The Big Hike

We stayed in Taiohae one day more than planned. There was plenty catching up to do with friends and Beatriz’ ailing mother continues wishing to have her at her side. So we searched the internet for possibilities of doing the impossible, finding a means to make it out of this vast piece of ocean without breaking the bank, or whatever is left of it in our case! There ain’t no such thing, that much was clear pretty fast. The cheapest airfare was about twice the size of our entire cash reserve. But her family wanted to know the reality of it, so we passed that piece of information on to them. In the meantime Skype calls had to do, and that in and by itself is an incredible feat of technology, allowing instant communication across the unimaginable distances we have traveled away from where we were born. For those of us who have followed the urge to wander towards the horizon there are always some scars left somewhere underneath the layered sediments of beautiful memories, scars left from roots torn off the stem of our fleeting self. In Beatriz’ case the Latino family ties are way more stubborn in their presence than mine of of the colder European culture. A good deal of the time in her days is spent with thinking about home. This intensifies greatly if things back there are not going well. With all the hardship in lofty Bogota up on the Andean altiplano, the sudden death of a brother and now the advanced cancer digging into mother’s lungs, things like local immigration rules lose their importance quickly like a punctured bicycle tube. It was a day well spent. Long and somber conversations managed to calm the swells on the stormy sea of emotions to the point of being able to say goodbye for a while.

The next day though, early morning it is, the backpacks are strapped to our backs heavy with as much provisioning as we think we’re able to carry on the crooked mountain path. Maimiti gives us a head start with their 4×4, a must on Nuku Hiva roads. With the four wheel drive engaged we bump our way up the West wall of the caldera, where fancy new houses are built on concrete retaining walls, each proudly overlooking the other one below and a more splendid view of the bay. Up on the crest the path to Hakatea splits from the wheel tracks, which lead down to Baie Collete. Once more hugs and words of thanks point to a we-might-never-meet-again, although one always insists politely on the opposite. Passing through a barbed wire gate our backs start to sweat and look back a last time to the convenience of grocery stores and global communication hotspots. Then things calm down and soon under the increasing heat of the late morning sun we trod up switchback trails through a tinder dry landscape. We had done this part of the trail back in August shortly after our arrival on the island. Then there was lush vegetation covering the path at the end of the rainy season, which was way to short according to the locals. Now it is all too obvious that the Marquesas are suffering a very serious drought. Only the bigger trees have any green left at them at all, the bark on many of them gnawed away by desperate sheep in search of anything to wet their digestive tracts.

We must have ascended to around five hundred meters altitude and the view is simply breathtaking from up here. Nuku Hiva’s eroded lava-scape is a sculpture garden from any direction you happen to look at it. From up here, however, with the backdrop of the vast Pacific blue, the lighter blue of the sky above it with the ever Westward travelling trade wind clouds floating from their perspective origin in the East towards us, it simply boggles you mind and you cannot tear your contemplative gaze away from it. You wish you could stay suspended forever in this singularity totally losing yourself in a perpetual motion of absolute aesthetics. Just another shadow of a puffy cumulus cloud makes its way up and over the jagged topography, crawls over crests and slides down slopes and crevices to then ascend again to dizzying heights almost scraping the underside of its origin up in the sky.

But the sagging weight of the pack on my back brings me back to sweaty reality and we continue our hike, from now long the crest. To our left the ocean stretches out towards the Southern horizon, to our right a valley with a last bit of lushness preserved at its bottom eventually climbs up to the mountain range where Nuku Hiva merges with the sky. Then suddenly the path turns right and now zigzags down an almost vertical cliff so that we quickly descend into that valley, which after another hour and a half brings us to the little creek, where a couple weeks earlier during our exploration of the West end of that same path we had encountered the raging red cow. It had lowered its horned head when I walked towards it, puffing heavily from its moist nostrils. Only the energetic wielding of my walking stick made it chose a detour around me. After making Beatriz do a little ballet choreography of her own to avoid becoming herself the next target of the horny beast, the red raging cow went her way.

There was no sight of any horned creature at this time and soon we had climbed the last crest and with relief sighted Aluna safely down in peaceful Hakatea Bay. The sleeping was good that night, and provisions now plentiful, well relatively speaking that is, saying goodbye to friends would once again be the order of the coming days.

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