It’s difficult not to love a place that calls itself the “navel of the world.”
The island of Rapa Nui, better known to the Western world as Easter Island, is remarkable for many reasons, chief among them that a few of the earlier inhabitants carved more than 900 stoic lava rock monuments around the island – for reasons that are unclear to this day.
Whether Rapa Nui is a living archaeological exhibit, a South Pacific idyll, a chess board for the gods or a homing beacon for space aliens, it rarely fails to capture the imagination of all who hear about it.
From Jacob Roggeveen, the first European to land there (on Easter Day, 1722), to Thor Heyerdahl, author of a few wildly popular (and even more wildly speculative) books about the place, many have traveled there – and most were somehow changed.
What follows are a few passages by writers who have been there, offering what struck them most about Rapa Nui.
- Spud Hilton, Chronicle travel editor
Easter Island isn’t your typical island. There are only two small sandy beaches and very few palm trees or trees of any kind. but there are more than 900 reasons to make the epic journey to this 15-mile long triangle of volcanic rock. in every direction, huge basalt statues – the island’s enigmatic maoi – are silhouetted across the azure blue skyline, the stone survivors of a lost civilization.
Close up, the haunting statues are similar but not identical: prominent chins, deep sockets for eyes, and some have fingers, headdresses and tattooed backs. four of them are women. It is estimated it would have taken six workers 12-15 months to carve and another 90 days to lower the statue down the mountains and transport it to an altar along the coast.
Gina, our 27-year-old guide of Rapa Nuian descent, told us that the statues represent clan chiefs. after they were carved in a quarry, rolled on tree trunks to the shore and erected, they became repositories of supernatural powers.
Marybeth Bond is author of the National Geographic Girlfriend Getaway Guides. This passage appeared at her blog, GutsyTraveler.com.
CHRIS GRAY FAUST
Friends who had visited Easter Island warned me that the Rapanui men were unusually attractive. And sure enough, the streets of Hanga Roa could have been a casting call for a romance novel cover shoot.
The men resembled Polynesian Fabios, with flowing dark hair, tribal tattoos and confident smiles. one man rode past on a horse, bareback, his shirtsleeves ripped to show off well-developed arm muscles. I learned later that this cultivated sex appeal had a purpose beyond mere vanity; with a population nearly decimated by smallpox, the slave trade and outright slaughter, the Rapanui made rebuilding their numbers a serious, er, proposition.
“How else could we get from 250 to 2,000 in just three generations?” a tourism official said with a wink.
Chris Gray Faust is editor of the website Chris around the World: A Travel Journalist’s Tips From the Road (caroundtheworld.com).
The first ones I spotted were from the plane – black slabs sticking up like tombstones in a tawny, treeless landscape. as soon as I’d settled into the hotel, I walked up the coast from the town of Hanga Roa toward the archaeological complex called Tahai.
There the eerie silhouettes of the statues loomed behind a cemetery. I didn’t go close at first, but sat at a distance in the field fronting the monuments – or moai, as they’re called in the indigenous Rapanui language. the panorama encompassed a group of five human representations clustered on a single ahu, or ceremonial platform, and two single monoliths some distance away.