On our 3rd day in Easter Island we awoke to pouring rain. This certainly put a damper on our desire to explore the island. It basically rained all day. We decided to spend the day chilling out and had a long lazy lunch.
One of the things on the island that is a must do is to go and see some traditional island dancing. This is usually really expensive but we were lucky that we were on the island during the Chile wide Teleton event. This meant that we could get tickets to a charity event with two dance troupes and two bands for only $10 (about ¼ of the normal price). So we braved the pouring rain to get down to the hall where the event was taking place.
The traditional island dancing was really good and we would thoroughly recommend not to miss this part of Island culture.
The bad weather carried on into our fourth day but we decided not to let this stop us enjoying the island as there was still plenty more to see, so we decided to hire a jeep to explore the rest of the island. We hired a tiny 4 wheel drive Suzuki Jimny. Driving a Jimny is a bit like driving a toy car, they are definitely not built for people 6ft tall. As I slid the seat as far back as it would go, I could still steer using my knees, it was pretty uncomfortable, but thankfully we didn’t have far to go.
The first thing we did with our Jimny was head up the coast to the row of 15 Moai that we had seen on the tour. While doing this we stopped off at a few sites that we had seen from the bus but hadn’t stopped at.
On our drive we passed a small fishing harbour. Surprisingly Easter Island has no proper harbour with the exception of one or two small harbours for fishing boats, which may explain why everything on the island is so expensive.
Most of the coastline of the island is very inhospitable.
We visited a huge Moai that had been left lying face down in the dirt, abandoned before ever arriving at it’s Ahu by the very family who commissioned it, for reasons that are still unclear. Such was the desiccation of the islanders and their way of life that few people survived to pass down the history of this incredible culture so researchers don’t really know how the Moai were transported. There are however a number of different theories. The most plausible is that they were moved using tree trunks as rollers. The most unlikely (in my mind anyway) was that they were moved in an upright position with ropes moving one side forward at a time in a shuffling motion (a bit like walking). No-one knows for sure but it’s probable that a number of methods were used dependant on the terrain and distance involved.
Due to a combination of heavy rain and mud roads the Jimny rental guy had told us not to take the dirt road up to Orongo but as the following day was to be our last on the island and after all it is 4×4, we graciously ignored his concerns and headed up the slippery slope to the highest point on the island, Orongo, where the famous Birdman Ceremony was carried out.
When times became tough on Easter Island as more and more resources were used up the islanders began to believe that their ancestors had deserted them. The belief in ancestor worship began to wane in the 16th century and the birdman cult, based on the worship of Make-Make, started to hold sway.
The ritual of Tangata-Manu was performed every year when competitors from each tribe climbed down the cliffs (not for the faint-hearted)and swam to the island Motu Nui to collect the first egg of the Sooty Tern. They might have to wait days or weeks on the tiny island before finding the first egg. On returning to Orongo with the egg the winner was crowned Birdman (or the chief he represented) and was considered sacred for one year living in ceremonial seclusion. However the members of his tribe were given special privileges during this time. While waiting the chiefs from each tribe lived in special houses in the Orongo village.
After visiting Orongo we headed up to the Northwest corner of the island where the only inland Moai are found. These are unusual not only because they are not positioned on the coast but also because they were erected facing out towards the sea.
From here a 4×4 track leads to a number of interesting places including the largest canoe house on the island at 60m long near an ahu with many toppled moai.
We stopped at a dwelling site where a partially collapsed lava tube provided a room for a garden, worship space and also living space.
Our final stop was at a cave (Dos Ventanas) accessed by a narrow crawl through which ended in two large windows in the sea cliff with a long drop to the crashing waves below.
We returned the Jimny the following afternoon and packed our bags for our early evening flight. The only downside to our trip was that our flight was delayed from 6pm until 5am the next morning so we spent a very long time waiting in a cold airport on uncomfortable plastic chairs in the middle of the night. We finally arrived at our hotel in Santiago at around 9pm after a very, very long day!