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Day Two on Nuku Hiva
Conni advised that to make the most of our time on Nuku Hiva we should hire a local guide. We were all interested in the history of the island, made famous by Herman Melville in his "Moby Dick" sequel, "Typee". We hired Richard, a well-educated local guide who drove us in his own vehicle and showed us things we would never have seen without him, including an inside look at copra harvesting. He was an expert on flora and fauna, as well as history and current events. His down-to-earth style matched our needs perfectly.
From the high point above Taiohae Bay, it's easy to see that this is a volcanic caldera. The open end, through which the sea invades, has sunk through the years as has a lot of the volcano. The island is getting smaller!
Wings is the sailboat that's broadside to the camera, white hull. Clever as always, we were about as far from the docks as possible, requiring 10 minutes of dinghy riding to reach the wharf.
What there is of town is here below us. You can see the main city dock to which we motored. The island has a population of 2000, most of whom live here. Before Europeans arrived with their diseases, the island population was ten times larger and in villages spread over the island. Many of the villages are gone now, but several picturesque ones remain.
Coconut trees grown for copra. Copra is the coconut meat that's harvested, dried, and sold to perfume and soap makers worldwide. This is Taipi Vai, the valley (vai) in which the young Herman Melville was kept hostage after jumping ship from a whaling vessel, and from which he later escaped.
Controleur Bay on the southeast corner of the island is enormous and has four huge "lobes". There's a large village in the lobe at left and at one time there were villages throughout this region. The small beach to the lower right is where Survivor Marquesas was filmed. Apparently the contestants were forbidden from climbing the small ridge and hill to the left, for fear they'd discover there was a village and plenty of rustic civilization nearby!
With apologies, this is the site of the "Survivor: Marquesas" series. The participants were nimrods for not realizing that there was a road and a large village nearby. Still, it's a lovely site.
A view up Taipi Vai. The coconut trees, all family owned, can be seen spreading up the hillsides.
Ah, the Christians make their mark. Richard, our guide, and Conni note the local architecture of the Catholic church. Above the portal is a shape that you might recognize from my tattoo: the Marquesan cross.
Beautiful local weavings cover the roof of the portico, being waterproof and lovely.
This is the first of the sharpening stones that we saw, but we soon realized that they were everywhere. The depressions were caused when shells were being sharpened for use a cutting edges. They were honed in a circular motion, producing the depressions after many uses.
We descend into Hatiheu Bay on the north side of Nuku Hiva. We toured it by car but it is also reported to be a calm and sheltered anchorage. Even here there are numerous coconut trees planted for copra, still a major industry. The amazing stone spires were used to inter the desiccated remains of local leaders.
Chip awaits lunch at Chez Yvonne, a famous open-air restaurant in Hatiheu.
This is a better view of the basaltic spires at Hatiheu. The rocks on the beach have been added recently to slow the rate of erosion as the island slowly subsides.
The S/V Wings crew, Conni, Bill, Chip, stand in front of a 600-year-old banyan tree. We were told that the heads of the victims "invited to dinner" were impaled in the tree. This was confirmed when an American anthropologist scooped up all the remaining skulls and hauled them to the US. Richard, our guide, told us that legend has it that human flesh tasted like pork and was considered a delicacy. I'm sure that the victims thought so.
Richard and Conni discuss the stone fermentation vats built into the pai-pai ("pie-pie" or house platform) at an archeological site. This particular pai-pai was reserved for the big chief and some priests.
The condemned were kept in this pit until consumed. Intertribal warfare was common and prisoners were consumed for their food and spiritual value.
Reminiscent of the Mayan ball courts, this is a main meeting area of the village archeological site near Hatiheu, with the many ceremonial structures. The village would have been fully populated in the early 1800s, with the population dwindling thereafter as European contact brought diseases that devastated the population. The incredible abundance of fruit-bearing trees and ready availability of fresh water meant that agriculture was never necessary. I can't imagine, but I'd love to have seen it.
A tiki. Tikis memorialized famous or important people.
A renovated ceremonial structure. The outside patio was covered in mats for sitting and enjoying spectacle, the inner section was laid with mats and grasses, and there was a sleeping platform in the rear.
A pai-pai showing the incredible stonework. They used no mortar and used mostly unfaced stone: only corners were trimmed to fit and complete the shape. Why squares? The stones were beamed by aliens...no, no, they were dragged by locals from quarries several kilometers distant.
A view upward from the commoner part of the village to toward the royal and head priest pai-pais. The huge banyan tree is at left. Imagine this village filled with 2600 people!
The large pai-pai showing the sculpted corner stone and exceptionally flat surface. Atop this house platform a structure of woven palm would have been built, with the floor covered with numerous woven mats.
Local copra harvesters with bags of raw coconut meat in burlap bags. Richard knew these two and volunteered to haul the bags and workers back to their camp. They rode in back of Richard's truck and thus we got to see the copra drying operation!
During their dry season, the coconut is sun dried, of course, but in the wet season, the coconut must be fire-dried using coconut husks as the heat source. I suppose that the smoked coconut husks don't give the copra a non-coconut smell.
Smoke-dried copra ready to bag and sell.
This load of copra has just started to be smoked and one can see the familiar shape of the coconut meat that we all love.
Richard shows how to husk coconuts by driving the coconut onto a sharp stake. This frees the inner coconut that we all recognize.
The final step is to correctly tap the coconut to crack it and allow the open coconut juice to be consumed and the meat to be extracted. Unsurprisingly, the workers did not wish to enjoy either the milk or meat, but we did.
Our five gallon and our 20L jugs of diesel await transfer to the boat. This wharf could be seen in previous photos.
While waiting on a passing rainstorm, we enjoyed fabulous made-to-order crepe sandwiches from this food truck.
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