Easter Island: The Inca Connection

That’s right, there were Incas on Easter island, or at least that is a possibility based on one location.

Moai

Moai

Yes I generally try to keep my blog about Peru in general, but more specifically about Cusco, so a post about Easter Island might seem a little out of place here, but I thought the possibility of an Inca connection warranted a post.

Recently Lily and I took one of our short vacations to take a break from running GringoWasi, and on this trip we visited Easter Island for 10 days. Now even before we departed Cusco, we read about a site that has perfectly fit stone walls, very much like the stonework of the Incas, so this site made the “must see” portion of our itinerary.

Sign

The site itself is Ahu Vinapu and here you will find 2 separate platforms or Ahu, where the Moai used to stand, there is also supposed to be a third Ahu here, but it is actually located inside the fenced off fuel tank area and not accessible.

The two main Ahu that you can visit here are Ahu Vinapu and Ahu Tahira, and both of these Ahu’s have had their Moai toppled, which is believed to have happened between 1722 and 1868, either due to clan wars or earthquakes.

Toppled Moai

Toppled Moai

Ahu Vinapu seems to be the more promoted Ahu as the complex itself is named Ahu Vinapu, so don’t look too hard for Ahu Tahira on any maps, you will not likely find it. Ahu Vinapu is the Ahu to the Right as you enter the site, it is the oldest Ahu out of the three that are in this complex, and it originally supported at least 5 Moai and their head dresses, who’s remains can be seen near the Ahu. There is also a red stone column in front of Ahu Vinapu that was unearthed in 1956, and is thought to possibly be a female Moai, based on the thin arms and hands, small breasts, and pronounced navel, unfortunately this column is very deteriorated and very little detail remains.

Ahu Vinapu Wall

Ahu Vinapu Wall, this is what the normal Ahu walls look like

As I mentioned above, Ahu Vinapu seems to be the more promoted of the Ahu’s here in this complex, while we were visiting we saw 2 separate tour groups arrive and depart, both of these groups went directly to Ahu Vinapu, stood around the red “female Moai” while the guides talked, and then departed the complex. While it is possible that the guides might have made mention of the stonework on Ahu Tahira, you can not really appreciate the precision of the work unless you go around to the ocean side of the Ahu, which neither group did. Based on this I would have to guess that the local preference is to down play or even ignore the possible connection to the South American mainland.

Because we rented a vehicle (Suzuki Jimmy) while we were there, we were not limited by any tour guide preferences or agency policies, so we were basically able to go where we wanted, when we wanted, and if you are planing a trip to Easter Island yourself, I would highly recommend renting a vehicle (the Jimmy’s are quite popular) while you are there.

Rental Jimmy's

Rental Jimmy’s, the white one was ours

Ahu Tahira was actually one of my favorite sites, even though it’s Moai have been toppled (at least 6), And the reason it was one of my favorite’s is due mainly to the stone work. If you happen to visit this complex on your own, be sure to walk down to the water side of the Ahu closest to the entrance (left side if looking at the water). Based on what I have read, this is the only place on the island that exhibits this level of stone work, and we must have seen almost every site while there, since I did not see anything else like this, I am inclined to believe it. The stone work that was used in the construction of Ahu Tahira, ranks right up there with a lot of what can be found here in the Cusco region, I have read where it has been compared to that of Saqsaywaman, but these stones are not near as large as the ones at Saqsaywaman, I think this construction I would compare more to some of the stonework at Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo, Pisac, or many of the other Inca sites here in the Cusco region.

Ahu Tahira Inca wall

Ahu Tahira wall

Wall Comparison

Wall Comparison

Close up of Ahu Tahira wall

Close up of Ahu Tahira wall

So the big question here is, why is there just this one wall with this level of construction and who built it? To be honest I do not think anyone knows with any certainty, but I have read several theories about this construction. One theory is that it was just one of the last Ahu built and the stone working skills of the Rapa Nui culture had just progressed to this level. Another theory is that this was constructed with Inca knowledge, or even by the Inca culture itself, and some of the evidence to back this theory (aside from the construction itself) is that the platform faces the rising sun on the winter solstice, sweet potato’s and squash native to South America were found throughout Polynesia before Europeans sailed between the two locations, and some chicken bones from southern Chile had the same DNA sequence of samples taken in Tonga and Samoa, which suggests that the chickens came to South America from Polynesia approximately in the fourteenth century. I have also read that some dating of this site puts it actually older than the Inca culture, and this has generated a theory that it may have been the result of contact between the islanders and the Tiahuanaco culture, which was a pre-Inca culture that exhibited stone working abilities on the same level as the Inca culture exhibited.

Ahu Tahira wall

Ahu Tahira wall

Personally I like to keep an open mind and can see the possibility than any of these theories might be correct, and I believe that future archaeological work will provide additional evidence that might eliminate one of these possibilities, prove one, or might even propose a new theory. That is one of the things that I find so interesting about ancient history, archaeological science is constantly advancing and with new technology, new information can be obtained, so what is believed to be fact today, might just be disproved within the next 10 years or so.

I hope you have enjoyed this post, and remember when traveling that archaeology is not 100% accurate, it is generally just “best guess” based on the available evidence, so never be afraid to question explanations of things, especially if they do not make sense, even the things that I might say.

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Cusco Flights, Delayed but not Canceled

I have briefly mentioned this in a previous blog or two, and I also regularly recommend to people on the Trip Advisor forums that they choose mid-day flights into or out of Cusco, to better prevent delays or cancellations, and on November 12th 2017 when flying from Cusco to Lima, I saw a perfect example of why this is, and realized that I have not done a blog on this specific topic.

Sunset with Jet

I woke up that morning at about 05:30 and it was raining fairly hard in Huarocondo, and I was wondering what the weather might be like in Cusco at that time. We had planed to take colectivos into Cusco that morning, but the rain continued all morning so we though it might be better to just have one of the driver we know take us.

When we arrived at the Cusco airport at about 08:30 for our 10:45 flight to Lima we were greeted by long lines at almost all of the airline check in counters, a good indicator that the mornings rains had caused some delays, and many of the people in line seemed to be stressed out, as many seemed to have run out of patience. Looking at the information board confirmed my suspicions as many of the flights on the board were listed as delayed, and a few of the early flights showed as canceled.

Our flight was with LC Peru so we got into line and made our way to the counter, at the counter while we were checking into out flight, that was delayed but not canceled, we heard that everyone else was being re-booked onto flights the next day, which made many people upset as they were supposed to catch flights out of Lima later that day.

Once we were check in, we went through security and waited to see what gate our flight would depart from, and while our flight was delayed a little more than 1 hour, we did get to Lima that same day without having to be re-scheduled.

Now while more likely during the rainy season (Dec – Feb), weather related delays and cancellations can happen anytime of the year, so planning for them can make for a more relaxed vacation, especially on the morning that you have to fly out of Cusco, if you were to wake to heavy rains and/or low clouds.

My recommendations for planning an itinerary and booking flights into or out of Cusco are as follows;

  1. Always put the bulk of your time in Lima at the end of your itinerary.
  2. If for any reason you feel the need to fly from (or through) Cusco to Lima on the same day that you have a flight out of Lima, bite the bullet and book with LATAM. They generally cost at least 2x as much as the smaller airlines, but they have many more flights each day, so in the event of a cancellation, you are more likely to get another flight out the same day. I would also recommend purchasing travel insurance.
  3. When booking any flights into or out of Cusco, flights that are mid-day or later can be the best option. Yes booking a flight in the morning can give you the most options if the flight is canceled, but I would prefer to reduce the risk of cancellation over increasing my chance for another flight the same day if canceled.
  4. Don’t plan any other activities on your flight day, this means do not book tours or treks on the day that you fly into Cusco, or even Lima if flying from Cusco. I have not only seen comments on Trip Advisor from people that have missed activities due to flight cancellations, but have also seen panicked travelers at the check in desk, scrambling to find a flight the same day so they would not miss an activity or another flight.
  5. Finally, keep in mind that some flights from other places like Puerto Maldonado and Arequipa that are going to, or coming from Lima, might have a stop in Cusco, so if choosing one of those flights, you should keep the above points in mind as well.

One final note, there are those on-line that will say to choose LATAM (LAN) because they can fly when other airlines can not, and while there might be one or two occasions where this proves true, the majority of delays and cancellations with flights into, out of, or through Cusco are due to the fact that the Cusco airport is a VFR airport. For those that are unfamiliar with the term VFR, this is an acronym for Visual Flight Rule, and indicated that the pilot of the aircraft must be able to see in order to land or take off.

The basics of this here in Cusco is that the City of Cusco sits in a small valley, and there is a mountain that obstructs the normal landing flight path that aircraft would take if landing on instruments (IFR), so because of this mountain the flights tend to come into the valley and then have to make a left turn to align with the runway. This VFR designation applies to all aircraft, so no matter how new the aircraft is, or what instrumentation it has, if there is not enough visibility, they shut down the airport and no flights can land or take off.

You may be wondering why some people believe that LATAM can operate when other airlines can not, well this stems from two reasons. For starters, as I mentioned above, in certain conditions they can, one of these being tail winds. The more modern aircraft that LATAM uses are better equipped to land with a tail wind, so if there happens to be a tail wind in Cusco, the LATAM planes may be the only ones that will be operating.

The second reason for this is that when the Cusco airport is closed due to low or even no visibility, LATAM will still send their planes and have them orbit Cusco waiting for a break in the weather. The up side of this is that the LATAM flights can take advantage of short breaks in visibility, but the down side is that if there is no break in the weather, they must return to Lima or another airport to re-fuel the plane. So because people see the LATAM flights to Cusco departing Lima, or other cities, when other flights are being delayed, the general opinion is that the LATAM flights can land in Cusco, when the other flights can not.

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