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Monday, 31st December 2007 – Isle de Pascua


The sunset was turning the edges of the cloud mass red, orange, and pink and a little to the North was a very dark rain squall in the middle of a band of clouts that extended narrowly across the sky from the ocean to the Island. We sat for our last evening meal right near the sea at a patio restaurant. Ridding by prancing and cantering were three young men on horseback looking ever so macho, one baring his chest with long black hair. Not far away was the very small harbor and line of small open fishing and dive boats tethered at one end to the quay and the other to a long line high in the air to hold the boats parallel. At the small beach below played children in the sand while the older kids were out ridding the surf into shore.


Perhaps I should really start at the beginning.  Our flight from Tahiti  left at 00:30 in the morning of New Years Day and took about 6 hours across 3 time zones to arrive at Isle de Pascua, Easter Island or Rapa Nui. We were met at the airport by Lili, our host, with leis of very nice flowers. We were later to find out that the local runway was built by NASA for an emergency Shuttle landing location. This is a good use of USA funds giving such a small island a great landing strip.


The day was bright as we headed down into the town center and main street. Since this island is further south and east of Tahiti the weather is quite nice and almost no rain at this time of year, unlike Tahiti.. The vegetation is scant and much of the island is almost desolate and without trees. However, at one time, several hundred years ago, there were many trees that included many palm trees but apparently most were used by the natives of the time and burned during the insurrection of the lower class against the aristocracy  Lily explained to us much of the history of the island, a great deal about the special social issues and practices, many stories were absolutely amazing, but more about that later. After our all night flight we were sufficiently tired that all we wanted to do is take a good shower and rest.


The evenings here at this time of year are long with the sun setting about 21:00. We all walked down the  road along the sea from our most beautifully situated bungalow overlooking the coast, to a new restaurant. The proprietor is a most good looking young woman from Belgium. The dinner of wonderful fish was very good as it was expensive.  I choose the fresh tuna steak only seared on the outside and raw in the middle, boy was it great tasting.  With such a large portion we did not need dessert and wandered off along the coast to watch the sun go down.


Lilly is quite a woman. She is French by birth, born in 1942, right in the middle of WWII and she told of how here mother took her, along with her brother and sister to a convent to live; later her father, who had been a soldier, returned them to their home. Lilly was to learn later that the bridge her family flew across was blown up one hour after they had crossed it. Lilly has been in the French diplomatic corps station ed in Brazil, Laos during the Viet Nam War, and other places/ She arrived in Isle de Pascua in her forties and has been married to a younger native man who is an original descendent of the local people; we were to find out that this man is very enterprising as well as an artist in carving. Lilly and her husband Tadeau have build up a very nice B&B with seven bungalows overlooking the sea. Their place is unique with carved statues and invented a unique fence structure of crooked local wood branches. Lilly is an excellent guide knowing about Pascua in detail and some special knowledge gained from her husband and other natives still living. Boy, could she tell the stories. Tadeau was also a guide leading horseback rides around the island.


 This night there was only a moderate abound of noise from the local disco and the town siren went  off at midnight. We slept on.


Tuesday, 1st  January 2008 – Isle de Pascua


Happy New Year!


Needless to say we slept in. Our breakfast was continental and included fruit juice, bread, cheese, cold meat, jam, coffee/tea, and a very nice note from Lilly wishing us a good new year.


Bob an Paula were off hiking so Isa and I took a walk around town stopping for an ice cream that would do us for lunch. The walking tour of the village was easy since there, at most, about 4 main streets. We noted the number of restaurants that catered to the many tourists that stopped here.  The village has only abut 4,000 inhabitants.  While there are a number of tourists we did not see many and there were no large groups of them at the archeological sites.  


In the afternoon Lilly drove us up to a large volcano where an ancient sacred site where young men vied to become the leader through a complex process.  We looked down into the caldera to find a beautiful lake. This is where the women would come from the village to wash their clothes. After the Spanish arrived in the 17th century grapes were grown on the steep internal sides of the volcano.  The shape was almost perfectly round with only a portion of the edge lower than the rest where lava once, millions of years ago, poured out.  We then went to the top of one of the sides to find special houses for the tribal leader candidates and hieroglyphics that included a baptismal indentation in the rock with a hieroglyphic outline of a  baby. In another part we saw a hole in the ground where a gourd was placed and skins tied tightly around the edge creating a drum in the ground. Yes, Lilly knows a great deal about this culture.


Now down to our B&B driving through the Eucalyptus groves, which have been brought in over the past century.


Isle de Pascua is a Polynesian island and over the hundreds of years has been visited by peoples from the east and west. Yet, the native population has retained a separate philological profile separate from all others; there are only 40 remaining true natives. Apparently, the class wars of long ago and more recent Yellow Fever decimated the tribes. At one time there seems to have been over 7 tribes living on the island with hundreds in the population.


At the end of our day we again had a great dinner at a small restaurant on the main street while watching the sun disappear among the houses. This time we had good large salads and for dessert I did have a cappuccino.  It was now late when we returned so we settled in for the night.


Wednesday, 2nd  January 2008 – Isle de Pascua


Today was to be our big tour day and Lilly is going to take us to the rest of the island where the big archeological statues are. She packed a lunch for us and we were off. Our itinerary was to tour the whole island. First we left town out along the airport and on a very good road, built by the USA with leftover materials from the runway. We were not going through a large Eucalyptus grove and cam across a grove of orange trees.  Very few people live beyond this point since most of the island is National Park. We passed by a very small village with old buildings that belonged to the sheep farmers of the last couple of centuries but the wool industry died out. The sheep ate any grass down to nothing and without much new grass growth the land could not support the industry.  We learned that at one time sugar cane and pineapples were grown for export but other world sources made this industry non-competitive.


We went beyond several old volcanoes to the end of the road at a special place among a beautiful grove of palm trees by a small bay. There was a small food stand and the usual tourist items.  Lilly had a special connection here since it was her mother in law who ran the stand.


The central point of interest here was the rejuvenated set of statues of several hundred years ago that were excavated from under the beach sand and placed in the proper place, in a row, facing the land. The people of the time believed that it was these effigies or rulers and priests provided good karma through their eyes.  The amazing thing, however, was the fact that these carvings that stood 2 or more meters high had been carved from volcanic mountains many miles away then transported/moved in an upright position to this spot.  The real mystery was how the ancient peoples accomplished this fete with ropes, manpower, and careful balancing act,  but no wheels.  This was a marvelous site and we took advantage of wading in the cool ocean waters. Were we to stay longer I do believe I would have gone for a swim in the bay. There were picnic tables and definite place to spend the day.


We drove on a ways to a grove of Eucalyptus where we sat on some logs and had lunch of sandwiches, drink, and a fruit yogurt while watching a group of nearby horses graze. Since horses roamed the island freely you could see them walking or cantering across the land. Out of the silence would come a whinny from one to the other.


Now traveling along the dirt near coast road towards the largest of volcanoes we stopped at a special ancient village sight where we could see hieroglyphics in the stone. Lilly pointed out where each trip had marked their territory with a mound of stone.  Of special interest were the chicken coops. These were a mound of stone with a small entrance for the chickens to go in for the night. Well, there was a good reason for this structure for it seems some tribes wanted to steal chickens from the other tribes and this was one way to minimize that possibility. What lengths some folks will go to protect their food. Due to the small island, rather large native population, and limited food supply I suspect there were some food conflicts.


Along the coast we went with its beautiful blue green and turquoise waters with bright white waves folding over towards the shore.  We could easily see the volcano before us with its classic conical shape; the volcanic activity occurred tens of thousands of years ago for the most recent and millions for other activity.


Now we came to one of the most spectacular set of restored statues set upon a stone platform.  As it turns out it was the Japanese who supported the restoration of this marvelous sight at the edge of the sea. Each statue characterized its deceased personage. Lilly pointed out that we could tell a great deal about the ancient peoples by the shape of noses, mouth, and ear lobes. Once a statue was erected the eyes were put in and made of carved sea shell.  A recent, last 50 years,  tsunami had come in on this coast and went well inland and up the nearby mountain. One of the statues of 80 tons was moved 100 meters, what a force. This tsunami also left many fish high and dry but fortunately there were no people living here at the time. Also found ;behind the statues were burial bones and human ashes, a clear indication of burial procedures.


Now we were to go to the most spectacular statue sight of all and the quarry area where they were made. Of course, this being summer and this part of the island the dry side the sun beat down with vengeance, but we went for a hike anyway.


First was a short walk up through a notch in this volcano which had a most beautiful little lake in it. Now, we went down and around the side of the mountain to the main quarry. It is almost impossible to describe what we saw. There were many statues in different states of completion or movement. Up on the mountain it was clear where many statues had been carved from for there were definite square indentations. We could see many still only partially carved in the rock, some vertical, some horizontal. When a statue was completed it was moved down the hill into a large hole making it vertical and ready to move on. Of course, it was clear that some of the statues had had problems in movement and were now face down in the ground, some with a broken neck since that is the narrowest part of the statue. My imagination raced as Lilly talked in detail about the statues and their making; how many people did it take to move one of these many ton items?  How many people were killed in the process when a statue fell? You can also imagine the support people for the workers to eat and live during the multiple months or years process of creating a statue. There were clearly specialist in many field from carving the face to extracting it from the rock to moving it.


Given these extraordinary and complex tasks of such ancient peoples there is much speculation about how all this was accomplished.  We do know that the statue making era came to an end when the lower class revolted against the ruling upper class. Alas, there is so much to contemplate that you could read many books on the subject and still not know what really happened. No, I do not think there were extraterrestrial people involved. Just to be here and see these ancient works and island is almost overwhelming. Do stop by it you get a chance.



Thursday, 3rd  January 2008 – Isle de Pascua


Today it was simple – breakfast and a ride to the airport to fly to Santiago for the next leg of our trip.  This was going to be easy since I already knew Santiago and the Hotel Vegas where we are staying was highly recommended by Lilly along with a few other suggestions as to where to go and what to see. The hotel where we sayed is Lilly and Tadeu.