Monday, July 30, 2012

Moai Madness

I walked down the hill from my hotel. I knew the sea was down there somewhere, and I knew there were some moai in town near the water. This was my first glimpse of the moai – the enigmatic watchmen of Easter Island.
And that’s enough of me trying to write nice prose for one day. I am sitting at my hotel at a quarter til ten at night. I should be a short distance from Lima right now. Instead those assholes at the Lima airport decided to go on strike so I’m stuck here nine extra hours. I thought I might put this time to good use when I saw a sign advertising a different dance troupe performing tonight, but when I went to check out where they were supposed to be, the place was all shut up, so either they’re just closed for the “winter” or they are out of business. Either way, I am back at the hotel and trying to keep myself suitably occupied. At least until the battery on my computer runs out of gas.
So – the moai. After five days here on Rapa Nui I feel I’ve gotten to know them pretty well, and yet, I’m still not tired of looking at them. On day two I rented a four-wheeler and tooled up to the north side of the island, wandering down every side path I came across and discovering that SO many of the ahu – the mounds that the moai were erected on – are unrestored. While this ahu had the most fallen moai on it, it was far from the only one. Others had only one, or none at all, which made me wonder which country ran off with the missing ones (not entirely our fault, since apparently it took the islanders a while to figure out that even though they weren’t that interested in them at the moment they shouldn’t let other people haul them off).
Eventually I got to Rano Raraku – aka, the “nursery” – the volcano from which the moai were sculpted. This was definitely the number one experience of my trip. The skies were blue, the grass was a vivid green under the late afternoon sun. The wind was blowing so hard I felt like I was going to fly off the side of the volcano at some points, and at one point it blew my camera out of my hand, although thankfully it wasn’t damaged. No one knows why the Rapa Nui just quit making the moai, but it’s a lot of fun to see them scattered around the side of the volcano – some look as though they are sleeping, some look like they are waking up, and some look like they’re about to fall over because they’ve had one too many pisco sours (they drink those here, apparently).
Although it didn’t have quite the impact of Rano Raraku, Ahu Tongariki was pretty freaking spectacular. Fifteen moai lined up together, with one more a little closer to the road, another still lying on his back, the roaring sea in the background and the delicate beauty (or so I’ve been told – I couldn’t be bothered hauling my ass up it after the previous day’s hike) of the Poike Peninsula on its other side.
Did I just go on and on about how spectacular the setting was for Ahu Tongariki? I take it back. Not only is the ahu at Anakenga Beach framed by a freaking coconut grove, this is supposedly the beach where the first explorer king of Easter Island, Hotu Matu'a, landed. Talk about historic settings. It’s also the best beach on the island and in summer time supposed to be a pretty happening place to be. Go in summertime, people. Actually, don’t just go in summertime – go in February for the Tapati Rapa Nui festival. I wish I could have come here then. But that has nothing to do with the moai…
Note those big blocky pieces of reddish colored lava? Apparently they are some kind of stylized hairstyle. And something I didn’t really know was that the moai were not always blind – fragments of eyes were found. This one has had his vision miraculously restored.
Let me finish with one last ahu – yet another Easter Island mystery – Ahu Akivi. This is the only ahu constructed inland (I know – to get to it I biked up the coast and then had to go inland a ways over rocky roads that would have put the dirt tracks near my grandparents’ farm to shame). It also faces out to sea, rather than inland. Why? Apparently no one knows.

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