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Moai Revelations

Hanga Roa, Chile

The rain had finally stopped and the sun was out. Raphael had already left to explore the island, but we were feeling a bit rough and the Gato Negro had stained our mouths purple. The children had warned us the previous night that we shouldn't be drinking cheap rubbish like that and it seems the spoiled little brats were right! We went in for breakfast but this time there was absolutely nothing left for us. I found the woman who works there and explained in the best Spanish I could manage that there was nothing at all left for breakfast. She produced some pancakes filled with dulce de leche, but the usual cheese and meat had apparently been finished by the greedy kids.

We decided to hire a moped again again, see the remaining moais and then head to the beach for a while, so I went down to the hire shop to get one. The same girl as last time was on duty and thought I was just there to observe her tearing up the credit card security slip from before. I started trying to explain in Spanish that I wanted to hire one again today, but she cut me off, saying something to do with drinking and the police. She was telling me I couldn't hire a bike, perhaps because I smelled of alcohol. I needed to look up ayer, yesterday, to explain I was drinking yesterday, not today. She stared at me: pero esta bien? she asked. Si I responded, and she was happy enough after that.

We headed straight for the moais north of town, where we found a pack of dogs running after one of the horses which roam free all over the island. Horrible beasts, dogs! I suppose the horse could easily have killed them with a kick if it came to it, but the poor thing looked very spooked. There was one ahu with six moais in various states of repair, then a final large moai on its own; the piece de resistance, a large moai, complete with the pukao, or topnot, which several others have intact, and the coral eyes that they all originally had. I have since seen online, to my slight disappointment, that the eyes on this one are just replicas, but I really liked it anyway, so much so that I felt obliged to give tribute again to Where the Hell is Matt. I think I got a better handle on his dancing this time.

Next we headed off to the beach and tanned for a while, until it started to cloud over. After that Joanne wanted dropped back at the hostel, but I wanted to see all the remaining sites. Unsure exactly where I was going, I headed off up one very uneven road after another, not getting anywhere. Eventually I took the long way around, where I knew there was a sign indicating the quarry where the pukaos were all obtained; along that road there was one more fairly complete site of moais. This road started off better, but soon it got very muddy and I was worried about losing it. The tyres were good over stones, but didn't seem to have much traction on mud. I was just turning the bike around to give up on moais and make do with the quarry, when the German guy from the hostel pulled up next to me. When I explained that I was giving up, he offered to take he there in his jeep because it had been very rainy when he went there, and it was only a couple of minutes away. So his week of jeep hire did have some use.

After that it was a quick trip, before the sun set, to the volcano from where the pukaos were quarried then home again. There were some nice views from the quarry, but not much to see at the site itself. I got back just in time to pick Joanne up to watch another sunset, this one much nicer than the first.

It seems to me that Easter Island is a microcosm of humanity and should be a warning to us all. A ruling class oversaw this pointless production of the moais, driven by religious beliefs, until this led to an overconsumption of resources on the island; competing factions wanted to out-compete each other and assert a higher status by producing bigger and better moais. In the end, the trees, which were essential in the transportation and erection of the effigies, fell victim to overconsumption through the unsustainable over-production of the moais, and massive deforestation precipitated an environmental catastrophe, changing the ecology and causing crops to fail. It seems that an aspect of human nature drives us to consume everything available, regardless of necessity, just out of greed or a desire to achieve higher status than other members of society. The result: apocalypse! The structures in place that allowed such a ridiculous situation to perpetuate: religion and a class divide. It must have been obvious to everyone that they were going to run out of forest, but they still continued erecting the statues. Just as nowadays it is obvious that our consumption of fossil fuels cannot continue without causing massive environmental damage, yet the economic forces continue to exert the pressure which will ultimately lead to our downfall if they remain unchecked. In the case of Easter Island, the rest of the population finally rebelled against the ruling classes, whose silly hobby they'd had to support by fishing and farming, and struck out against what they held dear and what had been given most importance in their society: they destroyed the moais. This seems to me reminiscent of any revolution, but particularly the Cultural Revolution in China, where the arts and intellectual pursuits were distrusted and destroyed. Pointlessly, having cast off one set of religious shackles they soon started another religion: The Birdman Cult. We didn't learn much about that, but I hope at least it supported a more egalitarian social order than the moai cult.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on September 10, 2009 from Hanga Roa, Chile
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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Lovely picture of Joanne in the sunset.

permalink written by  Rosalyn Faulds on September 29, 2009

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