Rhymer´s Travel Diary: Entry 39, December 17, 2002
Easter Island: New Age Rage, Rocking Rocks & Horse C---s, Club Head, Yorkshire Bores
Photos: Click here to enter the Great Head Gallery!

Telegraph feature on Easter Island:




New Age Rage

I have to confess to being a little nervous about Easter Island. We'd met four or five people who were going and, without fail, they had all said the same thing: 'It's a very spiritual place.' As someone whose interest in spirituality extends about as far as my next glass of scotch, I was understandably a little concerned that I had signed myself up for four days of talking to the kind of people who believe that ley lines really do have amazing powers, you know.

But I needn't have worried in the least. Without exception (well, almost, more of which later) Easter Island is one of the very few places where tourists behave exactly as they should. I know, I couldn't believe it either. Even the travellery types were, well, not really like travellers at all. Dios mio! Everyone is considerate, polite, interested and interesting. You don't even get that incredibly irritating "who's read the most guidebooks" one-upmanship so prevalent amongst middle class bores in the world's more cultural corners. Quite shocking really. I can only explain it in terms of a self-selection bias. Presumably the kind of people who can be bothered to fly 4000 km to see big heads are a nice bunch.

The island's other great surprises are. 1) Even though it looks like Wales in the photos, it is fact subtropical 2) It has beaches, or rather a beach and 3) It has a monster airport. Number three would not be especially interesting ipso facto, but merits inclusion because the airport is big as it is an emergency landing strip for the shuttle. How the hell about that?

It's strange for a couple of other reasons too. First among these is that it is nothing like South America - or Andean South America, anyway - it has a distinctly Polynesian feel and reminded me of further flung reaches of Indonesia or perhaps the Phillipines. With one big difference - the people are huge. Really big and tall and built with incredibly strong features. The men like riding around on horseback and, without exception look like something from an Old Spice ad. The women are striking and attractive although they do tend to become stout scary matriarchs in middle age - if I was a model scout looking for the next new look, I'd head out there sharpish and bag myself a foxy islander.

The other peculiarity is that everyone speaks Spanish. Despite EI's extraordinary remoteness, the Spanish is actually far clearer that the garbled version the Chileans speak. Oh and one more really cool thing - because of the island's peculiar time zone, it stays light until about 9:30 So, just in case, you haven't got the point, we really, really liked Easter Island. On a scale of one to five, Five, with a gold star and an oak leaf cluster.

On our first night, we hiked up the volcano outside town. This is where the cult of the birdman took place, one of the island's weirder rituals, whereby a representatives of each clan would swim out to a rock and back, retrieving a bird's egg. The first one back was winner, and got to be birdman and island leader for a year. I think as electoral processes go this has a lot to be said for it. After all, it does ensure you have a leader who is good at something other than soliciting donations from big companies in terms for favourable legislation. And, in Polynesia, the ability to swim out to rock very fast is a useful one. The cult of the birdman left behind a lot of petroglypths, which are reasonably interesting. Far better, however is the volcano itself, which has an extremely winsome circular lake in its crater is surrounded by sea on three sides.

Rocking Rocks and Horse C---s

But, anyway, we were here to see statues, so on the first full day, we headed out of town, along the cliffs. Now, these were pretty cool, very cliffy and with booming surf. But the archaeological sites were pretty disappointing. There were quite a few Ahu - altar cum platform things - along here, but the problem with an Ahu is that, after 400 or so years out in the open it just looks like a big pile of rocks. I mean, you have to pretend it's interesting and everything. But really, it's about as diverting as any other pile of rocks.

Still, a pleasant, if sweltering walk and one where we ran so low on water that I had to drink out of a puddle in a cave. The water was fine although it did have a strangely cavey taste. We also had a proverbial moment. Easter island is full of horses and we walked past one stallion who was visibly excited. The expression hung like a horse is clearly false in that anyone who was actually hung like a horse would be incapable of walking.

Still, horse willies can be found anywhere (in Amsterdam, even in some special interest movies and magazine); big statues cannot. And, shortly afterwards we chanced upon the seven Moai, also surrounded by horses, but rather less excited ones. The statues do not disappoint. They really are some of the finest stone things I have ever seen. As megaliths go, they were mega.

Afterwards, we walked up the island's biggest (long dead) volcano and admired the views. This is actually quite a cool thing to do as it gives you a sense of how isolated you are. (Easter island fact no 4 - it is the most remote piece of inhabited land in the world.) Then, having walked for about six hours, we begged a lift back to town from a very nice Canadian couple, David and Linda. Before we returned, they took us to the beach.

Club Head

What a revelation! EI is mostly towering, glowering volcanic cliffs and scary ocean, but on it's north side there are a pair of beaches. One isn't all that great. But the other, well, think Bounty Bar commercial: turquoise sea and sand like sugar. Best of all, though is the time. Because of the extraordinarily long days, you can go to the beach at six or even seven in the evening. And, just so you don't get that sense of guilt that being lazy in cultural rich locales can engender, the beach is overlooked by a line of six very swanky statues.

The following day, we decided that cars were good and hired one of those Suzuki jeeps that you really really don't want to crash in and checked out the South coast. This, it must be said, is a little disappointing, mainly because all the statues are lying face down, having been toppled when the islanders destroyed their environment and turned into cannibals. There are dozens of Ahus here, but, again, one set of toppled statues...

And then you get to the volcano. This is the quarry and, on its sides are some 390 Moai (statues). It really is amazing. There are statues everywhere and the thing is that these are the later statues which are far, far more stylish than their earlier brethren. They have the distinctive look that everyone thinks of when they imagine Easter island. If anything, the inside of the crater is even better, as it is full of half carved statues, which are still part of the rock. It is a quiet and beautiful and extremely casual place. If the makers of Tomb Raider ever film a sequel, this wouldn't be a bad location to give Angelina Jolie's geek erotica another outing.

After that, we went to (where else) the beach, where we saw a couple of Japanese tour groups behaving very strangely. Every time I see a Japanese tour group, it makes me reflect on how, only about decade ago, everyone was terrified that the Japanese were going to take over the world. And how utterly strange and preposterous that seems now.

That night, we hit Hanga Roa, the island's only town, though as the population is about 3000, it is more like a big village. Apparently it has three nightclubs, although these all appeared to be closed. Disappointing, as I thought it would be quite cool to go clubbing on Easter Island, checking out some Polynesia beats and listening to MC Moai's big statue remixes.

If the South Americans go out later, the Islanders go out even later. Like 2am. Anyway, we found a decent restaurant and started chatting to a couple of Columbian trustafarians. They were extremely nice blokes, interesting and with the courtly manners of wealthy Latins. They were flying first class and clearly didn't have to work. As I say, jolly pleasant, but we did have had to wonder if that trust fund came from a daddy who was on the winning side in the war on drugs.

Yorkshire Bores

And then David and his wife, a couple from Yorkshire in their 60s, blundered into this hitherto agreeable conversation. Apparently he had met the Columbians earlier and promised to buy them a drink. Although it was free, I think this was, in another, more accurate sense, one of the costlier drinks of their lives. For conversation went almost immediately from a four way thing to the four of us listening to David. Who was clearly doing his bit for Yorkshire stereotypes by being a drunken, pompous narrow minded bombastic boor.

First he told us Britain was going to the dogs. Then he told us the English had no pride. All of which, was the fault of, wait for it....Brussels. Yes indeedy like everything that is bad in the world, it was all the fault of the Eurocrats. David was a little short on evidence to actually back this up, though he held at length on how Brussels was bleeding the UK dry, telling us that Britain was a pretty poor country. I tried, gently to remind David that Britain was the fourth biggest economy in the world, but this piffling consideration was washed away in a torrent of flat vowels and little Englander platitudes.

Meanwhile, Jane, feeling a little sorry for David's wife made a brave stab at including her in the 'conversation.' But the reason for her silence quickly became apparent: she was absolutely shitfaced. Not that I could blame her; if I was married to David I would start drinking the second I woke up and finish when I passed out.

But David was only just warming up. We were treated to a tirade on the evils of the metric system. Apparently imperial units make sense because 'a yard is the length of your arm, simple as that.' Certainly simple. Although I really cannot get that excited about defending a dated and rather difficult measurement system, I appreciate it raises strong emotions in some quarters, so I conceded that David sort of had a point...and then he started telling us what a terrible thing decimalisation was.

I thought he was joking. But he wasn't. Really he wasn't. Interestingly, David and his wife had travelled all over the place, doubtless confirming a different prejudice in every nation they visited. Their favourite country was South Africa.

The next day we hung out at the beach and then it was back to EI's shuttle ready airport, having had a terrific time and managed to catch a statuetastic tan. Sadly though not much spirituality for me. Others were luckier Sitting behind a pair of gone to seed new agers, I overheard the following gem.

New Ager A: 'Has your spiritual path changed as a result of coming here?'

New Ager B: 'Yes, absolutely.'

These people need help and not the kind found in self help books.