By Mackenzie Fairchild and Aimelie Moen, Marist Italy BAs
On March 14th we were whisked away from Florence into the world of Chile. After a three day trek from Florence to Paris to Santiago then, finally, to Easter Island, one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world, we finally arrived at our destination. As our plane landed, Professor Lorenzo Casamenti said in his charmingly thick Italian accent, “We have arrived…Easter Island.” Then winked. It had been a dream until the moment when we stepped out onto the stairs, descending into the sticky, warm, tropical air. We were greeted by some islanders, as they placed flower leis around our necks. We had finally made it.
We were given an incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity to work on conserving the famous and iconic Moai statues that Easter Island is so famous for. After settling in to our hotel, we set out to visit the work site and what a surprise that was! We were working at Tongariki, the site of the island’s most famous Moai: all 15 standing tall in a line, their stony faces proudly displaying their age and significance. We were looking at warriors and they were challenging us to conserve their beauty.
Our Moai had already been covered in blue tarp by the CONAF workers, volunteers from Chile, and the Rapa Nui, the native islanders. We saw our work site was surrounded by tape and we could not help but feel the weight of stepping across that line: we were distinguished from the visitors and the sightseers, we had transitioned from the visitor to the help, we were workers and part of the community.
The next day we began our work around nine in the morning. The main task at hand was to remove lichen (fungus that eats away at volcanic rock). A chemical treatment had previously been applied to the Moai (the chemical treatment kills, softens, and prevents the lichen from returning), so what we were to do that day was to mechanically remove the lichen with a small wooden stick. This work was tedious, but meditative because we knew the importance of each lichen that was removed. This first day of being able to look eye to eye with the Moai, and be so close to such an important part of their culture was an incredible feeling.
We worked like this for five days: removing the plastic wrap, inspecting the change, picking off the lichen, then spraying the chemical treatment again, and, finally, rewrapping the Moai in plastic. After our daily work finished, we would eat underneath a tent near the site with the other CONAF and Rapa Nui workers, our Italian garbling with their Chilean Spanish. To say that our communication was mostly visual is an understatement; smiles were the greatest tool to express our thanks besides our “Grazie” and “Gracias.” After lunch in front of Tongariki, we would head for the beach whereupon we would swim in the fading dusk of day until Lorenzo called us back to have dinner.
The memories and experiences that we shared here were as special and heartwarming as the sunsets that the island offered us each night. On our last evening, we gazed upon the silhouettes of the Moai, as the setting sun and ocean salt engraved a spot into our minds and hearts. “Goodnight,” we both thought. This was not a goodbye; simply, an unsaid “We will see you again,” wherever the future takes us, their memory will always be in our sight.
First photo by Mackenzie Fairchild
Second photo by Aimelie Moen