It took two days via two jet planes from San Francisco to Hawaii, across the equator to Tahiti traveling 4,000 miles, before we boarded a third plane, this one a twin propeller plane, to cross the last 700 miles of ocean to finally arrive at the 131 square mile island of Nuka Hiva. Nuku Hiva is the administrative capital of the Marquesas Islands where our beloved family eagerly awaited to greet us, then gleefully adorned our travel-weary necks with layer upon layer of both amazing floral and wonderfully beaded necklaces. We could hardly believe how much our two grandsons had grown. (Yes, they loved that they’re now both taller than their Nani.)
Nuku Hiva is the largest and most northern of the Marquesas Islands. Its small airport (a runway so small, they mustn’t completely fill the plane with passengers and are very strict on weight) is located on the northern side of the island, directly opposite the south facing bay of Taiohae where the Rigney family’s sailboat Kandu is anchored. While making the trek from the airport, it seemed like every switchback offered a more beautiful view of Nuku Hiva’s lush, jagged mountainsides.
We stopped often to photograph our experience, as well as to benefit from continuous hugs. The drive across the island took 1-½ hours over mountainous terrain, paved by the island’s newest road. Unbeknownst to us at that time, the rest of the island’s roads are poorly maintained dirt roads that only 4-wheel drive vehicles can travel.
To make our first week comfortable and luxurious, Leslie and Eric arranged for us to lodge at Heloise and Pifa’s home located high above the seaside village with lovely views of Taiohae bay and her tropical volcanic hillsides.
What made the arrangement even more special was that Leslie stayed with us the whole time we were at the house, taking full advantage of our time together. She also served as our French interpreter. Each morning, after getting the boys off to school, Eric would drive the rented 4-wheel drive diesel pick-up, up the home’s steep roadway to bring us fresh pastries or French baguettes. After school, Eric would then fetch the boys, bringing them to our hillside abode to hang out and later dine. We felt very pampered.
A few days after our arrival, the Falchetto family held a dinner in our honor at the home of Sebastian and Raymonde Falchetto. We gathered to share Marquesan dishes of fresh tuna, fruits, and vegetables. It was a delicious feast of Polynesian tradition and friendship.
We later reciprocated by providing the Falchettos a Mexican dinner, complete with rice, beans, tortillas, margaritas, and colorful handmade paper cutout decorations that the boys and I made and strung along the balcony’s edge. Olé!!!
I want to add that around the homes of Marquesans we were often awakened by the noise of roosters crowing, hens scratching, and family hunting dogs sniffing. They all run loose, along with cats, and all are friendly. The island’s remote South Pacific location limited natural animal migration. Early Polynesians brought pigs, dogs, chickens, and the black rat. Early Europeans rounded the Marquesas’ animal population out by bringing cats, goats, sheep, horses, and cows. Today, Marquesan dogs appear to be of the same “mutt” lineage with some showing a hint of pit-bull. The island’s bird family is limited, consisting mainly of tropic and frigate sea birds, doves, peeping finches, chickens and a protected large grey-black pigeon called upe. There are no predatory animals such as foxes, snakes, wolves, etc. Only the boars can be a potential threat, biting people’s heads if they sleep on secluded beaches (it really happened to a friend of Sebastien’s, yikes!!!).
One of Ron’s highlights was an archeology speedboat adventure to a remote corner of the island’s un-inhabited eastside. Along with four others, they went to search for samples of unusual basalt used to make ancient tools. The adventure was orchestrated by Sebastien, who had been requested by his friend, Michel, a French archeologist, to travel to a site suspected by Michel as the source of a rare basalt, possibly used to make tools bartered throughout Polynesia, including Hawaii and New Zealand. Rocky terrain and seas made landing a huge challenge for Michel, so Renaissance man, can-do-anything Sebastian volunteered to disembark onto a slippery rock shelf. He successfully located the unique area Michel had hoped for, and extracted samples of the rare basalt, which would later be analyzed in New Zealand and compared against other samples already archived within the lab’s database. While exploring, Sebastien unexpectedly came across what appeared to be a sacred site, filled with various relics. Respectfully, with the sign of white tropicbirds flying above his head, Sebastien left it untouched, much to the dismay of Michel.
While the men were busy on their adventure, Leslie and I stayed ashore and explored the picturesque bay of Hatiheu, written about by Robert Louis Stevenson. We visited with local and renowned dignitary, Yvonne. Her stories of the history and politics of the Marquesas Islands were insightful. It was two hours of pure fascination. After our coffee chat at her popular seaside restaurant, Leslie and I walked up to Hatiheu’s ancient ruins, marked by stone foundations.
The center was a gathering place called the Temahea and the surrounding home foundations are called Paepae. It was at this site that we came upon a massive sacred Banyan tree and located ancient petroglyphs carved onto huge, moss-covered boulders. Then our archeological adventurers unexpectedly joined us.
Together, we left the site and drove to a place where we hiked to the island’s only known naturally carbonated spring. And then we were off, back to Taiohae, over Nuku Hiva’s steep, rugged roads, both dirt and paved. I will never complain about the condition of our California roads again!
Sold as a “not-to-miss” adventure, we were prompted to hike to the tallest waterfall found in French Polynesia located in gorgeous Hakaui valley, just inland from neighboring Daniel’s Bay. We arrived after a 1-½ hour sail from Taiohae, disembarked and walked to the nearby, very small village to greet locals. If asked, for a fee, some families will prepare a local Marquesan lunch upon your return from the typically 4 to 5-hour trek to the waterfall and back. So we put in our reservation and off we hiked for 2-½ hours up and 2 hours back.
Along the way, we carefully waded through several small rivers, endured high heat and humidity, dodged rocks and bugs, and finally entered the valley where mountains soared straight up the canyon’s sheer walls, making us feel like we were mini-aliens. Here we found a freezing cold (tropically speaking) pond that we needed to swim across in order to access the hidden area where the waterfall falls. Ron and I first hesitated, but eventually, encouraged by Bryce and Trent, we swam over to meet up for this unforgettable sight. The sounds and colors were breathtaking! I’ll never forget the fusion of sunlight, mist, and sound.
While the sand beaches are not desirable for sunbathing due to the nasty No-see-ums, they are fantastic for gathering shells and snorkeling. Our Kandu crew spoiled us by sailing to bays where both of these pastimes were available: Anaho and Taipi Vai.
We especially loved the gathering of “porcelain” shells in Anaho, which could only be reached by taking the dinghy to a rocky tide pool area alongside the neighboring ridge. Also, snorkeling made it fun to gather shells lying amongst the coral. We loved those 2 and 3-day outings where we sailed with the family, enjoying the beauty of the landscape and the thrill of the sail. On a side note, friends of Eric and Leslie are diligent collectors and have amazing assortments of many kinds of seashells found on the islands. We felt privileged to see their personal collections.
Driving inland to the home of Chantale and Denis Tetohu, we experienced the richness of their hospitality. Comfort, generosity, and adventure were what was ahead during our stay with them in Nuku Hiva’s fourth largest (120pp) village, Aakapa. Sisters and brothers were included in our evening meals, so we shared laughter and stories…all translated from French by Leslie and Eric.
The boys had time off from school, so we all participated in the “feeding of the pigs” at the family pig farm as well as watching our grandsons enjoy the nearby surf. The pigs are a cross of wild boar and semi-domestic pig, used by the family to supplement their meals as well as selling the dressed pigs to local buyers. Pigs are fed coconut by cracking open coconut shells gathered on the property in abundance. The guys showed off their muscles by axing the soon-to-be devoured shells. I felt this day was one of the highlights of the trip.
Another very big highlight was attending a Sunday service at Aakapa’s local Catholic Church. The service and singing were performed completely in Marquesan…so understanding the words was impossible, but the strength of music and holiness captured our hearts especially when Leslie closed by singing “Ave Maria” . . . so lovely.
Local living in Taiohae for the boys includes schooling (all in French), boogie-boarding or surfing, biking to school, playing basketball and volleyball, watching movies on the boat, reading, writing, limited video-gaming, and performing boat chores. Leslie and Eric stay trim by participating in the popular Polynesian sport of outrigger-canoe paddling. Both paddle at least twice a week. Leslie teaches English to locals, mostly French lady friends, twice a week. Eric is involved with keeping the boat in good shape, and befriending the local Marquesans with his ideas and skills. The family is immersed in the culture.
Our visit to see Leslie, Eric, Bryce and Trent gave us perspective on their lives as they learn about and live in another culture. We met many friendly and loving friends there. Some of them included American cruising sailors. Marquesan or French locals, or international sailors, each one of them generously shared their affection and amity, which we brought home with us with full hearts. Fondly we offer our thanks to so many and for so much. The next time we visit, the boys might very will be just a bit taller than their Papa. We plan to have our next family adventure with them when we visit this fall in Raiatea, next to Bora Bora and Tahiti. Rosie.