Thursday, September 01, 2011

Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui is what the locals call what the Chileans call Isla de Pascua which is what we call Easter Island.  The place is in the middle of no where (a phrase which at this point in my life I do not use lightly).  It is about equidistant from Tahiti and the Chilean mainland - but more than a 5 hour flight to either.   The island itself is about the size of Manhattan south of Canal Street (though admittedly the infrasructure is somewhat less developed).  Rapa Nui is also famous for being the place where humans learned a very valuable lesson about resource conservation.  Once the island was about 60% covered in trees.  The different family groups lived in different parts of the island in relative harmony (or as much harmony as a people that practice sporadic cannibalism can really expect), and built these large stone totems to ask their ancestors for fortune.

But in order to transport these increasingly larger stone statues, the islanders cut down more trees.  This, in addition to thedaily use of trees for fishing and cooking, led the island to run out of trees.  At which time, all hell broke loose,  massive tribal wars started, the stone totems were pulled down either by enemy tribes or by regular people no longer buying what the elites were selling, more than 80% of the island either died or paddled away into certain doom in the blue.  (Least you think that we whiteys are finally off the hook on this this one,don´t worry, we kidnapped,enslaved and basically killed off all that remained.)

Moral of the story: if you live on an isolated outpost in the middle of no where, it is best to be a bit careful with your resources, as it is a long paddle to Mars.

Fast forward a few hundred years (that´s right - this took place only a few hundred years ago), I arrive!  After the blustery cold of Santiago, I am in paradise.  This place is only nominally in South America, in reality it is all     South Pacific.  I spend the day tooling around in a taxi, exploring agricultural sites, taking pictures of statues, climbing around in caves, watching huge waves crash out of the torquise sea onto volcanic rock coastline, trying to teach my taxi driver English - amazingly the man could spend the day serenading me, in English, with Marc Anthony songs but I had to teach him the word for tree (or perhaps not that surprising).  That night he suggested that I check out a traditional dance show.

I am expected some tame hula nonsense with pretty girls in grass skirts and maybe a little ukelele action.  And, indeed, all of those things featured in the show.  What I hadn´t really counted on was the band having a full drum kit and electric bass, and the feathered cod pieces.  Oh yes, that´s right.  The show opens with two almost completely naked men painting themselves with mud war paint.  They are soon joined by a bunch more similarly attired warriors, all of which were either chosen for their ahem... stage presence... or else I believe I just received a profound sociological insight into why the average Rapa Nui woman had15 children.  Much of the show was war dances (think the Haka performed by the New Zealand rugby players) and what I assume were some sort of fertility dances).

At once point during the performence, the warrior leader leaps off the stage, lands in front of me, grabs my neck, and raises his club screaming.  I assume that this would have been both terrifying and the end of my story had I been an 18th century rival tribesman, but instead I just got a giggle spasm because my nose ended up two inches from his feathered stage presence. All and all, this might have been the most entertaining $20 I have spent in a long long time.

I spent the rest of the time in Rapa Nui hanging out, drinking Mahina, and eating ceviche and tuna empanadas.   Exploring more sites, taking more pictures of statues, buying souvenir crap.  It was sad to move on back to the mainland.  My taxi driver came by to give me a hug and traditional shell necklace (a gesture that really touched me until I saw that literally every single tourist on check in line was wearing one), and back to the icy mainland I went.

 I got off the plane at 9 pm, walked upstairs to the ticket sales, asked what they had leaving that night, they looked at me blankly, found someone that spoke English, I repeated my question somewhat less dramatically, and got a ticket south to Puerto Montt.  Where I arrived at 1 am, in the freezing cold, with no hotel reservation and not speaking Spanish.  At one point in my life this situation would have freaked me out but really now was no more than an inconvenience, and this self-satisfaction kept me warm until an enterprising taxi driver interested in a nice tip drove me to an English speaking hostel.


Anonymous said...

GREAT post. Thx for sending it to me. Georgia

Doctor X said...

I am glad you had a good time in Rapa Nui. I think it is really worth the travel--very relaxing.