November 20, 2005

Easter Island, Moai Madness


I have always wondered what it would feel like to be in the absolute middle of nowhere.

The sad truth is… I felt a lot like being at any other major tourist spot, surrounded by backpackers, badly dressed British and German tourists, and enterprising locals.

Easter Island is in the middle of the Pacific ocean, 2500 miles from both Chile in the east and Tahiti in the west. It is a volcanic island only 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, with a few trees, about 3000 locals, and of course, the famous stone statues of the giant heads, the Moai. To avoid the hordes and tour buses (and to get some cool photos without a million people in them), Jonathan and I rented at 4X4 jeep and drove on the only road in search of the different sites.

The Moai were full of surprises for me. I learned that all of the statues were destroyed or toppled during a period of civil war sometime in the 19th century. There are a few restored Moai, but the majority remain fallen and crumbly. And contrary to all the photos I´ve seen, the the Moai are not only heads…they have torsos, and hands with long fingers wrapping around their round bellies. They sometimes also are adorned with huge topknots made of a reddish stone, quarried from a different part of the island. Furthermore, I also didn´t expect that there so many of them. We saw at least a hundred Moai in different stages – half carved, carved but half buried and sticking out of the quarry, transported but not erected, or erected but toppled over. They ranged in size as well, with some as tall as 20 meters, weighing over 100 tons.


The 15 restored ones at Ahu Tongariki are imposing, facing inland to watch over the island. Why they were made, and how they were transported and erected remain a subject of speculation. I learned an immense amount, and the Moai are very impressive.

And the Moai had another surprise for me…it almost a let down to be physically seeing the statues, after all the photos and the buildup. Easter Island lived in my mind as some far off place I never expected to see, and yet I was there, and it didn´t feel so unusual or exotic, even though there were these mad giant stone heads. I walked into the supermarket and was able to buy more products with brands that I recognized (Doritos, Cadbury, etc) than I could find in small towns in Argentina. They even had soy and oyster sauce for sale!

On our second day, we were excited to explore a different side of the island, the northern face. We were told that there were no roads there, so we took a taxi to the other side of island, and hiked back. When we started, we had some sort of trail, but that soon disappeared into farmland, and we found ourselves climbing over barbed wire fences, gates and stone walls to stay close to the coast.

While the views were spectacular, with the rough Pacific ocean waters crashing onto the black volcanic rock, the 12 mile hike was more notable for the most horses and cows I have ever seen in my life. They were everywhere on this side of the island, hundreds grazing or taking naps, and newly born foals and calves fumbled after their mothers. I couldn´t believe that being in the middle of nowhere would be so…normal. I felt (unreasonably I know) that there should at least be some exotic wildlife, unique to the island. Horses? Cows? Heaps of cow and horse crap? This was Easter Island?

I think that my fantasy of being in the middle of nowhere has been blown and needs to be revised. I think that¨middle of nowhere¨ probably isn´t related to geographical isolation anymore, especially with our global economy and ease of transportation. I´m looking forward to the rest of the trip to see what else I will find.

1 Comment

  1. Awesome! While I was cleaning up my office space a picture fell to the floor and it was the Eastern Island post card! (Hence the late reply.)

    The Moai brings back memories of a childhood comic where the bad deeds of the evil guy angered the island god(s) so much that the many Moais came alive and started hopping up-and-down not unlike mortar and pestle and eventually stumped the evil guy to a pulp.

    Comment by Ken Lin — November 21, 2005 @ 3:25 pm

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