It’s called Easter Island because the Dutch explorers discovered it on Easter Day, 1722. In Spanish it’s called Isla de Pascua. And in the local Polynesian dialect, it’s called Rapa Nui.
It’s tough to say the Dutch really discovered it because it was first populated by Polynesians in about the year 1200.
They think the population was 8-10,000 when the first Europeans arrived, but by the 1880s a mere 111 Rapa Nuians remained. Blame disease, civil war, famines, cannibalism, environmental collapse, and slave raids from South America.
There are about 800 statues in various states of completion (completed and standing, completed and lying on the ground, completed and partially buried, broken into pieces, still embedded in the quarry, etc) scattered around the island.
Fewer than 6,000 people live on Easter Island. Virtually all of them live in Hanga Roa, the island’s one town.
Almost 7,000 wild horses roam the island. They are everywhere, even on the closest outskirts of the town.
(Consider this one an assumption on my part: There have to be at least 10,000 wild dogs roaming the island. But the weather is temperate and the tourists are generous, so they seem much happier and healthier than the wild dogs found in the rest of Chile.)
Easter Island was once a lush paradise like Hawaii or Tahiti, but it is now virtually barren. The island’s resources were limited and when squabbling chieftains put all their people to work carving and transporting hundreds of 80,000 pound statues, everything else slowly died. Everything. (Consider this to be an ancient tribal warning against all-powerful central governments who think their needs supersede those of the individual. At least that’s my interpretation.)
In the civil war that ensued, all the moais were gradually pushed over — virtually all of them face down. A German ship sailed past the island in 1835 and noted that only one remained standing. It was soon tolloped, too.
There’s only one beach on the island. Well, they say there’s a second beach, but our guide said, “It’s too small to really count as a beach.”
It’s just the merest speck in the ocean. Easter Island covers 63 square miles. By way of comparison, Catalina Island, twenty-six miles off the coast of Los Angeles, covers 76 square miles. Hawaii is many times larger at 4,028 square miles.