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By Ray Chatelin
(For Travel Writersí Tales)

On Rapa Nui, the 21st Century is somewhat out of place.

It seems at times there are as many people riding horses down the main streets of the islandís only town, Hanga Roa, as there are cars and trucks.

Photo 1: Horses are a common means of transport on Rapa Nui

But, thatís not surprising since on Rapa Nui the 7,750 humans share space with an estimated 4000 horses - most of which are running wild Ė plus the 1,000 fallen and/or erected stone figures (called Moai) scattered around the island; countless dogs that bark throughout the night; and roosters who canít get the time straight.

The people who live here have a culture thatís somewhere between Chilean and Polynesian and their daily lifestyle seems part 21st Century and part pre-modern.

Chances are that you know this World Heritage site by its more common name of Easter Island. But, it also has a third name - Isla de Pascua - a term youíll find used throughout Chile since the island is a part of that country, having been annexed in 1888.

Some 3,700km from the mainland, it is in one of the most remote part of the Pacific, located at the southern end of Polynesia 4,231 km from its nearest major neighbor, Tahiti.

You can fly there via LATAM airlines from Santiago and from Pape'ete (Tahiti). Otherwise, a handful of cruise lines stop there as part of a South Pacific itinerary.

It got its Easter Island name when Jacob Roggeween, a Dutch Admiral, sighted the island for the first time on Easter Day in 1722. But islanders prefer its Polynesian name and residents are fiercely proud of their origins, culture, myths and legends.

Hire one of the local knowledgeable guides - who can be booked through your hotel Ė and get countless stories and fables that give this island its character.

The main reason for going there, of course, are the Moai and the stone quarries from which these massive carvings were made.

Photo 2. Restored Moai at Anakena Beach

There are two main must-see Moai locations on the island - the Moai at Ahu Tongariki with its 15 erected statues, and the massive quarry at Rano Raraku with more than 390 abandoned Moai on the hillsides.

The origins of these statues were long debated, some even suggesting that they were created by Aliens. The less complicated version is that they were constructed by local tribes as tributes to local officials, sacred chiefs and gods. The largest is located near the Rano Raraku Quarry and is 22 metres tall.

Statues were brought from the quarry rolled on logs and placed to look over a ceremonial area and village, their backs to the sea. How old are they? Carbon dating has the oldest from the year 800, but most were carved from the volcanic rock between 1100 and 1680.

Although there are some high-end hotels among the 16 on the island, eight cabins for rent, and 150-plus B&Bs, donít expect the kind of competing facilities you find in Hawaii, Fiji, or Tahiti.

Most residents speak English though Spanish is the first language. There are 20 restaurants of varying content and prices if you want a break from the hotel food, and rental cars are available.

Hanga Roaís embraces almost all of the total population of the island. Only 422 people live outside its boundaries. Walk the main street from the waterfront to the commercial end of town marked by Santa Cruz Church and along the way and on the side streets are local artists and small, family commercial outlets.

Near the church, on Tuu Koihu street is the Mercado Artisanal where youíll find the best of local art work. And, be sure to get a sunset photo as the sun drops behind the Moai at Rongo Tautira, a 15-minute walk along the waterfront from downtown.

But, leave the town to fully explore the islandís charms and walk among the fallen Moai at the Rano Raraku quarry; the rim of the defunct volcanic crater at Rano Kao; the massive Moai at Ahu Tongariki.

Photo 3. The crater of inactive volcano Rano Kau from the viewpoint is impressive. The lava has been replaced by reed plants

While credit cards are accepted, you can often get a discount if you pay cash. It sometimes takes months for credit card receipts to generate cash flow from card companies, thus the preference for cash.

The overwhelming charm of Rapa Nui is not only because of the Moai and the island legends that I heard and explored. But because of what the place hasnít yet become.


PHOTOS: by Toshi

1. Horses are a common means of transport on Rapa Nui

2. Restored Moai at Anakena Beach 3. The crater of inactive volcano Rano Kau from the viewpoint is impressive. The lava has been replaced by reed plants

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