A Lifelong Dream
Everything about Rapa Nui was stunning, but like most visitors I had my favorites. And like most visitors my two favorite sites were the Ranu Raraku quarry site and the Ahu Tongariki. Upon laying your eyes on these two sites for the first time you conjure a list of adjectives; breathtaking, fascinating, interesting, surprising, remarkable. At one point I had to just stop and breathe deep – and remind myself how
remarkable it all was, and how remarkable it was that I was standing there.
A lifelong dream – It did not disappoint.
In all the years I had seen pictures of Easter Island, it was the photos of the scattered moai of the Ranu Raraku quarry that struck me most. I honestly didn’t understand the significance of the quarry site until I was standing there. Up until that point I thought the moai I had seen photos of were placed at this site for a reason. Not the case.
All the moai at this site, nearly 400 statues, were in some stage of carving. It was the moai factory and it’s clearly evident there was significant work going on in the “tuff” – the volcanic stone found on this mountain. Today as we stand among the discarded statues in various stages of completeness the question that goes through your mind is why? What happened for the moai carving at the quarry to end so abruptly? Why are these hundreds of unfinished statues here? Where were they meant to eventually go? Including the largest moai to be carved out of this mountain, the 69 foot tall giant that sits abandoned in his bed of stone.
A lifelong dream – So many new questions.
Walking among the stone statues you see the carved faces standing at different angles. Some were already on the move. Others toppled face down. Others still attached to the mountain, never given the opportunityfor the carver to finish the job. Fascinating.
Archeologists believe all tribes shared this quarry and that each moai could take up to 2 years to carve. A master carver would work with a crew, perhaps family members of the person the moai was memorializing.
Each statue was carved face up, with the carver doing the facial features of the moai before finally chipping it away and releasing it from the mountain. The moai would then be slid down the mountain before being lowered over a ledge and tilted up right. At this point final details on the back of the moai would be completed before the statue would begin the “walk” to its final destination. If the moai toppled, either in the quarry or along the route, the “mana” would be released and it would be abandoned – the family would need to begin the process all
One of the most interesting facts we learned from our host and guide Paul (http://www.tekarera.com/accommo.htm) was that these statues, which seem to just be heads, all have full bodies under ground. Over the hundreds of years the moai have stood at attention waiting patiently, the soil has eroded and moved and covered their lower bodies, nearly up to their necks. Archaeologists think it is better to keep them buried to preserve them longer from the harsh elements of the island.
Walking near the highest point of the quarry you survey the scene below; scattered moais all about; the ocean in the near distance; and then you see it – Ahu Tongariki and your breath catches. From on top the quarry, Ahu
Tongariki looks like chess pieces for a giant’s chess game, in the valley below.
A lifelong dream – A surreal image.
Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu that has been restored on the island, and also one of the most recent, being completed in 1996. The massiveness of this site is mind-boggling. Clearly a powerful family history is represented in these 15 restored moai and the surrounding unrestored statues, petroglyphs and site. Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial altar anywhere in Polynesia.
A lifelong dream – We visited this site three different times during our time on Rapa Nui.
It’s unknown when the moai of Ahu Tongariki were first toppled, but it is known that a massive 9.5
earthquake in 1960 in Chile resulted in a tsunami wave as high as 11 meters that engulfed this side of the island and carried the moai that were laying face down, even further inland. When restoration began in 1992 (incredibly funded by the Japanese government and a private Japanese businessman but conducted by the University of Chile and Archaeologist Claudio Cristino) the moai were in bad shape.
Today, looking at this beautiful exhibit of historic significance nestled in this incredibly gorgeous setting; it’s hard to imagine what it must have looked like back then. The 2 million dollar restoration has created one of the most iconic sites I have ever seen.
During our week on Easter Island watching the sunrise at Tongariki was a highlight. Well worth the vacation alarm clock. A once in a lifetime view.
A lifelong dream – Everyone should try to see it.
I know not everyone has the means or even the desire to travel to Easter Island. But if you do I recommend staying at least five days. We were there six days and wished we had a couple more days to do more hiking. You want to see the sites on “island time”, and slow down and enjoy the laid back Rapanui lifestyle. I can’t imagine visiting for only 6 hours as part of a cruise ship – it just would not be worth it. Stay for a week, visit our friend Paul at Tekarera Hotel, and slow down to Rapa Nui pace.
A lifelong dream.