Day 5 – Nuku Hiva Aranui Cruise 2010

Day 5: April 11 – Nuku Hiva: Taiohae and Taipivai

Our first of three trips to Nuku Hiva Nuku Hiva was a busy one that took us on an excursion that lasted the entire day and had us visit two different sides of the island. We started the day in in the main centre of Taiohae followed by our departure from the small town of Taipivai.

A school bus shuttled us the two kilometres from the freighter terminal where we were docked in Taiohae bay to the downtown area where people were once again set up to sell their handicrafts. Residents from all around the island were gathered in a community building to showcase hundreds of original handcrafted items. Everything from carved wooden tikis to intricate polished stone pieces were on display. I opted to spend my free hour walking down the beautifully kept waterfront collecting video and still photo memories of this mountainous harbour. The mountains once again were covered in greenery with the mountains rising to 864 metres. At the entrance to the harbour were two large stone sentinels that seemed to almost guard the peaceful harbour that was filled about a dozen sailboats, three cargo vessels and a millionaire’s yacht (complete with a helicopter and helicopter pad).

I even had a few minutes to stop by a small computer store where I was able to get onto a computer to upload my latest blog. I have to say that the internet connection was the good old fashioned dial up service. It was slow but nonetheless I was able to do all the updating I needed to do in 15 minutes for the minimum 250 CPF ($3 CAD) charge. It is great to find a computer store to gain internet access as it allowed me to plug in my memory stick to the computer and paste in my blog without spending a few hours on the computer. The most common locations for internet connections in the Marquesas Islands are at post offices but unfortunately their standard computers don’t allow for any plug in devices.

At 9:30 AM my family left with the rest of the group from our cruise ship for a day long excursion. We all walked over to a parking lot that had about 25 four wheel drive vehicles, a 20 passenger minibus and about 4 local horses. Although we left the horses behind, they were a common sight throughout the day. We saw horses tied up almost everywhere on the island. In the town, by the churches and up on hilltops way up in the mountains. To this day many Marquesians still use horses as a means of transportation. It seemed like horses were about as common here as scooters were in Papeete.

Our first stop was the beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral of the Marquesas Islands. Although the two old castle like turrets of the original building with its gate-like entrance are still intact, a beautiful new building was made in the 1970’s. The new cathedral is also on this tohua site using stone from the Marquesas’ six inhabited islands. The cathedral contains stone and wood carvings that mix the Marquesian like culture with the Christian stories and traditions. Etched in stone are carvings of the Virgin Mary while wooden door posts contain life size carvings of apostles that have the appearance of the local Marquesian people. The recent clergy that helped create this newer cathedral enlisted the support of the local Marquesian Christians and tried to encourage the use of skills and ideas that had for over 100 years been prohibited by the church. Inside the cathedral Aranui staff presented an hour long lecture to passengers on the Christian history within the Marquesas Islands. Presentations were made in English, French and German to accommodate for the needs of all passengers on the boat.

The largest part of the day was spent on the drive North and then East into the mountains and back down again to the neighbouring town of Taipivai. The drive up the steep mountain has in recent years been paved and so the trip was rather easy with no dust to contend with in the back of open jeeps and trucks. The road twisted and turned along the road that crawled up the mountain to the top ridge of Mount Muake. With one stop first at a viewpoint we continued on to a higher viewpoint that overlooked not only the harbour with all of its boats, but also the mountains towering up on three sides. The colours of the mountain ridges with their wave like vertical surfaces was indeed a breathtaking location to spend two hours for lunch and visiting others. There was a large shelter with picnic tables and flush toilets to make the stop much more manageable for our group of about 120 people.

My son’s highlight was to watch one of our fellow passengers from France who is a professional artist, draw pictures from our surroundings. We looked through his book of designs that he started while in Tahiti and the Marquesas and it inspired my son who has been diligently sketching outlines of mountains and scenes of our trip. His pictures of the harbours we visited in the past few days along with old churches from the towns were beautifully illustrated as he sketches on site and adds the colours when he has time in the evening.

Our descent down the mountain took us to the sleepy little town of Taipivai that hugged a little harbour about 25 kilometres from Taiohae. Near this town we took a 20 minute hike up an unmarked road and trail to the Paeke Archaeological site. The trail led up a clear path through coconut and mango trees to a me’ae (Marquesian Sacred Site) where two stone platforms were visible with tall stone tikis up to 5 feet tall. The tikis were carved to represent specific ancestors of the people and form part of the wall supporting the rock ceremonial platforms. Although the tikis are starting to fade from the stone due to the wear of rain and sun, the two platforms remain intact.

At the end of our tiring day we were all anxious to return to our boat. It was a good thing that my youngest two children aged 4 and 6 stayed on the boat while it cruised to Taipivai without us as they would not have lasted in the hot sun of the day. My 8 year old even headed back early rather than complete the hike at the end.

As we all boarded onto the barge that would take us back to the Aranui some large waves came rumbling through this otherwise protected Fjord like harbour. The waves were enough to soak the few passengers that were seated in the back of the boat furthest from the shore where passengers were still trying to get onto the boat. As these waves came crashing in they pushed us so high up onto the black sand beach that our barge was stuck. Thanks to the quick thinking of the crew they asked the local man on shore who hopped into his tractor that was parked on the beach and he gently pushed us off the beach and back into the water.

Throughout the day each passenger was dressed in long-sleeve shirts, pants and plenty of Deet insect repellent to keep of the pesky nono’s. If bitten they leave an itch that is not easily forgotten. Although it was a long day in warmer than normal clothes that took us from one harbour to another on Nuku Hiva it was an experience I would not have missed for anything. It was a day where we learned a great deal of the history of these remote islands and gained a greater understanding into their culture and way of life.

Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC

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