I was going to call this post “Climbing A Volcano At The End Of The World” but figured there are lots of places that could be, so I went with the more specific title… but it did feel like the end of the world to me.
Easter Island is probably one of the most isolated islands on our planet. After a 5-hour flight from the coast of Chile, over nothing but vast expanses of Pacific Ocean, we caught sight of Easter Island, and this is basically what I saw out of the window of the plane:
Except that photo above was taken as Andrew and I were about to embark upon our sightseeing-upon-foot day… as we were climbing an extinct volcano up to the ceremonial village of Orongo. So, taking any sort of wheeled transport would be out of the question.
Above you will find the answers to all your specific questions about what we were trying to achieve. Honestly, for me it’s mostly about the journey. As you might imagine, walking directly up a volcano is not easy. When we got to the top, we learned that there is also a road that winds its way up there, with many a fresh-faced tourist emerging from air-conditioned buses. Sweaty and panting to catch my breath, I muttered, “Oh you sons-of-bitches.” And a few other choice words. Anyway! Even though we automatically chose the most difficult way to get to the top, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I just really love the process of walking (hiking) to get somewhere. I love being brutally reminded of just how human I am, how NOT EASY this “walk” is. My mom once told me that when I was a child and got my first immunization needle, I did not cry at all, and she was mildly disturbed by this and decided I must have a high pain threshold or something. Perhaps this is also why I choose to walk (hike) and would really never choose the option of renting a car to drive me somewhere I could safely walk independently in a few short hours. Also, there is amazingness you’d otherwise miss along the way. For example, trees. They did remove all the trees back in the day to move the moai statues around (experts hypothesize) but trees have in fact been growing back. And this relatively young “forest” (could you call it that?) on the side of the volcano is very beautiful.
This was a very enticing path!
And then we emerged from the trees into the elements, rising up above the island… here you can see the ocean emerging behind the trees…
And then after the final aggressive push straight up the edge of the volcano, we found that ridiculous road and parking lot with sweatless tourists, and this:
Rano Kau. So, this used to be a volcano a super long time ago, and now is a crater lake. Apparently it has its own micro-climate and everything down there, but people can no longer descend into the crater. I think it’s damaging to it’s fascinating ecosystem, obviously, but also dangerous. Like, you could fall and die. So, for those reasons, we did not go in there. Anyway, the view is spectacular from the outer edge of the crater.
We followed the trail that winds through the tall scratchy grasses along the edge of the crater, periodically encountering signs like this:
So, Orongo was a ceremonial village for the Birdman Cult, and it was located between the edge of the crater, and the cliffs along the ocean. This half-bird, half-man motif is apparently all over the place at Orongo:
I say “apparently” because Andrew and I struggled to identify more than three of these (even though they say there are 1800). Most of the time we wandered around asking each other, “Is that a Birdman? Maybe this is a Birdman?” We just had no idea. I think probably wear-and-tear from the elements is making it more difficult to identify the Birdman etchings as well.
So! The thing with the Birdman Cult is that each guy that wanted to be king would assign someone to compete for him (or, compete himself, I suppose, in some cases). The competition went something like this: the competitors would descend the thousand-foot cliffs, and swim to the islet. Climb up those cliffs, and hunt for an egg of the Sooty Tern (a bird). They would then strap the egg onto their foreheads and make their way back to Orongo. The first one to return with an intact Sooty Tern egg would be king for a year.
We read this at the information centre at Orongo, by the way. We stood there absorbing this information. Andrew then turned to me and said, “Well, it’s not worse than the way we choose our leadership these days.”
Here are the stone huts at Orongo:
Eventually we began taking pictures of random things, saying, “Um, is this a thing? I think it’s a thing.” *click*
Ha. We just couldn’t tell anymore. Guess this is where a guide would’ve come in handy… but honestly sometimes I find it very awkward to spend a day exploring terrain with a stranger. And very annoying in a group of tourists, many of whom move much slower than we do, and ask irrelevant, inane, time-sucking questions. (Am I an impatient asshole? Why yes I am, thank-you very much.)
I mean, don’t get me wrong — there is definitely a time and place for joining tour groups for day trips to difficult-to-get-to destinations and sites. However… this, for me, did not classify as “difficult-to-get-to”. All of Easter Island seemed pretty safe to me. And you cannot get lost. It’s a small island and there’s just one town. Might as well wander around on your own. That’s just my way of thinking, anyway.
And so we began our descent back down to the town of Hanga Roa.
This copse of trees arrested my attention, and said to Andrew, “I feel like we should go check out that copse of trees.”
And so we did. And it was magical. And he kissed me here.
And then we began our descent in earnest. We had decided we needed cold beers, and so we hastened down the trail…
Mind you, there’s no one I’d rather explore the edge of the world with, than Andrew.