One of the most isolated places in the world, Easter Island sits alone in the Pacific Ocean. It takes about 5 days on a cruise ship or over 5 hours on a plane to get to Easter Island from the mainland of Chile, who has ownership of the island. Just imagine how long it took ancient settlers, assumed to have come from Polynesia which is nearly as far, to get there by canoe.
Known as the Rapa Nui, early inhabitants found a forested island with plenty of birds and sea life for food. These isolated people prospered and at some point began to carve moai, the giant headed statues the island is famous for today.
Over centuries the population grew and the resources shrank. People chopped down trees to provide for their needs like making canoes and other things they needed to survive. They also chopped many trees down to move the moai from the crater of an extinct volcano where they carved the stones to their perches along the island’s shores. As resources got scarcer the island’s inhabitants became more violent. Wars broke out. Moai got toppled and people resorted to cannibalism. Some moai have been returned to the standing position and some have been removed from the island.
Without trees to protect it the island’s rich volcanic soil eroded. Without wood the remaining people couldn’t make boats to escape. By 1722 when the first Europeans came the island had become mostly barren and sparsely populated. A birdman cult arose and became the predominant religion of the island, carving hundreds of petroglyphs. In 1862 slave traders took all the healthy people from the island. Missionaries came soon after, converting the defeated population that was left and destroying important links to the island’s history making it impossible for future generations to know the significance of the moai or the story behind them.
Some of the statues stand in groups on platforms and others are scattered about. Contrary to popular belief, they are not all just heads. Some look like just a head poking out of the ground, but they have a body buried beneath the surface.
P&O Arcadia sailed past Easter Island on a relatively clear day. The sky had plenty of clouds, but the island was totally visible. I’ve heard sometimes it is shrouded in mist and passing ships can’t see it at all. The ship sailed by with the island to the starboard side and our room was on the port side so we could not sit comfortably on our own balcony to see it. Instead we had to jostle for space on the starboard side along with all the passengers from inside rooms as well as any others from the port side. We went out early enough to find a nice space along a railing. For some reason people who come out later tend to stand behind others rather than searching for open space somewhere else.
That’s OK if they stand back a bit, but once again I became invisible. This normally happens when I’m in line at the sort of buffet where someone behind a counter has to serve you. When I make it to the front they serve the person behind me, then the one behind them. They keep going down the line like I’m not even there. Occasionally even at a sit-down restaurant the waiter has taken orders from everyone else and then walked away or neglected to fill the water glass at my place though they filled everyone else’s.
Most of the people in the second row stood back a bit from the front, but had there not been a railing there the lady behind me would have pushed me right off the ship. I couldn’t get my camera out without elbowing her, which always gave me the uncomfortable feeling that I could easily drop it over the side before getting it secure. She didn’t seem to notice that or any time I bumped her trying to use the binoculars the ship so kindly provided to each cabin either. Apparently she could not feel me any more than she could see me.
As the ship approached Easter Island we could see one edge of the island dropping off at a cliff. Around the corner the land sloped down much closer to the water. There we saw some of the moai. These face inland so passing by on a ship we could only see the back. Luckily John has a camera with a good telephoto lens to zoom in on that sort of thing. The ship stayed about a mile offshore so even with binoculars it would be hard to tell what they were if you didn’t already know.
We were surprised to see trees growing on the island. Though the majority of it still looked like grasslands (and we even saw a herd of horses) it did indeed have trees here and there, sometimes long rows of them. I had always heard that the island had been completely stripped of its forests and none had ever grown back. Apparently someone has gotten some sort of trees to grow there, though it is possible none are native to the island. A few looked like palm trees, but just ordinary ones, not the giant sort it is said the island once had.
We could see a few farms and some roads with the occasional car or van. One hilltop had 3 white crosses. At the end of that side the island rose higher to a large volcanic crater. I don’t know if it was the one where they carved the moai or if that was one of the other volcanic craters on the island. It has three. A couple small rocky islets jutted from the sea, and between them and the land a stood a rock that looked much like a naturally occurring giant head. Several passengers around us mentioned wondering if that was what gave islanders the idea to carve the moai. A few fishing boats puttered around between the rocks.
Our ship turned and sailed by another side of the island. The lower area there appeared more populated. Behind the silhouette of a sailboat’s mast we could see a platform with 4 moai, but for the camera they’d have been shooting directly into the sun so it wasn’t until the ship got farther down that side that anyone could take photos. Near the far end of that side the ship turned away and headed onward across the pacific.
Unfortunately we didn’t stop or have a chance to go ashore. Easter Island has long been on my bucket list so I’m glad I at least got to see it from a ship.
Copyright My Cruise Stories 2016