South America: Easter Island

Easter Island is simply my favourite place on the planet. The most isolated, inhabited spot on the globe, its closest neighbours lay 1200 miles away deep in the South Pacific. Its appropriately referred to as 'Te pito te henua' 'the navel of the earth.

The island is also known in Spanish as Isla de Pascua, but its proper name is Rapa Nui. Its land is a Unesco World heritage site for its 700+ giant stone figures, known as 'Moai' (pronounced 'moe-eye'), which were hand carved without the use of metal, over the course of over a thousand years.

In the islanders obsession with carving and moving these multi-tonne wonders, they destroyed their own eco system, by cutting down virtually all of the island's trees. Trees that had provided protection for new seedlings, material for shelter and for sea-faring craft. Unable to grow much new food and virtually unable to fish the waters, the islanders fell into a state of great hunger

The islanders also suffered at the hands of the Conquistadors shortly after the island was discovered in 1722, who captured many of the inhabitants and worked them as slaves in South America. They returned with disease which almost dessimated the once thriving population - including all who knew the reason for creating the Moai

Today, the island's people struggle with the growth of tourism - essential to their economy, but an ever growing burden on Rapa Nui's precious few resources and to the statues themselves.

I have been to the island twice, and the growth in that time is nothing short of alarming. Now walls have gone up around some of the sites and an influx of 'rules' now abound.

Regardless, to be surrounded by hundreds of these silent sentinels, each keeping quiet about the mysteries of the islands past, is pure magical.

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