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A Hiking Guide to Easter Island

Ask me which Pacific island has the most to offer hikers and I’ll probably answer Easter Island. Here on an island 11 km wide and 23 km long you’ll find nearly a thousand ancient Polynesian statues strewn along a powerfully beautiful coastline or littering the slopes of an extinct volcano.

The legends of Easter Island have been recounted many times. What’s less known is that the island’s assorted wonders are easily accessible on foot from the comfort of the only settlement, Hanga Roa. Before setting out see the sights, however, visit the excellent archaeological museum next to Ahu Tahai on the north side of town (the term “ahu” refers to an ancient stone platform). Aside from the exhibits, the museum has maps which can help you plan your trip. On online map is available at www.mapsouthpacific.com/easter_island.

The first morning after arrival, I suggest you climb Easter Island’s most spectacular volcano, Rano Kau, where Orongo, a major archaeological site, sits on the crater’s rim.But rather than marching straight up the main road to the crater, look for the unmarked shortcut trail off a driveway to the right just past the forestry station south of town. It takes under two hours to cover the six km from Hanga Roa to Orongo, but bring along a picnic lunch and make a day of it. (If climbing a 316-meter hill sounds daunting, you can take a taxi to the summit for around US$6 and easily walk back later in the day.) Once on top, you’ll find hiking down into the colourful crater presents no difficulty. It may also look easy to go right around the crater rim, but only do so if you’re a very experienced hiker and have a companion along as shear 250-meter cliffs drop into the sea from the ridge.

Another day, rise early and take a taxi to lovely Anakena Beach at the end of the paved road on the north side of the island (you should pay under US$10 for the 20 km). A few of the famous Easter Island statues have been restored at Anakena and you could go for a swim, although the main reason you’ve come is the chance to trek back to Hanga Roa around the road-free northwest corner of the island. You’ll pass numerous abandoned statues lying facedown where they fell, and the only living creatures you’re unlikely to encounter are the small brown hawks which will watch you intently from perches on nearby rocks. If you keep moving, you’ll arrive back in town in five or six hours (but take adequate food, water, and sunscreen). This is probably the finest coastal walk in the South Pacific.

Almost as good is the hike along the south coast, although you’re bound to run into other tourists here as a paved highway follows the shore. Begin early and catch a taxi to Rano Raraku, the stone quarry where all of the island’s statues were born. This is easily the island’s most spectacular sight with 397 statues in various stages of completion lying scattered around the crater. And each day large tour groups come to Rano Raraku to sightsee and have lunch. However, if you arrive before 9 am, you’ll have the site to yourself for a few hours. When you see the first tour buses headed your way, hike down to Ahu Tongariki on the coast, where 15 massive statues were reerected in 1994. From here, just start walking back toward Hanga Roa (20 km) along the south coast. You’ll pass many fallen statues and enjoy some superb scenery. Whenever you get tired, simply go up onto the highway and stick out your thumb and you’ll be back in town in a jiffy.

An outstanding 13-km walk begins at the museum and follows the west coast five km north to Ahu Tepeu. As elsewhere, keep your eyes pealed for banana trees growing out of the barren rocks as these often indicate caves you can explore. Inland from Ahu Tepeu is one of the island’s most photographed sites, Ahu Akivi, with seven statues restored in 1960. From here an interior farm road runs straight back to town (study the maps at the museum carefully, as you’ll go far out of your way if you choose the wrong road here).

A shorter hike takes you up Puna Pau, a smaller crater which provided stone for the red topknots that originally crowned the island’s statues. There’s a great view of Hanga Roa from the three crosses on an adjacent hill and you can easily do it all in half a day. A different walk takes you right around the 3,353-meter airport runway, which crosses the island just south of town. Near the east end of the runway is Ahu Vinapu with perfectly fitted monolithic stonework bearing an uncanny resemblance to similar constructions in Peru.

Easter Island’s moderate climate and scant vegetation make for easy cross country hiking, and you won’t find yourself blocked by fences and private property signs very often. You could also tour the island by mountain bike, available from several locations at US$10 a day. If you surf or scuba dive, there are many opportunities here. A minimum of five days are needed to see the main sights of Easter Island, and two weeks would be far better. The variety of things to see and do will surprise you, and you’ll be blessed with some unforgettable memories.

Eat Chocolate And Get Healthy

Chocolate has been getting a bad rap. Although it’s often combined with other ingredients that result in calorie-laden and not particularly heart-healthy treats, the actual cocoa bean from which chocolate is derived has some significant health benefits.

Based on research from the 2004 Cocoa Symposium, sponsored by the University of California and the National Institutes of Health, chocolate was found to offer many disease-fighting properties in its pure form. Chocolate contains flavonoids, antioxidants shared by green tea and garlic, and thought to protect both heart and blood vessels. In addition, chocolate is also a good source of folic acid, copper, and magnesium and boosts serotonin, the brain chemical that enhances mood.

Historically, chocolate was highly regarded for its nutritional properties as well. Chocolate originated in the rainforests of Latin America and was known for its medicinal properties. In 17th century Europe, chocolate was touted as a remedy for such ailments as anemia, tuberculosis, and gout.

Even though there are real nutritional benefits to chocolate, this doesn’t mean that chocolate bars should join fruits and vegetables in your five a day plan. Chocolate is still higher in fat and calories than many other antioxidant-rich foods. It’s also usually combined with sugar, even though its moderate glycemic index helps provide a steady source of energy. But eaten in moderation, chocolate can satisfy your cravings for sweets and provide a health boost at the same time.

Pure cocoa powder has the highest concentration of antioxidant power, followed by dark chocolate and then milk chocolate. Cocoa powder also has the least fat—only half a gram with no saturated fat. Bar chocolate, including chocolate morsels and chips, is higher in fat and also contains sugar. Two tablespoons of chocolate chips contain approximately 4 grams of fat, including 2.5 of saturated fat.

To get started, here are three healthy, low-fat recipes in which chocolate is combined with another nutritional powerhouse.

Chocolate Cherry Cakes

In this recipe, chocolate is combined with cherries, another potent antioxidant that has been show to regulate sleep cycles and enhance memory. Each mini cake has a moist chocolate flavor and only 3 grams of fat.

1/2 cup oatmeal
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
12 ounces frozen cherries, chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoons applesauce
3 tablespoons egg substitute
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup cherry jam, unsweetened

Preheat oven to 350° F degrees. Grind oatmeal until it resembles a course flour. Place the flours, cocoa, sugar, and baking soda in a medium bowl and stir to mix well. Add the cherries, oil, applesauce, egg substitute, and vanilla and stir well. Fold in the walnuts. Spread the batter evenly into an 8-inch baking pan, coated with cooking spray. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan to room temperature. Cut into 12 squares mini cakes and top with cherry jam.

Calories: 190; Fat 3g (sat 0g); Protein 3g; Carb 40g; Fiber 2g; Chol 0mg; Sodium 70mg

Chocolate Oat Bars

Oats lower cholesterol as well as reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and Type II diabetes. This recipe makes 25 bars with 2 grams of fat each.

1/2 cup raw sugar
1/2 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup chocolate chip chunks

Preheat oven to 350° F degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together sugar and applesauce until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla to sugar-applesauce mixture. Add flours, baking soda, and cinnamon; mix well. Stir in oats and chocolate chunks. Pour into an 8-inch metal baking pan, coated with cooking spray. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown; remove to wire rack.

Calories: 73; Fat 2g (sat 1g); Protein 2g; Carb 14g; Fiber 1g; Chol 0mg; Sodium 30mg

Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake

This cheesecake combines the delicious taste of chocolate with the additional nutritional benefits of yogurt and antioxidant-rich raspberries. Use organic cream cheese and yogurt if available. Cut into 12 slices, each serving contains 10 grams of fat. For a lower fat option you can substitute fat-free cream cheese, but be sure to read labels carefully. Fat-free cream cheese is more likely to contain artificial ingredients and preservatives than its low-fat counterparts.

1-1/4 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons canola oil
16 ounces (2 packages) reduced-fat cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup liquid egg substitute
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces (1 container) non-fat raspberry yogurt
1/2 cup non-fat chocolate fudge topping, preferably sweetened with fruit juice
1 cup fresh or defrosted frozen raspberries

Preheat oven to 300° F degrees. Combine graham cracker crumbs and oil. Press into a 9-inch springform pan. Beat cream cheese in a medium bowl until smooth. Add sugar, flour, egg substitute, vanilla, and yogurt, one at a time, beating until smooth. Pour mixture over graham cracker crumbs. Bake 1 1/2 hours or until center is firm. When cheesecake has cooled, spread a thin layer of chocolate fudge topping over top. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours. Before serving, top with raspberries.

Calories: 222; Fat 10g (sat 5g); Protein 7g; Carb 26g; Fiber 1g; Chol 21mg; Sodium 387mg

Also see other Chocolate and Dessert Recipes on HealthSurvey.org

Choosing Organic for Health

We come from a society where growing organic and just growing produce and livestock for food was once one and the same. Small, family farms still grow their own food using traditional methods passed down through the generations. As commercial farming became big-business, however, growers and farmers started to investigate methods of increasing crops and building bigger livestock in order to increase their profits. This led to increased use of pesticides and drugs to enhance yield.

In this article, we will look at what is required in order to call a product organic, how choosing organic eating and farming impact the environment and our health, discuss the benefits of eating organic foods, and what research says about the nutritional benefits of organically-grown produce.

Calling it “Organic”

In 1995, the US National Organic Standards Board passed the definition of ‘organic’, which is a labeling term denoting products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. It states, “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, and enhance ecological harmony.”

The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals, and people.

The philosophy of organic production of livestock is to provide conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of the animal. Organic livestock must be given access to the outdoors, fresh air, water, sunshine, grass and pasture, and are fed 100% organic feed. They must not be given or fed hormones, antibiotics or other animal drugs in their feed. If an animal gets sick and needs antibiotics, they cannot be considered organic. Feeding of animal parts of any kind to ruminants that, by nature, eat a vegetarian diet, is also prohibited. Thus, no animal byproducts of any sort are incorporated in organic feed at any time.

Because farmers must keep extensive records as part of their farming and handling plans in order to be certified organic, one is always able to trace the animal from birth to market of the meat. When meat is labeled as organic, this means that 100% of that product is organic.

Although organic crops must be produced without the use of pesticides, it is estimated that between 10-25% of organic fruits and vegetables contain some residues of synthetic pesticides. This is because of the influence of rain, air and polluted water sources. In order to qualify as ‘organic’, crops must be grown on soil free of prohibited substances for three years before harvest. Until then, they cannot be called organic.

When pests get out of balance and traditional organic methods don’t work for pest control, farmers can request permission to use other products that are considered low risk by the National Organic Standards Board.

The Environment

According to the 15-year study, “Farming Systems Trial”, organic soils have higher microbial content, making for healthier soils and plants. This study concluded that organically grown foods are raised in soils that have better physical structure, provide better drainage, may support higher microbial activity, and in years of drought, organic systems may possibly outperform conventional systems. So, organic growing may help feed more people in our future!

What is the cost of conventional farming, today? The above-mentioned 15 -year study showed that conventional farming uses 50% more energy than organic farming. In one report, it was estimated that only 0.1% of applied pesticides actually reach the targets, leaving most of the pesticide, 99.9%, to impact the environment. Multiple investigations have shown that our water supplies, both in rivers and area tap waters, are showing high levels of pesticides and antibiotics used in farming practices. Water samples taken from the Ohio River as well as area tap water contained trace amounts of penicillin, tetracycline and vancomycin.

Toxic chemicals are contaminating groundwater on every inhabited continent, endangering the world’s most valuable supplies of freshwater, according to a Worldwatch paper, Deep Trouble: The Hidden Threat of Groundwater Pollution. Calling for a systemic overhaul of manufacturing and industrial agriculture, the paper notes that several water utilities in Germany now pay farmers to switch to organic operations because this costs less than removing farm chemicals from water supplies.

What About our Health?

Eating organic food is not a fad. As people become more informed and aware, they are taking steps to ensure their health. US sales of organic food totaled 5.4 billion dollars in 1998, but was up to 7.8 billion dollars in the year 2000. The 2004 Whole Foods Market Organic Foods Trend Tracker survey found that 27% of Americans are eating more organic foods than they did a year ago.

A study conducted by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation reports that the number of people poisoned by drifting pesticides increased by 20% during 2000.

A rise in interest and concern for the use of pesticides in food resulted in the passage of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act, directing the US EPA to reassess the usage and impact of pesticides for food use.

Particular attention was paid to the impact on children and infants, whose lower body weights and higher consumption of food per body weight present higher exposure to any risks associated with pesticide residues.

Publishing an update to its 1999 report on food safety, the Consumers Union in May 2000 reiterated that pesticide residues in foods children eat every day often exceed safe levels. The update found high levels of pesticide residues on winter squash, peaches, apples, grapes, pears, green beans, spinach, strawberries, and cantaloupe. The Consumers Union urged consumers to consider buying organically grown varieties, particularly of these fruits and vegetables.

The most common class of pesticide in the US is organophosphates (OP’s). These are known as neurotoxins.

An article published in 2002 examined the urine concentration of OP residues in 2-5 year olds. Researchers found, on average, that children eating conventionally grown food showed an 8.5 times higher amount of OP residue in their urine than those eating organic food. Studies have also shown harmful effects on fetal growth, as well.

Pesticides are not the only threat, however. 70% of all antibiotics in the US are used to fatten up livestock, today. Farm animals receive 24.6 million pounds of antibiotics per year!

Public health authorities now link low-level antibiotic use in livestock to greater numbers of people contracting infections that resist treatment with the same drugs. The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in June of 2001, opposing the use of sub-therapeutic levels of antibiotics in agriculture and the World Health Organization, in its 2001 report, urged farmers to stop using antibiotics for growth promotion. Studies are finding the same antibiotic resistant bacteria in the intestines of consumers that develop in commercial meats and poultry.

Is it More Nutritious?

Until recently, there had been little evidence that organically grown produce was higher in nutrients. It’s long been held that healthier soils would produce a product higher in nutritional quality, but there was never the science to support this belief. Everyone agrees that organic foods taste better.

In 2001, nutrition specialist Virginia Worthington published her review of 41 published studies comparing the nutritional values of organic and conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains. What she found was that organically grown crops provided 17% more vitamin C, 21% more iron, 29% more magnesium, and 13.6% more phosphorus than conventionally grown products. She noted that five servings of organic vegetables provided the recommended daily intake of vitamin C for men and women, while their conventional counterparts did not. Today there are more studies that show the same results that Ms. Worthington concluded.

Considering the health benefits of eating organic foods, along with the knowledge of how conventionally grown and raised food is impacting the planet should be enough to consider paying greater attention to eating organic, today. Since most people buy their food in local supermarkets, it’s good news that more and more markets are providing natural and organic foods in their stores. Findings from a survey by Supermarket News showed that 61% of consumers now buy their organic foods in supermarkets. More communities and health agencies also are working to set up more farmer’s markets for their communities, also, which brings more organic, locally grown foods to the consumer. The next time you go shopping, consider investigating organic choices to see if it’s indeed worth the change!