Friday, May 4, 2012

Anaho Bay

On the north side of Nuku Hiva lies a large bay rimmed by white sand and sheltered under verdant hills that rise to grey and forbidding mountains. There is no road to Anaho bay - only a horse track that slices back and forth seven times before it crests and drops into the valley to the west running, into the town of Hatiheu (pronounced Hat-ee-hay-oo). The anchorage is well sheltered from easterly swell and one of our guides describes it as the best in French Polynesia.

Yesterday we hiked the trail to Hatiheu with an Australian/Scotch couple off a 40 foot Hunter sailboat named 'Knotty Lady'. Landing on the beach at Anaho bay, we walked along a trail that passed through what we later learned is a Catholic camp for underprivileged children. We met some workers who were weed-whacking the grass (a popular past-time in the Marquesas) and a local man named Karim, who speaks excellent English.

Karim is part Hawaiian, part Marquesan and part Tahitian. A member of a society that perpetuates the art of ocean voyaging and navigating without instruments (i.e., no compass or GPS). Karim showed us a tattoo of an ocean voyaging canoe (one of several on his leg) and explained that each island group had its own specialized designs. He has built a number of such canoes. Karim lives on the bay on what was his grandmother's land in a 'Swiss Family Robinson' style house built up in the coconut trees. He told us about the Catholic camp and pointed out the small pension and cottages owned by his cousin that occupied the remainder of this end of the bay. Bidding Karim 'Bonne Journee' we followed his directions to the trail to Hatiheu.

The trail was well built, designed to carry regular horse and mule traffic and buttressed by head-sized stones, taken I suspect from nearby pai pais. At the saddle, we stopped before descending into the next valley on a rocky ridge with a commanding view back over the bay. As we descended, the trail was muddy in places and seemed less well maintained. However about half way down we were in for what has become a regular treat for us - fresh fruit. Dozens of small mangoes in various stages of ripeness littered the trail where they had fallen from a huge mango tree.

As we came off the trail onto the concrete road that runs through the village, a woman leading 4 mules laden with melons and other fruit passed us. She told us that the fruit was from a farm on the other side of Anaho bay and would be taken by truck into Taiohae for the Saturday market.

The town of Hatiheu is modest - a strip of bungalows along a raised beach-front road. Its claim to fame are the archeological sites, dating from around 1600 to 1700, that lie just outside the town on the road to Taiohae. We hiked another kilometer or so to the first site, which consisted of extensive stone platforms around a grassy field - a 'tohua' - about half as long as a soccer pitch. There were a few tikis here including a macabre one depicting a warrior raising a mace in one hand while stretching back a baby's neck in the other. I am not sure, but this might have referred to the practice of infanticide, which was used for population control in parts of Polynesia. Another tiki depicted a turtle on top of a prone man who was in turn on top of another man, in a very suggestive attitude.

The second site we came to about another kilometer along the road was even larger, with huge banyan trees growing from massive stone platforms. Here the restorers had rebuilt shelters on the pai pai, to show in part how the site would have looked. There were so many platforms, pathways, and cooking pits that it felt like we were in a city of stone. Only part of the site had been excavated but this took us more than half an hour to walk around and contained in addition to the platforms and dwellings, pictographs depicting turtles and mahi mahi (dolphin fish).

Back in town we bought drinks and junk food from the astonishingly expensive corner store (e.g., $5 for a bottle of sprite - $10 for a large bag of Doritos). We supplemented this with a couple of pamplemousse from the church yard and Marquesan (Indian) almonds, which had fallen from the tree under which we were eating our lunch. The almonds contained a hard shell surrounded by a soft red pulp. They were not easy to break open, but Rani asked a local girl how to do this. She placed the shell on edge and deftly cracked it with one or two blows form a stone.

On the return trip, we passed the workers from the Catholic camp, returning to their homes in town by horseback. It was nearly dark when we reached our boats and we finished off the day by inviting our hiking friends to share a lentil curry that had been maturing while we were gone.

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