*Edit 14/08/12: I later found out that Tristan Da Cunha is in fact the most isolated permanently inhabited place in the world.*
Today I left civilisation behind, as I flew to the most isolated settlement on Earth. The nearest people are the 50(ish) living on Pitcairn Island approximately 1,250 miles away. You could argue there are more isolated non-permanently settled areas in Antarctica, but let’s not get too technical; basically I flew for six hours out into the ocean, and the only place I can go from here is back the way I came (unless I take up sailing). Also, it hadn’t occurred to me until I read it today that Easter Island is the easternmost point of Oceania, so I have technically now visited another continent – only Asia and Antarctica to go!
And why have I flown for six hours to this small island? Well anyone who has seen one of the numerous documentaries on the subject will know the answer. The island was once home to a Polynesian people who sailed here from Polynesia in around 400 AD. A few hundred years later they began carving and erecting increasingly large statues called Moai, which represented their ancestors. The creation of these statues became an obsession, and eventually the island was completely deforested in order to transport them around. No forests meant no food, and the society started to implode, helped along the way by Peruvian sailors taking the strongest men (traditionally society’s leaders) away to be slaves on the mainland. During the fighting, the Moai were all knocked down, and it took westerners decades to work out what had gone on and what these mysterious statues signified (indeed, some aspects are still a mystery).
That’s the history in a nutshell, and on arrival today I quickly went out into Hanga Roa (the only town on the island, and therefore where the airport and my hotel are) in order to see my first Moai. It didn’t take long to find one since they are dotted all around the coast, and the island is so small you are never more than walking distance away. Therefore, about 5 minutes’ walk north of the town centre, I saw my first Moai staring majestically inland. I later found out that they were all positioned to look inland, since this allowed the ancestor who the individual Moai represented to watch over and protect it’s ancestors. I say “it’s”, but in reality all the erected Moai were male, with only four female Moai ever found, none of which were erected.
As I continued up the coast from this first Moai I saw a number more, including an ‘Ahu’ (or platform) with a number of them on it. Since all of the Moai had been knocked over when archaeologists first arrived here, the ones which have been put back in place have been done according to guesswork, and with varying levels of restoration. Some are visibly damaged, while others have the traditional eyes in place, and a few even have red hats/hair. The whole thing was a somewhat surreal experience, and it was strange to actually be standing next to a Moai after years of having read about these mysterious artefacts.
Given I arrived on a typical sub-tropical day of wind and rain, I thought I would save venturing further until tomorrow, when sun is forecast. The rest of the afternoon was spent in the town’s museum, where I learnt lots of what I’ve mentioned above. A couple of additional points which I thought were interesting were how the island was formed from three erupting volcanos (which gave it it’s distinct triangular shape), and how the only complete Moai made of basalt is in our very own British Museum in London.
Tomorrow I am hiring a car to explore the whole island since it really is small enough to see the main sights in a day!
Photos of the day: the first Moai I saw, an interesting fist on the coast, a Moai complete with eyes and hat/hair overlooking the Ahu of five Moai in the distance, what you might typically find by the side of the road on Easter Island.