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Time to go.. Two weeks has flown and now so must I. I am heading back to mainland Chile to meet up with my friend Sharon and strike our own path down to Tierra del Fuego.

This is just a quick update as I prepare to leave this amazing, crazy island.

I thought I had more day, but it is February and even in a leap year it is a month that is just not long enough.

Easter Island has exceeded expectations. I picked here as a place to not do too much, to stay in one spot for a little bit.. and it is perfect for that.

It has been tonic and an eye-opener for a world weary soul.

If you come here, don’t come for one of two days. Stay.

It is a small island and it may seem like you can just rocket around the place and snap a few photos of the moai, but there is a wonderful culture here fighting for survival.

I’ll write more soon, but I need to soak up the last few hours that I have left here on Rapa Nui.

The prospect of sunrise bursting over the moai of Ahu Tongariki and a few more moments with my new friend Moa got me on the road while the stars were still out. Missing a few billion sky sparkles over your city? They have been collecting them for you way out here in the Pacific.

The potholed coastal road to the north east was a challenge in the darkness and as I passed roadside Rapanui camps I dipped the 4WD’s lights for those still slumbering.

On the road it seemed like I was the only person on the island stirring, but as I walked towards the 15 stone giants of Tongariki I could see I was among like-minded strangers.

Camera lights flickered across the field in front of the moai. Scattered positions had already been taken on the rocks and grass. No one was too close in the dark.

I found a spot, snapped, waited, snapped and waited some more. Inexplicably, people left in the twilight before the true sun emerged. Did they have somewhere better to be?

The sun soon poured onto the scene behind the moai, splashing around gold on the clouds out to sea.

It was blink and you’ll miss it as the dawn’s glory was soon done and dusted.

Sunlight got the till g-string wearing Moa out of his cave so I went over to say hello. He was making lemongrass tea from freshly picked stalks.

I sat down with the tea and a group of Chilean girls followed my lead and also came over. Moa revealed his big challenge today was retrieving a fishing hook from an undersea cave.

After drinking tea he showed me his garden, which is surprisingly in full view of tourists. Fruit and vegetables were growing in a small space, protected by rocks near the moai. There were lemongrass, taro, another root vegetable I didn’t recognize and and expanse of small Rapanui pineapples. The later were being grown from the refuse of a nearby pineapple stand manned by Moa’s neighbours.

He was extremely happy to pose for a few photos with tourists, but I felt weird about asking for the same. He put down his coffee cup to do it.

We chatted in simple English and gestures a bit more and I left promising to return.

I drove back south towards Hanga Roa but ended up at the youngest of Easter Island’s three extinct volcanoes, Rano Kau.

The crater lake used to be the island’s main water supply. People would clamber up and down the steep slopes with hollowed out pumpkins to carry fresh water to homes.

The vegetation islands in the lake make a beautiful patchwork on the water and I am curious how deep the water is.

The whole area is being rehabilitated and tourists are prohibited from trying their luck down scrambling up and down the sides of the crater.

I caught a glimpse of this Rapanui couple on the return leg. It looked hard going. They had to stop constantly and did not seem exactly sure of the best path. They were carrying bags of some untold delicacy that must have been worth the effort and danger.

I’ll leave you with this stunning sunset.. of which there have been many this week on Easter Island.

Something strange happened on the way to being a tourist today.

I’ve had just had one of those wonderful encounters that makes you review your life.

I’m travelling alone at the moment and I’d got it in my head that I would hire a car to witness the next sunset and sunrise at Ahu Tongariki. That’s the spectacular set of 15 restored moai found at the north east of Easter Island. Sunrise in particular is supposed to be stunning, but sunset was to be done too as the stony-faced gents are less than 20 kilometres away.

Well it is less than 20 kilometres of rough pothole riding, but soon enough I was seated in front of the 15 stone giants as they gazed inland.

At first glance there were only a father and daughter nearby taking photos, but I as I waited for the sun to go down, I saw there was a Rapa Nui fire over behind the sacred set of rocks known as an ahu.

From a distance, I could see a brown, possibly naked, body near the fire as well as a more clothed man or boy and several dogs.

I let the image go. There are quite a few local people camping and fishing at moment. I was there to capture the moai under a golden glow.

Suddenly, a deeply tanned Asian man came from nowhere with a long lens, took a few photos of the moai and left. Strange. I would have stayed longer as sunset was coming.

Then, both the Rapanui man and the Asian man called from the fire and waved in my direction. Me? I looked around. There wasn’t anyone else. Me? Yes me.

They wanted to share the dinner that was speared moments before in the shadow of the colossal sculptures. Both men had big grins and neither spoke English very well. I don’t know how they were talking with each other.

The camera guy was from Korea and the young Rapanui man was “dressed” in a traditional Polynesian g-string with his long black hair all tied up. This was not the time to mention that I had not touched fish for 17 years.

The Korean had evidently been hanging out with the local man for at least that day. They were in synch. The Rapanui man kept nudging me to eat the earth-scented fish that had quickly cooked on hot rocks. The Korean broke open a packet of instant noodles and dipped the fish in the seasoning while eating the noodles like biscuits.

The handsome Rapanui was called Moa and he said his home was Tongariki, i.e. everywhere he pointed. There was a surprisingly deep cave hidden from tourists next to the fire and he said that was just the place where he slept.

Moa said he’d only left Rapa Nui twice. He’d gone to Chile to dance. He said he did not like the “wind” and gestured as if he was choking. Yeah, that would be the smog.

As the Korean and the dogs ate the fish, Moa went down to a nearby rock on the grass and started hammering away at something. He let me sit next to him as I watched him pounded a reed into submission with a dry cow bone.

The post fish dinner activity was making reed ropes and he wanted my help. Moa had flattened a reed pulled from a nearby crater lake into papery material then tore it before my eyes into four strips. He got me to hold one end as he wove a plait.

I was more than chuffed when he tied it around my wrist and tidied up the ends. We asked each other a few more questions.

He wanted to know where I was going next and when I was going. Did I like my job? I asked him where his horse was and how his life was. He kept smiling and laughed as he said something about the Korean taking photos.

It was starting to get dark so it was time to go. I still have plans to go back to Tongariki for sunrise so I gave the bewildered Moa a peck on the cheek (he looked seriously confused by that) and waved at the Korean.

I hope to see them again in the morning.

There is a lot to like about Easter Island, but it must be acknowledged that people primarily come to this lonely part of the Pacific Ocean because they have rocks in their heads.. or rock heads on their mind.. or they simply have a thing for head-shaped rocks.

The carved, but deteriorating moai of Rapa Nui are, collectively, one of the great prehistoric wonders of the world.

Their creation, placement and subsequent face plants are the subject of old myths and new musings.

Who were these men, and in one or two cases, women and children? And why do they resemble Malcolm Fraser?

It is like a modern day murder mystery. Were they pushed? Or did they fall?

There are solid theories, and others involving aliens, however the truth has been lost through the almost complete annihilation of the Rapanui people. By the time Europeans arrived in the 18th century the local population had almost been wiped out. Disease, civil war and slave raids in the 19th century sent population numbers crashing to just over 100 people.

The most commonly accepted theory is that the moai were deliberately pushed over during war/famine caused by overpopulation. A recent analysis of human bones found that many people died in one year, so it appears there was a great catastrophe.

Here is the famed Ahu Tongariki. Japan, through its National Moai Restoration Committee, helped restore these 15 individuals in the 1990’s. Only one has a pukao, or red topknot. The other pukao were too fragile to place on top or had been washed far away in a 1960 tsunami.

These moai have long fingers tucked underneath enormous bellies. Each figure of someone very important at the time, but now lost to history, is oozing with personality. Except, that is, for the moai without a face fourth from the right.

I chanced upon an archaeological dig at the moai “nursery” known as Rano Raraku. It is here that the main moai bodies were made at the edges of a crater.

Half-finished statues lie in their rock cradles; others stand or lie fallen down the slopes, while a few others were dropped in transit to their seaside destinations. At some point, for some reason, the stonemasons of Rapa Nui dropped everything and gave up.

This is the fourth time these two moai have been excavated, but I am told it is the first time it has been done properly and it is taking place for the first time with the permission of the Rapanui people.

Last century’s excavations involved exploiting the locals as labourers and information was not shared with them. The local men were paid with packets of cigarettes.

All archaeological data collected around Easter Island will go into a big computer database to be shared locally.

.. and this is what a pristine moai looks like.

Not the weathered, smashed ruins that dot the edges of Easter Island. Not the restored ones that clearly have modern concrete holding up the necks of the imposing stone beings. The petroglyphs on the uncovered yellow coloured stone are seemingly fresh.  The pictures and inlaid bone and obsidian tell the story of the important men these two moai represent.

These moai, with their true towering height revealed, never made it out of the Rano Raraku crater.  They have sat in red dirt for centuries facing a lake used by Rapanuians to collect reeds and hold water races.

This is no permanent display. My timing was perfect as tracings, photographs and drawings have been done and the red dirt was being poured back into the hollow.

There are 1045 documented historical stone items scattered over Rapa Nui and hardly any will be dug up like this. It took special permission from the local chiefs for this dig to happen and these two moai were chosen because they had been excavated before. It was generally known what the archaeologists would find.

People talk of moai mystery, or even magic, but no small archaeological dig will take that away. New tantalising images of centuries gone by poses new questions and can only add to the allure of this lonely island in the Pacific.

You can see here I am ready to come back to work. They’ll just have to jack hammer the mud body paint off, or better yet, leave it on for camera work. Trust me, it’ll look fabulous.

So how did I come to lose my inhibitions and surrender to the will and mischief of the local people?

.. and is this something I can import back home? Well not literally. I imagine Australian Customs would have a word to say about these chicken feathers.

Rapanuians are fiercely proud people, but extremely generous enough to allow outsiders into their celebrations.

For us, it is an brief insight into another way of  life. I think this will be hard to forget.

Parade day is a last-ditch but fun way of shoring up support for one of two candidates for Queen of the Tapati Rapa Nui festival. This year it was Celine Bour vs Lili Pate. Both are beautiful and, I am sure, talented young ladies put forward by their clans.

I came to support Celine because I chanced upon her clan’s painting area first and dove straight on in to another world of mud, feathers and g-strings made with care by local grandmothers.

The mud was either ochre red or creamy white.  There was no time to worry about taking clothes off. They had to go or they were going to get a mud bath.

Two guys, taking immense pride in their work, helped me into the white mud and ensured I was well coated. The mud then had to dry before the next layer of paint could be applied. Freshly muddied people were sent next to the pig and cow BBQ spits at the back of the yard. There was scores of tourists wandering around in various states of tribal wonder and grins. The numbers grew to the many hundreds throughout the hot afternoon.

It was about this time I realised it was too late to apply sunscreen and I now have a décolletage burn in the shape of the design that was applied by one of Celine’s clan members.

Some people got turtles, others got fish and birds, mine I am not sure about. It was an abstract swirly pattern that will probably stay with me for months.

Feather, grass and shell headpieces, skirts and bikini tops made on the spot by local ladies completed the look.. and many hours later with everyone ready, the parade began.

We had to pass a judge in single file who gave us a 10, 5 or 2 for appearance and effort. Carrying a beer can while being judged is an automatic 2. I am pleased to say I got a ten despite carrying a modern handbag with my clothes and camera. The brown colour must have blended in with the mud paint.

There were people of all shapes, sizes and ages; a guy in a wheelchair, mothers pushing prams and older women.

The job was then to walk down the street alongside some very serious looking floats with Moai and other symbols of Easter Island.

This is my candidate Celine Bour looking fabulous. Her clan’s effort was self-evident and the effect was stunning.

Celine’s section of the parade cascaded down the main street first. The road is not that long so the parade stopped for quite a long period of time but the locals lost none of their enthusiasm. The men performed warrior dances and if anyone was drinking a beer it was wrapped in a banana leaf.

The sun went down and the combined effect of sunburn, a chill in the air and two ripped knees from an earlier tumble on a muddy road led to me slipping back to my hotel for a shower.

The mud was in my ears and up my nose and I had to shampoo my hair three times.

I made this friend when I went back to the parade, which had not moved in my absence. He was a large gent with a whip and great dark rooster feathers in his hair. He was in charge of a group of “slaves” pulling Moai down the street. He could not speak English but I could however gather that he loved me and wanted to dance with me later.

It all ended down near the water with local music being played well past midnight.

The Queen was chosen the next night under the intensely bright stars. The numbers were crunched and the winner was sadly not my lovely Celine.

Lili was announced as the Tapati Queen just as rain drizzle spun into the area. She danced for the crowd and was carried to this carved wooden boat to symbolically sail off into the night.

Tapati is now done for the year, but my time here is not. Now to explore.

Sunset at Hanga Roa

Sleep is an issue for this jet-lagged soul, but if I had to be violently awake anywhere it may as well be here in Hanga Roa, Rapa Nui.

I am listening to crickets and the occasional rooster as I type away in the darkness. All else is quiet and still. I am a long away from home.

I could tell on arrival that Easter Island was a little more relaxed than your average destination.

After the Customs Dog had done its sniffing duties around the busy bag carousel, the Customs people threw it a tennis ball. Said working dog then ran off after another pooch which had just been released from the plane.

There is a lot to like about the island’s isolation. The clear blue skies are a relief after smog stained Santiago and the water is the “best in the world” according to my host Edith. It certainly tastes that way.

Still, I am not the only tourist here. My 767 was packed to the fuselage with eager types ready burst lose on the place.

Close encounters with a Moai

The famed Moai heads are around town, as are lots of crafty versions decorating people’s homes and businesses. I’ll be hunting more in the wild today.

These stone wonders are fragile sentinels which carry warnings of hefty jail terms for any tourist silly enough to mess with one.

Tapati Papa Nui

I have arrived in time for the closing stages of Rapa Nui’s annual fortnight long festival, Tapati Rapa Nui.

I have missed the young men sliding down a mountain but will witness a parade and the crowning of a local “queen”. Last night I ignored the drizzle and sampled a local concert near the shore.

Tapati Rapa Nui

The roosters are crowing more. It is light and outside and it is time for breakfast. Edith has organised things but I quickly found out from her that Rapanuians don’t eat toast.

Like these little guys I am making tracks.. although not on my belly tobogganing on ice..

After an incredible trip to Antarctica for the ABC and blogging all the way, I am headed off ’round the world.. my way.

I am not really sure of what is ahead. I have general plans, but I have not looked too hard at what I must see and do. So I am open to suggestions.

I am flying to the Chilean capital Santiago for a few days then headed to Easter Island. I’ll eventually get to Tierra del Fuego to wave at the Antarctic Peninsula over the Drake Passage.

My plane leaves tomorrow.