Stage 3 on Rapa Nui: Running to Retrace
I’m finally writing with running related news from Rapa Nui. But to keep the introduction short and sweet, I’ll cut to the chase – I didn’t run the marathon. It wasn’t an easy decision but what I did do instead was run 40miles of ancient roads and footpaths across volcanic grasslands, up, down and around craters – to circumnavigate the island. And why did I make this change to the project as such a late stage? Please allow me to explain.
In the last three weeks I have visited many of the places where the Mana Expedition team carried out research on Rapa Nui in 1914. I’ve marvelled at how naturally many changes have taken place in the last one hundred years – but yet some things have hardly changed at all. The island has successfully transformed from a piece of land ‘managed’ by a British sheep farming company to a thriving South Pacific destination, a World Heritage site that draws visitors from every corner of the globe. Additionally a Rapanui cultural revival has taken place and the festival of ‘Tapati’, which takes place every February will one day rank alongside the Rio carnival – if it doesn’t already! I have little doubt that the Routledges and the entire Mana expedition team would have been thrilled to attend Tapati that features dancing, horse racing, a Rapa Nui style triathlon and the Haka Pei that involves sliding down a volcanoe crater on banana trunks!
Additionally, in the middle of my research, I came across the term ‘Ara Mahiva’ deep in the pages of Katherine’s 1919 book (The Mystery of Easter Island), and was intrigued to read more about it. A major part of the expedition’s work looked at ancient roads that radiate out from the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku where the Moai (the iconic stone statues) were carved. But Katherine also described what islanders told her was the ‘Ara Mahiva’, a different road (Ara) that a spirit or deity – named Mahiva, had created.
The Ara Mahiva, according to Katherine’s writing, ran around the entire coastline of the island. In certain areas, mainly the south coast, it had turned into a path used mostly by fishermen, but in other areas, specifically the north and west of the island it could be seen following the rocky shoreline. Katherine mused the origins of the Ara Mahiva:
“There is no reason to suppose that it is due to the imported livestock, and it has no connection with ahu, or the old native centres of population, yet to have been so worn by naked feet it must constantly have been used. This silent witness to a forgotten past is one of the most mysterious and impressive things on the island.”
Any shape or form of an ‘Ara Mahiva’ today exists in a very different state – as you can imagine. The years of pounding from the feet of livestock and people, and coastal erosion processes have changed the coastline dramatically. But it is still possible to cover a large proportion of the island’s coastline on foot, and (you can probably see where I’m going with this…) after much consideration, that’s what I decided to attempt: to run the Ara Mahiva.
The more I read ‘The Mystery of Easter Island” and the description of the Ara Mahiva the more it just seemed to be calling my name. Running the Rapa Nui marathon was the original plan for this project, but yet, retracing an ancient road that Katherine herself wrote about just seemed to make sense. After all, throughout the entire project so far that’s what I had been doing – looking for connections and joining dots between people and places.
After a few rough calculations I thought a circumnavigation of Rapa Nui would be about 34-35 miles – 55 kilometres over a mixture of the dirt and surfaced roads that exist. It would also include miles of tracks and trails, and running across the rock-strewn volcanic grasslands of the island. In fact I even found a piece of thread to weave around the map in a National Park leaflet so I could more accurately calculate the distance (that’s what you do without fast internet connections to use Google Maps or Map My Run)! In my mind I considered it would be more or less the same distance as the Canyon de Chelly run in Arizona, but I knew it would take much longer, taking into account the terrain and the amount of actual running I’ve done in the last two months. Plus – this run wasn’t going to be a race!
On that note, I knew hydration and nutrition would be important – it wasn’t going be a walk in the park either. The Rapa Nui National Park is altogether a different kettle of fish. I had my Mountain Hardware running pack with me thanks to a reminder from my husband Jesse (it takes up hardly any space, weighs next to nothing, and is perfect for occasions such as this) but I hadn’t brought the Camelbak reservoir/ bladder! Instead I carried a 1.5 litre water bottle and my 1 litre nuun bottle. Luckily I did ration my nuun tabs during stage two of this project (the S. American bike ride) so that I would have a few left for running on Rapa Nui. I also found a few PowerBars in the bottom of a bag, which were perfect additions to the food I packed (2 PowerBars, 2 Quaker granola bars, 1 island banana, 1 mini-loaf of home-made banana Po`e).
The day before the run, Friday May 30th I’d given two talks about the project at the local high school. When I clicked onto the slide in my PowerPoint about the Ara Mahiva some of the students asked if I was scared of the island’s spirits and running on my own. At that point in my planning I’d only had time to consider the more logistical issues of where and where-not I could run. I hadn’t considered the more subtle side of the run but realised it was hugely important to honour the traditions of the Rapanui people and at the suggestion of my friend Francisca I prepared to make an offering to the ancestors of the island before starting out. I recalled that the Canyon de Chelly race had started at sunrise, so that we could greet the Navajo spirits and new day, and in Hawaii, before the start of the Xterra trail running world champs a Hawaiian cultural practitioner had blessed the event with an Oli, a chant to give thanks for the opportunity to run in the Ka`a`awa valley.
I set off at 8am on Saturday morning from the area just outside the town known as Tahai – a restored complex of enigmatic archaeological features. The sun was just coming up over Terevaka, the highest point on the island, as I knelt down by a small stone pit and placed some freshly cooked chicken in the middle. After whispering a short prayer I stood up, gave the ahu and moai’s a quick nod – and began the first leg of the route towards the northern most point of the island.
“Let your instincts guide your steps … they’ll take you where you most love.” Kilian Jornet.
Nine hours and 40 miles later I trotted back to the same spot and lay down in the grass having completed the Ara Mahiva, a full circuit of Rapa Nui on foot. It was one of the most epic ‘long runs’ I have ever done – and for that reason I have a separate blog post in-the-making with a full description of the day. Shortly after I ended the run on Saturday the heavens opened but thankfully Francisca was kindly waiting to greet me as I finished and we went for hot Marley coffee to celebrate.
The data from my run is online thanks to the GPS watch I borrowed from a friend – and I will be posting the full route description in the next few days. As I write the island has been engulfed by a storm, and the power has been on and off all morning!! Let’s hope it passes over soon!
I hope the reasons why I made changes to the project are clear. The marathon would undoubtedly have been equally as challenging and was going to be a great finale to the project but I think if I’d read about the Ara Mahiva earlier I would have arrived at the same conclusion. This project is after all entitled ‘Running after Routledge’.
Iorana from Rapa Nui.