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    South by South America Tour – Chile Part 10

    Friday, August 30, 2019
    Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile

    Horses graze on Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Horses graze on Rapa Nui, Chile.

    “Rapa Nui is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle in Oceania. Rapa Nui is most famous for its nearly 1,000 extant monumental statues, called Moai, created by the early Rapa Nui people. In 1995, UNESCO named Rapa Nui a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park. It is believed that Rapa Nui’s Polynesian inhabitants arrived on the island sometime near 1200 AD. They created a thriving and industrious culture, as evidenced by the island’s numerous enormous stone Moai and other artifacts. However, land clearing for cultivation and the introduction of the Polynesian rat led to gradual deforestation. By the time of the arrival of Europeans in 1722, the island’s population was estimated to be 2,000–3,000.

    A small, narrow hut at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A small, narrow hut at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    An empty souvenir stand at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    An empty souvenir stand at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    “European diseases, Peruvian slave raiding expeditions in the 1860s, and emigration to other islands, e.g. Tahiti, further depleted the population, reducing it to a low of 111 native inhabitants in 1877. Chile annexed Rapa Nui in 1888. In 1966, the Rapa Nui were granted Chilean citizenship. In 2007, the island gained the constitutional status of ‘special territory.’ Administratively, it belongs to the Valparaíso Region, constituting a single commune of the Province Isla de Pascua. The 2017 Chilean census registered 7,750 people on the island, of whom 3,512 (45%) considered themselves Rapa Nui. Measuring 15.3 miles long by 7.6 miles wide, the triangular Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest inhabited land (around 50 residents in 2013) is Pitcairn Island, 1,289 miles away; the nearest continental point lies in central Chile, 2,182 miles away.”—Wikipedia

    Charlie photographs a toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Charlie photographs a toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    The black craggy volcanic rock beach at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    The black craggy volcanic rock beach at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    I had planned to take it easy today and maybe just enjoy a short stroll a little bit north of the town of Hanga Roa to see the closest Moai, Tahai, but fate intervened. Right before I was ready to walk out the front door, a guy named Charlie from Buenos Aires, who I was sharing a room with, told me he had rented a car for a whole week and invited me to join him for a ride around the island today to see the main sights. What an incredibly nice offer / stroke of good luck! That saved me at least $55, which is the cost of a guide who drives you around.

    Toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Toppled Moai at Vaihu, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Before we could set out on the road, I had to buy my ticket at a small agency downtown. There was no parking in that area, so Charlie waited in the car a few blocks away as I ran there and back. Finally, out on the open road, dodging potholes became a frequent occurrence as we passed the occasional homestead. Exiting the car at our first stop, Vaihu, I was struck by the alien landscape all around us. Covered with green grass that glows brightly in the sun and peppered with volcanic rocks, the island exudes an eerie, otherworldly vibe unlike anywhere else on Earth—even without the statues. Although it was a beautiful, sunny day with a few white, fluffy clouds sailing across the sky, there was a slight chill in the air brought on by a near constant, refreshing breeze.

    A Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    At Vaihu, after we got our tickets stamped, which all visitors must do at each spot, we saw a replica of the original narrow huts made by the Rapa Nui people, as well as a row of toppled Moai. Rapa Nui was first inhabited sometime between 800 and 1200 AD by Polynesian people from the Marquesas islands. Most of the Moai were carved between 1100 and 1680 AD. At our next stop, Akahanga, we were greeted by a wooden statue of what appeared to be the sea god, Triton, followed by sad looking empty souvenir stands on each side of the entrance to the pathway. (They must only come into play during high season.) At this spot, we saw several single toppled Moai amongst the black, craggy cliffs, and a shallow cave.

    Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    A Moai in the quarry at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A Moai in the quarry at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Our third stop of the day was at Rano Raruku, the most important site on the island. Rano Raruku contains the quarry where the Moai statues were originally carved, as well as the most famous and prominent remaining ones. Since this spot is so popular, each visitor can only enter it once with their ticket. (Each ticket is good for 10 days, which the visitor can use to enter any spot on the island an unlimited amount of times, except for Rano Raruku.) It was so pleasant strolling under a sunny sky down the long, meandering trails that snake up, across and down the bright green grass-covered hillsides.

    A pair of Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A pair of Moai at Rano Raruku, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    A flowery Volkswagen bus at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A flowery Volkswagen bus at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Standing tall everywhere, the huge, enigmatic Moai—especially the most famous ones that you’ve seen in photos throughout your life—beguile all who encounter them. Considering the fact that the Moai were carved out of soft, volcanic rock, I’m surprised that they’ve survived down through the centuries. Ascending up the side of the steepest hill, when I reached the top, I saw a quarry with an incomplete Moai still entombed in its final birthplace, as another one lay nearby hidden in plain sight, blending in with the rocky hillside. (You have to really look closely to see some of them; it’s sort of like playing a game of Where’s Waldo?)

    A row of 15 Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A row of 15 Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    The Moai cast a long shadow at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    The Moai cast a long shadow at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Not having climbed to the top with me, Charlie was nowhere to be found as I descended back down the hillside. I walked all the way back out to the entrance to see if he went to the bathroom or eat at the restaurant there, but no dice. I sat down at a picnic table in front of the ticket window to wait for him. A young lady who worked there instantly whipped her smartphone into the vertical position to take a photo of me. I lifted up my hands to block it, which caused her to kind of laugh and give up. That makes two young ladies who tried to take a photo of me in the past 24 hours. I always wonder why? They most likely think I look like a goofball and want to make fun of me on social media.

    Moai silhouettes at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Moai silhouettes at Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Pole position at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Pole position at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    After a short while, I walked all the way back into Ranu Raruku to look for Charlie, but still could’t find him, so I schlepped back out again and waited by the entrance. Finally, he came waddling out a short while later. He said he had lost his sunglasses and was looking for them. As it turned out, he had left them at the ticket window. Our fourth stop of the day was at Tongariki, a row of huge Moai that are all lined up on a platform near the beach in the center of a half circle bay that makes them look like rock stars up on stage about to take a bow after a blazing performance. Right as we left Tongariki, it was 5:00 pm, which is closing time for all of the sites.

    The sandy beach at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    The sandy beach at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    A row of seven Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A row of seven Moai at Ahu Nau Nau, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    We embarked on a quick jaunt up to the north side of the island to Anakena, which boasts another row of smaller Maoai that are also located near the beach. Dotted with pleasantly swaying palm trees and a half-circle bay, this area also boasts a sandy beach on which people were laying out in the sun, cavorting and swimming. After we got our fill of that beautiful scene, we jumped back in the car and headed southwest back to Hanga Roa. Thank you to Charlie for letting me cruise around with him all day in his rental car, and to the weather gods for blessing us with sunny skies, which I heard can be uncommon at times here on the beautiful and enigmatic Rapa Nui.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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