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Rapa Nui – An Isolated Island

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I have been fortunate enough to travel around the world. Nowhere was as uniquely beautiful as Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui.

The tiny spec on the world map was finally discovered by the Dutch in 1722.

Named after the day of its discovery, the island may have been spotted as early as 1686, by Captain Davis, an English explorer.

Originally named “Davis” island, this was the land mass the Dutch were seeking. It was later visited briefly by James Cook in 1744. He soon continued on his way, declaring that the island had nothing substantial to offer. He noted that there weren’t any trees or animals and few birds. You can read the fascinating diary of the experience here.

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The indigenous people would have looked something like this.

Some twenty years before, the Dutch had killed 12 islanders for coming too close. Perhaps when Cook visited, the natives thought that appeasing these powerful people would enable survival, so they hoisted a bunch of bananas up to the boat as a peace offering.

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Those courageous seafarers must have been glad to arrive – Easter Island is one of the most remote locations in the world. Accessible from just Tahiti or Chile, it is a five hour flight. The tiny airport usually operates one flight each day. If you want to go the old-fashioned way, a journey by boat takes a week and only two operate annually.

We flew business class because it was the same price as standard and it was a pleasant experience, with fully extendable seats. Our flight was as cheap as it gets at £400 return, as we went out of season in June when it is cooler and wetter. However, it was still warm, with temperatures between 18-20 degrees celcius. We were lucky enough not to get rain during the day. 

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Winter is the best season to visit, as there were only a few small groups of tourists at key sites and it did not seem to get hot enough for there to be any mosquitoes.

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The fish was lovely and fresh, with a choice of large tuna, reinata and merluza to name a few, along with squid, prawns and other crustaceans.

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On the last day we swam in the sea, which was luke warm and very pleasant. The island only has one sandy beach and you can admire a row of “moai” statues as you swim. This area of the Pacific must be one of the least polluted in the world, owing to its isolation.

The best way to see the statues is to cycle. This means you can go at your own pace and avoid any pesky tour buses. Most of the sites close at 4pm. We hired electric bikes from a great shop off the main street for about 17 000 pesos, £20 a day. Don’t bother with the bike shops on the main street, most of them are broken and you get ripped off.

Beach statues

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It was this isolation that caused at least three near extinctions of its indigenous population. The Polynesians are believed to have arrived in 700-800 A.D and settled there permanently 100-200 years later. They are believed to have travelled thousands of miles, from the Marquesa Islands.

Those ancient voyagers looked for islands after studying the migration patterns and habits of birds and then navigated using the position of stars. With their large double-hulled wooden canoes, they travelled with basic foodstuffs to help them farm the new land. From 1000-1100 A.D. they also brought sweet potato, perhaps from contact with South America.

painted moai

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Its Polynesian name is Rapa Nui. From the 1400s, the island was so successfully cultivated and well-populated that the tribes started building the famous megaliths with smooth expressionless faces. To this day, no one knows what they symbolise. They have a dramatic and haunting beauty. They tower above you, silently watching over the farmed fields, undulating hills and red rocky cliffs. Built from around 1400 until 1650, they have watched generation after generation flourish and fail.

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Archaeologists found that the islanders all worked together to build and enlarge them, until the tallest statue reached over 20 metres high. They called them moai, which means to exist, and each one is carved with slightly different features. Perhaps they were self portraits of their chiefs. This would explain why only one group of statues face outwards to the sea, the last group to be built. The Rapa Nui tribes had realised that they needed protection from outsiders. The joint effort to build them must have encouraged peace and harmony between the tribes, essential when resources and land were scarce. But the islanders paid a high price for this dedication – they had cut down all their tall trees for monument transportation.

moai facing sea

Popular myth tells a story of self-sabotage, where the people cut down all the trees and then starved, as they had nothing to build or cook with. However, a recent study refutes this. Scientific analysis such as carbon dating showed that the islanders ate a diet rich in fish and that they knew how to sustainably manage their environment, even though the soil was poor. The study’s authors suggest that it was the island’s visitors who were to blame for the lack of trees, as rats could have wiped out the remaining slow-growing palm trees. They had to import them from Tahiti in the 1960s.

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As the islanders could no longer transport their impressive monoliths, they started a new “Bird Man” cult. There is a cave on the island that is faintly painted with bands of colour, honouring their new belief system. They would have competitions to get bird eggs, often laid in precarious places on the cliffs. This shows that they were using initiative to survive.

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Legend has it that deforestation led to starvation and even resorted to cannibalism in the late 1700s. This myth has also been debunked with evidence that the population used innovative techniques to ensure that they could continue growing crops in the dryer soil.

In 1862 outsiders once again brought death and despair. A ship from Peru took half the island there as slaves, some 1 500 men. Disease was rife, and eventually 100 were allowed to return, after pressure from the English and French. However, smallpox spread during the return voyage, and the 15 survivors spread this disease to the remaining islanders, most of whom died.

Those who survived were then forced to give up their indigenous beliefs and convert to Catholicism, which was completed in 1866. In 1870, a French explorer arrived, Dutroux Bornier. He was detested by the inhabitants and most left with a missionary for a nearby island, Mangareva. It was only after he was killed that some returned.

After these waves of foreign interference, just over 100 of the original islanders remained in 1877.

In 1888 the Rapa Nui King was given a deed to sign, giving the Chilean government control of the island. The document was translated for the indigenous people to mean “protection” and “friendship”. Sensing deceit, the King Atamu Tekena bent to the ground and took a handful of dirt in one hand and a handful of grass in the other. He gave the Chilean representative grass and kept the dirt. The land would always belong to his people.

Almost 80 years passed before the Chilean government recognised the indigenous population as Chilean citizens, following a rebellion. In 2014 they submitted a petition for independence which they continue to pursue. Tensions between Chileans and Polynesians was evident in an eco hotel development on the coast, which had graffiti on its fence and black flags obstructing the view.

Easter-Islands

Polynesian descendants look after the moai statue sites, ensuring that their spiritual past is respected. They now have a flag which was first flown in 2006, a red “Reimiro” ornament that was worn by chiefs and others of high status.

Now the population is back to its original size of around 7,000, almost all concentrated in the small settlement of Hanga Roa.

Sadly, locals appear to be making the myth of self-sabotage a reality. It takes three hours to walk to the other side of the island, yet everyone goes everywhere in battered Nissan pick ups and Jeeps. With these excessive and unnecessary emissions, they are contributing to climate change which could eventually submerge the whole island. It has already resulted in coastal erosion which threatens the existence of the mighty Moai statues.

To this day, outsiders continue to damage the island. Seas of selfie-sticks, star jumps and shouting ruin the quiet reflective impact of the moai and some even risk damaging them in their vain pursuit of the “perfect” picture. 

Hundreds of years ago, Easter Island needed protection from visitors bringing death and disease, leading to the creation of the only set of Moai to face the sea.

Now the island is under threat once more.

 

moai by the sea

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July 16, 2019 · 9:23 pm

A Little London Trip

 

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Last week I had the pleasure of a paid trip to London.

I made the most of the last evening and morning there by seeing my cousins and visiting the National Gallery.

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Looking at masterpieces from around the United Kingdom is always enjoyable and there is always something to catch the eye of someone creative such as myself.

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Copyright literarylydi. Can you guess what famous painting this is and the artist?

I almost always forget my sketch book. Once again, I bought one. I only had an hour. I just managed to do a quick sketch in that time. When I finished and put the book down, I heard a collective gasp from a group of school kids age 6-7. “How did you do that?!!” a girl asked. “Practice”, I replied. “You can do art like this if you practice.” Another girl said “I have loads of sketches in my art book”. “Keep practicing!” I said, “it’s a lot better than watching TV”. Hopefully I inspired a future artist. I wanted to go to art school after sixth form, but my mum persuaded me that it was not a stable career and I am grateful for her for encouraging me to pursue a more stable existence.

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I dislike the stress, rudeness, noise, crowded and polluted conditions in London. People would push past you constantly, even if there was plenty of room. Time is money and everyone has somewhere to be urgently. Travelling on the tube in the rush hour was an awful experience and made me feel ill. It was hot, smelly, dirty and uncomfortable. I had to jump on and hope people made way for me, it was the only way to travel. I try to walk where I can, it’s a much better experience and there is so much to see. Each area of London has its own identity, a patchwork quilt of little villages, with their own history and culture.

It was a relief to return to my city with it’s clean cool air, smiling people and relaxed atmosphere. It is true that absence makes the heart grow fonder. I was so happy to be home.

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Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square

 

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November 18, 2018 · 8:59 pm

Birmingham Christmas Market

What I love about Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas market is its size, diversity and atmosphere.

It is the largest Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria and it takes place in their main square, as it has for 15 years. I had a Baileys hot chocolate and two “Christmas” shots. I also tried the German mini pancakes, a waffle and a hot dog.

Enjoying the merry go-round were people from all backgrounds and cultures, including a man wearing a taqiyah, a man wearing a turban and a woman wearing a hijab.

Get down there and enjoy it. It runs until 23 December.

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November 18, 2018 · 8:30 pm

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum

It is five years since I went to Greece and Turkey and I have been enjoying the photos and memories recently.

We had a lovely girls holiday. apart from the night when I half carried, half dragged my friend to the hotel. We went when it was cheap and the holiday season had wound down, so there were no taxis to be found.

I stopped at the third shot of absinthe and told her to. She stopped after five. I danced around the room, giddy.

She was fine until we left the hotel to party in the centre of Kos.

She gradually got more intoxicated. By the time we arrived 20 minutes later, she was falling asleep.

The bar staff were worried and I didn’t want her to pass out, so I woke her up after I’d enjoyed my cocktail and we set off.

She said she wanted to sit on a wall and stay there and I reasoned with her. After a while she let me help her. It was a long walk back. She threw up the next afternoon.

We always say I’m never drinking again but how often is that true? The last time I was sick from alcohol was as a student. I liked to test how much I could drink. I could stomach 8-10 shots. I was usually sick after 10. I didn’t like the lack of control, so it didn’t happen often.

One time I got escorted home by some chivalrous students. They didn’t realise how long the walk was but they were men of their word. It’s dangerous getting drunk as a woman unless you have friends that are sober enough to look after you. Students think that getting drunk is a game but it can have lasting consequences.

These days I hardly drink at all. I’ve never liked alcohol unless it is a quality spirit or doesn’t taste of it. I used to make the odd pina colada. I used to have cocktail parties until a friend told my parents how amazing they were. They have been around every birthday since.

Anyway, back to Kos, Pserimos and Bodrum. Popular tourist destinations. There are castles at the ports of Kos and Bodrum and there is a lot of history between the two countries. We didn’t absorb much of that as we didn’t have time for the audio guide. However, the internet informs me that the Byzantines ruled after the Greeks until their empire crumbled. Istanbul fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 followed by Greece, as that was part of the same Byzantine kingdom. The sultans ruled Greece for 400 years, until the Greek War of Independence lasting from 1822-1831.

 

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All the world’s a stage

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September 10, 2017 · 6:35 pm

My First Stadium Rugby Matches

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First we saw England at Twickenham. What a disappointment. To get the best seats we had to shell out £315 each. Luckily we won our “bid” for them. The cheapest tickets for the final are over £400.

Despite this expense, we only ended up in the middle of the side, meaning that players were too far away when at one end of the circle. I had envisaged being on the same level as the players, but apparently those seats are even more expensive.

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That knee injury that gave England a yellow card.

The other irritation was the stop/start nature of play. As soon as we had got back into things the whistle blew again and we re-started. So frustrating to watch. It wasn’t fun for players either I imagine.

Then the game was stopped for two injuries – Wales players being taken off on stretcher boards (concussion and shoulder dislocation).

It was dismal. Nothing really happened with the ball slowly going back and forth and lots of penalties. Then finally Wales defeated us. I got bored of hearing “Swing low, sweet chariot” (haven’t we got anything else?)

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

Our view was good when the players were near our side. This is without zoom.

There wasn’t really a team spirit in our area, no one said hi, they were all individuals. There was a girl screeching in my ear for most of it. At least she was enjoying it more than me.

I couldn’t even focus on taking a nice photograph as my zoom couldn’t function from that far away. But at least there wasn’t much chanting or cheering going on, it was quite dignified. We even sat politely next to Wales fans without doing more than the odd scowl.

On the train home we had a sing off including such delights as the chariot song versus “you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass, you can shove your f****** chariot up your ass” and other more civilised songs such as “Land of Our Fathers” and something about pilgrims.

At least the Welsh had more interesting songs and better voices.

We had a nightmare getting back in London – our straightforward way home was blocked by a wall of fans and police so we had to go the wrong way back to our hotel using night buses and trains. It took us at least an hour for a 40 minute journey.

Then we travelled up to Newcastle to see New Zealand versus Tonga. I’m also a New Zealand national (technically – I have a child’s passport and have never lived there more than six months).

The beauty of it being a country other than the United Kingdom meant that the roads were clear, traffic was not a problem. I worried that there wouldn’t be many fans but the stadium was at full capacity. Most Brits seemed to like the underdog (well, England was/is) and were cheering for them.

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The All Blacks were completely different. For a start the Haka is great to watch and the war cries add to the experience. They had an impressive dance off with Tonga and they won that too. I have been taught the Haka by a Maori chief in their tribal hut, part of the tourist experience in Rotorua. It was originally a war dance completed at the start of battle, to scare away evil spirits and to intimidate the enemy. They also have charms called Tikis which are supposed to scare spirits away. When I came back to England I got a prize in PE for pulling a Haka war face for a dance. It was the scariest expression.

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They thrashed Tonga and there were hardly any whistles. They just got on with it, looking solid and competent in contrast to the dozy Brits.

Dan Carter was fantastic as always, kicking many a try. Sadly these are his last matches before retirement.

We had a better position for half the price, or at least it seemed so but maybe it was just because the game was more engrossing. It was again in the middle but this time at the back so we had a better view of the pitch.

The Kiwis were really friendly. The couple behind us got talking and it emerged that one of them, Russ, was the manager of the supermarket where my grandma shops in Auckland! He said that when we visit I was to let him know when she was in and he would surprise her with a tannoy announcement.

Russ from Auckland.

Russ from Auckland.

They were part of an official rugby tour group and gave me their free water and All Blacks cap.

There wasn’t much alcoholic drink on offer – it was all from the sponsors so there was a choice of beer and cider. Luckily we were sitting by the only TV screen in the stadium so if I missed a try I could see it in slow motion on that.

The match was riveting as the play went quickly both ways. There were some true sprinters and passes were generally flawless with a few slips which were quickly picked up again. A highlight was when Nonu charged, dreadlocks swinging as he was undefended down a quarter of the pitch right at the edge. The crowd roared and he touched down. Fantastic to watch. It was also a moment in history for him as the match earned him his 100th cap – marked by an actual cap for playing 100 international games. His talent was clearly visible as he streaked down the pitch.

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Copyright Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

One “fan” tried a different kind of streaking. He was caught and pushed roughly off the pitch as the crowd booed. Perhaps he was the anti-social lout I’d seen mooning people earlier.

There was a yellow card for both New Zealand and Tonga when they did a high tackle – lifting a player up and jerking their legs up so they fell. But they accepted it with good grace.

The crowd were fantastic. There was a warm friendly atmosphere, with Mexican waves rippling around the stadium. It looked so spectacular that I missed a try admiring it. My family in New Zealand all support the All Blacks – they’re a key part of the culture and people are proud to support them. They lead the world rankings at the moment after all, just in front of their arch rivals Australia. England are a puny 10 and Tonga are 14. I felt sorry for them watching them get well and truly beaten, but they put up a good fight.

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Afterwards they even brought their children onto the pitch and signed autographs. There was euphoria this time rather than the glum silence of the England defeat, with smiles all round. But the fans didn’t act like this was a victory – they are used 20151009_203506[1]to seeing the All Blacks triumph in a flash of tight tackles and tribal tattoos. 20151009_211454[1]

Try 2

Try 2

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Try 1

Try 1

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The Tongan player sent to the “sin bin” (a yellow card means players have to sit out for 10 minutes). He did a high tackle, lifting someone off the ground by their knees.

A fluke try - the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

A fluke try – the ball slipped off their feet but with their quick reactions the All Black player picked it up and touched down.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match.

The All Blacks captain congratulates Nonu on his 100th match. In his hand is the cap he receives as an award. Nonu teared up as he thanked his family.

The end of the match.

The end of the match.

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What a run! One of the most amazing tries – a straight sprint up the edge.

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October 10, 2015 · 7:17 pm