One long day of sights, plus a long day of travel and a long day of rest.
We spent the first part of the morning heading along the southeastern coastline via ATV. The simple map from the tourism company showed several moai shaped icons, but we only saw crumbling walls and embedded heads, face down. We got a little despondant, I’ll be honest. I will admit that I had not read the book ahead of time, because I thought David had. He knew that there was a cool quarry somewhere, but we weren’t finding it.
Then David saw a large hill, pecked with dark dots, in the distance.
This is where all of the famous photographs have been taken. There were toppled Moai, tilted Moai and straight, there were busted busts and several still half stuck in stone. There are supposed to be 300 or so fully complete and partial. We lost count.
The hillside was covered in hunting, kraak-ing caracaras, called tiuques by Chileanos and tokay-tokay by the Rapa Nui. Also, spinning over our heads were a half dozen tropicbirds. Turns out they had nests there. I spied one through a crack in a small rock wall that seemed built specifically to hide her.
We took all the Moai pictures that everyone takes. We walked tourist-worn paths. I worried, later, that we’d hurried too much.
In art school, my art history professor, Jim Hicks, once told us this story about Charlemagne’s castle. He visited there, and while most tourists spent a scant 30-40 minutes walking around the small, old ass space, he walked the main room for over two hours. Eventually, he approached the one, ancient guard and asked in his halting French if the throne had ever been identified or found, or if it had been plundered long before the building’s historical importance was known.
Jim said the guy pulled a huge key ring out of his pocket and motioned to a smallish wooden door. He picked out a giant, iron key that looked exactly like one would expect, and after a dramatic turn in the old lock, pushed the door open with a protracted screech. Inside, in a small shaft of light (this is how I remember him telling the story–if I am remembering incorrectly, I hope a former classmate can correct me), was a rough hewn, unassuming chair. The guard closed the door and left Jim in the room alone.
Did he sit in it? Yes, he said, but only for a moment. I don’t take that to be the point of the story.
The point is not to be just a túrista. I am pretty sure I failed the Charlesmagne-Hicks test at Rano Raraku. And maybe on Easter Island altogether. But it was beautiful nonetheless.
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I only ever had one “Choose your own adventure” book as a kid, that I remember. It was a sci-fi affair and there was one page with a pen drawing of Moai on it. I remember nothing about the book (except that it had frustrating “heaven” or “you have won” type spread in the center of the book and a back flap admonition that you couldn’t get to it by making any choices or decisions… what then was the point?!) except that Moai picture and the eerie quality it was supposed to possess. I always understood the heads to be that: eerie. Maybe I’m too old? Maybe we rushed too fast? Whatever it was, though they were amazing and impressive and remarkable, the hair on the back of my neck stayed down.
Yesterday was our last day on the island. Three days is the recommended stay (ugh, even just staying for the “recommended” amount of time, but it was expensive and so what are you going to do?). We spend the day looking for the dog (again), getting the tourist stamp for our passports, eating a rather sorry breakfast, and buying souvenirs. There were echoes of New Zealand in the swirls and shapes of the ubiquitous Rapa Nui-aesthetic: hibiscuses, curved fishhooks, flattened turtles. It was also tough not to think of The Kinks while I was being shown the “not-so common” (and therefore, preferred) methods of sarong-knotting by a local merchant and artisan.
Our flight was long, but on arrival back in Santiago, we were greeted by our now regular taxi-driver, Robinson, who chided me for looking surprised to see him. He did promise to be there, after all. We got to the new place okay, but the travel day was hard on me. Woke up still out of sorts. Today was a day of rest and planning.
We still have to tear the packs apart one more time, but otherwise, we are pretty much ready for Saturday’s flight to Patagonia. Tomorrow, I am off in the morning to a raptor center. No one thought I forgot vultures, right?