Easter Island – Worth the Trip

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

“A flight over water to an island surrounded by oceans.
Strange cloud formations overhead, dramatic reflections of the sun
I am a visitor to this strange land, walking on history
and only glimpsing a piece of it’s beauty.”

Heather Markel, May 2019.


When I booked my trip to Easter Island my heart literally beat faster with excitement. Who on earth gets to go to Easter Island?? It wasn’t even on my list until I met my friend Jackie in Thailand last year. Because of her I learned there is a CHRISTMAS and an EASTER island!! So, I just had to get myself to one of them. Easter Island is one of those places I probably wouldn’t get to on a vacation from New York since it’s so far. But I found myself in Santiago, Chile and the flights, normally around $1,200 USD round trip were under $300 round trip!! So, HELL YES!

One of the first sunsets I enjoyed on Easter Island.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

My excitement was, at first, because I was getting to go someplace that seems unique and in the middle of nowhere. Honestly, I’ve heard of those big statues, and they look so cool in photos, that was my main reason for wanting to go. But, I actually learned so much about the culture and history of the island that not only did it astound me but I feel like I received a real gift in getting myself there.

“So much more than I expected.”

One of the first things I was delighted to learn about Easter Island wasn’t actually about those statues. It was about the cows. Both horses, and cows, roam the island freely. Horses would frequently be eating grass in people’s yards, but more comically, in front of the stores on the main street, at all hours. But COWS roaming freely? There is no dairy industry on Easter Island and the cows and horses are actually a reminder of history – originally they were used to get around the island and pull heavy objects before there were roads and equipment. Now, they all just walk around like the dogs and people, and enjoy their lives. This meant that every day as I roamed the island, I had the fortune of meeting a cow, somewhere. Pure heaven. 

Cows wondering why we are blocking their way on their road.

Photograph by Heather Markel. Copyright 2019

You can go to Easter Island and just enjoy the beaches, but the true wonderfullness of the island are the history and the Moai (those big statues). Let’s start with the history. This has been a subject of much debate. Originally it was thought that the first inhabitants were from South America, most likely Peru. What was instrumental in this theory being tossed out is the construction of the walls under the Moai. Inca walls have massive  stones one on top of the other. But on Easter Island, smaller stones are used as filling inbetween the larger ones – big stones are used in the back, small ones in frong, and then filling is used in the middle. So, the belief now is that the first inhabitants were from Polynesia somewhere between 350 – 1200AD. The Moai are as old as the first inhabitants. Remember this, because this explains why the Moai baffle everyone.
Originally there were between 8 – 17 tribes on the island. The locals are called “Rapa Nui.” There are now 36 last names – the last names are what connect today’s inhabitants with the tribes of the past. In fact, people today still remember tribal fights from the past and hold grudges! And, if you want to date and marry someone, you have to find out how closely related you are. Everyone on the island is related, so a law exists that you must not be closer than 3rd cousins to date and marry. Some people are told they must meet a foreigner! 

There is one school on the island. It used to only go to middle school, but now teaches through high school. After that, locals have to go to the mainland of Chile to continue their education with college. Chile annexed Easter Island in 1888 but its inhabitants were granted Chilean citizenship only in 1966. Easter Island is actually on the Oceania continent, so my travel there boosted my continent visting by one! Easter Island has both Rapa Nui and foreign inhabitants. The apparently all get along, for the most part. My tour guide was a mix of Chilean and Rapa Nui and never had problems growing up. Interestingly, Easter Island has NO ports. So, if you want something shipped there, the cargo ships have to stop quite far from the island, and carefully place cargo on smaller boats that are able to make it to the one shallow dock that exists. There was talk in the past about creating a port, but then Chile had a huge earthquake and the money went to fixing it, and the port talks never re-occured. Easter Island is now more interested in protecting the marine life and the island.

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