Rapa Nui

The island and the people

It's one of those places that seem almost unreachable. I don't remember when was the first time I heard about it. It was probably when reading one of Erich von Däniken's books. And it never left my head, the idea of an island in the middle of nowhere, center of a civilisation that went un-noticed for so long. And the moai!

The whole trip initially didn't really have anything to do with the Easter Island, I booked few weeks in Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. And then I thought that a chance like that only comes once in your life. Being so close and not using the opportunity? No way. Oh, and I didn't regret it. The existence of the island itself is almost a miracle. Just because some volcanoes decided to blow up like they did and some Polynesians on a boat came upon it. The island itself is very quiet. The economy depends largely on tourism. There are plenty of companies offering horseback riding, diving, snorkelling and car, quad, motorcycle or bicycle rental. There is a multitude of gift shops, however not entirely of the cheesy cheap kind. And you won't be looking long for a place to eat or have a drink. Although the island isn't big, you can easily spend there a week. The moai alone can take few days to explore, they are spread all over the island. You can hike, you can wander or you can just relax.

The island belongs to Chile however it has a special status. There isn't much agriculture as it is indeed volcanic so twice a month a huge tanker delivers fuel and supplies that are otherwise not obtainable. Almost everyone there is either a car or a motorcycle owner. Not sure why, as you can walk the town in about 30 minutes, however I did not see any buses. Not everyone has a driving license, some don't feel the need as there are no traffic lights, just one main road and few stop signs. Obviously, no traffic jams either.

Apart from tourism and finishing there isn't much to do for the islanders, so many young people leave to study on the mainland. Some come back, some don't. Some on the island don't even finish high school - it has no real merit there.

Rough climate

One of the special status rules that doesn't apply anywhere else in Chile is that you can claim any piece of land you want (most of the island is state owned) as long as you are Rapa Nui (a real one, not just an islander) and there are no relics of any archaeological value in the ground. You just have to do something with the land for 5 years and after that time period you receive the deed. Chile decided to get the population back on to the island that way because there are less and less of the Rapa Nui. A great thing about it is that all the tour guides are pretty much local and everyone knows each other. All the families are more or less related. At the peak of its existence Rapa Nui had more than 10 000 inhabitants but towards the end of the 19th century there were only over 100 left. Explorers and foreigners visiting the island took many people as slaves and as everywhere else they brought with them diseases and Christianity. Many died because of getting ill and their culture suffered because of the church. One of the biggest loses is the ability to read the language on petroglyphs. In order to save the people and their culture someone around 19th century did have an idea to take away 400 Rapa Nui and settled them in Tahiti - they still live there today as a minority.

Australian settlers have brought sheep and horses to the island and it is partially because of them that a lot of the moai were damaged. A small piece of land was cornered off for the population to live - today's Hanga Roa - and the rest of the island served as feeding ground for the animals. They were allowed everywhere and unwillingly caused some damage. Actually, till this day you can see seemingly wild horses roaming on the land, they do have owners but the tradition of just allowing them loosely feed anywhere stayed.

The airport in Hanga Roa or rather the runway, is surprisingly large for the size of the island, it's only there thanks to NASA, who built it for emergency landing of the space shuttle. The landing strip stretches across from one coast to another so take-off and landing add a bit to the excitement.  The building itself reminded me of a hangar with a thatched roof.

In theory the island should be culturally close to Latin America, there is however a massive difference. First of all, the original Rapa Nui were actually from Polynesia. Second of all, nobody bothered me on the streets. I half expected people trying to sell me something or just blatantly asking for money like in so many other countries. That doesn't exist here. As a tourist I felt left in peace and to top that, I felt safe walking around town, be it day or night. 

Food wise you won't find here any kind of chain restaurants or coffee shops, it's all family owned. Apparently, the local dish number one is ceviche - looks like herring in oil and plenty of herbs. I didn't try it as I don't like fish so cannot comment on quality. What I can comment on are empanadas. Oh my god, they are huge here, and oh so tasty!

Last important thing to know about the island. If you want to get the Easter Island stamp in your passport, you have to go to the post office. Don't ask me why.

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