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Easter Island

familywithmoaiDid you know that the moai of Easter Island aren't just heads? Each have a body buried beneath it. We had the most wonderful luck in being escorted around the island by Mito, a Rapa Nui guy, the original people from Easter Island. Those that were cannibals, that fought battles between long and short-eared clans, who were competitors in gruelling races, who built the moai whose bodies are buried beneath their solemn heads. The body of an important family male was buried under the stone structure and then his spirit would enter the moai which would look over and protect the family.

Rapa Nui is the indigenous name of the island, the people and their language. The missionaries came, and then Chile colonised in 1888 and it became known as Easter Island, or Isla de Pascua in Spanish. Currently there are about 6000 inhabitants of the island, half of who are Rapa Nui.

Mito carried in his rather beat-up vehicle a ukulele and sang at intervals in his native tongue. He also got as excited as we did when the end of the rainbow went into the largest collection of moai at Ahu Tongariki. We looked into volcano craters, touched a heeling magnetic rock and felt the importance of the moai as he re-created this world for us. Mito felt like part of our family for the day - holding my daughters hand when the gravel under her slipped and joining into the spirit of our silliest jokes. His 'primos' and 'tios' greeted us at every site as he is part of a large family of whom many work at preserving and protecting the moai. An aunt even gave the children a present from her stall. Our lunch break came at Anakena beach. A gorgeous spot with 5 moai with their backs turned to the golden sand. Thankfully the only homes and hotels are in the town Hanga Roa itself, close to the airport, and the rest of the island is National Park and protected. Where buildings are allowed they are restricted to 1 or 2 storeys and the large hotel groups, who must surely be dying to come in and do their thing, have been turned away. Hopefully it will stay this way.


Some of the moai are laying in ruin due to tsunami, civil war or clan battles of old, but some are in tact or restored (with help from the Japanese.) To see this island, is a treat. You can travel around by bike independently, or hire a car (about $100 a day), but it certainly added to the magic for us to hear the history of this place from a passionate guide from the island. For a 7.5 hour tour (which was classed as a day and a half's tour actually - clarify hours/sites visited/price beforehand) we saw all the main sites at a cost of $350. It was a private tour for the 4 of us. Nothing is cheap on this remote isle, sitting half way between Tahiti and Santiago, but the distance is also what keeps it so special. Mito doesn't speak english, but if you can speak Spanish I highly recommend a day out with him - his number is 76532804.

 

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I'm not sure who to recommend for accommodation. There are some great cabins great just outside the town, Cabanas Morerava, which have bikes and WiFi. We stayed in the town, which has a few good restaurant/bars plus shops, bike rentals etc - but it also hosts the dance and drum turtleshows at night which are amazingly energetic and great to experience first hand, but not easy to sleep through. We also heard children and cats wailing and cockerels crowing - but we were trying to sleep through a timezone change which is never that easy. Bringing earplugs and eye mask may help.

Close to the town is the port area where the fishing boats and turtle's head bob. The males of the family were sent in with snorkels to get a closer look, but on this day, lovely and sunny as it was, the water was chilly and really murky. I had more luck from the quayside when a huge turtle came alongside me, whilst the boys were close to them but couldn't see a thing. We ate from the stalls there - ceviche (raw fish in lime), empanadas and butterscotch ice-cream. Also we took out bikes for a brief ride around - the island is pretty flat. I was blown away by the friendly guy renting them who really chatted to us, like people - not tourists. Of course some people are tainted by the constant flow of visitors (multiplied in recent years) but there are plenty of people who are welcoming in a way that is totally genuine.

Our last evening we sat out with a cocktail near the Ahu Tahai moai waiting for sunset - dashing for that all important shot at the right moment.

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