One of the things I had looked forward to on this trip was today’s visit to Easter Island. Sadly, for me, it was a disappointment, simply because we were not allowed to set foot on the island and had to make do with a ‘sail-around’.
It is certainly not the most accessible place I have visited and I could see that the harbour was about the size of the ship’s theatre.
Rocks with waves lashing over (on a really calm day) also indicated that the ship’s tenders would have trouble, but the real decider was that the islanders didn’t want us!! That I could understand. Unlike places such as Stonehenge, they have not protected their wonderful statues and people are free to walk around them, touch them, etc. Imagine 2,000 passengers (and probably most of the 1,000 crew as well) trampling all over the sites which contain the island’s famous several hundred figures (moai).
Like many islands in this region of the world, Easter Island is volcanic (now extinct). The moai were carved from the volcanic rock and some of the island’s ‘red’ rock was used to further decorate the statues with ‘top knots’, some of which still survive. Some statues stand, some kneel and some sit. Some are half buried by deposits of soil and minerals washed down the hills during bad weather (cyclones are known to hit the island). The early statues tend to be smaller but as the Polynesian islanders became more proficient, the later ones were much larger.
Interestingly, this small island boasts an airstrip – and it is not just any old airstrip either. During the time that America was regularly sending up space shuttles which might have been coming down to earth in the Pacific area, there had to be somewhere in the middle of this vast ocean where they could land. Easter Island fitted the bill. Normal flights take place about twice weekly to Fiji and Peru but as far as I know, they were never hosts to a returning space shuttle. They have recently built a couple of hotels and people actually come to Easter Island for a holiday. It must be a real “let’s get away from it all” kind of place and certainly not attractive to internet users if my experience was anything to go by! Satellites serving the South Pacific must be fewer than in other parts of the world and ten minutes to send an e-mail felt to me just a little slow!
Photography today was also a bit of a test. The Captain got as near as possible but long lenses do not always produce clear pictures. An additional complication was that the moai all face inland, so you could only photograph the front view at an even greater distance and from an angle. Ah well. We heard fascinating stories about the island’s ‘bird men’ period when young men climbed down the sheer cliffs, swam off the rocks to one of the smaller islands (now a bird nesting site for ‘Brown Boobies’) a good mile away, collected one bird egg, swam back and climbed the cliff face. The egg was presented to the tribal elders and the first man back with his egg intact became the tribal leader for one year. If the egg broke, he had to go back and do it all again.
We spent a good couple of hours sailing right around the island before heading off once again into the sunset. In a few more hundred miles we will find the famous Pitcairn Islands, still home to direct descendants from the crew of The Bounty. Meanwhile, calm deep blue seas, hot sun and warm breezes have been with us and, amazingly, the days simply fly by in the middle of this vast ocean. Often we are too far from land for any bird presence but have been entertained on occasions by flying fish… to say nothing of the ship’s company and guest entertainers.