Saturday 9th April
Puopau is a ceremonial site on the far eastern tip of Hiva Oa, it was last used by the indigenous population in the sixteenth century and is regaled by tales of sacrifice, extreme tattooing, coming of age rituals and cannibalism. The area is terraced and sitting watching over everything is the chief, a large squat stone tiki whom at 8ft tall is apparently the largest in Polynesia. Our guide, Pifa, is of similar dimensions he tells us legends of the “real” men and strong warriors that were important to the people that gathered here. It does feel like a special place but unlike the violent stories that surround it, it feels peaceful and at one with nature. On one side is a huge vertical rock face, the other three sides are formed by large elegant trees with an unusual grey bark that mark the start of the rain forest. The lower terrace is full of vivid red, yellow and lime coloured shrubs that are planted everywhere on the island. This is only part of the original site, more terracing and other tikis lie amongst the jungle beyond.
The two hour drive to reach Puopau was, however, the really amazing part of the trip. The interior of the island is a mix of high craggy mountains soaring thousands of feet high and deep steep valleys, every inch of ground covered in a miriad of trees. At the lower levels these are mostly fruit trees everything imaginable from guava to lime to avocado, at the highest levels there are huge tall pine trees and mixed between them all are fantastic large specimens of many different species. Anyone of which, would be magnificent standing alone but here they are just part of the forest.
To add to the atmosphere we drive through torrential rain showers, the water cascades down the hills creating landslides and uprooting trees which block the roads. Nearer the coast the concrete surface runs out and the road turns to a gravel track, the rain rushes down them creating gullies and large puddles as they twist and turn sharply and rise and descend precariously around the hills and pinicals that soar high above us. Luckily Pifa drives this route three or four times a week and knows every bump and precipice. He carries a shovel and machete in the back of the truck to clear the road when necessary.
In complete contrast nestled amongst his tools is his ukulele, when he picked us up we had recognised him as one of the players from the band at the pizza restaurant last week. It seems he plays music, sings and dances at every opportunity. At lunchtime we join a couple of other groups at a restaurant serving “typical” Marquesian food, goat cooked in coconut milk, roasted pork, raw fish in lime and coconut and bananas every way possible. It is all very tasty but I’m fussy about my meat and it s a bit fatty and gristly for me, we politely pick through it. The moment Pifa thinks we have finished eating he suggests a song, his brother and fellow band member is the guide of one of the other groups and they start to sing and play. Before we know it the boys are up doing a Hakka (as in NZ rugby team) and we are all joining in with the guttural sounds that are sung along with them.
We return to the boat via the Gendarmerie where we have to check Ian out for his flight on Monday. What an extrordinary day.
The boat is anchored in Baie Hanaiapa and we are currently the only boat there, it’s a bit choppy but again we are surrounded by incredible green mountain slopes. The entrance to the bay is guarded by a rock that looks just like the head of an African Queen complete with a greenery crown. There is no where to attach the dingy but a old concrete warf and is a real challenge especially in the swell, I feel grateful Ian is still with us to make the dodgy leap ashore to tie us up. The village, a few hundred metres inland, basically just one road strangling up the hill, is a delight each house having a tidy garden containing beautiful flowering plants and again the brightly coloured shrubs. There is a church and phone signal but no shop. The cooking is going to have to get inventive!