Hanga Roa, the crossing of worlds
The only town, a starting point for the Rapa Nui experience. An entire universe in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Hanga Roa brings tourists and the native islanders together. Here one hears the Easter Islanders’ language just as frequently as English or Spanish. It is a peaceful locality that serves as port and residence to 90% of the island’s population (a little under 5,000 people), and that offers all the basic services required for a comfortable stay.
It is situated on the island’s western side, and its main street, Avenida Atamu Tekena (named after a local hero), bears north to south. This is the center of the city, where there are many stores, hotels, restaurants, the only supermarket on the island, and the pharmacy. The public administration buildings and the rest of the commercial district are found along the intersection of Avenida Atamu Tekena and Te Pito Te Henua.
To the north of the city, in the Tahai district, is the Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum (Museo Antropológico Padre Sebastián Englert, or MAPSE), where information on Easter Island’s heritage and its indigenous people is compiled, preserved and studied. MAPSE’s aim is to act as the custodian of specialized bibliographical and archaeological collections.
Another highlight is Caleta Hanga Piko, the main port and fisherman’s cove. In this same sector Ahu Riata is found, an archeological complex that was restored in 1998 and that is illuminated at night, as sea turtles range the seaside in search of food. The fresh tuna fish that you can easily savor in the island’s typical tuna empanadas is caught here.
You can’t miss a stroll through the handicrafts market to buy seashell necklaces or the mythological figures of rich Easter Island traditions carved in wood. The local church is also an attraction when mass is held with a choir singing Easter Island chants, and where you can view religious figures that are a mixture of the symbols of traditional Christianity and the islanders' own.
Orongo, Bird Man Nest
This is where the sacred bird legend and the competition of natives who sought to become the Bird Man took place. One of the island’s most traditional sites, from its beaches the traditional tournament takes place to choose Tangata Manu, the Bird Man. For two centuries this was the highest honor that a Rapa Nui islander could aspire to, which required swimming to an enormous nearby rock called Motu. This promontory of sandstone-basalt was where Manutara or the sacred bird would lay its first egg, and whoever brought it back intact received the highest honors.
Orongo Village has been reconstructed and is an architectural complex of stone built over the site where the aspirants to Tangata Manu would wait. The Mata Ngarahu area is one of its main features, featuring hundreds of petroglyphs representing such figures as Tangata Manu (the Bird Man), Make-Make (God), Komari (Vulva, symbol of fertility), among others.
Rapa Nui National Park
Almost half of the island’s total surface area, 7,130 hectares, is protected by Conaf, concentrating the island’s archeological heritage. The Park was declared a space of natural and cultural preservation in 1935 and among its attractions are the Moais and various species of birds that are typical to the island.
In spite of a certain degree of decline in recent years, populations of seabirds that inhabit or come to nest at certain times of the year can be sighted on the cliffs or islets (Motu) surrounding the island. Among them are makohe (Fregata minor), tavake (Phaenton rubricauda), kena (Sula dactylatra), and kuma (Puffinus nativitatis). Fish species are another very attractive group in the island’s wildlife population, whereas the land animals found on the island today are few and were mostly introduced. Among the birds the partridges, sparrows and tiuques( Milvago chimingo) stand out.
Archaeology, the Moai Route
Throughout the island you can visit the almost 900 Moais in existence, and diverse archeological sites that were used for holding religious rituals, for planting, feeding or shelter.