Nice Place to Visit, but I Wouldn’t Want to Live Here

Back of Moai on Easter Island
Back of Moai on Easter Island

Yesterday, I spent the better part of the day out and about taking photos and video of the places I couldn’t get to on Wednesday due to rain. I think you could easily see most of the sites on the island in one day if you got up early, and certainly in two. In hindsight, I probably didn’t need to spend as much time here as I did. I spent most of the day at Rano Raraku, the quarry where all the maoi were created. Most of the maoi on the island seem to be here. If you’ve seen photos of big stone heads sitting on a hillside, this is where the photo was taken.

I had always just assumed that the maoi were made out of basalt, the volcanic rock that makes up most ocean islands and the bottom of the sea. It turns out that its not quite the case. There is a reason why all the maoi were carved from this particular volcano and not elsewhere on the island: the rock here is really a concrete mix of ash, basalt rubble and some other non-porus material I couldn’t figure out. It’s much weaker than plain basalt, which is why they probably chose that spot to do all the carving: the rock was softer and it was easier to carve. Climbing around, I had a piece of rock crumble in my hand as I was trying to get a grip. (the wall of the volcano crumbled, not a moai). It also explains why so many moai are in bad shape. If they were standing near the coast and they were hit by a tsunami, when they got knocked over the weight of the stone was probably enough to break it in two.

I’m sure someone else has done an analysis of the rock at Rano Raraku, but I found it interesting because I had never read about the rock composition anywhere else. Once I saw it up close with my own eyes, it all made sense.

There is another quarry on the island, Puna Pau, which was used specifically to make the red colored top-knot hats the moai sometimes wear. That quarry was chosen because of the color of the rock and doesn’t seem as weak as the rock at Rano Raraku.

One thing I thought of today is how much it would suck to live on Easter Island. Some people would like a house out in the middle of nowhere where you be secluded and have some privacy. This is a different ball game altogether. It’s not a matter of driving an hour or even two to get to the closest town. It is a minimum of a five hour commercial airline flight to anywhere. ANYWHERE. That is not an exaggeration in the slightest. There is not a spec of Earth within 1,000 miles, and civilization within 2,500. I’m sure the Chilean government has some sort of subsidy where goods are flown in on the regular LAN Chile flights, but for the most part, you’re trapped. Moreover, there is no real harbor here, so regular boats don’t come to the island. Most of the cars here are old and show it. I saw a pickup truck today where most of the body was gone save for the metal around the engine and the seats. I don’t think they have car inspections here….

Speaking of inspections, I’ve had dinner the last two evenings at a restaurant called Cafe Ra’a. It’s a nice place. The food is good, the presentation was far better than I expected, and the women who ran it seemed to take a great deal of pride in what they did. It was also a converted house. The kitchen was….the kitchen. The bathroom was…the bathroom, and the dining room was the living room. I only point this out because such a place could never exist in the US, because it would never pass inspection. (actually, they do exist illegally in New York, but that’s another post) That is not to say it was dirty or they handled food improperly, but they didn’t have the equipment set up in a way which is required by law. Having once tried to open an establishment that was to serve food, I’ve been through the stuff with the health department. Certainly, if a kitchen is good enough to feed a family, there is no reason why people shouldn’t have the choice to eat there as well. I’d love to see more small places like this in the US.

Also, the woman who served me (I was the only person in the place both nights) had a striking resemblance to Audrey Tautou, which isn’t too shabby. Too bad we didn’t speak the same language.