When I arrived at Mataveri to meet Nicolas, he had rigged an anchor at the top of a hundred-foot rock face beside a cave. On the brief beach, a couple of locals were collecting flat pavers that had flaked from the cliff for a patio project, the Rapa Nui passion for stonework abiding still. I recognized one of them, another Explora guide, Singa, a long-haired tattooed surfer dude with a big gecko on his back and Make Make on one pec. He and his cousin Terai wandered over with a six-pack to watch us climb.
I went first, with Nicolas belaying, and stalled about 80 feet up. After a few attempts to swing my leg over, in the process gashing my shin, I called no más and returned to the beach bleeding from various cuts and abrasions.
"Souvenirs of Easter Island," Singa said, laughing.
I belayed for Nicolas, who knew the route by heart and tangoed gracefully to the top. Then Singa and Terai each took a turn, mastering the climb with brute strength, and barefoot – "Rapa Nui style!"
Being the sole failure on the route wasn't great for my mana, but afterward, when we sat on a makeshift driftwood bench drinking beers while the surf boomed and spirits were high, it seemed a good time to bring up the Birdman. I asked Singa if he thought I could kick out to Motu Nui on a boogie board.
"The water is very deep, and it is far," he said. Then, brightening, "But you can do it! Better with a longboard, I think." He mimed the rapid progress of a paddler on a 10-foot tanker: "Shoop! Shoop!"
I asked him about the cliffs of Orongo, which we could see brooding in the distance, how he thought the Birdmen of yore got down.
"My opinion," he said. "They had a route. Possibly a ramp."
A ramp! The sly devils. Not much mana in a ramp.
"But that was long ago. The waves wash it away. It is very dangerous now." He whistled for effect.
And Nicolas, what did he think, as a climber? Could he rig an anchor at Orongo, or near about? The question clearly distressed him. He may have heard it before.
"You know Red Bull? The energy drink? They wanted to bring back the race. But the national park told them no," Nicolas said. "It would be bad to try it, you know. Get kicked off the island."
He knew the cliffs nearby as well. Rotten rock. No anchors. Very bad. "This is our place for climbing, Mataveri." He shrugged.
It had kicked my ass, at any rate. The clock was ticking on the Birdman Project, and I wasn't any closer to the starting line.