Day 6- Santiago rest day (25 Feb 2019):
So it may not sound glorious, but after traveling for a month, we are running out of “less dirty” clothes. We headed to the nearest laundry facility today, which happened to be in the basement of the tallest building in Latin America, along with a 6 story mall that might as well have been in any city in the United States. What better way to spend your morning than eating breakfast and wandering a mall while your clothes are getting cleaned? The public transportation is really good in Santiago. After sneaking in a nap, we hit the subway in the afternoon and poked around the city. A nice way to relax after leaving Easter Island!
Day 5- Departure (24 Feb 2019):
Before heading out, we went to the only museum on the island. The museum filled in some of the details around how the Polynesians got here, how their religion worked, and how society functioned. Easter island is the Eastern corner of what is known as the Polynesian triangle. The triangle encompasses basically all of Polynesia. We had the pleasure of visiting Hawaii last year to the North and New Zealand two years ago to the West, so we have now hit all three of the corners!
Upon heading to the airport for our afternoon flight back to Santiago, we were given a parting gift of some necklaces with little Moai hanging from them. It was a kind thought from a very nice people. The presence of the behemoth statues on the island, represented by tiny images on trinketry is worthy of reflection.
Technically the Moai are not gods in the traditional pagan sense, however, they are certainly religious objects believed to house the essence, of mana, of important ancestors. These ancestors were then essentially looked to as protective forces and were revered, even feared.
What was largely left out from the tours and conversations was the place that ancestor worship did and in some cases still does occupy in the Rapa Nui society. The large Moai the island is famous for represented the most important ancestors, ie chiefs. Recently, the mayor of the island pleaded with a museum in Europe for the return of one of those Moai, stating that the museum had the soul of its people. He was not using an expression of speech. This is really what some believe.
Furthermore, while the large statues represent the most important ancestors, there are caves throughout the island filled with smaller Moai that represent the more common people. Spirits called Ahu guard those caves and the families are responsible for caring for the figures of their ancestors to avoid bad things called taboos (think curses). In fact, there were many taboo’s in the culture, unrelated to the caves, that would bring wrath on the people from these spirits. Sherpa read a book about the island before coming and knew the questions to ask the guides, who opened up about this secret side of the island. One mentioned having been in one of the secret caves with bones, small Moai, etc. There are people that to this day bow down and serve those tiny carvings, secretly caring for them, etc.
As followers of Christ, we want no part of the pagan religion or the dark spirits that haunt the followers of it. We were careful not to accumulate any objects that represented the Moai in accordance with the scripture which clearly prohibits this activity for followers of the living God:
“And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction.”
Deuteronomy 7:26 ESV
We know that the first century church kept this practice because the book of Acts describes pagans coming to follow Christ and destroying the things from their former religions which were forbidden and no longer purchasing carved images to the point that it was hurting the local businesses (Acts 19).
How many tourists visit this place claiming to be Christian but have a casual relationship with God instead of a careful one and bring these detestable things into their homes as souvenirs? Archaeologists, and anthropologists have helped reconstruct and preserve the beautiful Rapa Nui culture but in the process have also reconstructed their wicked religious past. There is a pastor we listen to who brought his 5 year old grandson to a museum. Upon entering one room filled with artifacts of world history, the boy shrieked and began screaming “idols, idols grandpa! Idols.” That is exactly how those objects from humanity’s past should be viewed. Not as cute artifacts of history that we should buy carvings of and keep in our home as souvenirs from a vacation, but as relics of a dark religion. The Rapa Nui culture is beautiful and to be absolutely honored and respected and we are in debt to the many who have taken steps to preserve and reconstruct it, but we want nothing to do with the false religious elements that they have exposed in the process.
Praise God that Christianity came to the island and the people were set free from the power of those spirits! The island is something like 96 percent Christian now. The book Sherpa read before coming, called “Aku Aku” describes the inhabitants as having converted to Christianity but still under bondage to take care of and serve those little Moai kept in ancestral hidden caves because of the fear of the spirits. It goes on to describe the relief some of the inhabitants experienced when they were able to abandon the caves and turn over their Moai to the expedition. They no longer had to fear the spirits anymore. That is the freedom that is in Christ. Renouncing the idolatry of our past and experiencing a life lived without fear of the dark spirits of this world.
Day 4- Partial Day Tour (23 Feb 2019):
This morning we went on a partial day tour to see Orongo and Vinapu, two key sites not included in the full day tour. Vinapu is special because the stones on a platform are fitted together with the precision of the Incas seen in Machu Pichu. It, along with a body of other evidence including plants found only in South America, Polynesian artifacts in South America, and certain cultural similarities such as cooking techniques, etc. have led many to speculate that there was contact between the civilizations. The precise nature of that contact is unknown, and genetic studies have not positively identified ties yet.
Finely fitted stones indicative of Inca expertise.
Then we visited Orongo. This was the city of the Birdman competition which we hiked to a few days earlier. The guide was very helpful in filling in the details for us. Basically, the prominence of the Moai had fallen out of favor. The construction projects were abandoned, the statues toppled. The Moai are seen as more than just statues by the natives, they are considered to have the “mana”, or life force of their ancestors dwelling in them. The ancestors were supposed to provide protection, but the people were no longer convinced of their ability to provide it. The island had fallen on hard times, having been depleted of many resources. For example, all trees were extinct due to overuse and possibly the affects of the mini ice age of the 14th century. Warfare over resources ensued, statues were toppled, and a new religion developed or took prominence. This one looked at the birds, whose annual arrival signaled the start of spring and renewed food supplies. Competitors had to come back with an egg from the tiny island offshore to ensure their tribe ruled the island. There is a modern version of the race in which scantily clad island competitors race with banana bunches up the historical route.
Island where competitors from the Birdman competition got their eggs.
We had a local specialty for lunch. “Rape rape” or slipper lobster, these are a small lobster found only around Easter island and Pitcairn island. Their heads resemble the tails of Caribbean lobster. They tasted just like regular lobster!
In the afternoon, we got out our GPS and wandered to a geocache! Our sister in law had found a tracker in a geocache near her home in Washington and mailed it to us knowing that we were going on a trip. We figured there were not too many places more remote than Easter island to put the thing. After placing the tracker, we decided to attend a second show in the evening to see some more of the local culture. Baby was again the most enthusiastic dancer, although this group “Kari Kari” has performed throughout Polynesia and all over the world.
Day 3- Full day Tour (22 Feb 2019):
Today we hired a tour company to take us on a full day tour of many sites of archaeological significance on the island. The highlights included a platform with 15 standing Moai. All of these statues were knocked down at one point, likely during a period of tribal warfare in the last 3 centuries, so ones that are standing have been restored.
The second highlight was what is known as the quarry, the location where the statues were carved. Many of various sizes lay in various stages of construction, sprawled across the ground. There are theories on how the Stone Age civilization were able to move such large stones. We prefer the oral tradition that they simply walked to their platforms.
After learning about the statues, we visited a show to experience some of the island culture. Baby loved the performance, and danced and squealed the entire time.
Day 2- Hike (21 Feb 2019):
Reenergized, we decided to hike the “Te Ara o te Ao” Trail from town up to the top of an extinct volcano rim called “Rano Kau.” The trail was not easy because it was all uphill. When we arrived at the top, the wind prevented us from continuing into “Orongo”, a city with archaeological significance to the island. Actually, the hike follows the route of the Birdman competition, an annual festival the locals, called Rapa Nui, used to observe annually which allowed them to select their chief from among the island clans each year. The competition required competitors to travel off shore to a nearby island and return with the egg of a sea bird. The winner’s clan chief became ruler of the entire island until the subsequent year, a sort of Polynesian Olympics with incredible stakes considering that the winning tribe controlled the food supply on a resource limited place.
In the afternoon we wandered through town to a popular place to watch the sunset called Ahu Tahai with a nice view of the Moai, the giant statues that cover the island and draw most tourists.
Day 1- Arrival (20 Feb 2019):
We caught the early flight into Easter island. The airport required us to be there 3-4 hours early which meant leaving the hotel by 3AM. Thankfully, we were able to clear security and special customs required for the island fairly quickly and were able to spend a couple hours relaxing in an airport lounge. We slept and watched movies most of the flight and arrived before 10AM on Isla de Pascua, Easter Island. The airport is the most remote in the world, with only 1 runway and 1-2 flights per day limited because the planes have to be at least half way to their destination before the next can depart. Tired from the travel required to get from Patagonia to Polynesia, we rested and explored Hanga Roa, the only city on the island, which was very walkable from our hotel.
Travel day (19 Feb 2019):
We awoke early to catch a 3 hour bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas, the furthest South any of us have visited. In fairness, there’s really only one other “major” city further South in the world, Ushuaia, the primary jumping off place for boat expeditions to Antarctica. We decided to skip it because you cannot responsibly bring a baby to the 7th continent. Here the sun is at a strange angle and light rules the day and much of the night during the Southern Hemispheres summer. The plant life is sparse and the terrain open. We got on a midday 3 hr flight up to Santiago and got a transfer to our hotel. After a long day of travel, we were happy to have a little rest.