What Shouldn’t Be Understood- Chile But Mostly Easter Island

‘What do you know about this business?’ the King said to Alice.
‘Nothing,’ said Alice.
‘Nothing whatever?’ persisted the King.
‘Nothing whatever,’ said Alice.
‘That’s very important,’ the King said, turning to the jury.  They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted: ‘Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,’ he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.
‘Unimportant, of course, I meant,’ the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, ‘important-unimportant-imprtant-‘ as if he were trying which word sounded best. 
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
After admiring the unexpected beauty of Bolivia, we did a land border crossing into Chile where I had wifi again! Our first stop was San Pedro de Atacama. As was true for most of this trip, I neglected to adequately research my travel plans and therefore didn’t know anything about where I arrived. I have always been fascinated with space and would have loved to have become an astronaut- my lack of ability to understand complex algorithms and paralyzing fear of floating through space quickly eliminated that plan. The Atacama desert gave me a good taste of what I was missing.  The combination of low light pollution, very little rainfall and high altitudes make it one of the primary locations for stargazing.  And so I forced myself to stay up late into the night, coming up with a million excuses about why I could skip it, to attend a star gazing outing. Sometimes ignoring your manipulating mind is the best thing you can do. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. We drove without lights into the outskirts of Atacama and found ourselves with some really energetic astronomers, spending the first hour staring up into the sky at the Milky Way, the southern constellations and a few planets. Then, we got to play with the eleven telescopes- pointing at four additional galaxies and some really cool star clusters. But the highlight for me was viewing Jupiter, both the big red dot as well as four moons in its orbit, and Saturn, the rings shining brightly around it. Not feeling even an ounce of cold or exhaustion, we then listened to stories inside the astronomer’s hut. I looked like a kid, perched on the edge of my seat, listening intently to every word from our astronomer’s mouth, sipping on my hot chocolate. Had I known about this, I would have spent a week in Atacama, every night in this very spot, already armed with more space knowledge than anyone wants me to have.

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Keeping the space theme going, the next morning was scheduled time off and it was off to The Meteorite Museum. My inner space dork was let free and it needed to be fed. Not only was this museum super cool (did you know that meteorites hit the ground and break apart in an elliptical pattern) but the guy who runs it is a meteorite hunter who cuts and polishes pieces he finds into jewelry. Hmmm. Career possibility? Could I survive the heat of the Atacama desert? The Valley of the Moon was the afternoon destination. Had I known this was there, it would have further solidified my need to stay in this place for much, much longer. I could bike and hike for days here (early morning of course). It resembles the Grand Canyon, but has a large, oval, flat area covered with salt that resembles the surface of the moon. The next day was a flight to Santiago for a winery tour and farewell dinner with the group. But the Chilean adventure was only just beginning. Easter Island was my next destination.

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Easter Island is one of those places that you don’t think of often. But when booking my flights in Chile, my mind kept drifting to it. Sometimes it is good to trust your manipulative mind! It takes about five hours to fly to Isla de Pasqua (aka Easter Island aka Rapa Nui) and I would easily fly twice that far to visit this place. The island is small. Theoretically you could walk around it in about two days, hiking 8-10 hours per day. NASA extended the airpot runway many years ago for a Space Shuttle emergency landing site (keeping my space theme going) so it literally goes from one side of the island to the other.  Hanga Roa is the only town on the island and I loved it. After four days, I had made enough friends that I could walk through the harbor and run into people I had met, some of which were dogs and chickens.

I had booked two half day tours so that I could get a taste of the legends and histories as well as be driven to the really cool sites. I could write pages on the history so if you are curious, use the Google. But I do love the theories about the demise of the Moai. At some point between 1722-1838, all of the Moai were pushed onto their faces. There are quite a few theories, but my favorite is also the saddest. The Rapa Nui people believed strongly that the statues protected their villages. Then the Europeans landed on the island and proved they were stronger and could defeat the Rapa Nui (not really a fair fight as the Europeans had firepower and the Rapa Nui had rocks). The Rapa Nui people were so devastated that their statues failed to protect them and their long believed tradition/religion was wrong, that they pushed them all onto their faces, blocking their view.

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I was also able to visit the sacred village of Orongo, where the annual Birdman competition was held. Each of the village Chiefs chose a competitor to race down the side of a rocky cliff, swim to an island and wait for a bird to lay an egg. First one to grab that egg and swim back, climb up the cliff and deliver it to their Chief was the winner.  The Chief then got to rule all of the villages for a year.

The best thing on the island was the quarry, which was basically the production facility and distribution center for the Moai, making my supply chain mind quite giddy.  Orders would be placed for statues and the statue makers would carve them into the rocks, leaving them attached at their spine. Once mostly complete, they would detach them, slide them slightly down the mountain and partially bury them.  Here they would finish carving and use gravity to force them upright. They would then be transported upright to the ahu (platform) where they were destined. If they fell during transit, they were left as they were, either too difficult to put back upright or believed to be cursed for falling. There were a great many Moai in process at the end of the religion, making the quarry look a bit like a graveyard, a fantastic Moai covered graveyard.

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Much of Easter Island cannot be understood, but I loved learning about all of the different theories. I also could have stayed there for far longer than four days, staring at the amazing stars and visiting the Moai scattered all about the island.

But I had a flight to catch to Rio. Off to Brazil.

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