Tuesday April 22, 2014 7:50pm – Last full day on Rapa Nui.
Yesterday morning Dwight and I got up at 6am with the idea of going up the east coast to see the sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. Now that may not sound early enough, but the fact is that the sun doesn’t rise here until 8:30am. It sets around 8pm. Easter Island has its own time zone that it adheres to, which is one hour earlier than EST back home and two hours earlier than in Santiago (six hours behind Greenwich Mean).
Be that as it may, we still left a little later than we’d planned, and had to rush along the dark road in the pre-dawn hours, literally racing the earth’s rotation to be at Tongariki before the sun came up. We made it in time with a few minutes to spare and positioned ourselves with some other tourists in front of the platform (ahu) full of statues (moai). We stood with the rest of the audience in the morning chill and awaited the show.
Ahu Tongariki is the largest ceremonial platform on the island (and therefore in the world) and upon it stand 15 restored moai – including one with the red topknot. They stand like giant sentinels with their backs to the sea cliffs, facing Rano Raraku across the plain and the quarry where they were born. The water is almost lapis blue and the waves crash against the black rocks in a spray of sea mist. As we watched and waited the sun rose behind the moai – not directly behind (we weren’t there at the right time of year) but off to the left a little – and striped the sky in hues of red and gold and pink. The fresh light glowed through the moai and reflected off the water and we took photo after photo of the whole striking scene. The moai seemed even more enigmatic in silhouette, as though a new day and a new sun could illuminate everything but their secrets. Eventually, once the sun was up a bit more and its light was a little less dramatic, we walked around behind the moai and took some pictures of the statues from behind and their butt cracks and stuff. We surveyed the massive extinct volcano called Rano Raraku across the plain and also photographed the “traveling moai” —so called because at one point he was taken to Japan for exhibition, and later returned.
Ahu Tongariki is a magical place, at once mystical and beautiful and intimidating. The kind of place you have to travel to the end of the world to find yourself in. The moai, hundreds of years old and dozens of feet high, tower forbiddingly over the rocky landscape, while the lovely ocean behind them throws itself onto land again and again. To me it is just as amazing as some of humanity’s other most mesmerizing feats, like Stonehenge and Machu Picchu, and I’m always amazed when I see these icons how these ancient people and cultures can create something so massive, so epic. I’m afraid our culture’s legacy will only be one of exploitation and destruction of the planet.