May 8, 2011

Lost on Nuku Hiva

 “I think we’re on the wrong trail. Again,” Michael mentioned, as our intrepid group followed a muddy track deeper into the jungle. But I insisted I could hear the cascade, or waterfall, that we were searching for. Anyway—there were cute little feral piglets up ahead (the local pigs that roam free are a cross between the original Polynesian pig and a European wild boar) as well as ruins all around us. “The pigs are cute, but I’m sort of sick of tikis,” Maia said, when I pointed out these unexpected highlights of our collective inability to read a map.

 We were road tripping. Yesterday our two families (ours and the crew of Whatch Gonna Do) rented a 5-seat truck (you do the math) to tour the island. Barb volunteered to be our tour guide after it turned out that hiring an actual guide (and a vehicle big enough for all of us) would cut too deeply into our rudder budget. So we set off at 8am—with a map of the island and a Lonely Planet guide in hand.
copra drying shed with its removable roof
a woman weaving herself a birthday crown
 Our first stop were the villages of Taipivai and Hooumi on Controleur Bay. Here Barb told us that Herman Melville had written his book Typee. What I personally found even more interesting were all the ancient pae pae (house foundations) that lined the river—and in some cases the old stone platforms even acted as modern home foundations. I also rather liked the copra drying (coconut) sheds.

At the end of the road we came across a group of men who were preparing a luncheon of poisson cru (fish cooked in lime and marinated with coconut) for the island children who were gathered at the nearby church for their catechism class. They gave us coconut milk, grated meat and even the nut of a coconut (which none of us had encountered before) to sample. Then we squeezed back into our truck and went in search of a nearby Me'ae (religious shrine) that was located in the hills above Taipivai.
 It took us about 15 minutes to hike up to the Me’ae. The religious areas were separate from the village sites and were often tapu (taboo) for women and lower class types to visit, unless they were being sacrificed--which makes them sort of lucky, because they stuck these places way far up... These are the sites where the tikis (the stone ancestors of man) were most commonly found are most powerful (touching them can release bad spirits).
 After bonding with the gorilla-like tikis (while doing our best not to irritate them and release their bad spirits…) and dropping the kids in one of the sacrifice pits (archaeologists found sculls and other signs of cannibalism here) we headed off in search of the cascade. We looked hard for the trail to the waterfall, a couple of times—encountering feral pigs, feral chickens and feral horses as well as discovering dozens of pae paes and other interesting structures (the Marquesas is one giant archaeology site and only a tiny fraction has been excavated).
 Eventually though we had to give up on the cascade and carry on along the squeal-inspiring roads to the (wait for it…) next archaeological site that Barb had selected for us. By this point the kids and Michael and Evan were getting surly about tikis (I think one of the kids must have rubbed a tiki the wrong way and released a few bad attitude spirits)—but luckily this site was right on the main road and when we all saw the huge tohuas (main meeting area) as well as the massive banyan trees we all opted to explore one final site (although Barb had a few more on her list…)
the banyan trees are found at important sites
 The rest of our day was spent touring the island—marvelling at the changing geography (we actually got up into a chilly pine forest) and the awe-inspiring views. We also marvelled over the fact that seven people jammed in a five-person truck could remain so cheerful after almost 1i-hours of travel over rough, winding (death-defying-sheer-cliff-edged) roads. But it turns out that not only do we and WGD cross an ocean similarly, we have a similar tiki tolerance. And it helped to be exploring in a place where everyone we met was unfailingly friendly and smiling.

looking out to sea


ida said...

Hello! I've been following your blog since just before you set off from Mexico (I stumbled upon it via via), and I've been enjoying living vicariously through your delightful stories of life aboard and adventures abroad! Fun to travel with you around the world from my kitchen table!
Thank you for sharing.

Diane, Evan and Maia said...

Thanks, Ida! So nice to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

did any of you get eaten on nuku hiva?