A real tragedy this week. A fire has damaged some of the iconic moais, those giant stone carvings, on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). While some articles have characterized it as a forest fire, there really aren’t proper forests on the island, so it would probably have been more of a grass fire. Whatever it was, it hit in the worst possible place for the moais (see map).
Reports are that the fire has raged around Rano Rarako volcano, site of the main quarry where the statues were crafted. It’s the place you see in photos of half-buried statues, like below, and it’s adjacent to the very famous and photogenic Ahu Tongariki.
The Guardian quotes Easter Island mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa as saying he believed the fire was “not an accident,” telling local broadcaster Radio Pauta that “all the fires on Rapa Nui are caused by human beings.” He also said “The damage caused by the fire can’t be undone. The cracking of an original and emblematic stone cannot be recovered, no matter how many millions of euros or dollars are put into it.”
HDR of the Moai at Tongariki, Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
“… Arriving at Tongariki for the first time is hard to describe. It’s an experience you can only have once in this world. The ahu is aligned with the inner part of a natural bay a few hundred meters wide and a field gradually rises inland giving the feel of an amphitheater.
These moai are huge. The biggest on the island is here, 86 tons. You can see why because you are line-of-sight from the main quarry, the cone of the volcano Rano Raraku. They say they built them bigger and bigger toward the end, perhaps growing plaintive in their pleas to the ancestor gods. If that is so these must have been among the last.
Standing at the base of the ahu regarding these guys, isolated in an obscure corner of an obscure island, while you’re alone in the twilight, it’s a feeling not quite like any other. It’s entirely unique.
A man taking pictures, another man and a boy are leaving as we walk through one of the rusty turnstiles they’ve put up here and there around the island. Campers’ lanterns twinkle down along the shore and besides that, no one. Nothing but the sea air, the full moon rising through broken clouds, a crashing surf, the moai and us….”
– from the eventual book, Visiting Easter Island, A Considered Guide.
Click to enlarge the photo. More photos in the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
Three more fancied-up moais from Easter Island:
Top, the quarry at Rano Raraku, where these guys were carved out. It's a long way and a lot of effort to finally stand in this quarry, but if you ever make the trip, it feels like pretty much no other place. Too many mysteries. How did they move these guys all over the island with no modern tools? Why did they stop as if in mid-hammer blow, put down their things and walk away, leaving dozens and dozens of these guys at the quarry? And what happened to cause the downfall of Rapa Nui in the first place?
Middle, This is one lone guy standing by himself near Ahu Tongariki, the biggest single collection of standing moai on the island. It's as if he just didn't get along with the rest of the gang. The long ahu is sort of behind and to the right of this shot, and looking away from them like this makes for a pretty desolate scene, don't you think?
Bottom, Ahu Ko Te Riku, near Hanga Roa town. This fellow's eyes are replicas. He's the only moai with eyes, and it's to demonstrate how much more imposing (creepy?) the moais all must have looked back when they all had eyes. There is one moai fragment with its original eyes in the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum near Hanga Roa.
All are HDRs processed in Photomatix and CS5 using Nik plug-ins. The top two are texturized. The texture in the middle photo was shot on the same trip, in Lima. Click them to make them bigger. There are 50-something photos in the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.
The internet connection at the Altiplanico Hotel on Easter Island was a little wi-fi transmitter that worked best if you sat at the table directly beneath it and had all day. Nobody had all day, but now that we've been back for a couple of weeks I've had enough time to put several photos through a proper post-production process in Photomatix, for HDR processing, and Photoshop, so I'll post two or three a week here each of the next few Wednesdays.
This week, three of everybody's favorites, the moai. Click these to link to nice, big, full-resolution versions:
Top: The fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki. We had the good fortune to be on the island on the night of a full moon. Center: Sunset at Ahu Vai Uri near the island's only town, Hanga Roa. Bottom: Back at Ahu Tongariki. Easter Island is so remote that no matter where you are or when you're there, you share the view with a handful of people at most.
Find a new photo or two a day at the Easter Island Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.