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    South by South America Tour – Chile Part 12

    Sunday, September 1, 2019
    Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile

    A street sign in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A street sign in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    A couple of modern Moai in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A couple of modern Moai in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    It was nice and sunny today, so I walked downtown to rent a bicycle. What a fiasco that turned out to be! Although it was Sunday on Easter Island, there were no eggs to be found anywhere. There were bicycles, to be sure, but I just couldn’t seem to rent one. One guy wanted either a $150 cash security deposit or credit card info. I didn’t have that much cash on me, and I never use my debit card at a point of sale, so I walked over to another rental place. There was a family there in the middle of renting a car, which was taking forever, so I walked around a big block looking for another rental place, but turned up empty handed.

    The road up the slope of the Rano Kau volcano near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    The road up the slope of the Rano Kau volcano near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    A wall of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A wall of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    By the time I returned, the family was leaving, so I finally managed to rent a nice Giant mountain bike for about $14 for 24 hours. I spent the next hour dutifully pedaling up the slope of a nearby volcano called Rano Kau. On the way, there were some really nice scenic viewpoints overlooking Hanga Roa and the airport landing strip. Finally reaching the summit, I locked up my bicycle, passed a little old lady who was sitting in her car right in front of her souvenir stand, and ascended a small embankment on the lip of the crater.

    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Three islets off the coast of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Three islets off the coast of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Emerging over the top, I was utterly astonished by the sheer beauty of the crater. A craggy, majestic, circular wall almost 1,000 feet high vertically towered over a soft, marshy center, with a myriad of earthy yet bright colors and textures covering both. I had never seen a photo of the crater before, so I had no idea what it looked like. Expecting something a lot more subdued, I was really overpowered by the vivid beauty of this vast place. After pedaling another half mile around the crater, I entered a visitor’s center at Orongo, where there hung on the walls plenty of photos and text explaining the significance of this special site.

    Buildings of the Birdman Cult on top of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Buildings of the Birdman Cult on top of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    “Orongo is a stone village and ceremonial center at the southwestern tip of Rapa Nui. It consists of a collection of low, sod-covered, windowless, round-walled buildings with even lower doors positioned on the high south-westerly tip of the large volcanic caldera called Rano Kau. Below Orongo on one side a 300-meter barren cliff face drops down to the ocean; on the other, a more-gentle but still very steep grassy slope leads down to a freshwater marsh inside the high caldera. Orongo now has World Heritage status as part of the Rapa Nui National Park.

    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Another view of the Rano Kau volcano crater near Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    An empanada shack in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    An empanada shack in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    “Following the Moai era, in the 18th and mid-19th centuries, Orongo was the center of a birdman cult whose defining ritual was an annual race to bring the first manutara (sooty tern) egg back undamaged from the nearby islet of Motu Nui to Orongo. The race was very dangerous, and hunters often fell to their deaths from the cliff face or were killed by sharks. The site has numerous petroglyphs, mainly of tangata manu (birdmen) which may have been carved to commemorate some of the winners of this race.

    A Moai called Ahu Tautira presides over Hanga Roa harbor in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    A Moai called Ahu Tautira presides over Hanga Roa harbor in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    It's rainbow time in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    It’s rainbow time in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    “In the 1860s, most of the Rapa Nui islanders died of disease or were enslaved, and when the survivors were converted to Christianity, Orongo fell into disuse. In 1868, the crew of HMS Topaze removed the huge basalt Moai known as Hoa Hakananai’a from Orongo. It is now housed in the British Museum. The site of Orongo was included in the 1996 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund, and listed again four years later, in 2000. The threat was soil erosion, caused by rainfall and exacerbated by foot traffic. After 2000, the organization helped devise a site management plan with support from American Express, and in December 2009 more funding was announced for the construction of a sustainable visitor center.”—Wikipedia

    Painted walls in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Painted walls in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    Sunset in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.
    Sunset in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui, Chile.

    It was interesting walking among the extremely low-slung stone houses, which were situated along a cliff that also offered a splendid view of a small islet off the coast. At the end of the crater rim, I encountered the best view of all: a boulder jutting out over the “canyon” where part of the crater wall collapsed with the rich blue waters of the Pacific Ocean framed perfectly behind. I stood there for a long time, just silently soaking in the raw beauty of this glorious and naturally monumental sight. Finally, tearing myself away some time later, I hopped back on the mountain bike and enjoyed a nice cruise on the road back down the slopes of Rano Kau and on into town, where I stopped by a small market, then headed back to the hostel.

    Words and photos ©2019 Arcane Candy.

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