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Date: 19 May 2015 14:01:52
Title: Nuku Hiva

Dear Family and Friends,
 
16th May 2015
 
You cant be too picky when you have an internet connection so I have dispatched some of the photo blogs. And hopefully here is our Nuku Hiva experiences.
 
My birthday on Wednesday was a lazy day, with dinner ashore. Thank you for the birthday wishes. A simple dingy ride across the bay to the restaurant,.... ha ha, travelling at low tide and in the dark we hadn’t  reckoned on the outcrop of rocks just below the waters surface in the far corner of the long U shaped bay. We paddled our way backwards and forwards to a safer spot with a bit less paint on the dingy but we made it! Rose’s restaurant was not inspiring at first sight, some tables and chairs arranged on a front step, strip lighting and a menu written on a wipe board, but the service was friendly and we had a reservation! I ordered a Poisson cru  with lait de coco, raw fish marinated in salt, lime juice and coconut milk with a salad, it was delicious and definitely something I shall repeat if we catch more tuna. Alan had a chow Mein, a strange offering here but it was very good. We also had a passing audience of loud feral cats almost crawling onto the chairs. As there was masses of food I am afraid I did feed them. There was a nice surprise as they presented a special coconut ice cream cake for my birthday which was very sweet of them.
 
Taiohae bay is relatively well sheltered, although busy with anchored yachts, we are not on top of one another and it has a reasonable dingy facilities. But disembarking the dingies at the ladders or the two tyres depending on where you tied up, were difficult to climb from 4-5’ below, with a degree of undignified pushing and shoving to get over the top! A constantly busy free wifi cafe is the next stop for yachties but the signal to the island is not great, apparently it hasn’t been upgraded for a number of years. There is a collective frustration around the tables!
 
We had a great tour with Richard who was very knowledgeable on all things to do with Nuku Hiva, travelling over the mountains to Hatiheu Valley,  with its many archaeological sites and in the past, a much greater population. He reckoned the island as a whole had many tens of thousands of people, today most of the 2,600 or so live in Taiohae Bay. (European diseases did much to decimate the indigenous population).
 
The geography of the island, its many deep valleys extending to the sea and steep near vertical cliffs that were once the volcanic cone rims, mean that travel is still by rugged paths in many places or by sea. For instance its 3 hours by 4x4 vehicle from Taiohae to the airport on the NW corner of the island or 2 hours by sea. With a limited knowledge of plate tectonics, the Marquesas lie along a destructive continental plate margin giving rise to volcanic islands and the ocean bed fracture zone we passed to the east of the islands. Fatu Hiva, the most easterly is the youngest island, with the plate moving West. Prevailing winds and rain are from the East, the west on the dry side of the watershed is desert and a surprising contrast from rampant greenery of the East and south.
 
The few concrete roads zig zag the steep gradients, with stunning views of the bay and mountains, concrete giving way to dirt roads for much of the last few miles of our tour, to reach Hatiheu Bay (via Controller bay).   A surprising number of tethered horses graze beside the road, and an occasional cow. A small amount of flat land lies in the valley floors and close to the beach.
 
Coconut trees are planted everywhere, stretching up the valley slopes. Banana palms, papaya, lemon, limes, pomme citrons, cashew nuts, mangoes, huge pamplemousse (grapefruit), pineapple and avocado are grown domestically and some for sale in the market. We came across a market garden growing tomatoes and aubergines and I am sure there must be more. The rest of supermarket shelves wares and everything else arrives by sea from Tahiti. We could not rent a car, there was no petrol, the once every 3 weeks delivery was overdue. When it did arrive yesterday (Saturday) there was a flurry of activity at the dockside as the fuel was unloaded. I am sure I would have a siege mentality if I lived here.
 
We visited a restored tiki site, ancient walls and stone platforms, green with moss and ferns spread up the hillside, a 500+ year old sacred Banyan tree once held the skulls of the ancestors until the missionaries arrived. The stone tikis represent the ancestors, not gods and are revered for the wisdom so it was not surprising to learn that in their formal meeting site where there are opposing raised platforms and a floor between, (strangely reminiscent of the Houses of parliament), there is a stone table where the ancestors skulls are placed during business discussions. Less democratic, the deep sacrifice pits where victims, human and animal, awaited their fate. Stone lined, square and some 3-4m deep, you can understand why Herman Melville, in the 1850’s, detained as a ‘guest’ made his escape after 3-4 weeks. The story goes that he was to be the tribe translator for contact with the Europeans that called there, but with cannibalism very much on the menu, who could have felt safe. Height is everything, the chief and priest ‘houses’ were the highest in the site, so too their platforms within the ceremonial ground. This is a rectangular space, bounded by low stone walls. Above these stone platforms fronted the steeply sloping palm roof sleeping quarters behind. Walled in plaited palms this was a private area for the families. Sadly the original Tiki figures have mostly gone, modern copies replaced them, when the site hosted a cultural festival. It is good that they are working hard to retain their culture, although as Richard explained from the 70 or so tribal dances known only about 10 are still danced. The site has petroglyphs, symbols carved in stone, fish, turtles, man dancing, their meanings connected to the belief in ‘heaven’ being in ocean.
 
We are indebted to Richard who kindly took us to his home to collect coconuts for lunch, showing us our to prepare them. The fibrous outer husk was wrenched off in chucks by driving the coconut onto a spike stuck in the ground. The nut was split with a sharp knife, cutting around the ‘waist’ of the fruit and finally the white ‘meat’ was grated with a nifty device, a board he sat on with a tongue between his legs on which a round headed serrated metal tool was fitted. This was used to grate the flesh from the shell, stopping just before the brown skin. He collected the gratings into a clean muslin cloth and squeezed the milk from it onto our meal, very delicious. Interestingly the coconut water is used from green nuts and discarded from the brown mature ones, not sure why as it tastes just fine. He also had us try rambutan fruits which are quite like lychees under their spiky red coats.
 
Looking at the terrain and how difficult the access is to many places, it is understandable that today some bays have only a few families living there and to see why horses are still very much a mode of transport. Introduced with the first Catholic mission to the island in the mid 19th C, we (Anne and I) rode out in that tradition to Anaho  and Hatuatua Bay. Riding with the small Marquesan wooden saddle (ouch really saddle sore!), by steep rocky paths, narrow ledges skirting the base of the cliffs and across sandy bays was challenging for the horses, but they were sure footed and with only minimal direction from our guide, carried us for 3 hours. Our guide, Nui, controlled the animals with a growl from deep within the throat, it all felt other worldly. The scenery was amazing, more so perhaps because there are no roads to these bays, this is the only access by land.
 
Before leaving all things equestrian, I must share with you a scene when we first landed. A man rode up to the bank, got off and tied his horse to a tree and went in to use the ATM, here not an unusual sight but imagine it in a high street near you, as I have said of another world.
 
We have been in a few homes here with our guides, these are modest but homely places, wooden frames with few doors, no windows and tiled or concrete floors. There is running water and electricity, washing machines, fridges and freezers are as often outside as in, if they are owned at all. Large tables and benches are the centre of many domestic activities. Squares of odd fabric or screens provide privacy at the openings. Other furniture is sparse, as are shelves and cupboards with very basic sanitation. Cooking is with propane fuelled rings or outside on an open fire. And yet they own a car, 7 horses, their children go to a modern school. This is really different to the communities we have seen on the other Marquesan Islands, where even the basic prefabricated houses have doors and windows and conform more closely to a home in our eyes. Indeed many of the houses around Taiohae and Atuona are lovely, with huge verandas overlooking the beautiful views so the contrast is stark, but the hospitality always genuine.
 
I have rambled on long enough! Next instalment our walk through the valley of the kings to one of the tallest waterfalls.
 
All our best,
 
Lynne and Alan
 
 

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