Chile

It was not really Chile that we visited, but the Isla de Pascua.

And in a sense we regret having made the distance we did not make the finishing line as they say in sports. It is now a promise to ourselves to enlarge our handprint in south America. We will surely be back for more!

Chile FlagNo soccer references here for reference. In any case Chile has seen representation at nearly every single world up.

As a “thin” country (ie narrow) with a coastline that is said to be 4,300km long, there is enough diversity from an extremely dry (in fact driest) desert at Atacama till the bitterest cold of the south at the tip of the straits of Magellan. Strange thing though you will probably ask yourself – why did these two fellas fly all the way there just to spend 4 days, and all of it on Easter island alone?Easter Island flag

Why wasn’t there more time spent in Santiago, Valparaiso or even venture to the desert and cold mentioned two paragraphs up? Time.

That is the main constraint we had. As much as we wanted to stay longer, Melvin constrained himself with the annual leave. On hindsight perhaps we should have simply just dropped everything and stay longer! But you see we did not intend to YOLO at this stage of our lives.

So yes, we headed into Santiago on a late afternoon flight just to check into the hotel and sleep over for the night. For flights to Easter island operates only once a day in the morning. Miss that and you lose one more day. And that’s provided you get a seat!

Travel ItinearySo this page is mainly on our adventures on the island that Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen “discovered” on Easter Sunday in 1722. While we spent a “whopping” four days here, in reality we only had two full days to explore the island. The first day was mostly lost as we arrived midday and got mired in the administration of checking into our resort. And the last day? Well it was about checking out and catching the 1pm flight out to connect in Santiago to another one for the onward journey home!

Think we were in a rush? Some folks only came in the day before and had barely 6 hour to touch some of the places we spent hours at. And the cruise ships? If they were lucky they’d get on tender to come ashore. Frequently they don’t or are in such a rush that they cannot savor much like we did. So we count ourselves lucky. If you ever think that it’s possible to arrange for your own way to Easter island, good luck. The flight is only daily and LAN is the sole carrier. Tickets are booked all the way by tour groups.

What is the Moai?

Downtown Moai 3It interesting how things are all interconnected. The Moai statues are said to be a central element in ancestor worship, as the shape is inherently that of a human. Some thought it could also be to honor deities. Yet others believed this was a tradition carried over the sea by the Rapa Nui people – one of carving on wood. But with little of precious wood to be found here, substituted with stone. Whatever their function ultimately served, these huge statues some of which stands up to 10m tall are symbols of a society that is advanced. No society can expend such efforts to carve and haul structures such as these without considerable resources being available and consumed.

Today there are said to be a thousand Moai on the island. They probably served a variety of purposes ranging from deified ancestors or gods to being solar calendars or simply staking of territory.

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In our journey across the island, we came across Moai both large and small. We also saw groups of them facing in the same direction (Akivi site) or the one at Tongariki. Akivi Moai 15We came across individual ones (Urenga). There is always a story behind them.

Ultimately the expense of such elaborate carving works depleted resources as population on the island peaked. In the ensuing downward spiral of society, there was a

Change in religion

What had happened? As population growth pressures mounted and resources depleted, modern day anthropologist hypothesized that around the late 1600s, almost all species of trees and bird life had been wiped out from the island. Some smart aleck might probably say – teach a man to fish. No wood, no boats dude. You’re marooned. Remember that you are on a speck of land 3,500km from Chile??

Internecine warfare over limited resources was probably commonplace. It is said that a powerful coalition of military cult rose and developed a new religion centered on an all powerful god (Make Make – pronounced ‘mah-kay’). This powerful god required a human intermediary (birdman) every year. In order to choose the “one”, each clan nominates a candidate to participate in what amounts to a Spartan race. Only that this race is far deadlier than the one where you have someone push you over the obstacles.

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Since the main island was devoid of most vegetation and birdlife, the only source of eggs and bird meat was on the islet of Motu Nui, just off the coast of Rano Kau. The mission if you choose to take it, is to swim across the channel to the islet, collect a sooty tern egg, swim back, climb up the sharp cliffs to Orongo (top of Rano Kau). Obviously the winner was the first one past the finishing line.

The clan he represents will then be awarded the haul of bird eggs and meat + tribute from the other clans. This birdman actually retired for year’s ascetic life on the top of Rano Kau as part of his sacrifice. Very much like the Survivor series…It was suppose to have a competition in place of combat warfare.

Even this did not last. The last of the 86 “birdman” competition likely took place sometime close to the mid 1800s and ended ingloriously.

Graveyard of the Moai

Far view of Rano Raraku2That’s it for religion. It was all for the birds! But what of the Moai? When we came to Rano Raraku, it seemed like there were so many Moai stuck in the ground. Were they buried there in response to the new religion? Why were there so many here?

It turns out that Rano Raraku is a factory, period. There is an entire mountain of compressed rock here which makes for easy picking of materials to carve and send downhill (rolling?). So the artisans will work here on the pieces commissioned by customers and when it is completed it will be transported away (don’t ask how, we still don’t have the answer).

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Moais at Rano Raraku96

It appears that the worksite was abandoned. How do we know? Just look at some of the Moai. Quite some out of the approximately 397 here are partially completed – like one side of the face, no ears etc. And why are they stuck to the ground I hear you ask? Well, they were originally not. Standing tall, these statues were being worked on and abandoned. As time passed, dirt and soil came to cover the base of the statues. The entire place is windswept. Not unusual to have sand and soil blown over. Eureka!

Geology and fauna

Walking back to Hanga Roa resort3But then most people will ask : how come there are so many trees and animals (horses and cows) on Easter island now? Didn’t all fauna and tree species got wiped out? Yeah, in the last 100+ years, the missionaries and colonialists had brought over whatever you see today.

Today cows and horses run free. No one actually owns them or even wants them. Who wants to feed and care for them? The folks have tourist businesses to run!

How can we forget the food?

Finally, we must tell you about the food. In particular, the Cerviche. Now you can get Cerviche in most parts of South America and we had tasted some in Peru just a week before. But the ones served here are with a semi-raw bed of fish. So delicious we had it at virtually every meal for the 4 days!

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Another learning : south American passion fruit should be made into juice. Unlike their Asian cousin, it has a lot of large and hard seeds.

We had full board for all the days here in the Hanga Roa. There are many resorts here but this is highly recommended. We certainly did not regret this decision.

November 2014

4 thoughts on “Chile”

    1. Its also a pity that we only stopped over!! Because of “limited” time (lousy excuse we know), we went straight to Easter island. We wanted so much to extend and explore Chile too – the atacama, Chilean patagonia…sigh. Bucket list item for us too!

      Liked by 1 person

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