What an extravagant celebration of my birthday this year, beginning with coffee in the cockpit in beautiful Hatiheu Bay on the north shore of Nuku Hiva! Morning light illuminated steep volcanic spires rising majestically from the cliffs on the west side of the anchorage. A short knife-back ridge extended northward, undulating from the abrasion of rain and wind on ancient volcanic rock. The hills descending into the black volcanic rocks along the lapis sea shore were covered with green. Ours was the only boat in the anchorage, a rare treat in these islands on the favored cruising route.
I was treated to banana fritters for breakfast, followed by a morning snorkel. A beautiful array of butterfly fish, trigger fish, angel fish, and the occasional parrot fish swam by, small blue gobies and orange fish darted in and out of coral, and a moray eel bared its teeth inside its hidey hole. I popped up after a dive to find myself in the middle of a school of small, silver fish swimming in unison around and around, as if I was inside the exhibit of sardines at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Soon the sky darkened so we returned to Anthea for lunch and a rest as the squalls passed by. By mid- afternoon it was clear that the rain would continue, but we decided to forge ahead with our plan of an afternoon hike to archaeological sites a ½ hour walk from the village. We packed a change of clothes in the dry bag and set off to the rock and concrete landing area. The surge at the landing would abrade a dinghy tied fast, so Mark moored the dinghy and then plunged into the clear water to swim ashore. A fresh water rinse from the tap on shore awaited him: not a bad solution in the light of day.
The village is by far the prettiest we have encountered. A main road circles the bay, with elegant solar powered street lights interspersed among the carefully tended palm trees along the grassy verge separating the road from the rocky shoreline. Flower gardens and decorative stones adorn the water’s edge, and horses often graze on the grass between the palms.
We ambled through the village savoring the peaceful beauty and climbed up the valley to the first archaeological site, tohua (public plaza) Hikoku’a, which served as a ceremonial site in the past and is the site of arts festivals and dances today. Ancient tikis and contemporary statues adorn the massive stones, and gnarled mango trees provide shade for the festivities. Not long after we arrived the mosquitos descended and rain poured down, so that even the trees transformed from natural awnings to drip showers. It was the only miserable moment, made even more dreadful by our discovery of an abandoned building with intact roof only a few hundred yards from the site of our drenching!
We wrung out our shirts and shorts and returned to the road to hike to the sacred Banyan tree adjacent to the remains of the marae (ceremonial site) of the goddess Tevanaua’ua’a and another tohua (Kamuihei) with petroglyphs of turtles, fish, human figures, and birds. The guidebook described the tree as “huge,” which, coming from the land of redwoods, I reckoned would seem “large” to those of us who hike amongst the tallest trees in the world. But “massive” is actually more accurate. The circumference of this sacred tree was easily 120 feet, many times larger than any of the other banyan trees we have seen. We soaked up the sacred power of the place, but the mosquitos kept us from lingering. On we went to the beautifully restored tohua of Kamuihei, finding more lovely thatched roofs over sleeping platforms which would have provided us with spectacular shelter had we only begun our journey uphill! Marquesan horses, one tethered, one free, grazed among the grounds. Dusk pushed us out of this extraordinary site (by far the most impressive restored plaza in the Marquesas), and we quickly scanned the rocks for petroglyphs as we returned to the road for the next part of my birthday celebration.
Chez Yvonne is a remarkable restaurant in the village: curved and weathered rocks are artfully placed around the lush gardens framing the thatched roof. A stream runs alongside the eastern edge of the restaurant and large eels, six feet in length, swim the waters while waiting for scraps to be tossed their way. Underneath the expansive roof, fresh arrangements of hibiscus flowers and lush greenery adorn the tables, and, for special occasions, white frangipangi blossoms are sprinkled across. The open air design provides an unobstructed view of the bay through the coconut trees and gardens, or the garden and eel stream off the side. Most days a handful of guests come by rental car or taxi to enjoy the huge platters of food; every three weeks a small cruise ship disgorges hundreds of people, many of whom take taxis to the restaurant. Yvonne then supervises the roasting of whole pigs for a Marquesan feast.
Since my birthday was on a Sunday this year, Mark and I took an evening stroll on Saturday to see if Chez Yvonne would be open for a celebratory dinner. After a delightful conversation, Yvonne agreed to open the restaurant for us, with an arrival time of 6:30. We arrived on time, but we looked like a pack of drenched rats. Dry bag in hand we were led to the huge bathrooms and were able to transform ourselves into reasonable restaurant patrons, combed, groomed, and rain showered. While waiting for the massive plates of food, we read a display board recounting the archaeological project and providing interpretation for the sites we visited. We only managed to eat 1/3 of the food on our plates: fish and shrimp for me, goat in coconut milk for Anson, curried goat for Mark, and pork in rum sauce for Devon. Just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, out came Yvonne and one of her cooks bearing a birthday cake, complements of the house. We ate huge pieces celebrating with Yvonne and the chef. Knowing that our boat fridge could barely accommodate the four boxes of leftover food, Yvonne offered to keep the rest of the cake in her refrigerator for us to enjoy the following day.
Yvonne is an amazing woman in her sixties who is a force in the community. Twice mayor, she supported the restoration of the ancient sites, fought the Tahitian government to keep the sacred items in the local museum rather than sending them to Papeete, and, most impressively, navigated the challenging political waters (local and distant) to keep multinational tourism development out of adjacent Anaho bay. She has a deep love for Nuku Hiva and the Marquesas, and the beauty of the village is no doubt due to her vision and leadership.
By the time we returned to the dinghy, the water was brown from the downpour; it was also dark and eerie. Mark changed into his swim trunks, psyched himself up, and plunged in the water to retrieve the dinghy. Anson and Devon had argued for a nice clothesline system to reel the dinghy in and out to the mooring, but Mark rejected it, so he was the one who did the difficult deed! He earned his shower on board that evening.
We did return to Chez Yvonne’s on Monday, this time with friends of ours with whom we’re journeying to the Tuamotus. They arrived via rental car, having left their boat anchored in Taoihae Bay. We enjoyed more conversation with Yvonne, devouring the cake and savoring the views and ambience. We forgot to take the camera, so the following morning Anson dropped me outside the shore break and I waded ashore with the dry bag, capturing images to freshen my memory for birthdays to come. I knew my memories would fade without the photos, and this birthday is one I hope to remember until my last.
On Tuesday we left beautiful Hatiheu bay with a pod of dolphins escorting us out. We had a brisk sail around the corner to Anaho Bay – another adventure for another post!
Today (Monday) we set sail for the Tuamotos – a 450 mile mini passage. If the winds and waves are kind, and if the squalls keep their distance, we’ll arrive after 3 full days and a bit. So it is farewell to the stunning Marquesas, the amazing place and people. Kim June 5