Easter Island, Land of Moai and Alien Landscapes
Easter Island is one of the most bizarre places on Earth. With rows of stone-faced figures and otherworldly landscapes, it’s no surprise that some truly believe aliens landed here!
Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of visiting “Isla de Pascua” – a tiny isle that is technically part of Chile, but located in the middle of nowhere in the South Pacific. Last March, while traveling in South America for my La Carmina blog, I finally got to see the mystifying “moai” statues in person.
While you don’t need a spaceship to get to Easter Island, it isn’t the easiest destination to access. There are only two flights here, from Bora Bora or Santiago, on LATAM Airlines. I flew from Chile’s capital city, and it took six hours each way. Once you arrive, be sure to purchase the $80 US National Park Ticket, or else you won’t be able to see the most impressive moai sites.
I wanted to stay in a hotel that matched the space-like feeling of Easter Island, so I checked into Hangaroa Eco Village. My room was inside a grey pod-shaped hut, surrounded by moon rocks and strange fruits.
Time to explore the island, and see the moai statues! Some travelers bike or rent a car, but I decided to join a day tour with Easter Island Travel. This way, I didn’t have to stress about logistics, and could rely on my guide for knowledge.
I learned that between the years 1250 and 1500, the Rapa Nui people carved over 900 statues and put them on “ahu” platforms around the island. These stone figures represent their ancestors, and are believed to be infused with the spiritual power of “mana.”
Some of the moai weighed over 80 tons – so how did the Rapa Nui move them across the island? According to tales, the gods (or alien visitors) granted the statues divine power, which allowed them to stand up and walk! Researchers, however, think the islanders tied ropes around the upright figures, and swayed them back and forth to their destinations.
Easter Island has an uncanny landscape that made me feel like I was in another galaxy. There are very few trees here, as the islanders cut them down years ago (leading to the downfall of their civilization, and possibly cannibalism as a last-ditch effort to survive).
I loved the adorable hats on top of the moai. Some believe these “pukao” represent a traditional topknot hairstyle. They are made of red scoria, a more fragile volcanic rock, which is why many broke over the years.
The tour took us to the gigantic Rano Kau crater, where scientists discovered a compound called rapamycin. Found only on Easter Island, scientists are experimenting with rapamycin as a way to extend longevity.
I saw more moai at Tahai, one of the oldest settlements dating back to 700 AD. Whether or not you believe in “mana,” these enigmatic stone-faces undoubtedly give off a strong energy.
Look out for Ko Te Riku — he has eyes! In 1979, archaeologists discovered that the moai were originally designed to hold coral eyeballs, which fell out over the years. However, this one got his sight back when he was restored.
The next day, I woke up at 5 am to catch the famous sunrise at Tongariki. This is the site of the largest “ahu,” or platform, on the island. That day, a crescent moon glowed above the silhouette of 15 giants standing in a row.
What an incredible moment… I felt like I was in the presence of a fleet of extraterrestrials. I can only imagine what it was like for the Dutch explorers to arrive on Easter Island in 1722, and encounter this mind-bending sight.
As the sun rose, the sky turned into radiant hues of red and orange. The light illuminated the details of the carvings. The moai are all different in some way, giving each a unique personality.
The feeling of being a “stranger in a strange land” continued at the nearby Ranu Raraku. This is the stone quarry where most of the moai were carved. With monolithic heads sticking out of rolling green hills, I felt like I was inside the Mario Land video game.
Archaeologists are still making surprising new discoveries about the moai. Not long ago, they excavated a few of these giants… and found out that they have bodies! Over the years, the statues were naturally covered with eroded dirt, which left only their faces poking out from the grass.
Some of the moai were half-carved or abandoned, which makes it look as if they are “sleeping” face-down. My imagination flowed as I walked around these slopes. I pictured the creatures “waking up” one day, and teaching us their secrets.
To this day, there remain many unanswered questions about the moai. It’s extraordinary that the ancient tribes of Easter Island were able to engineer these monoliths, which have become famous worldwide.
Visiting Easter Island felt like I had left the planet, and entered another civilization. If you’re fascinated by ancient mysteries and have the opportunity, I encourage you to make this trip of a lifetime. After seeing the stone-faced moai, I think the only thing that can top this is a journey to outer space!