National Geographic : 1962 Jan
Passengers aboard the transport Presidente Pinto numbered more than a hundred civil ians- including a score of islanders returning from training courses in Chile-and some two dozen cows to bolster Easter's beef herds. Almost daily the islanders gathered on deck to entertain all hands with traditional Easter Island songs and dances; the cows provided a doleful Greek chorus of moos. Nine days and 2,300 miles out of Valpa raiso, Pinto made its lonely landfall. Myste rious and totally dark, Easter materialized on the predawn horizon like a purple cloud. All of us on deck stared quietly, thoughtfully, at this tiny seat of a venerable culture standing alone and defiant amid a million square miles of empty ocean. The first sunlight showed us a tranquil, rolling island dotted with ancient volcanoes, their fires long since spent. Clumps of trees nestled like cool oases in the parched turf. All tranquillity ceased at the water's edge, however; the sea, as though resentful of this intruding island, clawed savagely at its coasts (page 114). For ages smashing surf had eroded the shoreline into a lunar wilderness of naked, jagged lava that kept ships at a wary distance. We went ashore in landing craft, shooting a narrow, wave-whipped passage between rocks, to tie up at Hanga Roa's concrete wharf. For a weird moment I thought we had arrived in the Old West. From all sides is landers on wiry mustanglike horses galloped toward us, and just beyond the wharf several ponies nibbled grass in a corral. Edmundo Edwards, a young Chilean, greeted us at the wharf. I asked about the horses. "Well," he answered, "here you either ride one or you walk--and the lava ruins shoes." Easter, I soon learned, actually has more horses than people, and babies start to ride as soon as they can toddle. Buried Neck-deep, Tottering Stone Images Gaze Into Eternity Folk history of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, says the statues represent figures of venerated ancestors. Lacking wood to carve, artists turned to abundant and workable volcanic rock. Many figures wore cylindrical 3- to 13-ton hats of red stone that toppled long ago. Feuds or an epidemic may have halted the work about three hundred years ago.