It took a couple of hours to reach San Pedro de Atacama in Chile. This was to be our base for the next few days. It was such a quaint little town. There were dirt streets and dogs relaxing everywhere.
It was also Shane’s birthday today so he got a birthday cake.
While in San Pedro we made sure that we went out to see the Atacama Desert.
The Atacama Desert is a plateau, covering a 1,000-kilometre strip of land on the Pacific coast, west of the Andes mountains. It is the driest non-polar desert in the world. According to estimates, the Atacama Desert proper occupies 105,000 square kilometres or 128,000 square kilometres if the barren lower slopes of the Andes are included. Most of the desert is composed of stony terrain, salt lakes, sand and felsic lave that flows towards the Andes.
Valle de la Luna (Moon Valley) and Valle de La Muerte (Death Valley) make up an other worldly landscape with their amazing geological formations, which have been eroded by the passage of time. We took a walk-through Death Valley.
We then went to see the sunset in the Valley of the Moon.
We were almost at the end of our adventure. Our next stop was Santiago. We didn’t spend any time in Santiago as we knew we would be back next year and could spend more time there then. So off we headed to the airport to take a flight to Easter Island. This was another one of our bucket list highlights. The flight was 6 hours. Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world so this was a long flight just to see Easter Island, especially seeing we would then fly back to Santiago and then back track again to fly back to Australia, but this is what we had to do seeing we had flights booked.
Easter Island, is a Chilean territory, it is a remote volcanic island in Polynesia. Its native name is Rapa Nui. The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722. It’s famed for archaeological sites, including nearly 900 monumental statues called moai, created by inhabitants during the 13th–16th centuries. We had almost 2 weeks in Easter Island so planned to see as much as we could.
We booked into our hotel in Hanga Roa which is the main town, harbour and capital of Easter Island.
Our hotel grounds.
The main street.
The local church.
Just down from our hotel was the coast.
Looking up the coast you can see there are no trees.
We went up to a look out to see Hanga Roa.
During our stay, these are some of the highlights on the island.
The first restoration of the Moai of Easter Island into their upright positions was a project started in 1960. It is called Ahu Akivi. What makes Ahu Akivi different from other moai sites on the island is that it is not on the coast and the moai are looking towards the ocean (whereas all other moai look inland). And just like other ahu, this ceremonial center is orientated astronomically since the moai look straight to the sunset during the Spring and Autumn equinox. According to tradition, the 7 moai of Ahu Akivi represent the young explorers sent to explore the island before the arrival of the colonizers led by founder Hotu Matu’a and they are looking to their original home island.
Ahu Tongariki is the largest ahu on the island. Its moai were toppled during the island’s civil wars and in the twentieth century the ahu was swept inland by a tsunami. It has since been restored and has fifteen moai including an 86 tonne moai that was the heaviest ever erected on the island. All the moai here face sunset during Summer Solstice.
Not far from there was another moai.
You can see how big the moai are as these are some of the top knots for their heads that Shane is standing by.
The Tahai Ceremonial Complex is an archaeological site. It was restored in 1974 by the late Dr William Mulloy. Tahai comprises of three principal ahu from north to south: Ko Te Riku (with restored eyes), Tahai, and Vai Ure.
Ahu Akahanga is a ceremonial platform located on the south coast. This platform is 18 metres long, and has not been restored. It allows you to see the state in which the island was found by the first European explorers. The Akahanga ahu had at some point about a dozen moai of different sizes, from 5 to 7 metres. It’s also known as “the king’s platform”, because it’s said that the first king of the island could be buried here.
We visited this wonderful beach which is surrounded by a beautiful coconut tree forest.
Anakena must be the only beach in the world that was blessed with two important archeological sites. On the hill above the beach lies the Ahu Ature Huki, along with an enigmatic and solitary moai.
Ana Kai Tangata has a spectacular location on the seafront. Its cave paintings and the legends that surround it, make it worth visiting. Ana Kai Tangata is a cave of volcanic origin in which the continuous attacks of the sea have eroded lava from the cliff until creating a cavity 10 metres wide, 5 metres high and 15 metres deep. Its opening overlooks the sea, where the waves break with force, but being located above the high tide line, it was easily accessible.
The Rano Kau is located on the southwestern part of the island.Its eruption, about two and a half million years ago, was one of three that gave rise to the island. Its crater is more than a kilometre in diameter and forms a spectacular natural amphitheater that’s about 200 metres deep and frames a large freshwater lake, which was once one of the main sources of fresh water for the Rapa Nui people.
The ceremonial village of Orongo, a Rapa Nui word that means “The Call”, is majestically nestled on a narrow strip of about 250 metres, between the edge of the Rano Kau crater and a 300-metre cliff that plunges steeply into the Pacific Ocean. During the period of the moais and the ancestor cult, Orongo was a ceremonial centre where initiation rites and the entry of children into adulthood were practiced, but it was never a proper village. At no point in history Orongo served as a permanent residence, due to difficult access and lack of direct access to the sea, so there are hardly any moais or platforms. However, the increased importance of Orongo emerged along with the Tangata Manu (birdman) cult and the Make-Make god, in the late seventeenth century.
During the tribal crisis due to lack of resources, which caused a decline in faith in the moais and their chiefs and priests, the warrior class or Matato’a took power creating a new religion based on the Birdman Competition. In this new order, who held power was determined by their physical prowess and not their rank or status. It was at Orongo where priests and members of each tribe, gathered to witness the Birdman Competition. The goal was to obtain the first manutara (Easter Island seagull) egg and with it the power to govern the island for a year.
One of the first images that you see on on arrival at the ceremonial village is that of the three islets, which are just off the coast. These are, Motu Kao Kao, meaning “narrow islet”, shaped like a needle; Motu Iti or “small islet”; and Motu Nui or “big islet”, which is the most important of the three; as it was here where hopu manu or competitors would wait for the first manutara egg.
In front of the village there are several petroglyph engravings representing Birdmen, This is what it looks like.
These are the rocks
Puna Pau is a small extinct volcano. During the end of the Rapa Nui sculptural period, the Puna Pau volcano’s crater was the quarry from where the stone needed to build pukaos, or moai headdresses, was taken. It is a red volcanic rock (scoria) that is characterized by being soft and easy to carve and having a high iron content, which gives it its characteristic reddish color. The pukaos were a very late addition made to the sculptures, possibly from the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. In fact, approximately 100 headdresses have been found on the island, compared to almost 1,000 existing moai. Some historians argue that the pukao were possibly added during the time of tribal warfare as a way of making the most impressive and elaborate ceremonial platforms. The prevailing idea is that these aren’t hats, but rather the representation of the hairstyles used at that time, i.e. long hair curled and tied on top of the head. In ancient Rapa Nui culture, it was considered tapu (taboo or prohibited) for certain high-ranking men to cut their hair, so they wore it long and tied in a bun.
Vinapu is a ceremonial area where the remains of three platforms can be found.
Last but not least the biggest highlight of the island for us was the Rano Raraku Quarry.
The Rano Raraku volcano stands out on the island. Located in the southeast part of the island close to the coast, it’s known as “the quarry” as it was here where the moai were carved and then taken to the ahus distributed throughout the island. The quarry is made of tuff, i.e. hardened volcanic ash and is, therefore, softer and easier to cut; although it’s more fragile than basalt, a material used primarily as a sculpting tool. In Rano Raraku there are 397 moai in various stages of development and it seems as if the sculptors left the job abruptly and could come back at any moment.
At the bottom of the volcano.
At the farthest point of the quarry is the most surprising of all the moai, known by the name of Tukuturi or “kneeling moai”. This moai is completely different from any other one on the island. It’s much smaller, has well defined legs, and is kneeling with its hands resting on its knees. Its facial features are rounded, much more human when compared with the traditional square shaped heads of the other moai; and if you look from the side, you could even say that it has a small beard. It was unearthed by Thor Heyerdahl in 1955, and its discovery was a surprise, for even the Rapa Nui had not heard of it. Although some researchers argue that it may belong to a later period, the prevailing idea is that it was one of the first sculptures to be made and wasn’t transported either because it was damaged or simply because it was never intended to be erected on a platform. Some even speculate that it’s the representation of a famous master sculptor, set on the edge of the quarry to supervise the work of his successors.
These are moai that had been started but were never taken from the quarry, but you can see how they carved them.
Then we wandered around all the other moai.
After all these amazing attractions we were due to fly back to Santiago. We headed to the airport and were informed that the flight was going to be 2 hours late. We originally had 3 hours between arriving in Santiago and boarding our flight back to Australia, but this would now mean we had an hour. We had to pick up our luggage and then book it back in at the international counter. We got to the counter and there was a line with only one person checking every ones bags in. We were at the end of the line. There were 8 people in front of us. Time kept ticking. We eventually checked our luggage in and rushed through immigration. We arrived at the gate as the plane was boarding. Boy how lucky were we. Had we missed this flight we might not have got another one for another month. Anyway we were now on our way home and another holiday was over.