A scene from the Ripley's Believe It or Not! video game.

A scene from the Ripley's Believe It or Not! video game.

My fascination with Easter Island began with a video game. It was an adventure game that had the rather cheesy name of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not: The Riddle of Master Lu”. While the plot line eludes my memory, I do remember all the exotic destinations that the main character visited. From an office in New York City to a street market in China to the bridges that crisscrossed Tibet, the game has shaped my travel aspirations more deeply then I realized at the time.

One of the game’s locations was Easter Island. I’m not sure if that was the first time that I ever heard of the island, but it was certainly the first memory of it that stuck with me. The idea of an island filled with giant mysterious stone
heads built for some unknown reason piqued my interest. It also seemed unreal to my 11-year-old mind. It looked like a place that belonged in the pages of the
National Geographic, but not a place that just anyone could visit. To my young self, it was a realm that belong to brave explorers and adventurers and could only be explored by ordinary people through imagination and video games.

Fast-forward a decade and a half to last year. Suddenly, the idea of visiting Easter Island became a very real possibility, and at a price far cheaper then I had ever dreamed of. It turns out that getting there has gotten a lot easier since the days of Robert Ripley with LAN running daily flights from Santiago. I jumped at the opportunity and soon had tickets to the remote island.

Not long after dawn on the first morning, I took a stroll outside. The island was both beautiful and remote. Looking out to the Pacific, all I could see were a couple of fishing boats and nothing else all the way to the horizon. The sun was peeking out behind the island’s largest volcano. And just down the road, I spotted my first moai.

I was a little uncertain at first as to whether it was actually a moai. It looked more like a large weathered boulder. But a sign nearby indicated that the lump of rock was indeed one of the more worn and small moai on the island.

Fortunately as I kept walking I found a couple of moai down by the harbor that matched all the pictures that I had seen of the stone heads. They were tall- easily twice my 5′ 2″ height and surrounded by stones set in the grass in a grid-like pattern. It was exactly like what I saw in that video game years ago.

Moai at Rano Ranku.

Over the next few days a friend and I drove all over the island looking for more moai. They were everywhere. From toppled over ones by the coast worn by the weather to the ones that were restored and raised back up at Rano Raraku, the birthplace of the moai. By day three, I had seen enough moai to last a lifetime.

Even though the moai looked pretty much like what I saw in pictures, seeing them in person made the moai real to me. No longer were they just the product of National Geographic or of my childhood mind.

It wasn’t just the stone heads that captivated me on the island. I loved the sheer remoteness of the place. The island has about 3,800 residents and nearly all of them live in the one small village of Hanga Roa. The last time I was in a place that isolated was in the northern countryside of Kenya.

I had no fear walking around by myself at night. I just had to be careful to stay out of the roads since streetlights were far and few between.

Outside of the village, I sometimes couldn’t see another person around for miles. The only sounds I heard were the waves crashing against the rocky shores or the mooing of a cow. I was at peace.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go back again to that remote island. But I’m glad I did. It was the fulfillment of a childhood fantasy that turned out to be even better in reality.