Six miles by sea and a world away from the crowd and bustle and rolly swells of Taiohae Bay lies Daniel's Bay.
Also known as Anse Hakatea, this double-coved bay is tucked back behind overlapping rocky points, and is invisible from the ocean. Trusting our charts and our piloting skills, we turned SCOOTS toward the rocky shore at the appointed place and headed to where the opening of the bay should be. Sure enough, as if a reward for being brave enough to approach the smashing breakers, the pass appeared and we motored through, riding low swells between towering emerald green cliffs.
Inside Anse Hakatea (anse means "cove" in French), the water relaxed, and we anchored in the first calm water we'd seen in over a week. Ahhhh. We had a great night's sleep.
In the morning, we encountered what might be the only thing keeping Daniel's Bay from being 100% paradise: gnats. Each morning, for about three hours, MILLIONS (billions might not be an exaggeration) of tiny little gnats descended over the bay in a cloud. Small enough to fly through the holes of our hatch screens, they also invaded our cabin, until we wised up and began closing our hatches and cooling the cabin with fans when we got up in the morning. The good news about these gnats - beside the fact that they only stayed for a few hours - was that they didn't bite. The bad news was that they had incredibly short lifespans, which ended for MILLIONS of them while they were aboard our boat, resulting in the accumulation of multitudes of gnat corpses on every horizontal surface, and even some vertical ones if there was a hint of dampness on them. In spite of repeatedly vacuuming the cabin and wiping all the gnat-infested surfaces, we are still encountered tiny gnat carcasses here and there, and probably will for weeks. Ghoulish souvenirs of Daniel's Bay.
But everything else about Daniel's Bay - the other 99% - was absolute paradise. The scenery was absolutely stunning - vertical black lava cliffs dressed in bright green, white beaches, palm trees,
fruit trees - the air temperature was just right, and the calm water was Vandy-approved (85-90 degrees F).
White specks dotting the green-and-black cliffs turned out to be full-sized goats, when viewed through binoculars. I guess those cliffs were taller than I'd thought.
Four-foot-wide manta rays, that looked as though they'd been spray-painted black and white, flapped lazily just below the surface, sweeping plankton into their open maws.
Other cruisers said that they'd swum with the mantas, but the only time I was in the water here was when I jumped off the boat in a futile attempt to retrieve a drying hatch screen that fell over the side. (Our friend Morris was kind enough to spend an hour diving the murky depths looking for it, but our hatch screen now belongs to Neptune - or to whatever demigod gets oversight of bays instead of the ocean.)
One highlight of Daniel's Bay is a hike to the base of Vaipo Falls, the tallest waterfall in Polynesia, outside of Hawaii. Beginning at the mouth of a beautiful river valley in the other cove,
this two-or-three-hour jungle hike follows an old Marquesan path as it meanders through mud,
over rocks and several river crossings;
past mossy, stern-faced tikis,
the remains of stone walls, and house platforms of an ancient village, all constructed of big, heavy rocks.
Being a fan of hiking in the woods, I made the trek twice.
The first time, I dinghied over with Morris and Debbie from s/v Impulsive and we joined the crews of s/v Cinnabar and s/v Confidence.
A young Marquesan man who introduced himself as Paul, who spoke Tahitian, Marquesan, French, and English, met us on the riverbank and showed us where to tie our dinghies to trees. He lived in the beautiful valley, he said, with his extended family of ten people, the only remaining residents of the 30,000 Marquesans who'd once lived in the valley. As with many isolated cultures, diseases brought by White people a few hundred years ago largely contributed to their demise.
Before we headed into the jungle, Paul introduced us to his aunt, Monette, with whom he arranged for us to have lunch on our return. Another relative took our orders for some fruit to take back to our boats.
The beginning of the hike was a grassy road that ran past the family's homes amid groves of banana, papaya, pamplemousse (grapefruit), mango, lime, hot pepper and starfruit trees.
"Would you like some starfruit?" Paul asked. When we said yes, he led us to a tree with bright green leaves that reached almost down to the ground. Walking under the canopy, we saw hundreds of yellow starfruits. Paul picked one of the juicy, sour fruits for each of us.
From there, we entered the jungle and meandered our way toward the falls.
Mostly level, the hibiscus-strewn trail required constant attention to balance and foot placement, as the terrain varied from mud to uneven rocks to logs and river crossings.
Paul had handed a walking stick to each of us before we embarked, and though I don't usually hike with a stick, I was very glad to have one this time.
Along the way, the dense canopy sheltered us from the Polynesian sun, keeping us cool, though the humidity kept our skin damp.
The cool water of the frequent thigh-deep river crossings washed off accumulated mud and perspiration, and felt great.
Birds, hidden among the leaves, serenaded us as we walked.
About halfway to our destination, we peeked out across the valley through a break in the trees, and saw Vaipo Falls, a white ribbon plummeting more than 1100 feet down the bright green of the cliffs.
Another hour later, we crossed the river one more time and emerged into a field of bright green shrubbery, quite a contrast to the shady jungle. It reminded me of the scene from "The Wizard of Oz," where Dorothy and crew encounter the poppy field.
Wading through the Polynesian poppy field, we finally reached the pool at the base of the thundering waterfall.
Shedding backpacks and walking sticks, and keeping an eye out for the large - though apparently harmless - freshwater eels that inhabited the pool, we all jumped into the water and had a cooling swim.
Paul swam across the pool to a pile of rocks and called for us to follow. Clambering over the rocks, we emerged into a spray-filled wind tunnel, at the back of which the waterfall pounded as it ended its long dive from the clifftops. Swimming against the current, and squinting to block some of the stinging spray, we ventured closer to the falls, and took refuge in a small alcove from which we could see - and feel - the waterfall's incredible power.
A little while later, back on the riverbank, clean, refreshed and awed from our experience, we shared a snack of fresh pamplemousse, and then headed back the way we had come.
When we reached Paul's family village, Monette welcomed us to her home. In the yard, four round-bellied puppies rolled and played, while older dogs lounged around;
a horse stood quietly nearby, looking at us with soft, disinterested brown eyes; a boy who was about ten years old chased a soccer ball and kicked it toward a small goal. His sister, who was about five years old shyly approached and gave us each a tiare (Tahitian gardenia) bud, which we placed behind our ear.
The large table, spread with traditional Marquesan foods, and large bottles of lemonade, was a very welcome sight. We sat down and enjoyed shredded green papaya salad, fried bananas, breadfruit prepared two ways, stewed chicken, rice, and poisson cru coco, which, you may recall from an earlier blog entry, is my new favorite food. We ate until we were stuffed.
This was a great deal for the 1000 French Polynesian francs ($10 US) each that Monette asked in return for the meal.
After bidding Monette adieu, we wandered back down the grassy track toward the beach, where Paul's uncle had collected a prodigious amount of fruit for us. We each loaded up with pamplemousses, papayas, and limes, for a total of 500 French Polynesian francs ($5) per person.
The second time I went on the hike, Eric came along, and we were joined by the crews of s/v Meridian Passage, s/v Carola, and a Bulgarian sailor named Vasco who is in the middle of a single-handed circumnavigation in his homemade boat, the name of which I don't know.
Paul and most of his family were away this time, so we weren't able to order lunch, but one of his other relatives, a scary-looking Marquesan guy with lots of tattoos, large holes in his ears, and a necklace of boars' teeth, took our order for fruit on our return. We also had to negotiate the trail on our own, but as I had just been there a few days earlier, I was able to act as a barely-adequate tour guide.
Also, someone had strung some bright red-and-white markers along the trail at the spots where it was slightly ambiguous, which helped a lot.
We swam in the pool and clambered over the rocks to get closer to the falls, which had lost none of their impressiveness on viewing them the second time. The eel didn't make an appearance, but I did see a crayfish with really long pinchers, who snagged the bits of grapefruit I dropped into the water for him.
The tattooed, boar-tooth-bedecked guy appeared as we were approaching the village, and gestured to a large bunch of green bananas beside the path. They were for us, as were as many limes as we wanted to pick. Closer to the beach, he said, his cousin would get us some papayas. We again left with our arms full of fruit.
A skinny, timid young dog from the village made the trek with us, even swimming across the river crossings. She seemed to relish both the strokes behind her ears and the pieces of hardboiled egg I gave her; I suspect that she doesn't often receive much of either at home. When we left in our dinghies at the end of the day, she stood on the edge of the beach watching us longingly. I was worried that she might jump in and try to swim out to us, but fortunately she didn't. I hope that she encounters many other cruisers who will share their food and attention with her.
Eric brought our GoPro on the hike, and got some great footage, which I'm hoping to incorporate into a video for the blog. When I do, I'll be sure to let you know.