Easter Island and the Mysterious Moai

Does anybody remember the Dristan commercials featuring the talking heads back in the 90s? Or am I the only crazy person that still thinks they’re hilarious? I tried really hard to find a link on youtube but apparently I might actually be the only crazy that remembers them. Regardless, they held a special place in my heart when I was a child, so when I found out that they actually existed (probably watching a random national geographic episode), it was inevitable that I had to go visit them.

It was like stepping in to a dream when we landed, met with replicas of the big headed Moais at the airport told me that we’ve finally reached our destination after a long 5 ½ hour flight from Santiago. We met up with our bus driver who got us ‘lei’d’ and proceeded to talk about the history of the statues on the way to the hotel. Just driving by you could see the Moai heads all along the coastline of the remote island, which is currently inhabited by less than 6000 Rapa Nui’s and Chileans combined (Easter Island is part of Chile).

Easter Island is probably one of the smallest islands I’ve been to, where you can literally drive around the island or even walk it in less than day (driving will probably only take you 3-4 hours if that). I highly recommend walking as much as possible and if you can, hiking the trail that leads up to Rano Kau, which is one of the 3 dormant volcanoes that make up the island, the top of the volcano literally leaves you breathless. You can then continue on the trail to Orongo, which is a small village on the SW side of the island which tells the tales of “the birdmen”.

If you’re here for nothing other than the Moai then Rano Raraku Quarry is your destination. It’s also where I found my Dristan heads. The quarry is where the Moais were initially carved. I recommend going with a tour operator, they provided us with a good amount of detail regarding the near extinction of the Rapa Nui natives (hint: slavery). The Moais were their way of commemorating the dead. Each household would erect a statue once their head of house passes so they can continue to protect the family in the afterlife, which is why all the Moai heads face inland, except seven, which are for the lost Rapa Nui explorers that left the island in search of foreign land. Ahu Tongariki is where the picturesque 15 Moai heads stand today. It really is postcard ready, especially with the amazing coastline in the background.

One day we decided to rent some bikes and make our way across the island to Anakena Beach, the only white sand beach on the island. It took us roughly an hour to bike across Easter Island, but the views were amazing and I’m glad we decided to do it in the end because aside from the mysterious Moai’s, Easter Island has many different places to explore like caves and cliffs, Ovahe beach (only travelled to by car or bike, no tours come here so it’s very quiet) and Terevaka, the highest point on the island. Don’t forget the lava tubes, where the Rapa Nui was known to hide when foreigners began to invade the island.

Since the island is so small, the food selection is a bit limited, but their fish is extremely fresh, caught and sold on the same day. Most of the restaurants on the main street in Hanga Roa (their main town) serve their local fish. I found one tasted like tuna and the other like a less fatty version of salmon. Due to the ancestry of the Rapa Nui, many of their cooking styles resemble other Polynesian cultures by using lots of mango, pineapple and exotic fruits. I highly recommend the fruit shakes there, no matter what flavour you order, they’re amazing. Fruit juice has yet to taste the same since I’ve been home.

One of my favourite dishes was when we first arrived on the island, I ordered the Octopus Salad from Haka Honu and it was the best freshest tasting and bright salad I’ve ever had. Made with cubes of sweet potato (my fave), ripe avocados and a light citrus vinaigrette. It almost tasted like an octopus ceviche. It all went down quite nicely with their locally brewed Mahina beer. Another memorable dish we had was the Spiny Easter Island Lobster at Hetu’U. It was unlike anything I’ve seen before and would have never considered it to be a lobster if they didn’t tell me it was one. The head is flat with many spines and no claws. They tasted quite sweet and the meat reminded me more of a crayfish then a lobster, but it was delicious none the less.

I also really enjoyed the Te Ra’ai dinner and show, similar to a Hawaiian luau, but with a kick. The guests are invited to have their face’s done up with war paint, learn how to dance in the traditional Rapa Nui style and also watch them unearth the food (literally out of the earth oven) that will be served with dinner. The meal is served in a buffet style with lots of fish, chicken, pork, veggies and accompaniments all cooked in traditional Rapa Nui style. While we were enjoying our meal, the performers also sang at the front of the room, which was quite pleasant.

Once done the meal, everybody is then ushered in to a different room where the dance performance begins. The dance lasts for close to an hour and they go through many different forms and styles. It’s interesting because the host is quite entertaining and engaging, but for those that are shy beware! They also like to gather audience participation!! Don’t ask…it’s a long story.

We really enjoyed ourselves and it was hard to leave, especially parting with the Moais but I’d have to say looking back a highlight of the trip was standing in the middle of the island reading the signs that told us how far we were from the next closest country or island and knowing we were literally in the middle of the pacific on a piece of land no bigger than Calgary. I guess it was just very surreal for me to finally make it to a place that I thought was just some silly marketing commercial back in the 90s that I had a soft spot for. Now after visiting Easter Island, I know it’ll always and forever be special in more ways than one, so sure you can now go ahead and call me crazy.