Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: Easter Island

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset MaSovaida chilling with a new stony-faced pal at Ranu Raraku. Image courtesy of MaSovaida Morgan

MaSovaida Morgan, Destination Editor for South America, is just back from a once in a lifetime trip to Easter Island.

Tell us more… I spent a few days exploring Easter Island (Rapa Nui) before attending the Adventure Travel World Summit in Puerto Varas, Chile. Easter Island is one of those alluring and confounding bucket list destinations that many only dream of visiting, so when the opportunity came up, I jumped at it.

In a nutshell… Easter Island, a tiny speck in the South Pacific Ocean, is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth - it’s 2300 miles from mainland Chile and the closest inhabited land is Pitcairn Island, 1300 miles away. The enormous monolithic sculptures, called moai, are the main draw for visitors and they are as impressive as one might imagine. But I was also curious about the island’s residents and wanted to learn how the cultural memory of the moai manifests in their day-to-day lives.

Defining moment? I took a traditional Rapa Nui dance lesson with some locals in Hanga Roa, the island’s only town. Mud body paint and costumes were necessary for an authentic experience, so I donned a bikini top covered in feathers. It was indeed a body-positive move, but did take a bit of reassurance from my teacher - it was nice to hear that women of all shapes and sizes across Polynesia wear similar costumes when they dance, so I had nothing to be self conscious about. When in Rome, right?

Ahu_Tongariki1 The awe-inspiring Ahu Tongariki at sunrise. Image courtesy of MaSovaida Morgan

You’d be a muppet to missAhu Tongariki at sunrise. All of the moai are impressive, but these 15 majestic statues constitute the biggest ahu (platform) and are among the most iconic on the island. It might be tough to rally for those who aren’t early risers, but it’s worth it to get there well before dawn and get a good spot to set up a camera (don’t forget a tripod). The weather is unpredictable and rapidly changeable on Easter Island, but when it’s clear, behold perfect (and totally Instagram-worthy) moai silhouettes against a bold sunrise sky.

Good grub? I was invited to take part in an aumu (pronounced ooo-moo), a traditional earth oven ceremony where food is cooked underground on heated volcanic rocks. The ingredients that go inside the aumu vary, but on this occasion we had chicken and pork ribs so tender that the meat fell right off the bones, a couple of different kinds of potatoes and banana bread. Earth ovens were and still are used in many cultures around the world, so I asked my host what set the Rapa Nui version apart and he said, “in ancient times, they’d just put a guy inside” (some say the demise of the island’s early inhabitants was due to deforestation that eventually lead to cannibalism). Added bonus: my host is the son-in-law of the island’s de facto king, so he invited him over to join us and I got to grub with royalty!

Fridge magnet or better? While visiting Rano Raraku, the quarry where the stone of the moai was sourced and home to about 400 of them, I met a local artist who draws and paints the statues to capture their likeness because the details of their faces are slowly eroding from the elements. He invited me to try my hand at sketching alongside him (my version paled in comparison to his) while we chatted about his process and inspiration. Afterward he let me keep the drawing he made, which was incredibly kind and generous, and much more precious to me than anything I could’ve purchased in a shop.

MaSovaida Morgan travelled to Easter Island with support from the Adventure Travel Trade Association (adventuretravel.biz) and Turismo Chile (chile.travel). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.