Staring down the Moai

I used to have a bucket list. But then I realized that having one was stupid. There are places I want to go. Activities I want to do. But I don’t want a list to dictate how I travel or be this device to which I’m inevitably disappointed (my Great Barrier Reef experience, for example). However, when Robbie and I sat down to roughly map out our 3-month journey through South America, we both consulted our mental lists, long on layaway. And we were both in unanimous agreement about one place. We would head to one of the most remote islands in the world: Easter Island.

“We both consulted our mental lists, long on layaway… and were both in unanimous agreement about one place…”

Easter Island, known as Rapa Nui to the locals, is about 3,700 kilometers away from mainland Chile, isolated and lonesome in the expansive Pacific. That’s a 5-hour plane ride (of which there is only one per day). The island is roughly the size of New York City and supports a population of about 7,000. And a tourist here or there. And many packs of stray dogs. And a few of those statues that I’m sure you’ve heard about.

Easter Island Rapa Nui Rano Raraku

The Moai (actual statues) and Ahu (ceremonial platforms on which they stand) are scattered throughout the island, relics of a tribal system that both flourished and collapsed between 1400-1650 AD. Around 1000 Moai were erected. Their purpose? Well, it’s believed to be religious in nature, a way for the Rapanui people to honor their ancestors. There’s no written history and little oral history so no one is quite sure. But thanks to war, disease, rats, lack of resources, white people, or whatever else the current theory supports (or this one?), the original Rapanui society was obliterated. And so, the statues were abandoned to various forms of decay. All were pushed over (perhaps to humiliate rival tribes). Some retain their hats (it symbolized hair). One retains his eyes. ::shudders::

These days, it’s hard not to run across a singular Moai or a whole procession of them on Easter Island. After all, they’re about 13 feet tall and consist of 14 tons of volcanic rock. So… just magically arrive, stumble around, and pay the ridiculously expensive park fee in order to see them. A manual informs you how to approach the Moai. “Look, do not touch.” “Stay away from ancient structures.” “Avoid eye contact or risk being bitten.” Stuff like that.

We chose to see the whole spectra of Moai via motorcycle, thanks to Robbie. (He enjoys the manly sensation of a powerful motor and a girl strapped to the back). Surprise, surprise, the islanders are a little lax about renting out to tourists and we secured a bike in less than 5 minutes for about $50. Helmets optional.

Easter Island Rapa Nui motorcycle

Our first Moai (Akahanga) was doing a face plant. Or planking. In fact, unlike what the photos show you online, a whole slew of Moai were left with their faces buried in the ground. As if they all had rather drunken nights. But fair enough. I suppose it ain’t so easy to resurrect a 14-ton statue. F*&$ that. Of course we eventually reached the honey pot— a pretty row of Moai next to the shore (Ahu Tongariki). But definitely not looking toward the shore. Which is creepy. And what made the expressionless dudes creepier were their hands. Hands with alien-like fingers ready for probing. RUN.

Easter Island Rapa Nui Moai toppled

Easter Island Rapa Nui Moai reflection

“What made the expressionless dudes creepier were their hands… with alien-like fingers ready for probing…”

As we sped along through the desolate landscape— attempting to unsuccessfully outrun a storm at one point— it’s hard not to ponder on the past. Is it barren because they really used up their resources? Why are the statues so goddamn unsettling? What really wiped out the society? And most importantly, who thinks it has something to do with an illicit affair between tribe members?

With few cars or tourists or trees to stop us, we still managed to grow weary after a few hours. Because 30s. Or because Easter Island is hot, even in autumn. So many Moai, so much damn time anyway (for some reason we decided to stay put here for one week unlike every other tourist). Tonight, we buckle down in our Dome— more on that later— and shall visit the non-blind Moai at sunset. With hope he likes gum.

Need other ideas for Easter Island? Check out my blog on Travelettes! For other great accounts of Easter Island travel, check out this blog by Be My Travel Muse or this one by Two Monkeys Travel.

{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Kathy o'Connell April 6, 2017, 8:35 am

    Now you have probed me to find out more about these strange statues. Very interesting blog. Keep traveling and keep writing and I’ll keep reading.

    • Tam April 6, 2017, 4:12 pm

      Haha nice pun 😉 I love the history of this place. You should read “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. It has a full chapter on one theory about why the civilization collapsed 🙂

  • Cory April 16, 2017, 10:57 pm

    …..the aliens took them away……

    ( O O )
    \_”_/ o o
    l l l l

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