Twenty-three hundred miles west of Chile is the island of Rapa Nui — 14 miles long by 7 miles wide with fewer than 8,000 residents.
Annexed by Chile in 1888, Rapa Nui is one of the most distant locations from any continent in the world.
The entire island is an outdoor living museum, with enigmatic moai keeping watch over all, as told by my husband Terry on C1.
On average, each moai stands 13 feet high and weighs 14 tons.
Rapa Nui is called Easter Island because the first-recorded European contact with the island was on Easter Sunday 1722 by Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen. He estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island.
Like many of Rapa Nui’s residents, our son-in-law, who is Chilean, prefers that Easter Island be called Rapa Nui.
No one knows exact details or dates, but about 1,000 years ago intrepid Polynesians — navigating by stars, waves, birds and turtles — arrived on Rapa Nui’s largest beach. Legend has it that Rapa Nui’s people and culture were born on that beach.
Sometimes called “Te Pito o Te Henua,” which in the Rapa Nui language means “the navel of the world,” the island was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
Most of the island is a national park; we purchased park passes at the airport upon arrival.
For me, the most significant features of Rapa Nui are its remoteness and solitude, wind-swept coastlines and caves and mystery. Driving and hiking we encountered few other travelers — except for the wild horses and roaming cows who shared the roads, paths and prairies with us.
To get to Rapa Nui we flew to Santiago, Chile, beginning with Fort Wayne to Atlanta.
Santiago, about a 10-hour flight from Atlanta, is where our daughter, son-in-law and their two children live. With them — and with food stuffed into all our suitcases — we flew 5 1/2 hours west to Rapa Nui.
There are one or two flights to Rapa Nui a day.
We found the house we stayed in (Sept. 6-14) through Airbnb. Our hostess, Barbara, was wonderful. Priscilla, 3, and Oliver, 1, loved Barbara and the house’s cats, chickens, dogs, trees, plants, flowers, stones, rocks, mud ...
Let me first tell you what Rapa Nui does not have.
According to what I saw and experienced, Rapa Nui does not have:
Large stores or chain stores
Trains, semis or traffic jams
Dogs on leashes
Colleges or universities
According to what I experienced, Rapa Nui does have:
Wind — lots of it. On some hillsides, strong gusts made me struggle to keep my balance.
Mysterious moai — about 900. See page C1.
Wild horses and roaming cows
Friendly dogs everywhere
Isolation and solitude
Rocks, hills, cliffs, caves and forests
Wind-swept, wide open spaces
Proud roosters, busy hens and scurrying baby chicks — almost everywhere
Frequent rainbows and more frequent showers
Clay roads, puddles and mud
Speed bumps. But why have speed bumps when potholes do the trick?
Immense and beautiful volcanic craters
Pulsating rhythm and wildly energetic painted dancers
Surfers riding powerful waves
Proud native people
Our home was just a few blocks from downtown Hanga Roa, the only town on Rapa Nui. As is my custom, most mornings I awoke well before dawn. Instead of getting up, I enjoyed lying in bed listening to the sounds of the morning: dogs howling and barking at one another, roosters crowing and occasional snarling fights — I assume they were cat fights, but I was safe in bed.
Barbara shared with us — especially with the children — a few words of Rapa Nui.
She taught us “hello” and “thank you” and the names of many body parts. But the only word I can remember is what sounded to me like “pee toe pee toe” — that means belly button or navel.
Rapa Nui, according to legend, is the “navel of the world.” Two larger-than-life wooden sculptures — an older woman greeting a woman’s newborn baby — commemorate this idea near the beach where the first Rapa Nui are thought to have landed.
Sadly, the number of Rapa Nui people is dwindling, erosion and time are taking their toll on the island’s visible history and the Rapa Nui language is in danger of being lost.
But preservation efforts are underway. To learn more about this, read my column (on today’s op-ed page) for a glimpse into a project dating back to 1977.