Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bouncing along the Backroads of Ua Pou

We arranged for a tour of Ua Pou with Jerome, a rather interesting chap who runs Pension Pukuee, perched overlooking the harbor in Hakahau. Jerome is a former French Army Marine who served tours of duty in Bosnia, Africa, and Afghanistan. I liked how he described his Army career, “I wanted to protect those who can’t protect themselves, the women, the children and others.”  He speaks passable English and has an impressive depth of knowledge on the local history, geology, flora and fauna of Ua Pou.

Pension Pukuee is run by Jerome and his Marquesan wife. It is on the hillside overlooking the harbor and features incredible views of the ocean and village of Hakahau.
This Ua Pou carver examines a boar's tusk that he will fashion into a necklace for Jerome's wife.
We first drove to his friend’s house who was a carver, and was working on a boar’s tusk carving for Jerome’s wife. The carver’s on Ua Pou are touted as some of the best in all the Marquesas. We then drove out of the village and up a switchbacked road from Hakahau, marveling at the incredible views of Ua Pou and looking across to Nuku Hiva. He said Ua Pou is unique in that most volcanic islands collapse seaward leaving an opening to the sea, whereas Ua Pou collapsed upon itself, leaving a series of knife-edged ridges and spectacular sharp-nosed peaks, called Poumaka, Poutetainui and Kohepu.

The windward, northeast side of Ua Pou features spectacular views such as this bay at Anjou.
We drove through spectacular green rolling hills of the highlands to the northeast side of the island near the airport at Anjou. While talking about the condition of the road, Jerome mentioned, as have many Marquesans, that it is difficult for the Marquesas to get funding for capital projects out of the government in Tahiti. For 17 years they had been applying for funds to pave the road to the airport, and hopefully next year they will start construction. As we were bouncing along on the rutted road I was thinking “you definitely have to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle to live here.” He also mentioned that on some islands, like Nuku Hiva, there is a higher percentage of public ownership of land, whereas on Ua Pou over 90% of the land is privately owned, which makes getting right of way for roads a difficult process.

Traveling the backroads of Ua Pou results in some unusual traffic jams, in this case a herd of recalcitrant goats.
Next we ran into a huge tracked crane going exactly .2 mph. We knew then it was going to be a long day, given this was the only road on this side of the island.
Jerome had been helping out some friends install a communications tower on the island and knew a secret road that accessed the ridge where the tower was located. The view over hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean was spectacular. You could also look down to Baie des Requins (Shark Bay) where hundreds of black-tip sharks come to breed. Probably not a great place to go snorkeling.

Jerome at a lookout over Hakahetau.
Baie des Requins (Shark Bay) is famous as a breeding grounds for black tipped sharks.
We then drove down to the village of Hakahetau, a beautiful village nestled at the terminus of a valley with two rivers running into the ocean. There is a dock there, but trying to land a dingy or a boat would be very difficult because of the wind and swell present on the windward side of the island.

The quaint village of Haakuti with only 200 inhabitants.

It always humbles us to look out across hundreds of miles of Pacific Ocean to know that we crossed half of it, but still have another 2,500 miles to go.
We would be returning to the village for lunch, but first we went up another 4-wheel trek up a jungle-like road where we parked and began a short 500 meter hike to Vaiea Falls. Along the way Jerome pointed out various trees and plants, including the Bancoul tree with its versatile little nuts. About the size of a small chestnut, the Bancoul nut contains a macadamia-type nut that can be used as a laxative (“Take just 3,” warned Jerome), can be crushed into a oil for lamps, and the soot from the oil (collected as the smoke settled on coconut shell halves over the lamp) for ink for the famous Marquesan tattoos.

Walter and Meryl at Vaiea Falls.
The incredible Bancoul nut.
The necklace-shaped tattoos actually represent an upside down coconut shell that hangs over the Bancoul oil lamp and collects soot that is the basis for the original Marquesan tattoo inks.
I don't have a clue what this leaf is but I love the textures and colors of the photo.
Hiking through the jungle like trails to Vaiea Falls.
The falls were secluded and featured a perfect swimming hole at the base, surrounded by rock walls and overhanging greenery.  We had a slow peaceful hike back to the car and began the bone-jarring ride to the main road. It reminded Meryl and I of some of the roads we traveled while on safari in Africa.

Chef Tiiero cooks up a delicious lunch of carangue in a mustard/curry sauce. You gotta love French cooking.

Once back in Hakahetau we went to Jerome’s friend’s house where he runs a small kitchen for locals and the occasional tourist. Called Chez Tipiero, the owner is a former chef in the French Navy. We’d heard the food in the French Navy is spectacular (Jerome said during joint exercises he used to trade his meals to US Marines for clothing and knives.)  Tipiero, a happy rotund Frenchman married to a Marquesan woman, brought us a plate featuring carangue (jack) with a delicious mustard/curry sauce, fried potatoes, green beans, and corn on the cob. We were too full for desert until we saw Jerome’s apple crisp a la mode. To die for!

Fat, contented and happy we enjoyed the ride back to Hakahau entertained by Jerome’s descriptions of island life and why he lived there. After being in war torn zones for twenty-five years in the army, he was mesmerized by the tranquility of the Marquesas, Ua Pou especially. He had met and married a Marquesan woman in France and when her family decided to quit their pension business he leapt at the chance to continue the family enterprise. He mentioned that land ownership in the Marquesas always passed to the oldest son, so his opportunity to buy outright the pension was a stroke of luck.

We didn’t get to go on the east side tour which features a beach with the famous “flowerstone” rocks, only one to two locations in the world where these rocks exist. Jerome was nice enough to give Meryl a couple of the colorful stones, along with filling our memory stick with tons of Marquesan songs, some incredible drone footage of Ua Pou from the air, and a couple of movies about the Marquesas.

I was girded for the worse when we returned back to our dingy, which we had left tied to the commercial wharf (after our two previous disasters with the dingy) only to find it happily floating about 40 ft. away. It was nice to get back to our boat after a long day bouncing around the back roads of Ua Pou. We sat in the cockpit in the late afternoon light with sundowners and watched the local racing pirogues racing back and forth, a nice ending to a long day.

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