Monday, February 11, 2013

Ranu Kau Volcano (Easter Island) and Flying to Samoa

Our final day on Easter Island was spent visiting two more archaeological sites, Vinapu and Orongo, as well as the Rano Kau volcano.

The view from room 75 at the Hangaroa Hotel. In the distance is the tallest volcano on the island, Terevaka at about 1,700 feet high.

Near the east end of the airport is the site of Vinapu. It gives you an impression of how all of the statues looked by the time Europeans found this speck of land in the 18th century. The Easter Islanders were still living here but had gone through a religious and social upheaval. The old ways of ancestor worship, which the statues were the physical representation of, had given way to the Bird Man cult (more on that below). The repudiation of the old religion caused the Easter Islanders to begin to topple the statues. By the time Dutch sailor Jacob Roggeveen landed here on Easter Sunday, 1722, most of the statues were lying prone (the last one came down in the early 1800's).

This site then shows what a typical ahu might have looked like until the advent of tourism in the late 1960's.

The heads of the statues typically break off from the torso's when the multi-ton statues come crashing down. The tuff rock from Rano Raraku is tuff but not that tough (Ha!).

Here lies a red scoria pukao or top knot. The Easter Islanders would place these large carved stones on top of the heads of their statues after they were raised on the ahu.

Here is a finely preserved one at Vinapu

Next was atrip to the top of the Rano Kao volcano. A dirt road leads up to it and we stopped along the way to take a picture north to Hanga Roa village and the airstrip. Note our jet sittin g on the tarmac awaiting our arrival.

View to the east from Rano Kau to Poike volcano and the coast at Tongariki

At the summit we get a view of this spectacular caldera. Note that lake water fills its floor and that the water is about 100 feet deep. Also the lake surface is covered with a mat of vegetation. This species of plant arrived on the island about 70,000 years ago and was brought here by birds that visited the island from 2,300 miles away in South America.

On our way to the archaeological site called Orongo near the edge of the caldera

Note that the caldera rim is being eroded into by the action of waves in the Pacific Ocean. The notch in the rim is only about 120 feet from the shore of the lake. The cliffs on the outside of the caldera drop down 1,000 feet to the Pacific. A huge amount of erosion has occurred on the flank of this volcano!

The petroglyphs at Orongo depict the Bird Man cult, which replaced an earlier period of of statue carving on Easter Island. The two islets in the distance (Motu Iti and Motu Nui) are the sites where some islanders would swim to collect sea bird eggs, then return them to the island. The first one back became leader of his clan for the next year - but had to live in isolation the entire time!

The ruins of the ceremonial village at Orongo were restored and reconstructed in the 1970's. It was here in these structures that preparations for the Bird Man ceremony would take place. Our local guides, Claudio Cristo, Edmundo Edwards, and Patricia Vargas, have been involved in many aspects of the archaeological digs from the 1970's and onward. Their information is cited here in this posting. Incredibly, the Wikipedia link for Easter Island is quite good and you can access it here.

A final look at the southwest coast of Easter Island as we take off towards Samoa, a nine hour flight aboard Explorer jet. The distance is about 2,800 miles.

The photographs do no justice to the scale of the size of the clouds. These towering anvil heads were astounding to watch. Very few of our passengers take the time to view these, thinking that "there is nothing to see" over the open ocean. But one part of my job is to walk up and down the aisles of the jet and point out these earthly wonders to those not sleeping.

This is Henderson Island in the Pitcairn Islands.

This is the southwestern shore of Tahiti from 36,000 feet. Note the fringing reef and lagoon around the volcanic island.

This is the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. It has a well developed fringing reef and lagoon.

More cloudscapes in the South Pacific

Sunset in the South Pacific. The seas were calm and the reflections of light were sublime. This is also the location of the International Dateline and we crossed from sunset on Saturday, February 9 (left) to sunset on Sunday, February 10. One passenger had a birthday on the 10th and so his birthday was only four hours long this year.

Just before landing in Samoa at sunset

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