circular stone building. It was rather small but packed in a lot of information- the English interpretive guide was thick enough to be a PhD thesis. The plaques were arranged in a roughly chronological order, starting with the formation of the island by the eruption of its three volcanoes, resulting in a triangular shape. it then covered the inhabitation of the island, thought to be from peoples moving from either South America or neighbouring islands under the guidance of King Hotu Matua (‘matua’ means ‘father’ in the local language) in canoes, which is a pretty impressive feat seeing as it represents about 4000kms of travel on the high ocean in small, open-topped boats.

The museum then moved on to the theories about the making of the heads and the ways they were erected, and hypothesised about their purpose. At some stage in the 16th century the heads were abandoned and a ritual called the Birdman Cult, which honoured the creation god Make-Make, gained popularity. Soon after this cult became commonplace, and just before the Spanish arrived, the moai were toppled as a lack of resources pushed the islanders into clan warfare.

We hadn’t quite bet on the intensity of the sun in these parts and hadn’t brought water with us, so by the time we got this far we were parched enough to call it a day and head back to the campsite. There we made a dinner of a packet rice thingamy which was definitely on the average side, and sat watching a glorious sunset in gold and orange over the ferociously breaking waves on the cliff below. It certainly is good to have gotten here.

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