Saturday, February 25, 2012

Au Bout du Monde

Au Bout du Monde (end of the world in French) is the name of an excellent Belgian restaurant in Hanga Roa, the capital of Easter Island. We had a delightful meal there on the rooftop terrace looking out to the sea crashing on shore. The chocolate mousse served there was the best dessert we had while on Rapa Nui.
Easter Island (63 sq. miles big!) was populated from 400-800 AD by Polynesians from the south Pacific. At its peak it may have had a population approaching 20000, but this was decimated by clan warfare, the taking of slaves by the Europeans, and a small pox epidemic brought on by contact with Europeans. The current population is about 5000 permanent residents (out numbered by the 6000 horses there). The island was "discovered" by Dutch Admiral Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Sunday in 1722, hence the name (Isla de Pascua in Spanish); however, the native name of Rapa Nui is still commonly used. After spending a few days on the island, Rapa Nui just seems the more fitting moniker. Lying approximately 2400 miles off the coast of South America, it is appropriate to describe this small island as the most remote populated place in the world as well as having the most remote airport in the world.
A note of interest about the runway at the airport: in the 1960s it was extended to its present length of nearly 11000 feet by the US government to provide an emergency landing strip for any space shuttles that might be launched into polar orbit from Vandenberg Air Force base in California. To the best of my knowledge, all of the shuttles were launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
Our tour of the island consisted of two full days in a small bus or van with an excellent guide and 10-15 other tourists. We saw all of the major sites that were accessible by road; some in the northwest part of the island can only be reached by foot or horseback.
Approximately 1000 moai populate the island, and the only ones standing today were re-erected in the last 100 years by various scientific and research groups. All but seven of the moai faced inland; and due to clan warfare, earthquakes, and tsunamis, when they fell, they all ended face down, many with broken necks. Over 400 are still in the "nursery" or quarry, and there is no definitve theory as to how they were moved to the various locations around the island. "Walking" the moai (which can weigh over 100 tons!) has been gaining credence as a way of moving these stone carvings. Think of something tall and heavy and how you can rock it back and forth to make it go where you want it to; add lots of rope, many men, and a decent path to follow and this theory makes sense. No matter how you look at it, the moai are full of mystery and that adds to the allure of Rapa Nui.
Rapa Nui


Ahu Vai Uri
Warning Sign
Ahu Ko Te Riku
Ahu Akivi (seven moai facing the ocean)
Which moa is Ronald Reagan?
Puna Pau, the quarry where the pukao (topknots) were carved
Ahu Vinapu (toppled moai)
Rano Kau Crater
Rano Kau Crater
Orongo Ceremonial Village
Petroglyphs and the islets of Moto Nui, Moto Iti, and Moto Kao Kao (big island, small island and pointy island)

Cliff Slip!

Ahu Vaihu (eight toppled moai with pukao scattered about)

Ahu Tongariki (15 moai)

Rano Raraku (quarry)
Tukuturi (the only kneeling moai with Ahu Tongariki in the background)
Unfinished moai in situ
Warning Sign
Cemetery in Hanga Roa
Pretty Leaves

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