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Monday, 8 June 2015

Family fun in Easter Island - once we got past the roadblocks!

Easter Island - a tiny remote dot in the middle of the Pacific Island where we came up against protesting residents and roadblocks, and eventually were allowed to adore the towering Moai statues.

Top of our list of things we wanted to do on Easter Island was, of course, to go to the quarry where the statues were carved and many are still in situ, having never made it to their proposed destination, either because the cult of the statues was abandoned before the statue was finished, or because the statue smashed before being finished. So, we set off to make the short 20 minute drive along the length of the island to get to the quarry. But we didn't get there. We had not gone halfway when .. we never could have envisaged this ...roadblocks! The Rapanui were protesting their independence against Chile and had closed all the sites, blocked all the roads, and generally put a stop to everything! Argh!!!!!!

We tried all the routes out of Hanga Roa, all were blocked off. There was no way of gaining access to any of the historical sites of the island. None. We saw it from the protestors' point of view of course - they wanted to take back control over their tourism and their heritage from Chile. We assume it's just a one day protest, right?

Cutting down the trees - not to roll statues on, but to stop tourists seeing them.

But it wasn't only for one day. There were rumours that nobody would be able to get near the statues for weeks...The next days were spent in increasingly desperate attempts to get near to these sights and sites which we had come so far to see. Roadblocks again. There was no getting to the quarry, again, and no getting to Anakena in the north of the island, again. No getting anywhere. Some of the local Chilean tour guides who have been here before and seen it all before say the protestors might keep it up for days. Weeks.. We waited at roadblocks for ages, chatting to a bunch of other tourists, everyone frustrated. The guys manning the roadblocks just say they are waiting for news from Chile before they are going to stand down. Some conflicting information about reports on the radio of the "President of the Rapa Nui Parliament" announcing that the protestors that they should lift the blockades, but the guys here are having none of it.

Easter Island - a tiny rocky island in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean

So we try another route later in the day. We get to the junction to Anakena (which would also take us to Aviki) and the roadblock is now only manned mostly by kids. No rope across the road - let's go. So I drive forwards, and we think we have achieved escape velocity and are very excited. But a few miles down the way - another roadblock, immediately outside someone's house. This is very easy for them to man. They aren't going to give up any time now. Turn around. Meet a cyclist who we saw at a roadblock earlier who said he had managed to get into the quarry! It was open! He took the bike off the roads to get round the roadblocks and made it into the quarry. There was no one else there - no kidding. Can we do this?

Drive back into town to get supplies for tomorrow and I pop into a few car hire and tour places and ask about a local guide to take us around the road blocks. No dice. This is hopeless. We can't the 6 of us cycle from Hango Roa to the quarry. No way.

We try again for the quarry the next day. We were now desperate to see what we came for - our time was running out, only two days more here before we would have to fly out.

The next day again we set off along the road, we don't see disappointed tourists returning in the other direction, which is almost hopeful. We have decided to try a gesture of making friends today - we come armed with beers, oranges and biscuits. We get to the roadblock. It is clear in front of us! I drive right up to the rope, and a young lady appears (first of either of these qualities to appear among the protestors).  "Que pasa?" I say, and she replies "tickets?" "Si!" I say, excitedly, we have those! We show them to her, we watch as she carefully rips them in half, and then she returns she stubs to me and we drive forwards over the lowered rope. We have made it!!!!

We can't believe it! And I still don't believe it until we are actually inside the quarry, which is not long after. We are so thrilled to be here! So happy, so excited, and ultimately, so incredibly relieved!   We celebrate by each drinking a can of the beer we didn't need to offer and eating the oranges and biscuits!

And now, at last, we can appreciate the Moai here in the quarry where these extraordinary huge great statues were carved from the rocks in a process that took as much as two years per statue, and then they were moved from here to places all around the island. And the reason to visit the quarry now is because there are quite a number of Moai still here - who never made it to their intended destinations for one reason or another. If a Moai fell over in the process of bringing it down from the top of the quarry it was just left there, folornly abandoned. So there are many Moai in the quarry -  in fact there are 397 of them here to be precise.

And they were amazing! Lying everywhere among the grass, huge stone heads gazing out towards the stony land. Some at crazy angles, all apparently with bodies underneath the heads. An astonishing number of the heads all around us, all still waiting to be taken to Ahus, which they will now never get to. We look at many many of the hundreds of Moai at the quarry, in various stages of carvedness. Amazing. It is really amazing. We find the Moai who has the carving of Cook's ship on his stomach, and we find the only kneeling Moai - perfectly framed with the 15 standing Moai of Tongariki in the background down by the sea. We wander among them, fairly dazed to be here, and very happy. At one point we meet a tour guide from yesterday who had chatted to us and explained the protestors' views, not that he had agreed with what they were doing he said. He was delighted we were here and we greeted each other like long lost friends!

We wondered around in the hot sun, and at one time in a cool shower of rain, marvelling at these extraordinary relics of a dead culture. Having finally had our fill we walked to the crater of the volcano, after various path losing exploits, and walked part way around the island's only lake, among the Moai who had been carved from the rocks on this side. It was so peaceful here, with almost no one else there, and we could be so close to the carved heads - amazing.

The next day our plan was to try to get to Orongo on the other side of the island, which is where the ritual of the Birdman cult was practised. We drove along this road which had also been roadblocked, but no more! We made it to Orongo. Cave paintings were not on the agenda because the path had collapsed but we saw the place where the Birdmen competitors had to climb down the near vertical cliffs, into the shark infested water, swim out 2km to the tiny Motus, edged with steep rocky sides pummelled by breaking waves, find the first eggs of the season laid by the sooty tern, pop the egg into a basket on their head assigned for that purpose, and then swim back through the shark-rich waters, climb back up the cliffs, and be crowned Birdman for the year, and so the riches of the island would be bestowed to their tribe. Such a fascinating cult, and such a dramatic scene, which we saw in perfect sun. I couldn't take a photo which did justice to the startling drop to the deep blue sea and these rocky inhospitable islands.

We then walked to the top of the crater - it was vast. Filled with reedy water, the islands only other source of "fresh" water. Then those of us who weren't on the edge of exhaustion from the sun and the rigours of the day went to see the Moai at Tongariki one last time. The weather was cloudy on our part of the island but it was wonderful full sun at Tongariki. We got through the roadblock this time by the lady tearing our halved tickets into quarters! Lucky they hadn't torn them at Orongo, as you are only supposed to get to the quarry one time and Orongo one time otherwise there wouldn't have been anything left of the tickets for her to tear (Tongariki is on the same road as the quarry).

The Moai were amazing. We sat, we contemplated, we stared, we took photos, we marvelled. We reluctantly dragged ourselves away.

On the way home we made a small detour to see the Moai with 4 hands carved - why, no one knows. A joke, possibly. Or maybe it was something about twins I speculated.

On our last evening we went to the sea to see the sunset over the Tahai Moai. There were a lot of clouds so we weren't anticipating a great show, but it was fabulous! There were a lot of people watching, but why not. We all lay around on the grass, walked to get the Moai in front of the most coloured stretches of sky, and gazed and gazed at these stone wonders.

And then it was our last morning. We went back to see our frist ever Moai - the one just by the sea in the town of Hanga Roa. What an incredible place, what magical wonders this island contains. How very glad I am to have seen them. So remote, so far. Unimaginable that we will ever make it back to see them again.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.