the journey

Rapa Nui

July 11, 2007

Current Location: Rapa Nui Island
Current Position: Approx. S27°09', W109°26'

We are flying backwards. Heading east back across the Pacific from where we had just sailed from these past months, it felt strange. We are enroute to Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui, Isla de Pascua, and Te Pito o Te Henua (The Navel of the World). A mysterious, lonely, and barren place, Easter Island is the most remote habitable piece of land in the world. It is also the easternmost island that the ancient Polynesian people canoed to, making up the third point of the Polynesia triangle. The other two are Hawaii and New Zealand.

Nicole and I knew we didn't have much desire to sail here. Often boats will drop their anchor after a 3-4 week rough crossing from South America in front of the only town, Hanga Roa, and never be able to make it to shore. The anchorage bay is poorly protected, the holding sketchy, and the weather unstable and often extremely windy. If one's lucky they may be able to step on land once or twice during a 2 week stay. Hence the plane flight we are on that just left Papeete, Tahiti, where DreamKeeper is tied up safe and sound in Marina Taina, Papeete. Maybe we’re just not salty enough yet?

We make our landing after a 5 hour flight and 4 hour time change, step off the plane and back in time. Visitors come here from all over the world, almost 40,000, compared to the 4000 locals that live on this 171 square kilometer piece of land. Each of us coming to witness this place of mystery and contemplate the questions still unanswered. Why make the enormous Moai statues? How were they moved from their birthing place in the Rano Raraku quarry to their platforms scattered along the coasts all around the island? Why were all the Moai eventually toppled with many of them intentionally broken at their necks? And the question I always kept coming back to, who chopped down the last tree and what were their last thoughts? This is a place that Dr. Seuss' story of the Lorax has come to life.

For six days we explored this island. We went on a guided tour, hired a rental car for a couple of days, but most of the time put our salty legs to use again. Like Edward Abbey says about the canyon country of Utah, "Do not jump into your automobile next June and rush out to the Canyon country hoping to see some of that which I have attempted to evoke in these pages. In the first place you can't see anything from a car; you've got to get out of the goddamned contraption and walk, better yet crawl, on hands and knees, over the sandstone and through the...cactus. When traces of blood begin to mark your trail you'll see something, maybe," I feel about understanding Easter Island. We walked all day until are dogs were barking. We poked around the Ahu burial platforms, the fallen and newly sculpted Moai, the volcanic caves, and the rocky chicken coops. We dodged the sharp lava rock, felt the cool wind, the spitting rain, admired the sun's radiance setting into the southern Ocean, and let the island permeate our spirits.

It was easy to feel the remoteness and isolation of this island. No traces of the Rapa Nui people were ever found on any other Polynesian island, nor in South America. This means that when the first people came here, they most likely never left, or, left and never made it to any other piece of land. Was it by choice or, over time, did they destroy all their canoes and canoe-building trees that were once here? No one really knows. For us it was easy. No trying to pull up our stuck anchor, no need to batten down the hatches, reef the sails, and prepare for a 2000 mile passage back to French Polynesia. We gratefully thanked this fascinating place and boarded our Lan Chile Boeing 767 airplane. IaOrana.

(***If you want to learn more about Easter Island, check out the movie: "Rapa Nui" and the book, "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed," by Jared Diamond. There are numerous other resources, but these are a couple of insightful ones that we liked.)

July 8, 2007

Current Location: Rapa Nui Island
Current Position: Approx. S27° 09', W109° 26'

I never saw his eyes. They were hidden behind the lenses of black cat eye sunglasses. He sashayed towards us, his black and white hibiscus scarf waving in the wind. Tossing menus across the red tablecloth onto the black flowered plastic placemats he turned quickly back towards the kitchen.

We had just arrived in Easter Island, slightly jetlagged, groggy and starving so we were staying. Watching the rain fall, we hunched closer towards the wall and the windows hidden with black bars and the dusty pink plastic flowers that climbed up them. After what seemed like too long he returned wanting our order. I tried my rusty Spanish asking what kind of soup it was. He replied after a long pause and I still didn't understand. "Soup", he said "and what else", tapping his pen impatiently on the pad of paper. No, I don't want soup, I thought in my head and said out loud. "No soup, what's wrong, you have soup and what else?" So I had soup and a cheese empanada and tea. Gar ordered coffee and two ham and cheese empanadas. It was still raining.

When he returned to ceremoniously deliver our mugs, tea bag and instant Nescafe, I studied his outfit. "Put this" he commanded Gar in English while pointing at the packet of Nescafe. Gar obeyed and poured the Nescafe into his empty mug as I watched one of his red seeded earrings drop from a limp hoop into a long string swaying from his left ear. His black apron hid a black metal studded belt synched safely above the elastic waistband of his black and white striped pants while a white knitted half shirt exposed his pale back and biceps. Almost everything about him was black and white even the thin black braids tied behind his neck and his pale white biceps and back exposed by his flapping knitted muscle half shirt. The only splash of color he wore was the bright green bandana tied around his head and the red seed earrings.

While we waited, we watched tourists linger on the deck in waves, trying to decipher the menu and decide if this was the place they read about in their guidebooks. He would appear and usher confused tourists to a table, dropping their menus as he had ours. Finally, he returned with a plastic red and black thermos to fill our awaiting mugs.

Then the soup came. When I took my first bite I knew why I didn't understand what kind of soup it was and why it had taken him so long to tell me. It was instant powdered chicken noodle soup. I sipped the salty broth and pushed the cup towards Gar. He delivered our empanadas and glared at Gar. We shrugged and started to eat. He was still there. He briskly moved my soup away from Gar and placed it in front of me. "It is not your soup," he spat, "it is hers. You want soup you order soup. It is not very expensive." And he turned away, leaving us with our mouths open and steaming empanadas, waiting.

We giggled with each other in between sips of soup and crunchy bites of empanadas. Long after we had picked our plates clean he returned offering desert. We asked for a check. Tourists kept coming and strangely, you might think, we returned days later for some more empanadas.

There was something about this place and him we absolutely loved. I ordered two cheese empanadas and a sprite and Gar ordered the same as the last time we were here. We were both grateful we had brought a stack of unwritten post-cards, as it's the kind of place you come when you've got all day. He returned, offering desert and a smile. We asked for a check and gave him one back.