Why Travel Insurance is Important, a tour of Chartis’ Travel Guard center in Kuala Lumpur

I will admit it. I am one of the many travelers who never buys travel insurance. Like many I would say, “I don’t need that”.  In general I never really believed in insurance. It’s a non-tangible which, if you you went through life careful… you may never really need. I also always thought that,, if you just saved up all those insurance premiums, you would still have that money when you really need it.

I will need to re-think that thinking.

I have been lucky so far that I have never been in any situation where insurance would have been handy. I have never lost a bag, I have never lost travel documents. I have never been hospitalized while on travel or in any serious accident. But as the most wise Ate Vi has once said “you can never can tell.”

As part of the maiden flight of AirPhilExpress to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia, Chartis, the travel-insurance provider of AirPhilExpress, sponsored a tour of their response center in Malaysia to give us a glimpse as to what happens in the backend of things.

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It was really quite an eye-opener for me. I never really appreciated the breadth of services travel insurance offers, and of course the “things that could go wrong.” During a trip.

Without going through the whole briefing, I learned a lot about “what could happen” during a trip. We were relayed stories of simple trips gone wrong. From a medical perspective, imagine the costs of having to be hospitalized while away from home.

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While we there, we were introduced to some of the Filipino agents they had on the team that responds to call. Below is Mark. He relayed a story of helping out a family where the eldest son (of just around 22) passed away while studying in the UK and assisting the family from Singapore with their contact in the UK… yet not informing the parents at the brothers’ request.

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Through all of this. The agents need to remain focused on the task at hand. Through emotional situations, their role is assist the families get through these tough times. It is really quite an impressive setup.

The take-away from this, with regards to the agents, is that unlike a typical call-center agent, where the goal is to respond to a call and complete the call in the shortest possible time. With travel insurance agents like those in Travel Guard, they can follow a case for as long as it takes to complete the case. It could take a few hours, but it  could also take a few months.

 

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We then took a tour of the center and meeting some of the amazing folks who work there.

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After the tour we had a traditional Malaysian dish translated means “Merchant’s Rice” I forgot the Malaysian name.

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So as I said, I will need to rethink Travel Insurance. It is after all quite an affordable add-on of a few pesos when you book through AirPhileExpress. You are covered from 2 hours before your first leg’s departure until 2 hours after your return flight.

It is not something you wish you would need to avail of. But when something happens, it is something definitely great that you had availed of.

Stay safe! But be prepared.

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The Travel Bloggers… photo courtesy of EAZY Traveler.

Easter Island – April 1-4, 2012

One of the “must-see” items on my bucket list has been to see Easter Island located 2,180 miles (3,510 kilometers) west of the coast of Chile in South America and is the south easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle.  Ever since I was a child, I was always fascinated by pictures of the “big heads” and the theories over who built them and why (of course, these included the “they were built by aliens” theory).

When I was telling some friends of my planned trip to Easter Island, I was met with mixed reactions. Those that knew of the island’s mystic past commented “wows,” while those who had no inclining of what the island was about greeted me with “what’s there?” A majority of folks gave me the live “what’s there to do there.” Many of those who knew about the island assumed it would just be a a day trip because they assumed that there were no hotels on the island and that staying a day was sufficient. Be that as it may, I got strange responses to my plan from friends. For me, just being on Easter Island was sufficient reason for the adventure.

See the Wikipedia entry for Easter Island.

Easter Island is claimed to be the most remote inhabited island in the world.


View Easter Island (Rapa Nui) in a larger map

 

The island is known by three names “Easter Island” in English, “Isla de Pascua” in Spanish, and in the ancient Polynesian dialect… “Rapa Nui”. One phrase used to describe the island due to its distance from the nearest land mass was “land’s end”. Despite its name, the island has nothing to do with the Christian season of Easter or the death of Jesus Christ. It was simply named by the Dutch explorer Jacom Roggenveen who landed on the island on Easter Sunday in 1722.

I felt that it would be quaint to visit the island during Easter week. Just makes it more a little special I thought.

Before I even dreamed of going to Easter Island, a high school classmate of mine and fellow adventurer Gabby Malvar (one only other person I personally knew who visited the island), once told me that was difficult and complicated to get to the island, thus I blocked visiting the island from my list in the near future.  After visiting Machu Picchu last year, I decided that I needed a challenge to top the ancient Peruvian city in the sky. While poking around on the internet, I chanced upon the name of the airport on the island and its airport code which was IPC. I plugged into Expedia and checked out flights. That is when I realized that a trip to Easter Island was not as complicated as a I thought (Read my post on “Getting to Easter Island” for further details).

I really enjoyed myself on Easter Island. In the 4 days I was on the island, I pretty much covered the whole of the island (that which was accessible by land) which included a horseback ride to the highest point of the island, and scuba diving to several meters below sea level.

Instead of writing long posts on what I saw (as I did elsewhere on this blog), I decided to split up the destinations into individual blog posts. This particular posting would serve as my “Table of Contents” to each of these posts on my awesome adventure to Easter Island… enjoy!

 

Getting to Easter Island

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/getting-to-easter-island-march-31-april-5-2012/

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Hanga Roa

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/easter-island-day-1-april-1-2012/

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Ahu Vinapu, Rano Kau, and Orongo

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ahu-vinapu-rano-kau-and-orongo-easter-island-april-1-2012/

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Akahanga

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/akahanga/

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Rano Raraku

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ranoraraku/

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Ahu Tongariki

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ahu-tongariki/

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Ahu Te Pito Kura

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ahu-te-pito-kura/

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Anakena Beach

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/anakena-beach/

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Puna Pao

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/puna-pao/

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Ahu Akivi

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ahu-akivi/

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Ana Te Pahu and Ana Te Pora

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/ana-te-pahu/

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The Highs and Lows of Easter Island

http://lakwatsero.me/2012/04/19/highs-lows-easter-island/

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And there you have it. Four awesome days on one of the most fascinating places on earth. Despite the 12 posts listed above. I have hundreds more photos and dozens more stories to tell about Easter Island. I guess that will have to wait for a later time. The food I have eaten, the people I have met, the things I have seen… I think even sunsets needs its own post. But for now, this will have to do.

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My visit on Easter Island finally puts a tick box against that one point on my bucket list. Not sure what follows next after Machu Picchu and Easter Island. Oh well…

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…what remains is the big problem. Where do I go next year?

Ana Te Pahu and Ana Te Pora, Easter Island – April 3, 2012

From Ahu Akiviki, a little of change of scene. This time it is all about caves. I first encountered the caves at Ahu Akahanga.

First up! We end up at

Ana Te Pahu

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Ana Te Pahu are a series of tunnels formed by lava flows which were used during wartime to hide from the enemies.

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As I am writing this, I recall my guide Matti mention that the name has something to do with Banana leaves. Lo and behold… Banana trees.

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Past the banana trees you see two entrances to the caves / tunnels.

On the left is a source of water.

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It’s dark and damp, and since it rained last night there are puddles of water everywhere but at the end was a deep pool of water.

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On the other side was a long stretch of tunnels going several hundred feet or so. I followed Matti in, all the while expecting that we would be coming through the same way out… apparently not.

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We kept on going. I kept on seeing several holes I was thinking were the exits we would go through… but no… we just kept on going. The are below had some rocks pilled up creating a small elevated platform for people to stand on, in the event that the tunnel filled with water.

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Finally… after what seemed like half an hour of going through the dark tunnels we reach a small home at the end. “We’re going through THAT?” Apparently yes. That was out exit.

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I am not a fan of climbing through little holes. Matti went through first… but of course we was thin with long legs. I handed him my DSLR and he took me going through.

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It wasn’t particularly difficult. It was just very tight.

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When we emerged… I could barely see where we started from. It was quit a walk back to the truck.

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Ana Te Pora

Ana te Pora is a different set of caves. It wasn’t used for shelter, in this case… it was used for ceremony.

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Another long trek from the parking lot.

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And there it…

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Inside it was another large room. The cave could have been longer, but the end was closed off from visitors for safety reasons. There is a small altar in the middle which was used for sacrifices of animals like chickens.

The place was used for celebrations are at the start of a new season for good luck.

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Small narrow entrance…

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Outside of the cave is another spectacular view of the island’s coast line. This area is high up in the cliffs, and as such there were no villages which are usually placed at water level. And since there are no villages… no ahus… and no moai.

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The view is spectacular. And of course, a tad acrophobic.

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Woohoo! It was very windy!

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Ahu Hanga Kio’e

This would be my last ahu and moai on the agenda. This particular moai is a little shorter than the more majestic ones I have seen thus far.

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Next to this guy is another odd looking moai believed to be an earlier version. Of course it just looks like a boulder on a platform.

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From here, we make our way back to Hanga Roa (visible in the distance) where I would get ready for my afternoon scuba dive to the underwater moai.

Ahu Akivi, Easter Island – April 3, 2012

While not as grandiose as Ahu Tongariki with its 15 colossal moai… or as beufully set as those on Anakena Beach… my favorite set of moai would have to be at Ahu Akivi with its seven moai. The location is also popularly known as Siete Moai.

Ahu Akivi gives its name to one of the seven regions of the Rapa Nui National Park.

Probably one of the more interesting aspects of Akivi is tthat it is one of the few ahus which is located inland as opposed to all of the others which are by the coastline. But even more amazing is that Akivi is set to be the only Moai which face toward the ocean rather than away from it (as the others do)

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Of course the maoi are not exactly facing the ocean intentionally. They just happen to be overlooking their village… and beyond that happens to be… the ocean.

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Hmm… I always seem to get these against the light shots of moai.

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In fact, the moai face sunset during Spring and Autumn Equinox; and have their backs to the sunrise during Spring and Autumn Equinox.

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When these moai were restored in 1960, they used cement to repair some areas… clearly vsible.

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I find this site… quite peaceful.

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Here is a short video I took while at the site

 

The next day

I actually came back here the next day after my 3.5 hour horseback ride up Mount Teravaka. This where we tied up the horses and I waited for Matti to pick me up and take me back to the hotel.

When I got back… more pictures. The sky was just awesome!

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Puna Pao, Easter Island – April 3, 2012

My tour guide, Matti, picks me up from the hotel at around 10am and we set off for Puna Pau… the quarry for the “pukao” also known as the “red hats”

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It’s a short trip because as you can see, it is a short distance from Hanga Roa.

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We make our way up a short trail. You can see some of the pukao on the left.

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Pukaos scattered along the hill side. I would imagine these would be easier to transport around the island. They were probably just rolled around like big wheels.

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The ancient Rapa Nui people were quite artistic in a sense. Not only do they carve out these massive statues… they design to add a little décor by carving out… at a separate location… these red hats to adorn the statues.

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The pukao or topknots are not really “hats.” but rather, they are the hair of the statues. It’s like a woman’s ponytail or bun with hair pulled up and tied at the head.

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Just like how the moai were transported and erected, a big mystery exists over how they pukao were placed on top of the moai. Archeologists have theories. But nothing is really certain.

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The crater from which the red rock was harvested.

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Pukao along the hillside.

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From here, one of my more favorite ahus… Ahu Akivi.

Anakena Beach, Easter Island – April 2, 2012

From Ahu Te Pito Kura, we make our way to the final destination for my second day on the spectacularly awesome Easter Island. A beach called Anakena.

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Anakena is a white coral sand beach within Rapa Nui National Park.  There are two Ahus on Anakena. One with six moai… another with one.

According to island oral traditions, Anakena was the landing place of Hotu Matu’a, a Polynesian chief who led a two canoe settlement party here and founded the first settlement on Rapa Nui.

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What makes Anakena unique is that it is one of two sandy beaches on Easter Island. If you noticed from all of my other pictures thus far showing the ocean, the coastline is rocky.

The palm trees around Anakena were transplanted fairly recently from Tahiti.

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The six moai… four with their pukao while one kinda lost its head.

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The interesting thing about these guys is that, these are among the most preserved (or less eroded) of the moai on the island. Because of their location, when they were toppled, they fell into the soft sand… and the sand covered them up. They were so preserved that this location was where they found remnants of the white coral used as eyes on the moai.

The moai on Anakena were the first ones to be restored in 1955.

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A fallen moai nearby. Looks intact. I wonder why this was not restored as well.

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On a nearby hill… a lone moai looks on.

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The beach is quite nice. The on looking moai add a mystic touch.

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A view of the six moai from the back. You can see another example of the Machu Pichu-like stone masonry.EasterIsland20120401 647b

So you might be wondering if I spent some time here and swam. While I did bring my board shorts and a towel. I wasn’t quite in the mood.

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But of course, I did spend the time admiring the beauty of the area. It was definitely a nice way to end my second day tours.

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Meanwhile… here is another of the local dogs coming up to say “hi.” I love these dogs.

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Back to the hotel. More tomorrow.

Ahu Te Pito Kura, Easter Island – April 2, 2012

From the majestic Ahu Tongariki, we make our way to Ahu Te Pito Kura. While hardly as impressive as Tongariki, Te Pito Kura’s claim to fame is that it has the largest moai transported from Rano Raraku to an Ahu and erected called Paro, 10 meters high and weighing 92 tones.

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Te Pito Kura is barely 5 minutes away from Tongariki.

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While not restored, Paro is toppled over and you could see his pukao a few meters from his head.

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Side view

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What I found rather impressive is the to the side of the ahu… once again, the spectacular view of the ocean.

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And an interesting ceremonial circle with a huge round rock.

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The rock is magnetic.

It doesn’t belong to this area, though no is sure where it came from or how it got here. The ancients believed it had special powers to cure ailments and to promote fertility among women.

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Personally… I felt nothing.

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From here… our final stop. The beautiful Anakena Beach.

Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island – April 2, 2012

From the Moai quarry on Rano Raraku, we went down the mountain 1km away to the awesome Ahu Tongariki, the site of the spectacular 15-moai which was recently restored in the 1990s.

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Ahu Tongariki was the main centre and capital of the Hotu Iti, the eastern confederation of the Rapanui.

Ahu Tongariki was substantially restored in the 1990s by a multidisciplinary team headed by archaeologists, in a five year project carried out under an official agreement of the Chilean Government, the University of Chile, and a group of Japanese.

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When we got to Tongariki, there were already quite a number of visitors, but they were on their way out.

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By the entrance of Tangariki from the parking lot there is this one small moai which is called “The Ambassador” as this guy was able to make it to Japan for an exhibit after Tongariki’s resortation. It was returned soon after and placed on this spot to greet visitors.

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This ahu, due to the 15 enormous moai is simply spectacular! (I seem to be using the word awesome too much lately)

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When I posted the photos on Facebook, many people asked about the second from the leftmost moai with funky hat. Sometimes reffered to as “red hats”, that is actually called a “Pukao” as a representation of a topknot. These pukao were made from material from yet another location on the island (more on this in a later post).

The pukao are actually just placed on top of the moai heads and made to balance there. At first I thought there was a hole on which the top of the head would fit. apparently not.

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In front of the group of moai, a number of the pukao were displayed. They were either damaged, or the top of the moai were damaged or eroded so they could be made to balance on top of the heads anymore. Though it does look funny that of the 15 moai, only one has a pukao.

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The 15 sentinels. Impressive.

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To give it some scale so show how enormous they are.

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Standing in front of these giants, it was sure hard to get everyone in the frame… even with a wide angle lens.

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So… I moved back…. way back.

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One of the moai with a broken neck with Rano Raraku in the background. Poor guy.

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And of course… as with each ahu on the island. Reminders not to climb on the moai.

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I tried some planking next to the broken moai to show some scale. Though this moai is not as massive as the guys in the background. You can see some people in the background between the 10th and 11th moai to give it some scale.

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During the final photo ops, Matti thought it would be cool for me to stand next to the moai.

The picture makes it seem that the statues are “people height.”

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A view from behind the ahu.

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And at the back… more “parts” of older moai recycled for the ahu.

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As we left Ahu Tongkari on the other side… a fe last shots from a distance.

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Next stop. Ahu Te Pito Kura… the locaton of the largest moai to be transported from Rano Raraku to an ahu.

Rano Raraku, Easter Island – April 2, 2012

From Akahanga, we make our way to, what I consider, the most awesome part of touring Easter Island… a visit to the Moai quarry… the volcano of Rano Raraku, where all the Moai on the island were carved from. Of the 887 Moai on the island, 397 of these are still at the quarry… still waiting to be transported to their Ahus all over the island.

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Just a short drive along the main road from Akahanga, we pass a few minot Ahus en route, and then we see a sign to Ranu Raraku

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En route, you can see the volcano in the distance.

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As we reach the side of the volcano, we can begin to see the unfinished Moai on the side of the volcano slopes as if walking down the mountain.

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We get to the parking area. Luckily… we are once again ahead of the other tourists and visitors to the park.  At this point, I take out my ticket from yesterday for the Rapa Nui National Park I bought the previous day at Rano Kau.

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From here… we walk. Along the way up to the mountain side, we are greeted by several Moai that didn’t quite make it. Some fell and broke at the neck. You can imagine how the ancient natives probably felt when they saw the statue they carved for pretty much a year fall and break…. @*&^#)&!!!

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You will notice the pathways around the Moai. Visitors are not supposed to wander away from the paths. And of course, one is not supposed to touch the Moai to avoid further erosion due to human contact.

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These guys here are the most famous Moai seen on most tour books and websites…

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So naturally, I needed to have my picture taken here! Too bad it’s a little “against the light.” My guide, Matti didn’t want me to go beyond the pathway and step between the Moai.

As you can see there are Moai everywhere. In case you are wondering “why are they standing up?” They are carved from the side of the mountain, then they slide down the mountain into waiting holes to prop them up. It is at the point that the carvers do the finishing work on the statues, particularly on their backs and the heads. The faces are refined at this stage, and the rest of the bodies are smoothed out.

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Here are some of the Moai being carved out from the mountain rock.

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Here are two Moai being carved side by side.

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This guy… while still unfinished. If completed would be around 21 meters or 69 feet tall and would weigh 270 tons.

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At one end of the path, we encounter the most unusual Moai on the island. While most Moai are heads and torsos… we encounter Tukuturi… a kneeling Moai we was complete with feet… and a butt

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Its not entirely clear if this Moai was supposed to an ancestor, or one of the carvers who dies at this spot. It was earlier believed that it was an earlier Moai… but it is too big to be one of that era. The mystery remains.

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From the kneeling moai, you can see the 15 moai of Ahu Tongariki in the distance. That would be our next destination from Rano Raraku.

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It was time now to make the trek inside the volcano crater.

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As we walked into the crater… you could see the opposite side of the same crater wall where the other moai were carved.

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So from here… more unfinished moai. I learned that the moai were only carved from this wall. There must have been something special by this section of the volcano. The other sides of the volcano were not suitable for carving.

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Meanwhile… while insider the crater I was able to observe several wild horses drinking from the crater lake. The island was full of wild horses. Remnants of a time when horses were that main form of transportation around the island… prior to the importation of cars and trucks.

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After a while it was time to make our way back to the pickup for our next destination.

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As we exited Rano Raraku, Matti showed me the strange stone enclosure below. These things are also all over the island. What are they? Ancient chicken coops. Due to the scarcity of resources on the island, these stone enclosures were a way to prevent chickens from being stolen.

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Next stop… the awesome 15 moai of Ahu Tonariki