February 19, 2019, Easter Island, Chile — Welcome to Polynesia and the remotest inhabited island on the planet — 2,236 miles off the coast of Chile and 1,289 miles to its nearest neighbor, Pitcairn Island. It took us just one sea day to get from Valparaíso to Robinson Crusoe Island, then another 4 sea days to get here. Then it’ll be another 6 sea days to Tahiti.
(All I have to show for all these sea days is 10 Viking points, redeemable at the Gift Shop, that our team has won for coming in first or second at sea-daily Trivia.)
The night before, at 9:10 p.m., the Pacific looked pacific, but the sky warned us...
Here’s a local checking us out when we anchored off Easter Island in the morning...
We sent off a test tender to assess land-ability. We’d known all along there was only a 50-50 chance we’d make it ashore. With 10- to 13-foot swells, the captain decided it would not be safe for 900 people of a certain age (and then some) to vault on and off continually bobbing and lurching tenders.
The decision was made to circumnavigate, and the Easter Island port agent managed to get onboard so he could give us running commentary as we spent the next 4 or 5 hours rounding the island. To lessen everyone’s disappointment, the ship’s other tenders, of the bar variety, started circumnavigating the ship at 11 a.m., handing out margaritas.
Without a true telephoto lens, this was the best moai (moe-eye) shot I could get as we started off: 5 statues, above the left-most sailboat mast. The moai are thought to be tributes to ancestors, chiefs and other ‘important personages.’ According to the chile.travel website, they are ‘bearing silent witness to a long-lost, complex society.’
The Rapa Nui people sailed here in canoes, probably from Hawaii or even as far as Taiwan, most likely around 1200 AD, according to radiocarbon dating. They named the island Te Pito o Te Henua, translated as, among other interpretations, the ‘navel of the world.’
Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen landed here on Easter, 1722. The Spanish landed later but didn’t claim it at that time. Captain Cook, who really got around, arrived in 1774. By the time French missionaries arrived in the 1860s, the statues had all been toppled and some broken as a result of tribal wars. By 1877, the population was down to around 111 people, due to European diseases, Peruvian slaving raids, and emigration off the island. In 1888 it became part of Chile, and in 2017, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet returned the ancestral lands to the people who live here.
In 1982 the population was 1,200… today, due to the recent tourism explosion, it’s close to 8,000. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, almost all of the island has been designated a national park in order to protect it and its extraordinary cultural history.
This is what everyone comes (or tries to come) here to see... thanks to my friends Les and Ellen, who managed to get to Easter Island on a calm sunny day a few years ago, and provided this photo:
Nearly 1,000 statues were carved and half of them were erected at some time after the island was settled (sources don’t agree) and before Europeans arrived. There is no written record, only oral tradition... and many theories.
Sources do seem to agree that the statues were made from tufa (or tuff) stone in quarries in the extinct volcanoes. Only 450 statues were moved from the quarry out onto the landscape. It’s possible a stone slab was moved to the final site and then carved, or was partially carved at the quarry and finished on site. Lastly, coral and obsidian eyes were added to the face, which was left exposed after the statue body had been buried.
How 6- to 65+-foot-tall statues that weighed up to (a high of) 80 tons were moved is still a mystery, though some opine they were placed on rolling logs lubricated with sweet potato pulp. You read that right. On one side of the island there’s a 71-foot tall, 150-metric-ton statue, ‘El Gigante.’ The port agent told us the largest modern crane on the island is not powerful enough to lift it, so it stays where it is.
The captain stopped the ship and turned it to give us the best view of the famous 15-statue Ahu Tongariki. This ahu platform is 650-feet long. I always thought the statues were placed to look out to sea, but almost all of them face inward, ‘to watch over the community.’ My foto...
... and a web shot. I have read that these figures are in perfect astronomical alignment with the moon and with the setting sun at the spring and autumn equinoxes, à la Stonehenge.
As you can see, there aren’t many trees left on the island. Over the centuries, they were cut for canoes or fuel or to make those rollers to move the statues or — or — Polynesian rats ate all the tree seeds. Many theories… and still many mysteries. #