Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Safari in Nuku Hiva

The ship had pulled into Nuku Hiva's port of Taiohae sometime during the night, but apparently the wifi signal doesn't work until "someone goes into the gas station and turns on the router."

Lots of people desperate for news from home were giving me the hairy eyeball in the the lounge. I'd positioned myself by the window, where I could grab the paid signal with my username and password I'd purchased while in Tahiti. I was starting to fear for my safety when I realized it was time to disembark for our "safari."

We all disembarked by walking down the portable stairs to the dock. There, dozens—maybe 50 or 60—of Land Rover, Toyota Hiluxes, and any 4WD the island of Nuku Hiva could dig up waited for us. Every vehicle came with a driver, decked out in a yellow button-up shirt.

I'd eaten breakfast with Vern the cartographer and tiki hobbyist, and he found us a Toyota Hilux with two remaining seats. Nuku Hiva is Typee territoriy, where Melville famously jumped ship, hung out for three weeks, and managed to make an outstanding book out of it, about two seamen who unexpectedly find themselves among cannibals.

Salacious unsubstantiated man-eating guide stories aside, Marquesans don't eat people and haven't done this in any of our lifetimes. Anyway, Vern and two French people were in the car with me, and two of the three would make a heartier meal than I would.

The tremendous line of vehicles roared out of port and into Taiohae, then hung a right to follow a mountain road to the top of a peak, where somehow, all these trucks found parking.

We all swarmed out of the 4WDs and over to the viewpoint for a nice, green panorama and bay beyond. One man had the ground collapse below him and slid down the cliff. Fortunately, he didn't fall far, but he'll spend the next week with his foot up in his cabin.

I was enjoying the truck trip but the masses thing was not so cool. That's been the down side of this whole trip. I can't say that the tremendous number of people ruined the view—it didn't. But every photo stop took 20 minutes and this was one of the largest groups I'd even been a part of. (I was on a cruise ship once, the QE2, but you didn't travel as a pack on the QE2.)

Once we were back in the car, we headed on up the mountain and down switchbacks on the other side, to the Kamuhei archeological site, which is in the shade of a huge banyan tree. I wandered off by myself to look at petroglyphs, but this turned out to be an error as I had to then wait for the rest of the group to finish its guided tour before the line of trucks drove back to the Aranui for lunch as we motored out of the Nuku Hiva and to the next island of Ua Pou.

Hakahau, Ua Pou, is probably pretty slow most days, but with much of the population gone to Nuku Hiva for the Marquesan Arts Festival that was due to start in the morning, the pace of life was catatonic. We fanned out to walk the streets, view the church with its uniquely carved pulpit, or hike to a nearby viewpoint. I used the post office wifi signal even though the post office was shut—not because I needed to go online, but because there wasn't much else to do.

Then, as I walked slowly back to the beach near the port, I came across a bocce game of about ten players. Men and women of all ages were playing, pitching underhand or with a rolling technique, and everyone was really into the game.

I was too, and stood watching for 15 minutes. This was what we were here for, to see local life.

I never did figure out who scored and who didn't, but no one seemed to mind me watching, and in time, I walked back to the ship, dodging newly opened containers, shiny new girls bicycles, and palettes of junk food.

We'd turn around and head back to Nuku Hiva tonight, with 15 new passengers who were local people going to the festival. There were no berths left, so they'd sleep around the swimming pool. Our arrival was scheduled for four, but we'd have to wait until seven for a spot to open up at the dock.

Then, tomorrow the festival would begin.

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