Easter Island is one of the strangest places on Planet Earth. With stone-faced statues and weird landscapes, it’s no surprise that some truly believe UFOs landed here!
Visiting “Isla de Pascua” was one of my long-time travel goals. This year, I finally made it to the land of the moai. As you’ll see in this story, it surpassed my high expectations.
In part one of my moai adventures, I visited the northern part of the island, where I saw Orongo and other famous sites.
The next day, I once again joined Easter Island Travel — but this time, on a private custom tour to Tongariki (the row of 15 aliens above)…
… and Rano Raraku, the stone quarry from whence these giants emerged. (All photos by Joey Wong)
Isn’t this as close as it gets to a real life Mario-Land? Read on for tales of the mystifying moai of Easter Island!
Dream. Come. True. (And the perfect new Facebook cover / banner photo!)
I still can’t believe I got to see Easter Island… it feels like a lucid dream. LATAM Airlines, the only airline that flies here, made this extraordinary trip possible.
On the second day of my journey, I woke up at 5 am to catch the famous sunrise at Tongariki. The lovely Patricia of Easter Island Travel picked us up from our hotel Hangaroa, and we drove east for about 45 minutes.
When I stepped out of the car, I was in awe at the sight before me. A crescent moon glowed above the silhouette of 15 giants standing in a row — it was a vision straight out of a sci-fi movie!
As the sun began to light up the sky, I felt like I was in front of a fleet of extraterrestrials. I can only imagine what it was like for the Dutch explorers to arrive on Easter Island in 1722, and encounter this mind-bending sight.
Space invader, that’s me. The landscape of Easter Island made me think of Mars.
It’s fitting that I am wearing a dress from House of Holland’s space collection. Below are more of their intergalactic designs:
With fifteen statues in line, Tongariki is the largest “ahu” (platform) on the island.
During the island’s civil wars around the 1700s, these Godzilla-sized moai were toppled. In 1960, the ahu was also swept inland by a 9.5 earthquake (one of the largest ever recorded) and tsunami. Tongariki has since been restored, as you can see from the powerful shapes of the 15 stone men today.
Ahu Tongariki has some of the largest and most exquisite moai on the island. The largest of the bunch weighs 86 tonnes; it’s the heaviest statue ever erected by the Rapa Nui.
As you can see, only one of the moai at Tongariki still has his “pukao” (red hat or topknot). Some of the others originally had pukao as well, but their headwear was too badly damaged to be restored.
My nail art, by Keiko Matsui at Vancouver BC’s Glam Nail Studio, sums up the magic of Easter Island. She drew the stone faces and their silhouettes at dawn, as well as dark skies filled with stars.
As the sun rose, the sky burst into radiant hues of red and orange. Slowly, the rays illuminated the details of the carvings.
The moai are all unique in small ways, which gives each of them personality. Scholars believe they are homages to ancestors, and infused with “mana” or energy. No matter what you believe, these 15 elders undoubtedly radiated a feeling of power.
Alien nation. (Although Easter Island has a hot tropical climate, it is a bit chilly in the early morning, so I recommend that you wear layers).
It’s easy to fantasize about aliens building these statues. However, the truth is that early humans were capable of remarkable feats of art and engineering.
Easter Island’s inhabitants knew a lot about astronomy as well. This 100-meter long platform faces sunset during the summer solstice.
On the other side of the ahu is Poike volcano, the oldest on the island. Legend tells of a battle between “the long ears” and “the short ears” taking place here.
These days, it feels like tourists are everywhere. In remote Easter Island, however, there are very few visitors.
What a joy to experience Tongariki with only about 50 other people. There was plenty of room for everyone to stand or sit (or hail the moai), and no gift stores or vendors.
When I saw this moai on thet way out, Covenant’s song lyrics came to my mind.
“Stand before the gates and watch metropolis. Empires come and go, we live forever… I stand alone.”
In the 1990s, the Japanese contributed immensely to the restoration of Tongariki. As a thank you, the people of the island sent this moai to Japan to be exhibited.
Today, this fellow is known as the “Travelling Moai” and continues to tour the world. (I think his expression is rather kawaii, don’t you?)
This moai was also used in the ‘walking’ experiments of Thor Heyerdahl, which researched how the inhabitants originally moved the stone figures. It’s believed that they held them upright with ropes, and shuffled them back and forth until they reached their final destinations.
The feeling of being a “stranger in a strange land” continued at the nearby Rano Raraku. This is the stone quarry where most of the moai were carved. With monolithic heads sticking out of rolling green hills, I felt like I was inside a Super Mario video game.
Archaeologists are still making startling discoveries about the moai. Not long ago, they excavated a few of these giants… and found out that they have bodies beneath the ground! Over the years, the statues were naturally covered with eroded dirt, which left only their faces poking out from the grass.
Some of the moai were half-carved or abandoned, which makes it look as if they are “sleeping” face-down. My imagination flowed as I walked around Rano Raraku. I pictured the creatures “waking up” one day, and teaching us their secrets.
To this day, there remain so many unanswered questions about the moai. It’s extraordinary that the ancient tribes of Easter Island were able to engineer these monoliths, which have become recognizable worldwide (they even have their own emoji 🗿).
Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? The moai remain tight-lipped…
As I mentioned before, you must purchase the National Park Ticket (at airport arrivals) in order to see the most famous moai, and some sites are limited to one entry only.
Visitors must stay on the paths at Rano Raraku. We saw a tourist wander off-limits towards the moai… and yelled “yo!” until a guard came horseback to tell him off!
Rano Raraku is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and these hills give a spectacular view of the surrounding ocean. There are about 400 moai resting here… I gave them a hearty Hail.
All of Easter Island’s moai were originally carved in this quarry, before being transported to various locations. Many of the moai were half-carved and abandoned, or never moved — so they remain grounded at Rano Raraku.
Here’s a big guy, in the process of emerging from stone. His profile is easy to recognize… but the artist stopped working on him for unknown reasons.
Our sweet guide, Patricia, pointed out “sleeping moai” along the roads. They fell or broke while being transported, and were abandoned as their “mana” was considered to be lost. It looks like these face-down moai are taking a nap… one day, maybe they will wake up!
With their sloped noses, pursed lips and unreadable expressions, the moai look like “chill dudes” hanging out. No wonder their replicas are often found in tiki bars.
Rano Raraku is only about a five minute drive from Tongariki, so it makes sense to visit both at the same time. I recommend first seeing the sunset at Tongariki, then heading over to the quarry. Having a private driver/guide and car meant that we could be flexible, and spend as much time as we needed to take photos.
One of these moai is not like the others… Introducing “Tukuturi.” He’s carved in a different style, out of red scoria from Punu Pao. Tukutiri has a beard and unique facial features, and sits in a kneeling posture.
Queen of the moai, that’s me. (Isn’t the scenery of Easter Island out-of-this-world?)
The visible moai are already huge… but remember, they have bodies beneath the ground. This makes them up to three times larger!
Rano Raraku is a a volcanic crater. You can take another path to see the dramatic asteroid-like indentation.
I always had a fascination with the stone-faces, and am grateful I had the chance to meet them.
Close-up on the carvings. Minimalist, monolithic mastery.
This puzzling civilization fired up my imagination. Easter Island is without doubt one of the coolest places I’ve ever been.
Although Easter Island is technically part of Chile, it feels like it belongs in another galaxy. (All photography by Joey Wong.)
Now that I had seen all the major attractions on the isle, it was time to go. We said goodbye to the horses grazing around the crater.
LATAM Airlines is a rock star for making our journey possible. Their flights were comfortable and on-time, with fantastic service from the staff.
If you’re inspired to come to Easter Island, LATAM is the way to go. I recommend booking a window seat so that you can take in these soaring views. And if you are looking for souvenirs, there are stalls at the little airport with moai-themed goods.
Visiting Easter Island felt like I had left the planet, and entered another world. If you’re fascinated by ancient cultures and mysteries, I encourage you to make this trip of a lifetime.
Click to see a short Instagram video of my Easter Island travels.
After seeing the stone-faced moai, I think the only thing that can top this… is a journey to outer space!
For more travel tips (including our hotel and Day 1 of our tour), see all my Easter Island articles and photos here.
Is Isla de Pascua on your bucket-list? And what do you think of the alien connection… is there anything “out there?”
Announcement: I’m heading to Japan for travel TV shoot, where I’ll be hosting and producing! I will also be traveling in Thailand and Laos with my pirates.
Since this major television program is occupying my full time, I won’t be able to do any blog updates for the next month or so. However I will update my social media regularly with Asia adventures. Please feel free to add me on @lacarmina Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for the latest updates!
As always, you can find my favorite Gothic fashion here (such as the boots, dresses and fishnets in the photo above). You can also shop my personal closet here on Depop. I’ve listed my clothing at discounted rates; email me if you’d like anything at all. “Mata ne!”
How’s your summer going? Anyone else hiding like a vampire during this heatwave? I’m always under layers of mineral sunscreen, giant sunglasses, a hat, and I have a UV umbrella on the way!
We’re coming to the end of my South America travel stories. This time around, we’ll take a look at the art, culture and fashion of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
I also wanted to share a peek at my summer wardrobe. Recently, I’ve been heading to Kate’s Clothing for Gothic sundresses and other dark fashion. They carry a number of my favorite brands (such as this pentagram dress by Killstar), as well as Kate’s own fashion lines.
Love the witchy vibes of her Antibrand trailing cardigan with a hood, in front of a gingerbread house.
I’m also currently living in Bella Starr Hats. I’m always on the lookout for wide-brimmed sunhats that are stylish and easy to pack in my suitcase. Bella Starr ticks of all of the above, with her unique hats and hair accessories all handmade in the USA. Stay tuned for many more images this season.
As I’ve hinted, I am gearing up for a trip to Tokyo, Japan. I booked a new travel TV show job as host and producer! As always, First Mate Naomi and I will be arranging something wild involving subcultures. We’ll also visit Hiroshima and Naoshima for the first time, as well as two other countries in Asia… announcements to come.
Above: my striped platform sandals are these exact ones by Rocket Dog. I love this youthful footwear brand; click below for more of their fun designs.
Most travellers skip Sao Paulo, as it’s not known as a tourist destination, and focus on Rio de Janeiro (where we also went). However, we were curious about Brazil’s largest city, and discovered that it had impressive food, fashion and art.
Sao Paulo has a reputation as an “ugly” city, with unsightly urban sprawl and road jams. However, if you look beyond these first impressions, you may be surprised at what you find. In the Jardins district, for example, I found these colonial Portuguese remnants decorated with street art, framed by skyscrapers and traffic.
Behind these gritty facades, you’ll find restaurants with beautiful decor. We loved our lunch at Issoecafe, beginning with caipirinha cocktails (cachaça sugarcane liquor and lime). We snacked on dadinho de tapioca (a national snack of coalho cheese and tapioca cubes), ceviche, and other healthy Brazilian dishes.
Elizabeth and I then set off on an art-walk, beginning at ISP. The free museum had a photography exhibit that documented the dramatic evolution of Sao Paulo over the years.
From the balcony, we looked out at Paulista Avenue. This central road spans 2.8 km, and has been the site of political protests over the years.
We walked over to São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP). The 1968 design by Lina Bob Bardi is easy to spot: red beams draped over a freestanding concrete and glass rectangle.
The ultra-modern exterior hints at the contemporary works inside. However, the MASP is also well known for its collection of classic European art. I’m standing in front of Giambattista Pittoni’s Dioniso e Ariadne, from 1730.
We were most interested in the MASP’s eclectic selection of Brazilian art. Quite a few of these works had an indigenous feel, or had national political themes.
Unlike in a typical gallery, the frames were free-standing and mounted in a way that mirrored the concrete and glass architecture. The only downside: you had to go around to the back of each picture, in order to read the description!
The next day, we took an Uber to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art at Ibirapuera Park. Don’t miss out on this view of the megalopolis from the rooftop.
The museum has over 4000 works, with a focus on contemporary Brazilian creatives. We loved this deceptively simple and cheerful landscape by painter Tarsila do Amaral. She recently had an exhibit at the MoMA in New York, which had elevated worldwide interest in modern art from Brazil.
The MAM consists of multiple floors, filled with works in various sizes and media. This elephant caught my attention — he’s made entirely from slices of foam.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many readers of this blog come from Brazil, and that quite a few Visual Kei / J-rock bands have toured here. It’s no surprise to hear that Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, especially in the district of Liberdade.
To find out more about Japanese-Brazilian culture, we visited the newly-opened Japan House Sao Paulo, which was creatively directed by Muji’s Kenya Hara. This Zen-inspired building holds a gallery space, a cafe and restaurant, boutiques, and various cultural events.
Elizabeth and I were mesmerized by Oscar Oiwa’s installation, called Paraiso or Paradise. We pushed our way through an air-tight flap, and found ourselves inside this inflatable 360-degree Garden of Eden. Oscar Oiwa used black marker pens to adorn the walls with dreamy forest paths, creatures and abstract swirls.
Paradise was one of our favorite moments of the trip. Inside this wonderland, you can’t help but feel uplifted. I hope you might have the chance to experience Oscar’s vision for yourself.
Elizabeth’s friend Bráulio Mantovani (writer of the “City of God” film) recommended that we visit Adriana Barra’s boutique in the Jardins neighborhood. This turned out to be yet another wonderland…
… of dreamy fashion and interiors, and plates of snacks for guests to enjoy!
Adriana Barra is a Brazilian textile designer, beloved for her eclectic prints that feature tropical flowers, exotic birds, butterflies and fantastical creatures. The store’s upper level gives you a peek into her screen-printing workshop.
It’s worth stopping by to admire the interior design, with miniature dollhouses and “kawaii” characters. All of her clothes were works of art; Elizabeth took home this one-of-a-kind top.
Loving the mix of Japanese and Brazilian influences that I saw all throughout Sao Paulo. The two fuse surprisingly well when it comes to food and fashion.
Finally, we took a trip to Beco de Batman, or Batman Alley. This cluster of alleyways in the Vila Madalena district is covered in striking murals.
The city installed lights in this area, so visitors can now come at night to admire the street art. These works tend to be gigantic and showcase cheeky themes — like Brazilian footballer Pele embracing Batman.
Beco de Batman arose in the 1980s, when local art students began painting walls in this somewhat run-down area. One of them made a homage to Batman, and this took hold as the name of the alley.
Today, you’ll still see young artists making new graffiti, often featuring the Caped Crusader.
Say. My. Name. Don’t let the Walter White portrait intimidate you; this is a safe area (although you should always watch your belongings and be aware, no matter where you go).
Elizabeth gives the middle finger to the universe, much like she did on the cover of her bestselling book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women.
Beco the Batman is constantly changing, as artists add their visions to these walls. There’s so much talent in Brazil.
Elizabeth and I had fun wandering around Sao Paulo. The city isn’t on most bucket lists, as it doesn’t have a specific tourism draw. However, if you look beneath the “unsightly” surface, you’ll find loads of inspiration.
Did this travel diary change your expectations of Sao Paulo, Brazil? Did you know there was such a large Japanese population here?
One more post to come, from Easter Island… and then we’re off to Asia for travel TV hosting! If you have any particular requests for Tokyo travel coverage, do let me know. The Sailor Moon cafe, Mori Digital museum, and Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins are on my list already.