Communing with the Moai on Easter Island

I recently returned from a one-week trip to Easter Island, the realization of a dream that began decades ago when I first saw photos of that remote Pacific island’s iconic stone heads. Despite all the photos I’d pored over in mystery and amazement through the decades, the power of being on the island, among those very stones, was almost inexpressibly immense. The wonder of it all really hit home on the afternoon when this photo was taken. This was my first full day on the island (I’d arrived at dinner time the night before), and my first view of standing moai.

Toppled moai, like the statue in the foreground, abound on Easter Island (or Rapa Nui, as the indigenous people call it), but only a few selected statues have been laboriously restored to their original perched-on-a-platform position. These 15 figures are at Ahu Tongariki, a spectacular setting on the eastern coast between the sparkling ocean – whose waves provide constant background music – and the rocky hill known as The Quarry, where the statues were meticulously hewn out of the stony slopes, and where you can see a succession of suspended-in-mid-creation statues, like a living textbook illustrating the stages of production.

The pure presence of these enigmatic figures -- which our guide explained represent significant ancestors, not deities – is palpably potent. They exude a kind of electric power, almost a spiritual force field, what the Rapa Nui call mana.  Our guide explained that their role was to safeguard the village, which is why they were built facing away from the sea, overlooking the inhabitants. But how were the moai transported across the island, to villages separated from The Quarry by steep hills? Numerous theories abound, but no one is certain.

This is just one of the many mysteries that energize the air in this middle-of-the-ocean outpost, the most isolated inhabited island on the planet.

But one thing is certain: A close-up encounter with the moai is like an electrical exchange. Now that I have returned home, I feel the mana still, pulsing in my veins.

 

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Where to stay on Easter Island? There are numerous accommodations in the island’s sole town of Hanga Roa, ranging from low-budget sites where you basically rent a patch of grass to pitch your own tent to the lavish Hanga Roa Hotel. I very heartily recommend the extraordinary Explora package program, which features lodging in the Posada de Mike Rapu, an artfully designed and unostentatiously cossetting retreat 10 minutes by car from town, plus a full suite of services and amenities, including three meals a day (with Chilean wines and tasty pisco sours) and an island-encompassing selection of half-day and full-day walking and biking tours led by excellent and impassioned guides. For more information: Explora Rapa Nui.

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Don George, Editor

Don George is Editor in Chief of Wanderlust: Literary Journeys for the Discerning Traveler. He has been Travel Editor for the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle and Salon.com, and Global Travel Editor for Lonely Planet Publications. Don has published eight books, including Travel Writing, A Moveable Feast, The Kindness of Strangers, and Tales from Nowhere. E-mail him at don@geoex.com.

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