Seeing the island from the water is amazing no doubt, but we heard that renting a car and traversing the island inland was awesome as well. The “place to go” according to other cruisers is to see the tikis at Puamu’a. We hook up with Helen & Ian of SV Nightide and rent a car for a couple of days. On the northeast end of the island at Pauma’u is an ancient site called Me’ae Iipona where they have the second largest tiki in Polynesia. The largest is on Easter Island.
Renting a car here is pretty easy to do. You actually rent it at the Tattoo/Car Rental/School/Souvenir Store. Yes, it appears Marquesans are quite the multi taskers. We reserved it a few days ago and they brought it to us at the anchorage dock. If you plan on being here at a time when it’s busy we recommend reserving the car as soon as you arrive in town. We were fortunate to get one when we did. And if the supply ship, Aranui, is going to be in town you probably won’t get a car unless you’ve reserved it ahead of time. The Aranui also brings tourists to the island and there are only a couple of cars to rent so they go really fast.
On Sunday morning they delivered the small SUV to us at the dinghy dock. With the rental contract handled the four of us hop into the small SUV and head out for the day. We were given a very, very basic map to lead us to Me’ae Iipona. It lists a handful of stops along the way but like I said, it is VERY basic.
We’re off to see the tikis on Puamu’a! From the anchorage docks we head back down the main road until we see the sign for the airport. There we make a right and start heading up the mountain. The roads are nicely paved but a bit steep in places and they are definitely narrow. We were warned that there is a section of road that is a bit rough just before you reach Pauma’u but from what we can tell this will be a piece of cake.
About 20 minutes into the trip we come to a fork in the road. The map we have doesn’t really address this fork so it’s decision time. There are two small tikis at the fork and a small sign that points to the left showing the airport. After a brief discussion we decide to take the road to the right. After all, we are on adventure. If we don’t reach our intended destination we may see something even better so why not?
Not long after taking this road we find it starts to get a bit bumpy. There are holes in the road and some rocks but they did warn us that it would be a little rough so we don’t really think much of it. Along the way we see some wild horses on the side of the road. There are always a few horses or cows tied up along the roads here. They use them to keep the vegetation from growing over the roads. Natural road maintenance I guess.
As we continue higher and higher up the mountain we come across some men in a truck on the side of the road. They have a sign set out advertising pamplemousse, bananas and some other fruits. We haven’t had pamplemousse yet and everyone says it’s “the bomb” so we stop. None of these men speak English and we speak very little French so we mainly communicate by gesturing and holding up Polynesian money. There are lots of smiles and laughter, which just goes to show, you can communicate without words when you need to do so.
We purchase a huge bag of pamplemousse that we split with Helen & Ian. There are 25 in the bag and we paid something like $25 USD. The main man selling the fruit puts this bag in the back of the SUV for us. It’s a pretty heavy bag but he’s a pretty good size man. He sort of reminds me of an island version of Paul Bunyon.
The next thing we know he goes back to his truck and is talking with the other two men. It almost sounds as if they are speaking Marquesan rather than French. Before we know what is happening he pulls out a machete. This is slightly unnerving but he is smiling a big smile so we just go with it. He reaches in the back of his truck and grabs a big pamplemouse and starts cutting it.
They are like grapefruit only better than any grapefruit I’ve ever eaten. They are very large and have a super thick rind on them. The flesh, unlike grapefruit, is super easy to extract once you get the rind peeled of if it. The fruit man hands each of us a slice and all it takes is one small bite for me to realize I’m going to have a very serious problem. Yes, it’s true, I’m now completely addicted to these succulent citrus giants!
After we finish our delectable treats we smile, shake hands and say, “Au revoir” to our new friends. Just as we start to drive away the fruit man comes to the car and gives us four bananas. We graciously accept them and off we go. Let me tell you this, these bananas are the most sweet and wonderful bananas ever. There’s something so awesome about eating fruit that has never been irradiated or chemically enhanced.
Bananas and pamplemoussse in hand we head back up the road. The road is getting more steep and narrow with many switchbacks and now there are times when we are literally driving on dirt paths full of rocks. It doesn’t take long to realize that the road will get a lot worse before it gets better and what we thought was the rough part is actually good, but you know, we did set out on an adventure so we keep trudging forward.
Before long we come over a rise and the breathtaking view in front of us stops all talking in the car. We look down through a lush green valley toward a beach. Giant, ice blue, crashing waves slam onto the beach and surrounding cliffs. It is simply awe-inspiring and you suddenly realize, “This is why we spent 25 days at sea.” Dan stops the car and we all get out to take some photos. Little do we know that this is just one spectacular vista we will encounter today.
Back on the road we continue on. It’s not long before the road begins to really get a bit sketchy. It becomes a one-lane dirt road with huge rocks and giant potholes. It is snaking along the side of the cliff. Hundreds of feet below is the ocean and all I can think is, “What happens if a car comes the opposite way?” There are literally times when I’m holding my breath. I mean, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibilities for the side of the mountain to give way. It DOES happen sometimes. I just try to keep looking out at the views instead of focusing on the road.
The road takes us down through a small beachside village, which is where we get our first real taste of what small island villages are like. After all, Atuona has a population of 2000 people. This tiny village in the middle of nowhere probably has a population of about 15.
We are first struck by how clean and perfectly manicured the yards are out here. These people take such pride in their homes and their island. They don’t have much but what they do have they take care of very well. The view of the beach from this little village is amazing. As the blue waves crash upon the sand the white foam blasts upwards. This contrasting against the deep greens of the foliage and the bright colors of the red, yellow, pink and orange flowers everywhere makes you feel like you never want to leave this place. Really, how could it get more perfect than this?
Ironically enough the road into, through and out of the village is no longer dirt. It’s concrete which is a nice change but I’d have preferred to have concrete on the narrow cliffside. Down here it’s all level, who needs perfect roads? Of course I’m sure it is nice for the villagers to have paved roads to travel on throughout their village.
The village is very small and probably only a quarter of a mile long. Soon we are headed up again. Just after we begin ascending the next mountain we come across a whole bunch of goats in the road and on the mountainside. This is the first we’ve seen them close up so again; we stop and get out to take photos. The goats are a bit skittish but they are also curious so they stay close enough to allow us to get some nice pictures.
At the top of the rise we see they have pens for them and it’s almost like a little goat farm with a few chickens on top of the mountain. I’m always fascinated by how goats can scale the sides of cliffs like Spiderman. It’s like they have Velcro stuck to their feet or something. We don’t hang out too long because we all want to keep moving.
Back in the car we continue on. Of course we aren’t sure we are even headed the right direction but we continue anyway. The road turns back into the horrible, rocky, narrow dirt path just after we pass the goats. We pass through a couple of other tiny villages and finally, after almost three hours of treacherous driving we reach Pauma’u. There are quite a few more people here and we see many of them at the only little store so we stop. I always find it fascinating to visit grocery stores in foreign lands.
Apparently we’ve arrived just after the supply ship has dropped its most recent shipment of goods. There are people, old and young, hauling boxes and packing shelves. Others are there to be the first to get the fresh supplies. For a small village it is bustling with action here today.
We find canned butter from New Zealand so we pick up some. Many cruisers recommend it, as it doesn’t have to be refrigerated until you open it. We also pick up a couple of cold drinks and this really amazing coconut hard candy. If I knew it was going to be this good I’d have bought more but it wasn’t cheap. A small bag with about 30 candies was 500 CFP that is around $5 USD.
We leave the store and set out to find the tikis. Our first attempt took us down a road that surely hadn’t been travelled in quite a while and we all begin to give Dan grief telling him he’s going the wrong way. The grass in the middle of the road is as tall as the front bumper but we keep trudging on. It ends at a beach where there are a few women and some children sitting on the shore. Well, since Dan insisted on going this way, he is elected to be the one to get out and ask for directions. This should be good. He barely speaks a word of French and in this remote village it’s more likely they speak Marquesan. Once again, a few words, lots of gesturing and smiles and he knows where to go so back we go toward the village.
About fifteen minutes later we find Me’ae Iipona. THIS is something to see. The grounds are perfectly manicured and there are stone terraces that lead up to the tikis. Beautiful, brightly colored flowers and giant trees surround the entire area. There’s a small creek to the one side and the smell of fresh forest and water surrounds you. They even have restroom facilities but bring your own TP and hand sanitizer as they don’t provide a sink or TP. Of course Dan & I never go on adventures without a little white gold in the backpack and hand cleaner.
There are four or five large tikis and many smaller ones. Then there’s the biggest one. It’s taller than Dan! The villagers have created thatched roofs to put over them to help to preserve them. Some of the smaller ones are really showing their age as the carving has been worn away with years of rain and weather.
Just being in this ancient place gives you a feeling of awe. You can truly feel the mana. Mana is what islanders call the spirit of the island. It’s hard to explain it but once you feel it, you know it’s there. My hair stands up all over and I get a tingling sensation in my arms and hands. There’s an overwhelming sense of peace about but also, you feel like you are surrounded by spirits. It’s a pretty cool feeling.
We spend an hour or so here and then head back. No one is looking forward to the rocky ride but as is typical, it doesn’t seem nearly as long or bad on the way back as it did on the way there. When we reach the mountaintop goat farm we pull off and enjoy some wonderful corned beef sandwiches on fresh French baguettes that Helen brought for us. Now the goats are surrounding us so we drop a few pieces for them but only the chickens come running for it.
On the return trip we stop just outside of Atuona and take a hike through the forest to find the laughing tiki. We have little directions so we walk a lot further than we need to. There is a hand drawn sign at the main road so we have some idea but we completely miss the trailhead. We make the first right down this road but we take it all the way to the end. There is a pig farm with a few pigs in a pen and a broken down old jeep covered in jungle vines.
Since that isn’t right we trek back out and continue on the main road. This leads us to someone’s home and a goat farm. Dan goes up to see if anyone is home who can give us directions to the tiki but no luck. Okay, back we head toward the car. When we reach the place where we took the first right I step back down the road just a bit and low and behold I see it. There are the two giant palm trees on either side of the trail that mark the head of it. Ironically enough we actually had a discussion about these trees the first time because they have steps cut into them for the islanders to go up and get the coconut. What’s that old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees?”
Literally about 200’ in we come upon the laughing tiki. We certainly did a lot of uphill walking to find it but we made it. And, we did get to see pigs and goats along the way.
(Note: If you are going to go here and don’t want to take the long way, you walk off the main road down the dirt road. About 30 yards or so in you have to go around the gate. There’s a path around the gate on the right side. Walk down just a little way until you reach the road going right. There are palm trees at this intersection. Make the right and walk about 20 steps in. Look to your right. You will see two giant coconut palms on either side of a very narrow trail. Make that right and follow it in a couple of hundred feet. The laughing tiki is on the left.)
Having located our final tiki we head back to town. Today is voting day here in Hiva Oa so the center of the village is bustling with people. They have tents set up and are serving rotisserie chicken and other delicious treats. Here in the center of town there are about a dozen men and women sitting together playing their ukuleles and guitars and singing. We pick up two chicken dinners and Helen & Ian pick up some lamb. Since it’s voting day they sell no alcohol so we decided to take our food home to eat. Apparently they want sober decisions to be made. Pretty wise people.
Well, it’s been a very long day so after we get our food we head back to the anchorage. Everyone is exhausted and ready for a couple of sundowners.
We drop Helen & Ian back to their boat and head to Dazzler.
Now we are sitting here enjoying the beauty of the Tahauku Bay with a couple of ice cold Pacificos. Yes, we realize we are now in French Polynesia but we did bring 14 cases of Pacifico with us from Mexico. Liquor and beer are a tad more expensive here. Hinano, the Tahitian beer is about $5 USD per can at the bar and a six pack in the local market runs about $15 USD so we’re going to enjoy our Pacifico until it runs out.
Until next time,