Easter Island (13/03/16 - 21/03/16)
Easter Island (Isla de Pascua)
Our Easter Island jaunt was pretty much last minute as we couldn't book anything until the passport was back but once that was in hand and bookings were made we were off on one of the top experinces on our journey. A 5-hour flight from Santiago deposited us on the 163sqkm sub-tropical paradise and after being welcomed with leis we were given a brief tour of the highlights of the island's only town then delivered to our lovely simple bungalow accommodation overlooking the Pacific ocean and incredibly one of the famous Moais. We spent a week exploring the town Hanga Roa, learning about the history and hiring a car to visit the sights including of course the Moai, some of which have been resurrected with much support from foreign countries.
The island has a fascinating and at times traumatic history, its original inhabitants were presumed to have been Polynesian from somewhere in French Polynesia and began what was to develop into a thriving industrious community of 11 tribes. The Moais (huge stone statues) were carved when a chief or important tribe member died and were erected facing the village so their spirit could continue to watch over and protect the tribe, rivalry between tribes is presumed to be why the size and number of statues escalated. Sadly apparently hard times followed probably due to over-population and this caused further competition and tribes began toppling each others Moais - face down so they could no longer provide protection, continuing until all were toppled.
The first european visitors arrived in the 18th century as the population had begun to delcine and shortly before the toppling of the Moais, with them came diseases and slave raiding by Peru which depleted the population to only 111 natives, a recent census gives the population at about 5,800 with about 60% being of Rapa Nui descent. The island is recognised as a world heritage site with much of it being National park. It was annexed by Chile in 1888 and despite a call for independence it is reliant on the support, investment and special status it receives from the Chilean government.
Other incredible chapters in the island's history were that in the 1960's the US used it as a satellite tracking station apparently mainly to keep an eye on the Russian navy but were thrown out in 1970 by a change in governement. Then in 1985 Nasa decided to use it as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle and were responsible for the runway being extended to its current length of 10,886ft – it was never actually used due to the Challenger accident.
The Island is still one of the remotest and hard to reach destinations in the world and despite the once daily flight of LAN Chile with modern 787 Dreamliners full of tourists, the island stays relatively unspoilt by tourism.