Ana Kai Tangata, Orongo, Ahu Vinapu
Craig and Steph's Adventures on Easter Island
We quickly finished up in the room and went outside, where the breeze was very refreshing. We sat on benches underneath a thatched palm umbrella overlooking the rocks and the ocean. Just this morning at breakfast we had commented about the isolation of the place, how you could look off in any direction and see nothing but the horizon. Well, now there was a container ship in view. We watched it and read our Insight Guide. Our trip had been such a whirlwind so far that it seemed strange to be so sedentary, to have been on Easter Island for almost a full day and yet to not have seen any of the sights that make the place so famous. I started to get a bit antsy, and was really looking forward to our first tour this afternoon. The hotel was not as nice as we'd expected, and being a half hour's walk from Hanga Roa town seemed all the more isolating. We started wondering whether we should have foregone the hotel experience and instead stayed in a guest room of a local family in town. Would that have given us a more "authentic" island experience?
We took a short walk along the coast behind the hotel. We found a nice place to sit and watch the waves, which were pounding the rock formations with such intensity that we wondered how it is that they don't get eroded down to absolutely nothing. The ocean was a totally mesmerizing deep blue. As the waves battered the shore, we could feel the ground shaking. At around 1 o'clock we headed back down to the hotel dining room for lunch. We sat outside and ordered churrasco con lechuga, tomate, y queso (which was translated as "Pfilly cheese steak"), French fries, and a side of fried sweet potatoes. I had a fanta and Craig had an Iorana beer. An American (born of Chilean parents) named Mia came over to chat with us and give us some tips about the island. She said that she had been totally overwhelmed by the amount of things to do on the island, and was taking today off to relax. This seemed odd to us as we had yet to really do anything.
At 2:30, a small tourist bus picked us up at reception. One guide was German and was guiding five German-speaking tourists. Our English-speaking guide was an Easter Islander named Terry. His mother was a native of Rapa Nui, and his father was American. He had lived in the United States as a child and spoke English with an American accent.There was one other English-speaking tourist, a British woman named Gail. We drove a very short distance from our hotel to the Ana Kai Tangata cave. We walked down a rocky trail to the mouth of the cave, which was right on the water. There were some red and white cave paintings on the ceiling of the cave. They seemed to depict birds. Terry told us that the natives used to hide in the caves and do their cooking there, so that the smoke would not be seen. They also used to commit acts of cannibalism here.
Next we drove to the ceremonial village of Orongo. This is where the annual Bird Man ("Tangata Manu") ritual used to take place. The village is perched on a cliff overlooking three small islands. On the other side of the village lies Rano Kau Volcano, which, roughly translated, means "Volcano you can swim in." At the bottom of the crater is a freshwater lake with tortora reeds growing in it (which at one time seemed to support Thor Heyerdahl's theory that perhaps immigrants had come to Easter Island from South America). In the village were 53 very short oval structures made of rocks. These were only a couple of feet high. These were used only for sleeping, and the entrances were very small, the thought being that noone from an opposing tribe could sneak in and attack during the night-time.The Bird Man ritual was very competitive and this kind of security was necessary because emotions ran high and rival tribes often became jealous of one another. Bird Man took place every October. A representative (hopu) of each tribal leader had to scale a 300 meter cliff down to the ocean, swim 2 km to the small islands of Nui, Motu, and Kao-Kao, and retrieve the first egg of spring from a sooty tern. He then had to swim back with the egg attached to his forehead, scale the cliff, and present the egg to his leader, who would then rule the island as Bird Man for the next year. There were some 500 petroglyphs on rocks overlooking the islands: Bird Man motifs and motifs of the creator god Make Make (who looks rather like Squidward from the "Spongebob Squarepants" cartoon). Orongo had apparently been used as a ceremonial site until 1876. As we stood enjoying the uniqueness of the place, we could feel a strong wind blowing. We didn't want to get too close to the cliff edge. We saw some lightning in the distance.
After exploring Orongo, we headed to Ahu Vinapu. It is very close to the airport runway and a small oil depot. "Ahu" is the word for the platform on which the giant stone figures (or "moai") were erected. There are two separate ahus at Vinapu. All of the moai on the island were toppled during tribal wars, though many were still standing as recently as 1722, when the first Europeans arrived on the island.The moai represent tribal leaders, and they were positioned looking out over the village to bring good "mana" (spiritual force) to the tribe. The most commonly accepted theories these days state that the island was heavily deforested, most probably in order to use trees to move the moai to their current positions. Once the resources of the island were mostly consumed, the tribes started to war with one another. There were no trees with which to make boats to leave the island, so they were stuck on this small, remote island, competing for what few resources were left. Without trees, the soil eroded and they were no longer able to grow sufficient food. Cannibalism became commonplace. The tribes would topple each other's moai in hopes of destroying their positive mana. Many times they would push over the moai so that they were face-down, and their eyes could no longer see the village. Ahu Vinapu has not been restored, so its toppled moai lay face down. Many moai have red "pukau" or "topknots" that represent the supposedly red hair of many of the original Easter Islanders. These are cylindrical and made of red scoria. They have a groove carved in the bottom and are perched upon the heads of the moai. The topknots rolled when the moai were toppled, and they are scattered rather far away from their respective moai. It was rather sad to see the moai in such a state of ruin. They had been carved and moved and erected with so much care that it seemed a shame to see them laying "dead" on the ground. And yet it was somewhat comforting to know that the destruction was at the hands of Easter Islanders during the course of their history, rather than by Europeans once the island was "discovered" by the west.
The ahu at Vinapu No. 1 contains incredibly precise stonework that is reminiscent of that in Cusco, Peru. This was another reason that Thor Heyerdahl thought that South American immigrants settled the island long ago. His theories are mostly discounted these days. The ahu at Vinapu No. 2 did not have the same kind of elaborate stonework. There was a very early moai here which was carved from red scoria - usually reserved for topknots. Most moai are carved from the waist up, and have their hands set in front of them on their bellies. Often you can't see the carving of the hands, but on this old one we could.We learned that foreigners are not allowed to own land on Easter Island, a fact which helps the tourism industry from getting too out-of-control with huge hotels, etc. We were dropped back at our hotel at around 5:15. We were filthy. The van kicked up a reddish dust on the dirt road and it came in the windows. We had been wearing white shirts and they were totally pink by the time we were through. We were wearing our Teva sandals. I had kicked a rock and stepped on a spiny plant, so my feet were sore as well as filthy. We showered and it took some real scrubbing to get clean. We now understood the rule that has said not to use bath towels to clean mud from the floor. This stuff must stain something terrible.
At a little after 7, we saw a rainbow over the hotel, and we took a cab into town. A soccer game was taking place under the watchful eyes of a standing moai. We sat on the lava rock benches on the perimeter of the field and watched the game. This is definitely where all of the locals were hanging out. There were two schoolgirls sitting near us sharing snacks and doing a cat's-cradle type of string game, which is an ancient form of storytelling on Rapa Nui. A shirtless guy who looked like Jesus and even had a crown of thorns (or some kind of vegetation) around his head walked by and laid his hand on Craig's shoulder. This was the perfect place for people watching. We saw locals on foot, motorbike, and spirited horses. These horses seemed to always be prancing or about to head into a trot, and they seemed rather difficult to control. I wouldn't want to be riding one in the street with cars and motorbikes all around.
At around 8:30, we decided to eat dinner. We went over to Merahi Ra'a, our restaurant from yesterday. It had a view of both the soccer field and the sunset. We sat outside and felt that we were still a part of the action. We had the same waiter from yesterday, and again, they only had certain selections from the menu, fresh fish of the day. I got the kana kana again, since I had enjoyed it so much yesterday. Craig got the toremo. Each fish was served with French fries. Craig had Escudo beer and I had a pisco sour. There was a dog that kept wandering in through a hole in the fence. The waiter kept shooing him away, but he would always come back and sit at our feet, waiting for us to unsuspectingly drop a piece of food. We watched the sun set behind the moai, but it wasn't as impressive as last night's sunset had been. We were still hungry and the fries were so good that we ordered a side of fries to share. Then we had some banana ice cream. We paid our bill (even though it was not a cheap restaurant, they did not take credit cards, so we used U.S. cash). Then we walked down the street hoping to run into a cab like we had last night. We didn't find one, so we went back to Merahi Ra'a and they called one for us. It arrived at 10:30. When we got into the cab, I said "Iorana" (the name of the hotel). The cabbie repeated it, "Iorana." We said "si." Again, he said "Iorana." We were confused. Was he correcting our pronunciation? When we didn't respond, he laughed and told us that "Iorana" is Rapa Nui for "Hello." We all got a good chuckle out of this little "Who's on First" moment, and then he took us to the Iorana Hotel. We decided to go to the hotel bar for a drink. I got a pisco sour and Craig got an Iorana beer. We sat on the patio near the pool, sipping our drinks, and there was noone else around. At 11:30 we went back to the room, wrote in the journal, and went to bed.