Tag Archives: Volcano

Easter Island 3: The rest of the moai, a volcanic crater and Birdman

28th March 2018

There are various different estimates of the number of moai on Easter Island, but “upwards of 900” seems to cover it. Some are near platforms and therefore count as official moai, some are in the quarry, some are just any old where and therefore can be presumed to have fallen and broken on their journey from quarry to platform. Ah, well, back to the drawing board. It only takes a year to make another. (And size doesn’t, as far as anyone knows, make much of a difference. The moai appear to have grown over the course of the culture, with later moai being bigger than earlier ones. But bigger ones don’t necessarily take longer, as you can have more men working on a larger statue.)

So, let’s wrap up the moai part of the Easter Island segment of our odyssey with some photos of many of those that have been restored. Firstly, and strikingly, one has been restored with replica eyes being put in place.

Ko Te Riku- with restored eyes

This can be found at Ahu Tahai, and the eyes certainly add character to the appearance, although whether that’s an improvement is a moot point.

Another important platform can be found at Ahu Akivi.

Ahu Akivi

The significance of this platform is that it was the first to be restored, through the energy, insight and enthusiasm of Thor Heyerdahl working with American archaeologist William Mulloy. Sort of Thor Ragnarok Restoration.

Jane’s joke, not mine. She has a thing for Chris Hemsworth. Can’t imagine why.

Heyerdahl is most famously associated with his 1947 Kon Tiki raft experiment in which he sailed 5,000 miles from South America to the Tuamoto Islands to demonstrate the viability of long sea journeys as a way of cultural migration. (Anyone of my approximate vintage will remember that The Shadows had a hit with a record called Kon-Tiki, which just goes to show that pop music can have an educational role.)

Heyerdahl first discovered and photographed the moai in 1955, and he recruited Mulloy to drive the restoration work at Ahu Akivi, which started in 1960, and so has significance as the first platform to be restored.

Mulloy ran several archaeological projects on Easter Island and had great influence in the way it appears today, for which he is justly respected by today’s islanders. He is buried at the Ahu Tahai site.

There are several unusual features of the Ahu Akivi platform:

  • It is inland and facing the coast, whereas other platforms are on the coast facing inland
  • It is aligned so that the moai exactly face the rising sun during the spring equinox; no other platform is so precisely aligned
  • All seven moai are of the same size

There is, of course, a legend about Ahu Akivi, concerning the original Rapa Nui King Hotu Matu’s priest having a dream about an island, the king sending out scouts who discovered the island, with seven remaining to await the king’s arrival as he moved his entire people to Rapa Nui. There are several reasons why the experts dismiss this legend, but, hey, it’s a great story.

And that about wraps it up for the moai part of the Easter Island story. But there’s more, and that is to be found at a site called Orongo, in the south west of the island.

The first thing you encounter as you approach the Orongo site is a spectacular view across the Rano Kau volcanic crater, which is a mile wide.

Rano Kau

The lake is actually a wetland, bordered in some places by a rainforest. Fruit trees grow inside the crater, and the lake, although essentially stagnant, has had special fish put in it which do not need much oxygen to survive but which eat the mosquito eggs and so keep the island’s mosquito population down.

Turning your back on Rano Kau, you go through the Orongo reception (some interesting photos in it, by the way) and into the site of the Birdman ceremonial village.

The Birdman culture replaced the moai culture on the island, being in existence between the eighteenth and mid-nineteenth centuries. It was based around a race to the furthest of three small islets off the south-western tip of the island.

The Birdman islets;

The basic idea is that each of 18 tribes on the island submitted a champion, whose job was to climb down the cliff, swim across to the furthest islet (called Moto Nui), await the arrival of the migrating sooty tern seabirds, procure an egg from a nest and transport it back to the ceremonial village. Intact. The winner was the first to arrive with an intact egg (often transported, we understand, attached by cloth to the competitor’s forehead). His reward was to liaise with three virgins who had been specially kept aside for him; the reward for the chief of his tribe was to become the Birdman for the year, a position of some status.

The village itself consists of several stone houses which were, essentially, used only for the period of the Birdman competition.

Stone houses used during Birdman Challenge

Stone houses used during Birdman Challenge

Of these, around a couple of dozen – about half of the total number – have been restored. Embarrassingly, some of the originals were damaged by the British, who hacked them about in order to get at some murals inside them. To compound this, the Brits then stole a unique moai, made of basalt and carved with Birdman petroglyphs and this (“the stolen friend”) stands in the British Museum. Just down the corridor, one assumes, from the Elgin marbles.

So, why did the moai culture die out? And why was it replaced by the Birdman cult? (“no-one knows”, but perhaps the deforestation of the palms left the islanders unable to leave, and the migration of the sooty tern gave them the illusion of being able to come and go at will?) Whatever, it’s another of Easter Island’s unusual sites and sights, and part of a wonderful, compelling and mysterious story which it was a pleasure to spend two days discovering.

In transit 2 – Bariloche to Puerto Varas

24th March 2018

Our time at the very swanky Llao Llao Hotel was all too short, and so we embarked on the next stage of a transit which would eventually take us to our next major segment of our South American odyssey, a couple of days in Easter Island. But Tierra del Fuego to Easter Island is a major schlepp, and so we did in sections, taking in some popular tourist sights en route, as described in part 1. Some more sights awaited us in the second part of the transit, as we travelled from Barioche to Puerto Varas. This is a well-established tourist route, having first been undertaken in 1913 and, notably, by Theodore Roosevelt in 1916 (it was apparently Roosevelt who, basing his knowledge on the recently-established Yellowstone National Park, suggested that the areas surrounding this route be set up as a national park before modern life could damage it too much; and so it came to be, in around 1927). We had catamarans and buses instead of sailing boats and wagons, but essentially the route we travelled was the same; and we had a guide called Eduardo to explain to us what was going on, which was occasionally reassuring.

We started in Puerto Pañuelo, which is conveniently located a few hundred yards from the Llao Llao Hotel.

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The boat took us to Puerto Blest, which is very scenic, but not very photogenic (WALP Factor 8, but all rocks and forests), so people spend a lot of time feeding seagulls.

where we joined a very short bus ride to go to Lago Frias, a volcanic lake. At the end of Lago Frias is the Argentinian end of the border, where passports are checked and you have a chance to see a replica of the motorbike that Che Guevara rode across the Andes back in the days before Andrew Lloyd Webber became a national hero.

The border crossing is a multi-stage process. At the far end of Lago Frias, the Argentinian border staff leave the boat before anyone else is allowed to, so that they can set up their computers and so forth in a hut beside the above bike and another small hut selling snacks. They check passports and then get back on the boat to go back home, as did our Argentinian guide, to be replaced by a Chilean guide called Victoria. She and the ongoing passengers then board a bus, which grinds its way up a rough and winding track to the actual border. A few hundred metres further on, there’s a photo stop to see a local volcano named “Tronador”, or “Thunderer”, so-called because of the noise that the glaciers make as they break up.

Mount Tronador

We were very lucky with the weather, as we could actually see something. Given that this area receives on average three metres of rain (yes, ten FEET) every year, and that it rains some 228 days a year on average, I think we got privileged access.

After this, the bus grinds on to the Chilean border, at a small village called Peulla, where everyone has to get out and open their luggage so that Chilean border guards can check that you haven’t brought anything illicit in. Once again, I had an agony of indecision as to whether to declare all four of the cameras I had with me, but decided not to; and the customs officer couldn’t have shown less interest in my luggage, which made this a good decision.

Peulla is a lunch stop with a choice of two local hostlelries, one of them being a hotel where we had grilled fish with vegetables (Jane) and fried fish and chips (me). We ate in the hotel’s conservatory, which featured a rather novel idea – a sprinkler (arguably a length of hose with holes in it) cascaded water on the transparent roof, and the sunshine through this made rather lovely patterns in the room itself.

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There’s one more boat trip after lunch, which takes the journey on to Petrohué. This is the longest ride, but features nice views of another volcano, called Puntiagudo.

Volcano Puntiagudo

(translated: pointy tip) which looks a little like a local version of the Matterhorn, and another volcano, called Osorno, which I would think that many people would think was Mount Fuji, if they didn’t know better.

Volcano Osorno

After this final boat ride, you take the last bus journey, 50km journey into Puerto Varas. However, the excitement doesn’t dim, even at this late stage, as there’s one final tourist attraction to visit, and time presses. In fact we cut things so fine that we had to sneak round the side of the visitors’ centre to get in to see the Petrohué waterfalls. I’m very glad we made it, as this is a splendid sight.

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And our vulcanological insight was further enhanced on the last kilometres into Puerto Varas, with views of Calbuco, an active volcano which has erupted, and violently, as recently as 2015.

Volcano Calbuco

Puerto Varas is a pleasant town. We stayed at the Hotel Cumbres, which styles itself as the best hotel in Puerto Varas, and I see no reason to gainsay this. We had only one day there, and so, since the sun was shining, we decided to go for a wander around. Before we did this, though, we saw an astonishing morning mist on the lake (Llanquihue).

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There’s little to make Puerto Varas out as exceptional (the hotel receptionist couldn’t when pressed, suggest a single thing worth visiting), but it’s a nice town, with the colourful buildings that we’ve seen elsewhere in Chile and Argentina.

and the same rather alarming approach to electrical wiring.

It’s called the city of roses, for good reason

and has, at one end, a hill which has been pressed into service as a park, named after a significant founder of the city, a German called Bernardo Philippi. One can climb the 500 feet to the top, where there is a giant cross, which is illuminated at night.

So, this was our transit, from Bariloche to Puerto Varas via Petrohué

Tomorrow we’re off to Puerto Montt, to fly to Easter Island via Santiago. I’ll report in from there in due course – stay tuned!