And you think I have a big head

November 19, 2005
    Jonathan and some Moai
    An excerpt from Throat Culture’s “Easter Island Head”:
    I am a man with an ordinary head.
    I am a man with a typical life.
    I am a man with an ordinary job.
    I am a man with a typical wife
    I saw a postcard.
    It was mailed out to me.
    It had a picture of
    How I want my life to be.
    I want a head like the heads you see on Easter Island.
    I want a big strong forehead.
    I want to stand up tall.
    I want a head like the heads you see on Easter Island.
    I want to stare at the seaside and do nothing at all!

Ignoring the fact that the Moai (the big stone heads) actually stare inland, not at the seaside, I think that sums up what I knew about Easter Island (or Rapa Nui as the locals call it) before planning this trip. Easter island always seemed to me the height of exotic, but it was a place that only existed on postcards. Now, having visited the island and read the Rough Guide to Chile, I know the sad history. It begins with a civil war that toppled all the Moai, then foreigners enslaved the locals. The end of slavery was followed by disease that wiped out not only those that survived the slavery and were returned home, but all of the indigenous people still living on the island. This was followed by a period of general neglect.

Despite all this, my image of the island remains little more than a that of a spectactular photo shoot, the stuff of postcards. We spent 4 days on the island. Two full days, plus the arrival and depature days, which are the sort of non-days that travel makes possible.

On the first day we rented a 4X4 and drove to see the major sites on the southern half of the island. We saw fallen moai and those that have been restored to their upright position. We climbed to the top of the quarry where hundreds of partially carved and complete Moai remain. We even visited the seperate quarry where the top knots (the rock hats) some Moai wear were carved. It was all beautiful and exotic, but it is really not more than a day or two to see it all.

On our second day we walked 13 miles along the northern coast from the beach to town and saw only 4 people once we left the beach until we reached town. We did see hundreds of cows and horses grazing in endless fields of volcanic rock and endless spectatular ocean vistas. We navigated at least a dozen barbed wire fences and took lots of pictures — after all that seems to be Easter Island’s only export.

I am glad I went, and the Island makes a great postcard, but it doesn’t have the stuff of long letters.

A selection of our Easter Island Photos.