Day 10: April 16 – Ua Huka: Vaipaee, Hokatu and Hane (4×4 Jeep & Horseback Riding)
Our entire day in Ua Huka was spent on shore with the Aranui 3 dropping us off in Vaipaee and picking us up in Hane’s Bay. It was a long yet different experience on this horse filled barren island.
The excitement of the day started very early in the morning. We headed off around 4 or 5 am from where we had been anchored and left for Vaipaee. What is most interesting about Vaipaee is that there are sheer cliffs on both sides of the bay, not much wider that the length of the Aranui from bow to stern. We arrived around 6 AM and it was at this time in the morning that the crew of the boat did what I would imagine to be their most challenging manoeuvre. As they approach this harbour, they drop their anchor facing directly into the narrow harbour. They then proceed to spin the boat 180 degrees in the narrow channel so that the front and rear of the boat are within what seems like 150 feet of the two rock walls while at the 90 degree mark. They continue to spin the boat and dispatch two whaleboats to pull a rope to the shores on either side. The boats then tie up the Aranui to the sides of the canyon so as to keep it stable and prevent it from turning any further. With the anchor down in the back and the two ropes acting as guy wires the boat is firmly in position to unload and load its cargo (as well as passengers). In this type of position however nobody except the cargo barges would be able to get into or out of the harbour. I saw a sailboat floating further inland of the shore and there was no way for this boat to exit the harbour even if it wanted too.
I could have been fooled into being told that I was in some Mexican Village when I saw the landscape and topography of this small island. There are only about 600 people on this entire island, much less than the number of horses which graze wild everywhere you look. As with many other islands in the Marquesas, horses are still used quite regularly but they are starting to be replaced with the ever popular pickup trucks that are being brought to the islands. After all they can carry a lot more cargo at a time. It is in this same manner that modern conveniences are starting to replace traditional ways in these islands. It is hard to believe that the first vehicles didn’t arrive until the early 1970’s and the first electrical power didn’t arrive until the late 1980’s along with its numerous conveniences.
At the quay people were busting about preparing to drop off or pick up shipments with the Aranui in town. Some locals were also making a brisk business of selling food to other locals that perhaps did not eat breakfast or had not brought a lunch with them. It looked like this was the place to be this morning. Apart from the 2 people on our boat who were visiting this island on horseback, everyone else piled into the numerous flower decorated pickup trucks that lined the quay to Vaipaee. These trucks whisked us off to the main town hall where a group of “Mama’s” from the village prepared a short two song music and dance presentation for us. Our driver was the town’s gendarme (policeman), one of only two on this island of 580 people. Outside the town hall we saw one of only two dance performances so far during our trip, presented by adults. Most of the rest have all been performed by young children. In this town however, they didn’t have a holiday from school with the Aranui in town like other villages.
Following the performance we received a tour of the local museum where original and recreated pieces of old life, carvings and architecture are on display. They displayed everything from hand carved Marquesian stilts to a miniature homestead, fishing hooks, tikis and shells. Considering the small size of the museum it was amazing to see how many artefacts they crammed into this tiny space. It was by far the most comprehensive and best museum I have seen in the Marquesas.
After a bit of time for buying the usual handicrafts from the village handicraft centre, we headed off for our next stop at the Marquesas’ only botanical gardens or rather arboretum (as everything relates to different types of trees). This arboretum has trees from around the world that all grow well in the Marquesas. On display is everything from roseapples, pamplemousse, starfruit and bamboo to mangos, lemons and banyan trees. It was a relaxing walk but there were tons of mosquitoes to keep us moving from shade tree to shade tree in the hot sun of the day. The high Deet content of the bug spray helped a little bit but these mosquitoes must have been desperate for some fresh blood as they still managed to leave their mark.
The next part of the trip was my favourite of the day. Our family drove in the back of the same pickup truck through Hane to the town of Hokatu. The stretch of coastline between the island’s airport and Hokatu was the most breathtaking. To the one side were steep mountainous terrain that rose high into the hills above us and dotted with horses. To the other side of the main road that zigzagged along (which in parts was one lane) were sheer drop off cliffs that overlooked the deep blue waters in the rough rocky shores below. Waves crashing up against the shoreline and the beautiful cliffs made for an excellent viewpoint as we paused for a moment looking down. Jaeden and Alyssa were happy to be riding in the back of the pickup truck as they wound around this stretch of road that wound around harbours and little villages. From their vantage point they could see unobstructed views of the scenery, and travel in the same manner as half of the local population. The roads are small and weave around thus not allowing for great speeds to be achieved while driving. I asked our policeman driver how his job on the island was, and he told me it is a very tranquil and quiet island.
We drove through Hane and on to Hokatau. We were told that the Aranui 3 does this every second trip to give both communities and equal opportunity to sell their handicrafts. Hokatau would complain that when passengers when there second, they had already purchased the handicrafts they wanted and not buy more. As a result each village takes its turn at being the second one visited. In my opinion however Hokatau’s handicraft centre was the most comprehensive and well stocked that I have seen since arriving in the Marquesas. Where Hane had a few items, Hokatau had shelves filled with wood carvings of all types. Both detailed and basic carvings were found here of manta rays, drums, masks, tikis, hair picks, bowls and platters. It was by far the best selection of wooden handicrafts that I had seen. Even after dozens of handicrafts were purchased by the over 100 people from our ship, it hardly made a dent in the heavily stocked shelves.
While we were selecting a drum to purchase, we asked a local boy on the other side of an open window if he could play a bit for us so that we could listen to the sound of the instrument. He directed us to an old man peeking through the next window over. From the other side of the window this old man played a little bit on the two drums for us to compare the deep tapping sounds. The young boy then told us that the older man was the artist that had actually carved the drums that were for sale. It was interesting to see the people that were gathered round the handicraft centre to see what would be purchased from the local townspeople.
For lunch we headed back to Hane where we ate at Chez Celine Fournier. Once again the feast was diverse and based on local foods of the area including rice, raw fish, curried goat and ground oven cooked bananas and pork.
From here our group split up into two. Those of us who wanted to take a 40 minute (each way) hike into the mountains to a viewpoint headed off inland while everyone else headed back by foot to the village. My wife took the older two children Alyssa and Jaeden on the hike while I took Dailin and Orin on the fifteen minute walk back to shore. They were a bit too exhausted from the sun to be wanting to spend much more time walking. Eli had stayed on the boat with the person that handles children’s activities as the day was a bit too long on shore and we didn’t want him to be attacked by the mosquitoes we were avoiding at the gardens. Dailin who didn’t bring any swim clothes headed back to the boat while Orin and I had a quick 30 minute swim in the small rolling waves of the bay. It was a thick black sand beach which on shore was so thick that your feet would sink into the wet sand. In the water some debris and pebbles would wash up and down with the waves but were not bothersome at all. It was a refreshing end to the day.
Getting onto the boat hear was the most adventurous yet. It was a wet landing and when cargo was brought on and off the whaleboats men were wading into the water grabbing their goods and walking out of the water amid the waves that were rolling in. When it came time to get on the boat, the sailors would pick up the children and put them in the boat because the boats had simply landed on the beach. There was no dock in this little town and so even the elderly people in our group had to be carried onto the boat. It was quite a sight to see some of the crew trying to hold the boat while others were attempting to load the boat with passengers. Those holding the boat were trying to make sure the boat was not beached while at the same time trying to make sure that it was not too far from shore.
Everyone was onboard by 4:30 in the evening, ready for a boat ride past “Bird Islands”. They are two little island motus that are not far from shore where the airport is located. In twenty minutes we were passing by this island that had literally thousands and thousands of birds. For the small size of the island it was almost deafening to hear the birds on this flat treeless island flying around in swarms. From quite a distance we could hear the birds but it was hard to see them until we approached very close to the island. It was if they all rose up off the island as we sailed past and it was amazing that these thousands of birds in such a small area could fly around and not crash into each other. There were so many that it looked like a swarm of bats darting around in all directions. I along with each of my children and the other passengers absolutely enjoyed this short diversional activity.
Written by Norm Schafer, Victoria BC
CEO Of FarAndAwayAdventures.com
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