Voyage To Rapanui: 5,000 Miles Down With No GPS, Maps Or Compass

waka tapu voyage to rapanuiHow would you feel about sailing 10,000 nautical miles from Auckland, New Zealand, to Easter Island and back on a double-hulled canoe with no GPS or navigational equipment? In August, after reading a story my colleague wrote on the Waku Tapu Voyage to Rapanui Expedition, I resolved to check back on these intrepid explorers to see if they made it to Rapanui (Easter Island) in one piece.

I’m happy to report that 22 male and female New Zealanders did indeed complete the first half of their epic journey, arriving in Rapanui safe and sound on December 5. Traveling on two traditional waka (double-hulled sailing canoes) they retraced a historic route across the Pacific Ocean using only the stars, sun, moon, ocean currents, birds and other marine life to guide them, just as their Maori ancestors did. They are now en route back to New Zealand and are due to arrive home in late March. The goal of the journey was to “close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii in the North, New Zealand in the South and Rapanui in the East.”
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I caught up with Karl Johnstone, Director of the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, which organized the expedition, to find out more about this remarkable journey.

Tell us a little about this historic voyage?

It landed on the 5th of December in Rapanui (Easter Island) and they left Auckland on the 17th of August. There were two stopovers, one in Tubuai, one of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia, and then one in Mangareva, to the east of French Polynesia. We had about 22 people on board at any one time, 11 per waka (canoe). These are traditional double-hulled sailing canoes.





waka tapuThe two traditional elements of the voyage are the waka themselves, which are made of indigenous trees from New Zealand and have traditional composition modern rigging and traditional, non-instrument navigation, using environmental tools, habits of the sun, moon and stars and so on.

So there was no GPS or other type of navigational equipment used?

That’s right. This hasn’t been done in modern day times. There are GPS locators on board, and they had a satellite phone, which emits a GPS signal every half an hour back to our waka tracker, so we knew where they were at all times. And we looked at where they were all the time versus their sail plan and the navigators were never really more than 50 nautical miles off the course line they had set. They did really, really well.


You say this hasn’t been done. Has anyone tried it?

It’s never been tried in modern times.

What were some of the hardships the crew faced along the way?

The weather, number one. We had significant storms on our way out to Tubuai, four of them in fact. A lot of the crew, 50% at least were new to open-ocean voyaging, so they had to develop a trust in their vessel. Sickness as well. We had two cases of hypothermia – that’s to be expected when you’re out at the tail end of winter here. Some got boils as well, which is also common. They have to be treated seriously. A few guys had toothaches, infections.

A couple guys had to be taken off because of coral cuts because we couldn’t risk them getting infections out on the open ocean. Another one got burnt – most of the injuries happened on land, not out on the ocean. But we had a well-stocked medicine cabinet, so everyone was treated quite quickly.


Did everyone who started finish?

One had to come off as a result of an injury in Mangareva, but we took him to be there when the waka arrived in Rapanui because he’d made it through the hardest part of the voyage and we couldn’t bear for him not to be there at the end.

Tell me about the crewmembers. Did they all take time off from careers to do this?

waka tapuWe had teachers, people with Ph.D.’s, engineers, people who work for their tribes. It was a broad range of professions, in most cases, they had to walk away from their employment to do this voyage. Some were very senior; one in particular was a very senior official in the Ministry of Education here in New Zealand. A lot of these people walked away from everything you’d consider mandatory in the modern day world to undertake this voyage with no guarantee of success.

And the voyage was unpaid. They got some support along the way but we didn’t pay them or help with their mortgages or anything else, so they had to have a real commitment to this project.

How were they selected for this voyage?

It was through a training program, and they had to volunteer. We had a nine-month training program. There was some natural attrition, we had about 50 who volunteered, and the cream rose to the top.

[Photo credit: Waka Tapu]

Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa Opens September 1 On Easter Island

Easter IslandEaster Island is getting a new, 75-room luxury boutique hotel, located just a five-minute walk from the only town of Hanga Roa.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa officially opens on September 1, with a soft opening August 31, for which guests will receive 30 percent off nightly and package stays if they book now.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa is being deemed an integral tourism property based on sustainability, located in the most remote inhabited island in the world, 2,181 miles from mainland Chile.

Each detail of the hotel’s architectural design and functionality is on the cutting edge of green technology due to the ecologically and culturally sensitive environs. Energy-saving measures, water filtration and reuse systems, waste recycling programs and the use of organic and locally sourced food products at the property’s two restaurants are some of the green methods used by the hotel.

The Hangaroa’s 500-square-foot Kainga double rooms and 800-square-foot Ma’Unga suites are made of volcanic rock, clay and wood, including washbasins and freestanding tubs. The hotel’s lounge spaces, reading room and lobby are designed to resemble a traditional casa bote, a traditional Rapa Nui house that appears as an upside-down canoe. Manavai Spa utilizes holistic as well as high-tech treatments that incorporate ancestral techniques of the Rapa Nui.

The Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa philosophy is to bring the community into the project. More than 75 percent of the hotel’s staff members are local and ethnic Rapa Nui, and the Hangaroa has developed a series of educational and professional training programs that also seek to maintain and conjoin the Rapa Nui’s beliefs, rites and traditions. The Hangaroa will also donate funds to local educational programs and environmental causes every year.

As part of the Hangaroa Eco Village & Spa’s desire to give back to the local community, the hotel subcontracts acclaimed local tour company Mahinatur to provide cultural experiences for guests, such as visits to the Rano Raraku quarry, the Ahu Tongariki with 15 standing moais and the Rano Kau volcanic crater.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Ndecam]

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Grilling Around The Globe: A Memorial Day Photo Tribute

Where there’s smoke, there’s barbecue – and there’s no better time than Memorial Day to light that grill. This year, instead of the same old, same old post on burgers, food safety and how not to burn the patio down, I thought I’d offer a photo tribute to grilling in all of its glorious permutations around the globe.

I confess to taking some liberties, and adding a few methods that don’t call for an open flame. The Hawaiian imu is a familiar site to luau lovers; it’s a pit filled with hot rocks that effectively roasts the food (in this instance, pork). The curanto from the Chilean archipelago of Chiloe is also Polynesian in origin (hailing from Easter Island, or Rapa Nui) and operates on the same principle, but also includes shellfish and potato cakes called milcao and chapaleles. Spit-roasted suckling pig, whether it’s Filipino lechon or Cajun cochon de lait, by any other name would taste as succulent.

Argentina remains the indisputable holy grail of grilling but plenty of other countries utilize fire –indirectly or not – to cook food, including Japan, Morocco, Turkey, Vietnam and Australia. Enjoy the slideshow and don’t forget to wipe your mouth.

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Five classic Chilean foods

chilean foodChilean food doesn’t have the glamour and romance of the cuisine of its neighbor, Argentina, nor the complexity and exotic Japanese influences bestowed upon the contemporary dishes of its other neighbor, Peru. I just returned from my second visit to Chile, where in between consuming epic quantities of manjar (dulce de leche) and pisco sours, I found more substantial food to love.

Chilean food is of humble origins; a combination of indigenous influence, simple technique, and hearty, regional ingredients designed to sustain and nourish the body despite limited means and harsh climate. Today, Santiago is a glossy, metropolitan capital of seven million, and there’s no shortage of high-end dining with regard to various cuisines. But travel beyond the city limits, and you’ll see tweaks on Chilean specialties depending upon what part of the country you’re visiting.

Northern Chile is largely high-altitude desert, while Central and Southern Chile have more of a focus on seafood. The following is a very simplified list, but they’re five of the most classic dishes to be found throughout the country.Try them for a taste of Chilean culture and history.

1. Empanadas
Not to be confused with the Argentinean variety, which are essentially a culture within a culture, the Chilean empanada is usually baked, larger and flatter in composition (either crescents or rectangular in shape), and less varied in variety. But what’s not to love about a tender, flaky pocket of dough stuffed with seasoned ground beef, hardboiled egg, and olive; roasted vegetables, or melted, stringy cheese? Not much. Find them at panaderias, shops, markets, or restaurants offering “comida typica.”

2. Curanto
This is a specialty of the lovely island and archipelago of Chiloe in Chilean Patagonia’s Lake District. Curanto is a shellfish, potato flatbread, and meat bake believed to have been inspired by Polynesian luau via Easter Island (Rapa Nui). It’s traditionally cooked in a pit that is covered with seaweed or the leaves of nalca, an indigenous plant related to rhubarb. The potato flatbreads, milcao, and chapalele (the latter flavored with pork cracklings), are delicious street foods in their own right that can be found in coastal towns throughout this region. A curanto is a must-see if you’re visiting Chiloe.chilean food3. Pastel de choclo
Sort of an indigenous shepherd’s pie, this comforting dish is composed of ground corn (choclo) mixed with hard-boiled egg, olive, and usually ground beef and/or chicken. It’s baked and served in an earthenware bowl called a paila, and it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

4. Caldillo de Congrio
Okay, I confess that I have a particular dislike for the congrio, or conger eel, which is an obsession in Chile. It’s not that it’s bad; I just don’t care for most fish as a rule (for the record, it’s fairly mild, white, firm, and rather dry and flaky). But I would be remiss to not include it, because it’s such a classic. Whether fried or served in a caldillo, or brothy soup seasoned with cilantro, carrots, potato, and fish stock, it’s hearty, rustic, and very representative of Chile’s culture of subsistence and commercial fishermen.

5. Chupe
This is a somewhat generic term for a creamy seafood stew enriched with milk or cream. Depending upon where you are (or what country you’re in, because it’s also found in Peru and Bolivia), chupe might contain shrimp (thus, it would be called chupe de camarones), fish, chicken, beef, or lamb. It also contains vegetables, potatoes or yuca, and tomato, but the magic is in the addition of merquen, an indigenous (via the Mapuche people) spice mixture made with smoked, powdered cacho de cabra chili. The end result is fragrant, complex, and delicious.

[Photo credits: Laurel Miller]

Genetic clue to Easter Island mystery

Easter IslandEaster Island has always been a puzzle to archaeologists and historians.

Hundreds of miles from the nearest land, this small Pacific island hosted a culture that built the famous Easter Island statues, and then vanished as mysteriously as it appeared.

Now DNA evidence has shed new light on where the Easter Islanders came from. It turns out that while most of the islanders’ heritage has roots in Polynesia, as scholars have long believed, they also have some South American ancestry.

Norwegian scientist Erik Thorsby has found genes among Easter Islanders that are only in South American Indian populations. These genes had recombined with Polynesian genes, something that only happens after many generations.

The findings are tentative because Thorsby only tested one extended family but supporting evidence comes from an excavation in Chile that found evidence of Polynesian visitors in the 14th and 15th centuries. Given that the Polynesians were arguably the best sailors of the preindustrial world, they probably went lots of places we don’t know about.

Ancient migrations were more common than most people believe, and in recent years DNA evidence has revealed many anomalies not recorded in history. It’s best to be cautious, however. Some overeager researchers called hyperdiffusionists want to see all sorts of cultures coming from one source–the Greeks or the Egyptians or whatever their favorite happens to be. They tend to make unsupported claims about places like America’s Stonehenge, which is probably not ancient, and descend into New Age archaeology.

As Thorsby’s findings show, real science can be much more exciting than myth making.

[Photo courtesy user davitydave via Gadling’s flickr pool]