We have set up two days of touring. As everyone on the island - tourists that is - all go to the same place, we've joined a group to tour the Moais. So we are the second pickup the first day and then drive around to many other hotels picking up one or two people or small groups. Shows us there are a lot of hotels around and a lot looking far more interesting than ours and in better locations although ours isn't terrible.
Finally we are away to the first site and when we get there, the driver turns off the engine and Helen, our tour guide, stands in the open doorway and delivers a small lecture on the place we are visiting, first in English and then in Spanish. I have no idea if this is true when someone is in a country where the main language is English and they are waiting for the translation in their language but when I am waiting for the English translation, it always seems like they speak for 4 or 5 minutes in Spanish (or French, or Hungarian, or whatever) and then about a minute, if we're lucky, in English. Not sure if every other language has to take more words to say the same thing or if the translators just don't know the same explanation in English. I can say that it was getting very hot in the bus while we waiting for her to finish. She did this at each stop, alternating between speaking Spanish first and then English first. I so wanted to just get out of the bus and stand in the shade. Have to say that my blood has thinned out from living in England and the heat drives me crazy now (says the lady who is going to retire in Florida!).
We are finally out of the bus and going to see our first Moais. How exciting. Each location we will visit is part of their National Park System so we have a ticket that must be shown to get past the barriers. My hubby is in charge of the tickets. In the two days, we visited the main sites of the main Moais and birdmen. There are other sites as the island is ringed with them. Most of the sites are in ruins but the ones that are so prevalent in photos and the largest ones have been reconstructed. they are all amazing. Should we ever get back there, we'll rent a car and get a map and just head out to the places on our own and hit all of them.
The Moais were burial sites for important people, usually the rich and usually the chiefs of a tribe or family. One Moai for one burial. Moais face inward, away from the sea, as the important people had power or manna and facing towards their village would help give the people protection. The first ones weren't very large and then they started getting bigger and bigger and taller and taller. There are many theories on how they moved the stones from the quarry to wherever it was place but the largest ones are still in the quarry, never having been finished or never having been moved. The eyes were the last part of the statue that was put in place - after it had been put on it's pedestal or in it's hole in the ground. Putting in the eyes would imbue the Moai with the spirit of the person who was buried at its feet or underneath it and start the protection.
The top knot - or the red stone on some of the Moais - had a separate quarry. This is not a hat. It is a hair style with many of the Rapa Nui still wear today. My dive master had long enough hair to do a top knot but mostly he wore his hair in a man bun. Not many statues have top knots, only a small proportion of then. These Moais and these top knots weigh tons.
Birdmen came later than the Moais and involved finding an egg. The birdman competition involved repelling over a steep cliff on the island and swimming out to the third islet from the mainland (maybe 1000 yards) Then the men must find the first egg of the sooty tern which traveled there in the spring. He then had to swim back to the mainland, climb back up the cliff, and present the egg to the village in which case he would be rewarded with being in charge and also getting 7 women to be his wives. The wives-to-be spent the month before the competition living in an underground cave so their skin would get whiter. During the competition, anything goes so you might have the egg but your competitors would be trying to steal it from you. Trying to steal the egg might include you getting brained on the head with a rock or cudgel. Contestants in this contest were risking life and limb just to physically handle the challenge, not to mention trying to keep their fellow competitors from killing them. This competition went on into modern times before it was phased out. Now they do re-enactments.
Some of the sites we visited were ruins, as I mentioned. some had the remnants of village longhouses, some had the giant heads toppled over and almost covered by the dirt and grass, and a few were just some stones remaining. Of course, the most impressive sites are the reconstructed ones where you had many Moais standing at attention and giving their protection to the land.
We visited the quarry for the stone heads and there are hundreds there. Some are still attached to the rock walls. Others are scattered haphazardly over the hills and some have fallen or have been prepared for being moved down the hill and never got any further. It was magnificent to walk among these giant heads.
Only one location, our last, had 7 Moais that look towards Polynesia in honor of the ancestors that came to Easter Island and settled. They are the only Moais that look away from the land and out to sea. And there are no burials under these 7 Moais because they were not for protection and not for the manna that they could give.
We also learned that there is no harbor on Easter Island. There is one beach which we visited but even there, you must be careful as the waves crash into shore. Container boats bringing cars, trucks, construction materias, etc. sit offshore until the wind and waves die down enough to send barges out to the ships to unload. The airport is the best way in and out of Easter Island and we noticed it has a very, very long runway. It was built also as an emergency runway for the Space Shuttle. So the island has interesting history and culture at every turn. I've abbreviated everything to cover a couple of days at once. As stated earlier in the blog, Easter Island was the reason for this trip and everything else was just added on gravy. Supposedly it is one of the most remote islands in the world so not cheap to get there but well worth the trip and so very glad we took it. Of course, we now have a small Moai at our house, facing inward for protection, although nothing is buried underneath it. Fantastic place - Easter Island.