Round and Round We Go

There’s only so far you can go on an island. Especially in this day and age where explosion powered cars rolling along at break neck speeds over comfortable roads give even the most humble person a tremendous sense of power to be able go anywhere anytime by just stepping on this tempting contraption of skillful transportation engineering, quite simply called the gas. Unlike the seemingly endless journeys you can lose yourself to on the main land, which can only be terminated by eventually turning back somewhere, on an island even if you go on and on and on, you will forcibly end up where you started, it’s only a question of time. So the idea of going around the island of Nuku Hiva had been floated by our local friends for some time as the ultimate weekend adventure. The size of this speck of land in the vast blue ocean allows for doing so in a single day and their sturdy 4×4 pickup truck with trendy tinted windows seemed certainly up to the task. There was some scary sounding talk of bumpy wheel tracks going up and down steep ravines, stares out the car window and straight down some overhanging cliff, and the lively debate turned around the one and only navigational pitfall that had to be mastered. We would have to decide if we wanted to “do” the Tour de l’Ile in the same sense the needle used to race around itself on the faces of old-fashioned clocks, or if we were able to muster up enough courage to defy the predominant sense of time and go around in the opposite way.

School is out for a week and our teacher friends are looking forward to some quality relaxing time ahead. No hasty prepping for elaborate lesson plans late into Sunday night, no dark rings under teary eyes early Monday morning staring out from in between theories of mostly Greek origins chiseled in chalk on worn out blackboards in well groomed class rooms, but instead a very bright and leisurely outlook, one of turning the back to a silenced alarm clock, one of slurping coffee in slippers really late in the morning of the coming I-don’t-hate-this-kind-of Monday, all that made this Saturday a logical choice for the above adventure, and we are invited to come along. We are picked up bright and early at just past seven from the beach where we always park, Alunita, our little outrigger canoe. The stretched seams of the cooler bags packed in the truck bed look truly promising and the mattress in between them will certainly make the ride back there more comfy, as the six of us to make this trip are two heads past the approved capacity of the cabin that sits so snuggly on a diesel guzzling power train. We start out on the already familiar road up the inner crater wall and are soon looking down onto Taiohae Bay once again. It looks spectacular every time with its ever-changing backdrop of fleeting cumulus clouds, the unruly bunch of flimsy white caps disappearing towards the hazy shape of Ua Pu and the peaceful blue that fills the ancient caldera. The way to Taipivai is just as spectacular, in spite of having done it a couple of times now on our bi-weekly trips to fill up our drinking water jugs. Once down on the valley floor we turn left to drive up along the river and once past our friend Toma’s lot we enter new territory. The upper portion of the maybe seven miles long Taipivai valley is even more impressive than the lower part. The coco palm forest slowly fades away into a more indigenous vegetation of ferns and tropical trees. As we gain altitude the jungle thickens and on the opposite wall a white string moves in slow motion down a crack in the cliff just like a normal person’s waterfall.

The pass between Taipivai Valley and Hatiheu

All of a sudden we’re driving through a narrow passage in the crest and look down yet another side, where the Bay of Hatiheu gleams turquoise at the foot of five dark grey basalt pillars, one of them disfigured by a small coral white statue of the Virgin Mary, put up there to herd the sheep and made to stare forever out towards her Cartesian roots in the Northern hemisphere.

Once down in the beachfront village of Hatiheu, where we cover some previous tracks of ours, the warning of bumpy roads begins to make its imprint on our buttocks in spite of the padding brought along for the purpose.

Yoann, Beatriz, me, Tayfun and Maimiti weighing down the truckbed

But the ragged landscape keeps our spirits high above the clouds of dust ripped by the gusty trade winds from underneath the belly of our truck.

Aakapa Bay offers no protection from the swell!

Little pier and pounding surf at Aakapa Bay

In a rhythmic sequence of ups and downs we continue our petrol powered way along the many inlets of the North Coast, finally settling down in the shade of a rocky cliff at the East end of the sandy beach of Pua for yet another feast of mobile culinarity, where Camille and Maimiti engage in an escalating standoff about who can churn out more tasty creations from the dark depths of two brightly colored cooler bags. A pareo, a local multipurpose cloth that served just yesterday as an enticing skirt to trace moving feminine hips during dance performances, then later on in the day would become a retainer of body heat wrapped around a shivering pair of shoulders, is here simply spread over the sand to provide a colorful background for the many fingers that now pick up hastily one delicacy after another.

Tradewind clouds drifting over Aakapa Bay

No effort within the human realm however is able to finish everything off. Some of the goodies reluctantly have to go back in the pack and await the sequel of the feast once back in town after nightfall.

This is a real dugout canoe, floating in the sand...

But I’m getting ahead of myself and the biggest bumps on the tracks are supposed to be still in front of us. Maimiti relieves Yoann at the steering wheel for the second half of the drive as we zip up the hillside towards yet another bay, but slowly the landscape is transforming. The green hues are relieved by tones of brown, beige and white as we move towards what the French have become to call very fittingly the Terre Deserte.

This looks like a very inviting anchorage!

Here we are beyond the reach of any precipitation wrought from the tropical air when it is lifted above the towering mountaintops. The northwestern portion of Nuku Hiva is a barren stretch of dusty land, gently sloping towards the surrounding sea. While cramping my fingers around the railing behind the truck’s cabin to stabilize the jerky and involuntary contortions of my remaining limbs, I strain my eyes in vain towards the horizon to spot the silhouette of the island of Eiao, the northernmost outpost that a little more than two months ago had kindly saved us and Aluna from drifting by the Marquesas altogether. The day is too hazy to even give away a hint of its existence.

Eventually we reach the little airport with its landing strip slapped on the slope overlooking an ocean that now starts to light up in the flaming yellows and oranges of a tired sun that is more than ready to start its daily precipitation towards the Western horizon. A quick bathroom stop and we’re off again, like mighty road warriors now racing up slope towards cloud-enshrouded peaks. A winding, newly constructed concrete highway lifts us gradually into yet another totally different biosphere. Neatly ordered rows of pine trees create a surreal illusion of alpine mountain ranges, cut open by the rust red banks on the side of the road. Back on the truck bed it’s now suddenly freezing cold, mist and then drizzle mixed into hissing winds at this altitude of over 1000 meters make it clear that the tropics are for people staying down at lower elevations. Up here it feels as if a blizzard could start anytime around the next bend in the road. Once again the work of man’s heavy handed drive to industrialized riches meets its end and the cultured pine forest transforms into prehistoric forests of ferns that shoot out on top of two men high brown stalks. We have by now all huddled into the cabin, four of us sharing shivering body heat on the back seat and Yoann fiddling from the passenger seat with the climate controls of his truck. The good intention of cranking up the interior heat of this Japanese contraption melts instantly when the knob breaks of. No poking it back in or twisting brings it back to its proper functionality. So we’re good humouredly guessing that this is Toyota’s tropical edition of the model in our friend’s possession. The fog beams are now on, barely illuminating the slippery road surface through the frenetically wiped windshield. A long series of winding curves hugs the rock wall when we start descending towards the islands very own altiplano, a flat plateau of rolling green with cows parading their wide eyed calves across the road and horses strolling carelessly along the median. We all know the end of this adventure is near once we find ourselves back on the descent of the inner crater wall and see the orange lights of the civilized township of Taiohae gleaming up at us through the banana and mango trees.

Let your eyes scan the horizon!

Sitting around the table for dinner at Camille and Tayfun’s house under the breadfruit tree, we contemplate our sun burnt faces and the urge to scratch the good number of nono bites on our arms and legs, most probably acquired at the peaceful picnic site, starts making rounds and expresses quite clearly its intention to stick around for at the very least a couple of days. I’m having trouble keeping track of the threads of our conversation, which skips from food to friends to foes with a quite apparent carelessness, the spreading ripples on the surface of our mindful pond resist the sinking down to something more essential. There’s a tsunami feverishly invading the working end of my cortex, flooding it relentlessly with strings of powerful images of black basaltic spires piercing sky blue rolls of cotton white trade wind cumulus cloud formations, shades of humid greens reclaim walls of lava cooled in hissing steam of turquoise salty spray, an upheaval of massive mountains sits precariously on plate tectonic theories, then falls fugitive prey to brutally steady eons of erosion, separating the tenacious from the tender, all intertwined intrinsically in fickle laws of optical perspective and by now securely stored in the vast microcosmic network of neuronal memory banks. The tidal wave of visual information overload clearly wants to sweep me away in its powerful undertow and flush me tumbling sideways through the twisted dimensions of tiredness and it will eventually, I’m just about certain, allow me to wake up somewhere else.

A maybe a little too self-centered perspective...

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