Located roughly 2,340 miles from the government that administers it in Santiago, Chile, Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is one of the most-isolated places on the planet. (For comparison, the Hawaiian archipelago is 2,390 miles from California and 3,850 miles from Japan.)
When I lived in Chile in the 1970’s I was dying to go there but then it was very difficult to arrange and extremely expensive. In 2009 John and I got the chance. We booked our flight from Santiago and our accommodation in a small bed and breakfast owned by a lovely Canadian woman. She had been married to a local man who had died, which meant she had in-laws all over the island. We quickly bonded; she offered to loan us her car on several occasions and on others dropped us off where we wanted to be. She also introduced us to many of her adopted friends and family.
We loved exploring and photographing this misty mysterious place, with nearly 1,000 extant monumental sites, called moai, most in the form of large stone heads carved between 1200 and 1500. They were created by the early Rapa Nui people who experts say arrived on the island sometime between 800 and 1200 CE. Over the years, land clearing for cultivation and deforestation caused the population to drop to between 2,000 and 3,000 in the early 1700’s. Peruvian slave trading expeditions and emigration to Tahiti brought the population to merely 111 native inhabitants by the mid 1800’s. The local people however have worked hard to enable their culture to experience a remarkable come-back. Traditional music, dance, carving and the local language thrive.
After a wonderfully fulfilling two-week visit during which we explored the entire island, we were about to leave. Our hostess’s boyfriend was a well-known stone carver, who we had socialized with several times and really liked. He had told us he would like to come over to say good bye before we left. Our bags tightly packed, we waited for his arrival.
When he got there, he was carrying a mysterious bulky bundle. Opening it he offered us a beautiful, artfully-carved head (much like the original one in the photo which accompanies this story). It was 15 inches high and, being solid stone, extremely heavy. We thanked him profusely, said good-bye and immediately went about the difficult but necessary task of repacking our duffle bags.
Somehow we managed packing one of the most beautiful and meaningful gifts we have ever received, a true indication of friendship. As we sadly departed, our hostess told us how surprised she was at this gesture. “He has met many of my guests in the past, and has never done this before,” she said. We were deeply moved and vowed to always honor and respect this genuine gift, given from the heart.