May 24, 2016 – Wild Life – #21

Underneath - A "Fish Eye" view of Batu
Underneath – A “Fish Eye” view of Batu

During our first few weeks in the Marquesas we’re starting to grow accustomed to some of the local wildlife. Regular rainfall creates many steep streams here in the Marquesas, and also in the Society Islands, and most of the these streams support large, freshwater eels – apparently not dangerous but very large and (my opinion) really ugly. Hiking in the Taioa valley with our Marquesan friend Paul, we encountered a pair of eels in the stream we were crossing. I can handle plenty of creepy-crawlies, but snakey things really freak me out. So, as we hiked through the 4 foot deep water, I was just a bit taken aback to see two fanged heads, each almost as big as a person peering out from under a large rock. When Paul went to “pet” one of the eels, it slid out from under it’s rock and past our legs to reveal it’s full 6 foot length, 10 inch diameter, and large anterior and posterior fins running from head to tail. OK, YUK! I’m assured these things are totally harmless, but I’m still warming up to the idea that they’re in most of the streams around here.


Freshwater Eel (Large) - Image courtesy s/v Harlow Hut
Freshwater Eel (Large) – Image courtesy s/v Harlow Hut

With decent rainfall, streams and lush jungly growth you might expect a decent population of mosquito’s & no-no’s (no see-um’s) and you’d be spot-on. Like authentic tourists, we’ve gone through several cans of bug spray, and we’re still covered in bites. Sarah seems to be particularly susceptible. She’s a human pin-cushion, the poor kid! All of us have been well covered in bites from just brief lapses in bug-spray coverage, and we’re getting used to the idea that the spray doesn’t prevent bites, just reduces the number of them. Although there is Dengue fever around, we’ve seen no symptoms yet – fingers crossed! Of course, somehow most of the locals casually brush the bugs off and seem virtually unaffected.


 

Bird's Eye View - Drone shot  of Daniel's Bay courtesy s/v Harlow Hut
Bird’s Eye View – Drone shot of Daniel’s Bay courtesy s/v Harlow Hut
Marquesan Crags - There are many goats roaming on these rocks
Marquesan Crags – There are many goats roaming on these rocks
Wild Goats - They apparently require an amazing view
Wild Goats – They apparently require an amazing view
Running Wild - One of many wild pigs roaming in the Marquesas
Running Wild – One of many wild pigs roaming in the Marquesas

One type of creature we’ve had no trouble getting used to are the Manta rays which frequently comb the surface of protected bays to feed. Distinctively marked in black and white, most of the rays we’ve seen are small (for Manta) but still impressive with 5 – 7 foot wingspans. They are magical to watch, cruising gracefully along the surface of the water, often just a few feet from our boat or dinghy. Their wing tips move slowly up and down, occasionally poking up from the surface, while they funnel huge amounts of water into their mouths. Likewise, we occasionally see green and brown sea turtles swimming on the surface, popping their heads up for a look around.

No matter where you are, it’s easy to get caught up in hype. When we arrived in Nuku Hiva most cruisers told us how sharky the water was. We had daily rains so the water was quite murky and it was easy to imagine sharky shapes drifting through the murk. In fact, they were not imagined. There are plenty of sharks here; black tips, lemon sharks and hammerheads mostly. We were understandably a bit spooked and stayed clear of the water, something that’s hard to do in South Pacific heat. The locals say “no problem, we swim there all the time!” The truth is, the sharks are very well fed here – there are fish aplenty, and people are not their natural food source. Locals suggest that, as long as you don’t tie yourself to a fish, you’ll be fine. It makes a certain amount of sense, but involves a paradigm shift for us. One needs to be ready to swim with sharks.


Reading the Signs - We spend a lot of underwater time speaking like this
Reading the Signs – We spend a lot of underwater time speaking like this
Funny Fish - A pair of these stayed under our boat for a week
Funny Fish – A pair of these stayed under our boat for a week

So once the water cleared up we began to whittle away at our fears, taking quick dips for bathing, cooling and boat maintenance. Although dark below, on clear days we can look down the anchor chain to a depth of 30 – 40 feet, or more. One late afternoon around 5pm I pushed myself to dive beneath the boat for an extended time and clean the through hulls. ┬áThe cleaning went well and the 85 degree water felt heavenly! I swam around the boat and gave her a good scrub along the waterline. A few minutes after I got out of the water Karen gulped a subdued squeal. I saw turbulence swirling against the side of the boat and a hammerhead shark crossing back along the port side, moving quickly. From what I understand, this is no big deal. This guy was only 5 or 6 feet long, so probably not a threat to me, but still, it takes some getting used to. Apparently the worrisome sharks are the ones large enough to require large marine mammals (like seals) in their diet. “Large enough” apparently means a shark of 15 feet long or more. We have plenty of these in Oregon, but I’ve always tried not to think about them, and have never seen one. This experience did little to enhance my paradigm shift. Experienced divers and surfers are used to sharing the water with sharks, but I’m still growing accustomed to it.


Sublevel - Heading down to check the anchor
Sublevel – Heading down to check the anchor

May 18, 2016 – Exploring Nuku Hiva – #20

Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva - A view from on top of the world
Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva – A view from on top of the world

Getting rested from our month-long passage and previous months of preparations took a bit of time. After a week, we started venturing out from Taiohae Bay (pronounced Tai-o-hi-ay) to explore more of the island of Nuku Hiva. We hiked and dingied around Taiohae at first, slowly adapting to the language and the culture. We rented a car for a day and enjoyed incredible scenic vistas, archaeological ruins and the bliss of air conditioning. While we saw some wonderful sights, certainly one of the highlights of our exploration was the week we spent anchored in Daniel’s Bay, known locally as Taioa Bay (pronounced Tai-o-ah).


Sarah & I - Happily exploring
Sarah & I – Happily exploring
Before the Rain - Part of an amazing panorama taken on the pastures of upper Nuku Hiva
Before the Rain – Part of an amazing panorama taken on the pastures of upper Nuku Hiva
A View of Anaho Bay, on the North side of Nuku Hiva
A View of Anaho Bay, on the North side of Nuku Hiva

Daniel’s Bay is at the foot of a deep-cut valley protected by dizzyingly tall 2000 foot walls, jagged and rough, with massive rockfalls and chutes that turn to rushing whitewater the instant rain begins to fall. This incredible valley was carved by the Hakatea Stream which courses through it’s depths and which makes the 2000-foot tall Hakatea Falls, the world’s third highest waterfall. We were lucky and honored to become friends with Paul, a local Marquesan, who is one of 10 people still living in this valley. Paul led us on a slippery, muddy, rocky 6-hour hike and swim to the foot of the falls. During the hike Paul told us how his family used to rule this valley, and the island of Nuku Hiva, as the royal family. When westerners arrived, Paul’s family was forced to give up their claim to the monarchy, but they continue to live in the Taioa valley. Of the valley’s 30,000 original inhabitants, the population has dwindled to just a few members of the original family. We were able to see stone carved tikis and impressive architectural ruins of the former inhabitants. The hike was an unforgettable experience, the swim challenging and exhilarating, but perhaps the most delightful part was connecting with the beautiful people of this valley and understanding, albeit briefly, how they live.


Hiking to Hakatea Falls - Our friend Paul (center)
Hiking to Hakatea Falls – Our friend Paul (center)
Brooding Tiki - One of many brooding tikis at a marae on Huku Hiva
Brooding Tiki – One of many brooding tikis at a marae on Huku Hiva
Hakatea Falls - A brief glimpse from the trail
Hakatea Falls – A brief glimpse from the trail

After the hike we had dinner with Paul’s great-aunt and uncle, Monette and Mattias. Despite what must be a steady stream of cruising sailors hiking through their valley, these people invited us into their lives, sharing warmly and freely as if we were a long-lost part of their family. Monette laid out a spread of barbecued chicken, coconut poison cru, fried bananas, green papaya salad, Marquesan gnocchi, star fruit and iced lime-aid, all made from produce of the valley. The meal was delicious, made even more scrumptious by the exercise of our arduous hike.

Monette and Mattias’ home is extremely modest. Beautifully kept, it consists of nothing more than a simple shed roof supported by posts sunk into concrete slab. They use electricity sparingly, supplied only by a gasoline-powered generator for occasional power to a fridge box and a couple bare light bulbs. Their daily work is harvesting coconuts (copra) and the copious fruits which are (quite literally) falling from the trees all around them. They have what they need, so money has very little importance in their lives. Consequently, they live in a vastly different way than the hurried, quasi-panic we’ve come to accept in western culture. They are delightfully peaceful people who truly value personal interactions over material acquisitions. What a refreshing outlook; something to consider as we continue our journey.

We were fortunate to enjoy two meals with this family and are touched to feel like we’ve made new friends. It was in hopes of genuine experiences like this that we chose to live the voyaging life.


Giant Banyan - Perhaps 50 feet across at the base
Giant Banyan – Perhaps 50 feet across at the base
Approaching the Base - Our path to the base of the falls took us, swimming, through the crack
Approaching the Base – Our path to the base of the falls took us, swimming, through the crack
Triumph - Near the top with our friends from s/v Harlow Hut
Triumph – Near the top with our friends from s/v Harlow Hut
Looking West - Our path leads this way
Looking West – Our path leads this way