Day 7 – Fatu Hiva Aranui Cruise 2010

Day 7: April 13 – Fatu Hiva: Omoa and Hanavave (most isolated village)

Fatu Hiva was a definite pearl of the Marquesas Islands. This island was indeed a special place as we visited its two villages that only have a population of about 250 people each. Because Fatu Hiva does not even have an airport, it was the most remote and adventurous island on our itinerary.

I landed in the town of Omoa where my son and I were amongst the first group of people on shore. We had decided that we were going to take the 17 kilometre hike from Omoa to Hanavave and so the 20 of us hikers needed to have a head start on our visit to the island.

The town of Omoa is very traditional and similar to what the old Marquesan islands would have been like in the past. Although there are now 4 wheel drives and tractors, much everything else about the town is the same. Villagers welcomed us with open arms as they showed us their handicrafts that were for sale. They also held demonstrations on how they created tapa cloth by pounding various types of bark for 3 hours to mould it into items that they would traditionally need. A demonstration was also made on how to make scented flower bunches for brides using a variety of flowers, herbs, pineapple chunks and sandalwood powder. They would then roll these into a hair bun on the ladies heads.

We also had the opportunity to visit a local museum that housed artefacts from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Carved paddles, trading items, bowls and photos were all on display to show ancient carvings and history of the Marquesas Islands.

The next part of the day was the most rigorous part of the Aranui 3’s itinerary. It included our 4 hour hike into the mountains from one village to the next. Now this may not seem like much of a big deal but considering that there were only 3 vehicles on this road throughout the entire day (including one guided trip of boaters and the people bringing our top of the mountain picnic) it was as remote as we could have made ourselves.

The weather for the hike was perfect. It was overcast for most of the two hour ascent up the mountainside and trees alongside the road provided a great deal of shade. Although it sprinkled with rain on two occasions, it quickly passed leaving us refreshingly damp and cool in the hot air of the day. Occasionally a breeze would blow through the mountain valley trail and my son and I would gratefully stand there with our arms outstretched to enjoy the coolness of the wind.

As we mounted the mountain we curved and twisted up the mountain along a rich red soil road that was fairly wide in many places. The road headed along the ocean at first but quickly moved inland for half of the hike. Mountains towered over us at first but as we climbed up these towering mountains turned into level views high above enormous valleys of lush green vegetation. At times we looked over the edge of the path to see sheer mountain cliffs that would only take one step to send someone tumbling a kilometre or two down to the bottom of the valley.

It was a bit bizarre to see the power lines that were along the path. The trail consistently crossed with a three wire power lines that ran across this little island. Every time we thought that we had reached the top of the mountain, there was again a bit of a climb. The mountain was a bit deceiving as it gradually mounted corner after corner for two full hours.

After a nice refreshing lunch that was brought to the top of the mountain for us (and a refill of our bottled water). My son Jaeden and I started the two hour descent down the mountain. This at first was quite a nice leisurely stroll as we only gradually descended. The sun was out a little bit more but still shade was most common. On a sunny day this part of the hike would be extremely hot as the shrubs on this second mountain were virtually non-existent and as a result there was almost no shade at all.

Thirty minutes into the descent we arrived as some steeper areas and took a ten minute shortcut that had us almost sliding down an extremely old 4×4 trail that may have only been possible to descend. Finally after half of our descent was complete we arrived at a viewpoint that hovered over Virgins Bay below. From here we had a panoramic view of the hills behind us, of the basalt rock pillars in front of us and the crown like peaks of the mountains that encircled us on all sides. We were extremely high up in the mountains and had one of the best views of the area. It was truly a rewarding hike for this view alone. It looked like a viewpoint or some other construction was going on at this location as a large area had been flattened out and a dump truck and crane were working here to smoothen the road. This heavy equipment looked so much out of place on this tiny little island. But as we continued to descend we could see why the road was being widened and flattened. It was this part of the descent that was perhaps the most tricky and scary as loose rocks and uneven boulders created a bumpy road surface. The road in this last descent was also the steepest we had seen and we even slipped in the loose rock a few times but fortunately did not get hurt. One older person in our group at this point caught a ride down the mountain on a local person’s motorbike as it skidded down the mountain with its breaks on much of the time.

The final 20 minutes of our walk descended into the valley of Hanavave below. A fresh water stream could be heard alongside the dirt road we were walking on as Palm, noni and banana trees towered all around us. This valley was an oasis on what otherwise seemed to be a barren mountaintop on this last half of the trail. As we descended into the village that follows the last 1.5 kilometres of a river, we saw a horse tied up in a field. This horse was obviously someone’s main source of transportation in this tiny town. We crossed a bridge which then led us to the paved road that wanders the rest of the way into town and to the seashore. Along the road people were selling more handicrafts to those few of us who had decided to make the trek across the mountains. It was disheartening to walk by with only a tired glance at the hard work of their artwork. We were however extremely exhausted after 5 hours away from our group on the ship and anxious to see all the others who had taken the boat to this new little port town.

As I arrived into this little town of Hanavave I saw what it truly must have been like in the Marquesas even 50 years ago. The townspeople were on holidays at the arrival of the Aranui and put on a dance and musical performance for us at the site of their downtown basketball court that overlooked the water. Everyone in town was there selling crafts, dancing, handing out drinking coconuts and smiling. This little town on Virgins Bay was not only friendly but the breathtaking view of the towering pinnacles and mountains around it made it an unforgettable place. Most of the passengers on the ship wanted to just stay but once again this was not possible as we did have to move on.

This may also have been the sentiment of the youth that I saw on the small boat that took us back to the Aranui. He was decked out in a flower lei and all of the young children of the village were discretely saying goodbye to him. He too was leaving his village where he probably had grown up and was heading back to Papeete. Children from these islands go to Atuona at the age of 9 or 10 years old and around 15 or 16 years of age they leave the Marquesas Islands (as do all children of French Polynesia) to finish their high school in Papeete. It was sad to leave and we said goodbye to this little corner of paradise with its famously beautiful sunset on the horizon.

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC
CEO Of  FarAndAwayAdventures.com

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