Thursday, May 3, 2012

Nuku Hiva

We sailed from Hiva Oa to Nuku Hiva overnight. Once clear of the influence of Hiva Oa, whose mountains generate their own wind and weather, we were once again in easterly trade winds and swell. The winds were light and we sailed between a beam and broad reach with full sail for most of the passage. Rani spotted a cruise ship en route to Nuku Hiva on her late night watch and a pod of dolphins greeted us as we approached Controller Bay. We dropped anchor amongst eight yachts off the valley (Taipae Vae) where Herman Melville spent some months as a young man, after jumping ship in the next bay over.

We have Melville's book 'Typee' on board and Rani had read it on the passage, so we were interested to see the setting for this and to visit some of the sites that Melville describes so vividly. It was the 1840's when Melville arrived here and eight French men o' war lay in the next bay with orders to take possession of these islands for France. Melville and a companion, weary of an extended whaling voyage left their vessel while on shore leave and fled across mountains and valleys to the valley of the Typee where they spent months living with the natives they found there.

The valley we found was the most fertile and pastoral of all those we have seen in the islands. A broad river enters the bay and is navigable to small boats at high tide to some distance from the sea. Along the river, on either side are plantations, small wooden bungalows with corrugated metal roofs and generous verandas, and a vegetable farm, which supplied us with fresh tomatoes and delicious cauliflower. Several homes were built on the Pai Pai (stone platforms) Melville would have seen as the base of the native homes.

With Mike and Karen from 'Chapter 2', we hiked into the hills above the valley to an ancient ceremonial site. Following a muddy horse trail, we arrived at a large clearing with two large Pai Pais and a dozen mostly intact tikis, which had escaped the destructive censorship of Catholic missionaries. One of the tikis was the spitting image of a 'South Park' cartoon character with its squat fat body and round grinning head set directly on the heavy stone shoulders.

Rani led us further up the hill to what she hoped would be a look-off. Instead we found another Pai Pai buried deep in the woods on the edge of a copra plantation. We had glimpses up the valley to a 700 foot waterfall, but the trail only led to the copra plantation. Incidentally we have been told that the gathering of copra (which is dried coconut meat used, for example, in making cosmetics and oil) is subsidized by the government. One family we talked to said that they receive about $300 for a wheel barrow load of this, the production of which takes a skilled worker little more than an hour. The family would go to their plantation and gather and process a barrow load or two whenever they needed some money.

The next day we walked the road to a neighboring village through some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The winding road ran along our bay and then over a ridge on which was a concrete cistern that supplied the village from a stream in the hills. As we descended into the valley, we passed coconut and banana plantations, pistache trees, and orchards of mangos. Orderly homes with colourfuul hedges and yards full of fruit trees lined each side of the road. We saw stone pai pais, overgrown with lichens, in every yard, testimony to the fact that this had been a village site for hundreds of years. Most of the houses were now built on separate foundations or on concrete posts, but a few still rested directly on their pai pai.

The road meandered past a little wooden church and then curved sinuously around a stream that spilled into the ocean at a large and sheltered bay. A horse grazing on the sward beside the stream completed this bucolic picture. We lunched on the sand beach under a shady tree, watching Polynesian children playing in the surf. It was May 1 - a holiday in France and its dependencies, and there were several families at the beach, picnic'ing and barbecuing.

That night a large easterly swell began to roll into the anchorage - a low pressure system over the Tuomotus had been causing unsettled weather. We pulled up the anchor and motored and sailed 20 miles to Anaho Bay on the north side of the islands, where we will spend a few days hiking and visiting archeological sites and a nearby village.

No comments: