The music festival flop was a sign we had lingered long enough. So, the next day we broke camp and made the short jaunt over to Hakatea Bay, a location featured on the first season of Survivor. As we slid along side the island, we saw no opening in the craggy, sheer cliffs, but the chart insisted we had arrived at our destination. We had been warned this bay was a little hidden, but it seemed like we were sailing directly into a cliff wall. We wove through the navigable slot shaped like a “Z” and found ourselves in a lovely calm bay with cliffs towering above Sonrisa’s mast.
We set up the sunshade and made some lunch. Looking for a suitable activity that Andrew could participate in with his still fresh and healing tattoo, the Rowersons declared dinghy racing to begin. We unfolded Grin and set up the course. Row from Sonrisa, to shore, run out to grab a leaf from a tree without losing Grin in the tide, get Grin floating again, hoist yourself back in the boat without flipping it over, then return. You will be timed.
As usual, I was trying too hard. Crystal and I finished within less than a second of each other despite the fact that I almost tipped Grin over trying to get back in, and she got caught in a wind eddy that took her sideways across the bay for quite some distance before she could paddle out.
After that, we swam in the ever changing scenery of our backyard pool, and took a shower in our open air shower with a view of a rainbow. Hopefully, the view makes up for rocking Crystal and Kevin back and forth for a week straight? They remain rather uncomfortable.
The next day, we woke early to hail “Paul” on VHF 9 or 72 with the hopes of getting a guided hike to the third largest waterfall in the world, Vaipai Falls. When we achieved success, we loaded into Grin and started a fairly long row. Our challenge for the day was to row up the mouth of a river that flowed into the ocean and/or ride the waves to the beach without flipping Grin. Crystal and Kevin didn’t realize that yesterday’s rowing event was training for actual field work.
Kevin and Andrew take the last (and hardest leg) rowing into shore. “You should probably put your camera into the dry bag,” Andrew advises Crystal. She looks at the waves on shore, they are small and friendly. Crystal takes a couple more pictures, then starts to put the camera into her bag. Just then a wave folds over itself from behind, growling like a baby tiger. “Paddle! Paddle! Paddle harder!!” Andrew cries, terror in his voice. Crystal and I look back, and at first Andrew’s fear seems laughable, until all of a sudden the roll of the wave grabs Grin’s stern and throws it sideways to the verge of capsizing. Crystal is wrestling her dry bag closed, Kevin is being tossed backward from the pitching bow, and I am throwing my weight inward to counter balance the tip. Andrew tries to paddle, but his paddle cannot find purchase in the foam. Each time he misses, the paddle waggles around in the air, rather than the water. Water is rushing over Grin’s port side, and the wave continued to push the starboard side higher and higher into the air. There is wailing and gnashing of teeth, our faces contorted into the elongated “O”, just like Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Then, like nothing happened, the wave passes beneath us and Grin straightens himself out.
Our guide Paul looks out at us from the beach with waves lapping at his ankles. He looks confused, but waits for us to land on the beach. We jump out and walk Grin the remaining way to dry sand. “Why are you paddling like that?” Paul asks. That is such a good question.
After introductions and niceties, we take a moment to survey our surroundings. This place is gorgeous. Black sand beach, palm trees in a row, a cool river flowing into the ocean, cliffs rise straight out of the blue water into a sunny sky.
Paul breaks off two light, strong and straight sticks for Crystal and I to use on the trail. He shows us his family’s homes, a Catholic church, and his kitty all sitting atop ancient Marquesan village foundations. We walk through orchards and fruit gardens. He explains the history of the valley as we walk. Pretty soon, we come upon an old Tiki nestled amongst all manner of jungle greenery. Paul greets the Tiki and places his hand on the Tiki. “This Tiki is good for making wishes. Tikis are not Gods, they are protectors, like angels. You don’t have to believe me, but if you want, you can make a wish.” I am not one to pass up an opportunity for a wish, so we all get in line and one by one greet the Tiki and make a wish.
We continue forward through ferns, rivers, man eating mosquitos, mud and rocks. Paul stops to hit the roots of various trees with a rock. His taps echo with the smooth intonation of a drum. “I tap on the roots like a drum to say hello to my ancestors, and let them know we are exploring their valley.” Paul points out a wooden canoe resting in a cave, thousands of feet up the sheer cliffs. He explains that the bodies of his royal ancestors rest in the canoes. Hundreds of years ago, warriors would carve the canoes out of the same tree he used for our walking sticks, then when the King or Queen passed on to the next world, the warriors would climb up these cliffs with the bodies and the canoe. I have no way of confirming this story, but if it is true, those warriors have some mad rock climbing skills. There does appear to be a canoe like object on the cliff.
Soon, we view the main attraction, the Vaipai Falls. It is stunning. We sit in the shade for some time watching the water cascade from the cliffs.
To the left of the waterfalls is a crevice that gains access to another hidden valley. Paul explains that when war would come to the community, the women, children, old and frail would move to the hidden valley while the warriors would wait on the beach, ready to fight. The Queen would sing from inside the hidden valley, with her voice echoing in every direction. As Paul explained this story, I imagined a whole community of people slipping quietly behind these folded rock walls to live peacefully until their warriors successfully defended their land. Mist gathered between the fingers of the cliffs, adding to the mysterious ambiance.
At the end of the hike, Paul gave us a juicy ripe pomplefmous to enjoy while we dipped our feet in the chilly water of the river. Upon return, we met Paul’s three dogs and a little puppy named Kai. Paul let us gather starfruit, a giant banana stalk, lemons, lemon leaves for tea, pomplefmous, three papayas, and coconut. Paul opened our coconuts with his machete and we drank the water. Then, Paul sliced off the bottom part of the coconut for a spoon, opened the coconut and showed us how to peel away the young coconut meat.
Seasickness and discomfort aside, sometimes these experiences are unreal. When we went through our photographs from this hike, Crystal and I were howling with laughter. We look like we are super imposed in front of a fake backdrop. The waterfall and jungle are just too beautiful, too surreal; our bodies do not make sense in this location. I often have to ask myself “how exactly did I get here?”
Blog post title credit goes to Miss Crystal Blackbum.
(Side story - Charles Schwabb misprinted Crystal’s last name on her travel credit card using the name Black b u m rather than Black b u r n. When she called to correct it, they told her they couldn’t get her a new card before she had to leave for this trip, and in any case, it’s no big deal. Crystal is now known as Crystal Blackbum.)