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Sunday, March 04, 2007
Ancient spirits haunt the hillsides

( This Albacore trolling trip took place in the 1992-3. I have been cooped up by the gloom of a stormy winter in the Pacific Northwest and needed to travel away to the tropics in my imagination. Recounting a few yarns is fun anyway. Hope you don't mind. The F/V Papa George is fishing for squid tonight off of Catalina Island, CA with Steve on board. )
The area was marked by a carved sign, “Rano Raraku”. The statues leaned in random directions outside of the quarry. We climbed the grassy hillside, where several statues lay where they were carved; a broken ear, an incorrect nose angle, some imperfection disqualifying them for eternal worship. Our guide, Manuel, was a young boy ( in the 60’s) when Thor Heyerdal brought a group of volunteers to dig out a bevy of moai at Anakena Beach. He and his father were the horse handlers for the equiptment. We conversed in Spanish, rather I listened and asked a few questions. He explained the carvings on the moai, such as the spirals on the back depicting the solar plexus. It was an arduous translation for me but his knowledge and the pride of it was provocative. There was so much to take in!

Steve climbed up into the quarry to find the largest statue “El Gigante”, a mere 71.93 feet long and approximately 150 tons. If this moai had been raised, with part of the base buried, it would have towered over all the rest. Perhaps the engineering of moai raising was not up to the task. To begin with, it’s hard to imagine the ancient islanders carving and rolling these statues into position miles away from the quarry. The average moai weighed 14 tons and stood 13 feet high. There are 887 moai as of the last official count, of which a third made it to their final rock altar or “ahu.”

We didn’t plan to visit Easter Island initially, only after leaving Panama. The tuna trolling fleet chartered us to survey the albacore resource from 110W to 140W at the 38 to 40 degree south latitude line. Easter Island was near our descent into the southern latitudes of the South Pacific Ocean. It was like reading “terra incognita” on one of Magellan’s charts. This little 64 square mile volcanic rock was thousands of miles from the nearest land. We learned that we were in the land of the ancients. Rainbows bloomed every time you turned around. The air was full of mist and heat. Was it the same in AD 1400 when this culture of moai construction began? The spirit of the place was awesome.

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