A Tale of Two Hikes
22 May 2016 | Haahopu Bay, Nuku Hiva
It was the best of hikes, it was the worst of hikes.
(Not really, but after giving the blog entry this title, I'd be remiss if I didn't begin it this way...)
One day while we were anchored in Anaho Bay, we dinghied to shore with some friends to make the hike over the mountain to the next
bay, where the little town of Hatiheu was nestled at the edge of the beach. The hike was reported to take about two hours each way Â-
one hour up the mountain, and another down the other side. Seven of us assembled on the beach - and then quickly took shelter beneath
a convenient, leafy tree, as a drenching rain shower came through. Five minutes later, when the sky was sunny and blue again, we
started along the beachside path, past lush, well-tended coconut groves, and breadfruit trees.
As Eric and I had different impressions of the hike, I thought it would be fun to share both of them with you.
The hike according to Vandy.
The first thing I noticed about the path were the ants. About an eighth of an inch long and red, millions of them scuttled and
scrambled over every patch of ground. Black irrigation hoses and fallen twigs made busy highways, elevated above the wet grass and
muddy puddles, but most of the ants also traversed the same path that we trod, often catching a ride on a sandal or toe until being
removed. Fortunately for us, the ants didn't tend to bite, though they were a nuisance to us in our open-toed hiking sandals.
The second thing I noticed, as we moved away from the beach, was the mud. Thick, gooey, red mud - the kind of mud that squishes
between your toes and makes a home there, that sucks on your shoes and insists that you stay right where you are, that makes you
measureably taller the farther you walk in it - replaced the nice white sand and grass that we'd been enjoying. Blended liberally
with manure from the horses that local people (who are apparently smarter than we were) rode over the mountain, it made for quite a
The jungle to either side of us was vivid green and full of life. Birds sang and cooed and chirped from hidden perches all around us.
Flowers bloomed among the branches. Slender mimosa vines (aka "sensitive plants") protruded from the underbrush onto the path, and
folded up their feathery leaves at the slightest touch. But beware, though mimosa leaves are soft, their stems are covered with
thorns that slice passing toes and ankles, making cuts that are immediately filled with that lovely blended mud.
The third thing I noticed was that things got even more interesting as the path became steeper. Now we were walking in thick,
ant-covered, manure-laden mud - on an incline. Eric and some of the others were making good progress through all this, and had moved
quite a bit further ahead of me. Perhaps they were endowed with attributes that were more conducive to this sort of travel than I was
(longer legs? wider feet?), as my progress had become a plodding succession of "step up, sliiiiide back, drag my shoe out of the mud,
step up, sliiiiiide back, drag my shoe"...I was cheered when the hikers up ahead hollered back that they'd encountered a concrete
road. When I got there, I think it was actually a cement drainage ditch running down the side of the mountain, but nonetheless it did
provide an opportunity to walk like a human for a tenth of a mile. And scrape off some of the two inches of mud that had become glued
to the soles of my sandals.
Faced with more of the steep, muddy path, my friend, Sylvia, who was in the back of the pack with me, stepped off the path and -
after some cracking noises ensued - returned with two walking sticks. Handing one to me, we resumed our step, sliiiiiide, drag
progression, now made much more workable with the extra balance provided by our sticks.
When we reached the top of the mountain - where the rest of the group was waiting for us - we all enjoyed the expansive view of the
lovely bay where our boats were anchored. Standing there, I made a quick mental calculation: the trip up the mountain was one-fourth
of the total hike. The trip to town and back would still require a hike down through the mud, a hike back up through the mud, and
another hike down through the mud. I was fine with the idea of doing one trip up and one down. But two of each? Not really. I'd much
prefer to head back down the path, taking my time, and spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach.
When I shared my decision with the others, Sylvia said that this plan also sounded good to her. So while Eric and the rest of the
group went down the mountain toward the town of Hatiheu, Syvia and I headed back down the way we'd come. We took our time, listening
and looking for birds, and having a nice chat as we slid our way down the trail. Soon after we started down, we realized that the
starter keys for all the dinghies were on their way down the other side of the mountain with other hikers. Oh well, we figured that
if we got tired of hanging out at the beach, we could always row a dinghy to our boats.
As we were walking, we heard a sound like a coughing cow (Wikipedia describes the sound as "krawk, krawk") coming from a tree.
Peering up, we saw a large black bird with a funky growth on the top of its beak. A Nuku Hiva pigeon, or "upe"! This is a huge rare
pigeon, found only in certain jungle habitats on the island of Nuku Hiva. Cool! We also saw some greenish-gray birds, that I first
thought were parrots but were actually fruit doves.
Back down at the beach, we walked into the warm ocean and sat for a long time in the shallows, washing the sweat off our bodies and
the mud off our shoes and legs. And of course having a great conversation. Over the next four or so hours, as we waited for the rest
of the hikers to return, we also walked along the beach, explored the shallows (where we saw two small black-tipped reef sharks, some
sting rays, and a baby spotted eagle ray, which Sylvia thought was especially cool), and snoozed in the dinghies. But most of our
time was spent luxuriating in the clear, warm water. We were both glad to have come back down the mountain.
The hike according to Eric.
After a steep, slutchy hike we reached the summit and waited for Vandy and Sylvia to catch up to us. We drank water and enjoyed the
beautiful scenery for awhile. I was surprised when Van said that she didn't want to continue, since she is usually the one of us who
enjoys hiking more. The prospect of exploring some archaeological ruins spurred me on, and I continued down the other side with the
other four remaining hikers.
The trail down to the town of Hatiheu was just as slutchy as the trail up to the summit had been. We stopped and examined a backhoe
that had been abandoned on the trail, apparently after an attempt at improving the trail. From time to time, we hid under some
big-leafed trees during rain showers. We cleaned our feet in a stream, which was a complete waste of time, as they became instantly
muddy again. But the water felt good on our feet. Just as the jungle began to thin and fields appeared along the trail, we saw some
very skinny horses staked there. Then a Marquesan girl showed us the local way to navigate this trail...on horseback.
The jungle and fields thinned some more, the steep, muddy path turned into a steep, algae-covered concrete road. Across the valley we
could see the famous statue of the Virgin Mary perched high on a pinnacle overlooking the bay, keeping an eye on the area's humans
and goats. We marveled about how they had gotten it there in the 1800s without helicopters. Eventually, we emerged into the suburbs
of the town of Hatiheu. There were houses with driveways, cars in the driveways, mowed lawns, friendly Marquesans waving to us from
their porches as we walked by. The road wound around behind a school and we emerged onto a road parallel to the beach. We rested for
a few minutes under a pavilion covering a big tree stump whose significance was lost on us.
We washed our feet off in the spigot there, as some local children played marbles - for keeps - on the sidewalk. Up the street, under
another pavilion,some locals were grilling chickens over a fifty-five-gallon drum. We asked one of the cooks if he was selling the
food and he said, "No, not yet," and pointed in the direction of a restaurant and magasin (market).
We explored the magasin, which had industrial-strength coconut grating machines for the local copra industry and suntan lotion for
the tourists. Then we went to the restaurant. It was about 10:30 am, and the restaurant had a chalkboard of their lunch offerings. We
really wanted breakfast, so I asked the waitress, in French, if they still had breakfast ("petite dejeuner.") She said (also in
French), "Yes, how many do you want?" Not what do you want, but how many. So we said, "Cinq," which means "five." We didn't know
what we were going to get, but we were each going to get one.
We sat down at a table. The waitress returned with coffee, a half pound of butter, a bowl of real maple syrup, another bowl of guava
jelly, and a big platter of pancakes. During breakfast, I noticed that Tom (Sylvia's partner) was wearing their dinghy key on his
wrist. Then I asked if there were any dinghy keys left with the dinghies. The answer was no. We all agreed that if Vandy and Sylvia
wanted to get back to the boats, they would figure out a way. When we got down to the last pancake, I said, "I wonder if I eat the
last pancake, if she'll bring us another platter of them." The answer was yes. They were delicious. We ate until we were stuffed.
Uncharacteristically for restaurants in this part of the world, our waitress brought us our check (usually you have to ask for it).
Apparently, this was because they were waiting to close. As we were leaving the restaurant, Merv, of s/v Meridian Passage, noticed
that the "thatch" of the thatched roof was actually a "plastic thatch product," and not the real thing. It was probably cyclone
proof, but not authentic. We made some jokes about it and moved on.
We walked to the end of town, past a beautiful church, and realized that we didn't know how to find the archaeological sites. So we
walked back to the restaurant, which had reopened, and took a look at the town map on the wall. The waitress came over and told us
that the site was past the post office, about a kilometer up the road.
We left the restaurant and started walking up the road, back past the beautiful church, past the suburban houses, past the end of the
concrete where it turned into a dirt road that re-entered the jungle. After we'd been walking quite awhile, someone said, "I don't
think she knows what a kilometer is." But just around the next corner, we saw a large stone platform in a field, which was the
beginning of the archaeological site.
We walked around the platform, which I've since learned was an altar used for sacrifices. Further up the road, we found the major
archaeological site, where we saw ceremonial lodges, petroglyphs, and big stadium-like structures whose purpose - like all the other
information at the site - was explained by signs written in French with vocabulary beyond our means. Sadly, we noticed that these
structures had been re-thatched in modern times, with the same "plastic thatch product" sported by the restaurant.
On our way back toward town, we discovered another archaeological site, a large field surrounded by a stone wall, and guarded by an
assortment of tikis and tame, tethered horses. In the field we saw stone platforms and foundations, and some stones with interesting
holes in them, like the ones Native Americans used for grinding acorns.
After that, we started walking back through town, with the unspoken dread of having to climb over the mountain again. Fortunately, it
hadn't rained in awhile, and the trail was much drier and less slutchy on the way back, though it was just as steep. We had some
great conversations on the way back to Anaho Bay.
After reaching sea level, we washed the mud off our shoes and ourselves using the spigots we found along the beachside trail. We were
surprised to see Vandy and Sylvia still hanging out on the beach. They greeted us, and asked about our adventures and told us about
theirs. Everyone felt they had chosen wisely.