I noticed this bit in my RSS feed today: Easter Island Fights Prosperity.
Having been there just two months ago, and because its never in the news, I thought I’d chime in on the subject.
Go read the article first…
For a place so dependent on tourism, Easter Island does a very poor job of it. For starters, the Rapa Nui National Park which covers pretty much the entire island and is responsible for the protection and preservation of the maoi on the island is all but non existant. There is a small hut on one end of the island where there are few maoi. In there there is usually a ranger who will give you a map and you pay the equivalent of $10. That’s it. No where else on the island will you find rangers, interpretative centers, signs, anything.
Easter Island was a finalist (top 21) in the New Seven Wonders project. That should give you an idea as to where it sits on the heriarchy of world sites. Given its importance, its sort of sad to see how much effort the Chiliean government has put into it.
All of the maoi which are standing and not in the quarry, have been restored in the last 50 years. Everything in the photo I posted above was restored in the early 1990′s by a Japanese television network. They need cash to restore the hundres of maoi which have fallen or are broken around the island. Also, the maoi are made of a very soft volcanic tuff. Just because they are made of rock doesn’t mean they will last forever.
The article is also spot on with regards to how the people of Hanga Roa are all hustling to get the tourism dollar. There are no major hotels on the island. Everything is guest houses or hostel type accomodiations. Likewise, all the car rentals, restrauants, souviner stand, and tours are local operations.
Rapa Nui also probably has the least amount of ‘culture’ of all the polynesian countries I’ve visited (and I’ve pretty much been to them all now). This is not the fault of the people there as they were all but wiped out in the 19th Century. Also, even though they have the internet and cars on the island now, it is really a stretch to say that civilization has crept onto the island. It is still one of the most isolated spots on Earth, and it shows.
I can’t possibly see how a casino would proper on the island. Of the 50,000 or so visitors who come to the island, I’d guess almost 100% are there to see the maoi. It doesn’t attract the type who want to sit on the beach and drink fruity drinks all day long. I certainly don’t see anyone make the five hour flight (or much longer) to Easter Island to gamble.
The people on the island have a vested interest in the preservation of the maoi. The Chiliean government doesn’t seem to be interested in doing it. Development of tourism is probably the only way to both save the maoi and let the small population of the island make a living.