On Sunday, April 5th, 1722 the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen became the first recorded European visitor to the Island that he named Paasch-Eyland.
It has many other names; the official name is Isla de Pascua and the current Polynesian name is Rapa Nui, but we know it best as Easter Island.
For me, the most amazing thing is that when Roggeveen arrived, the Island was inhabited. At some indeterminate time in the past, settlers had arrived with their families, animals and plants. No mean feat as it is 1,289 miles from the nearest inhabited speck of land, Pitcairn Island which itself is no bustling metropolis, with only about 50 inhabitants, and it is almost 2200 miles from continental South America.
You can visit by ship, with about 10 cruise ships a year scheduled to stop by, but as there is no harbour it is possible that passengers will not be able to land due to poor weather. We flew.
After my initial misgivings about the pilot being unable to find the Island in the paper-and-string plane, it was a nice surprise to find that the scheduled daily flight is by Dreamliner and the runway at Mataveri International Airport, was extended to provide an emergency landing site for the space shuttle, and is now 4.5 kilometres long, stretching from coast to coast, which sits incongruously alongside the open-thatched terminal.
Obviously, the thing to see is the big stone heads or moai. These are not what they seem. At one time each of the 15 tribes had a platform, on which they erected their moai, but sometime in the 19th century, the religion changed and all the statues were downed.
The erect ones were either abandoned between the quarry and the platforms or have been re-erected fairly recently, the first by Thor Heyerdahl of Kon Tiki fame in 1955. Still, there is only so much history one can look at, and after a hard day’s tourism it was back to town where we were lucky enough to be staying next to the Island’s all-weather football pitch where the 16 teams play their fixtures each weekend.
The game we watched was a thrilling 4-4 draw and then it was off for dinner. Fish as you might imagine plays a big part in the diet and the ceviche (fresh raw fish cured by lime juice) is especially popular. But essentially we are here for the beer, and amazingly, there is a brewery. The Mahina (Moon) brewery was started in 2010 by one-time underwater diving champion Mike Rapu, architect Fernando Undurraga and Andrés Martínez. The bottles states that the beer is produced under a full moon using an ancient recipe from the wise man Paca, though I am not convinced about that. I tracked down a couple of their products. The stout weighs in at 6.8% abv. The chocolate and coffee flavours might not be everyone’s choice with raw fish, which is perhaps why our companions drank Sol but I thought it delicious. Their other beer proved harder to find. I finally found some on our final day. Was it worth the trip? Sat there outside the café with an empanada and a glass of unfiltered American Pale Ale in the sub-tropical sun, I was, just for a moment persuaded it was the best beer in the world. It is Easter Island’s only export, so there is a faint chance that you will come across it somewhere. I hope it travels well.