Saturday, May 10, 2008

Kaoha! from Nuku Hiva

We still find ourselves exploring Nuku Hiva, our landfall in the Marquesas. There's plenty to see and keep us occupied!

We spent 6 days in Taiohae Bay, the capital village, needing time to unwind, launder, bathe, email and reprovision. We spent one night in a lovely bungalow hotel, many thanks to Dad and Kristin, and enjoyed some luxurious meals to give Ben some time off from the galley.

We rented a car, a 4 x 4 beast, as all vehicles are on Nuku Hiva, and picked our way around on a tour of the island. Kristin maneuvered ruts, grooves and precipices as Ben and I bounced along in the back. The terrain is rugged, and the ridges, pinnacles and cliffs are steep. Our altitude varied, and the road often lead up into rain and clouds, then back down to the sunshine. The tallest peak on the island is 1250 meters - i.e. tall. Along the way we passed horses, cows and goats, some tethered, some free to roam. One herd of goats had taken up residence at the foot of a defunct satellite dish and had made themselves quite at home.

This was May 1st, a holiday in France, so villagers were in a festive mood. We stopped for lunch in Hatiheu Bay and found the entire village celebrating outdoors. A tent was erected for the occasion, with vendors selling typical Marquesan food. The women sat at grouped tables, playing bingo, and the men played petanque in the street. We talked to some kids who were visiting Hatiheu from Tahiti, on a week-long class field trip, and a couple boys sat playing the guitar and the ukelele.

We got in after dark, with just enough time for Dad and Kristin to pack up their things (and a few of ours). Early the next morning we set back out on the four-wheeling roads to drop them off at the airport (at the opposite corner of the island), for their flight (and 2 day layover) to Tahiti. Then we set about doing some chores. First things first, check into the country. All in all not too painful an affair, but we did have to pay a refundable bond (~$1600) since I'm American. (They don't care that we're married.) With bank fees and the like, not as much as we'd hoped is actually refunded - c'est la vie! Given my non-EU status, I am limited to 90 days in French Polynesia. Tant pis. Next chore: clean the hull. We scrubbed algae and immature gooseneck barnacles at the waterline, from the (dis)comfort of the dinghy. The remainder of the hull will require diving to scrub clean, but there were recent reports of 4 tiger sharks in the bay, and the villagers sent out advisories not to swim. These aren't your run of the mill reef sharks. They're big (12 - 15 feet) and more aggressive than most. We weren't about to tempt fate. Finally, shopping at the market (which operates Saturday mornings, from 4 - 7 am). If you don't get there before 6 most of the food is gone. The market was small but we found what we needed. Vegetables aren't a traditional part of the Marquesan diet but a select few are now available to please the western palate. So, cabbage, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, green beans. Now, we're set. Meat, though, we have found harder to come by. We wrangled up some sausages and (but, of course!) duck breast (this is France, after all). Oh, and did I mention the prices? The islands are expensive enough, but add a weak dollar, like a cherry on top, and the cost is a bitter pill to swallow. A roll of paper towels is, get this, $7. We decided to make ours last.

One evening we attended a local dinner and revue. We paid for the entertainment only as seating for dinner was already full. First, a small chorus, singing French and Polynesian-style gospels. The people here are quite devout, mostly Catholic. Then the hula dancers. Much like, or just like, Hawaii. The performances were good (especially the little girls, really), and it was good people-watching, as the Nuku Hivans were all dressed up and wearing flowers for the occasion.

Finally we were ready to leave Taiohae Bay and its amenities. Time to get remote. We motored a short distance into Hakatea (aka Daniel's) Bay. There was only one other boat in the anchorage, and the scenery - breathtaking. The bay is made up of two small coves, surrounded by tall cliffs that take the plunge straight into the sea, and extend to form the walls of a lush river valley. We took the dinghy ashore to a lovely white sand beach (in front of Daniel's house, thus the bay's unofficial name). We watched crabs, looked for shells, and made friends with an affectionate little cat on the beach (pregnant, of course). Daniel usually greets cruisers but was away in town for a few days.

The next day we took the dinghy to the adjacent cove and up a short way into the mouth of the Hakaui River. There we wandered through what I would imagine Robinson Crusoe's homestead to look like. Pretty, quaint, hand-hewn, clever and utilitarian, and very tidy. The trees are heavy with fruit of all sorts (pamplemousse, the local, green-fleshed and sweet, sweet grapefruit; bananas; star fruit; mangos; papayas; pineapple; pomegranate; lemons; coconuts; and more we can't name) and fruit litters the ground, giving the place an off-aroma of fermentation. The grounds are well-kept, even landscaped, and the path is peppered with holes occupied by hefty, hairy land crabs.

Onward we walked by several homes, a small chapel, and continued on our way to a waterfall, the third tallest in the world. The hike took us through lush forest, several passes through the river, and through boar territory. We could see where they root through the soil. Local men often hunt the boars (actually their dogs do all the work), and display their teeth and tusks strung on necklaces they wear. They can be dangerous so I was none too anxious to meet one. In the end we actually did, from a distance; we tiptoed by and kept to ourselves, hardly wanting to announce our presence. So, we finally made it to the waterfall, and found that it was easier to see and appreciate from a distance. From the pool's perspective, and at this end of the dry season, the waterfall is tucked away in to the folds of the cliff, leaving it partially obscured. Anyway, it's beautiful.

The fresh water pool is purported to be perfectly swimmable, but as we approached the pool's edge, we were greeted by an enormous eel. As long as I am tall, and thick as Ben's shin, at least! She swam around some but always returned, and watched us. She was surrounded by dozens of fresh-water shrimp; they pretty much ignored each other. Ben took a few tentative steps into the pool, and there she sat - didn't budge. So, what could it mean? Is she curious, friendly or hungry? We decided not to find out and instead relaxed at the pool's edge, dousing ourselves with DEET. (Sidenote: the nonos (tiny biting flies) are absolutely relentless, and could pretty much care less is you're skin is wet with toxins. I have already been devoured a few times over.)

On our return from the waterfall we passed by a few dogs that looked to be in need, but found no owners at home. We stopped to talk to their neighbor,Emile, an old man ready to greet the cruisers walking by, en route to the waterfall. He offered us some bananas and pamplemousse and we sat to talk for awhile. He asked Ben's assistance in evaluating his generator's electrical problem so Ben gave a cursory look and promised to return the next day with a voltmeter and his electrical "bible." We told Emile to spread the word to his neighbors that I would bring veterinary supplies the following day and would be happy to hold a little "clinic" for the local dogs. Emile's dogs are his pride and joy, and were in good health, he told us. We left and passed by a few other villagers, and they also claimed their dogs were perfectly healthy.

The next morning we came to town, electrical and veterinary supplies in hand. In the end, the electrical problem was beyond Ben's capability but he gave Emile plenty of advice. And, there were no takers for my veterinary services. We found the owner of a dog we had seen the day before with fresh open wounds but he preferred to "let nature heal them." Thanks, but no thanks. But, we spent several hours with Emile, learning about the history of the Hakaui valley, and of the island, and learned a few Marquesan words to boot. The entire valley, and beyond, was owned by his father, and divided among his 12 living children. He had many stories and was eager to talk. We took a tour of his living quarters and sat near the coconut fire (always burning to keep the nonos away). He sent us on our way with a pineapple, pamplemousse, lemons and star fruit in exchange for assistance with his generator.

Later that night we had a potluck dinner with Anke and Martin, a German couple aboard "Just Do It." Now that leaves us preparing for our next destination, Anaho Bay, on the north end of Nuku Hiva. More on that as it comes....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To go with your $7 roll of paper towels, Amy reports that a head of yellow iceburg lettuce goes for $10 in Dillingham, Alaska. What are you doing using single use items like paper towels anyway? I thought you were trying to save the world!