Hike to Hatiheu

Early on in our stay at Anaho, Dominic and I spent a day hiking to and from the neighboring bay, Hatiheu. It had rained continuously the previous day, so we were thrilled to wake to clear skies, so we hopped in the dinghy, rowed ashore, and hit the trail first thing in the morning.

The trail was two feet wide and comprised the only land route into Anaho; it seemed mainly used by farmers transporting coconuts and pamplemousse on horseback. Thanks to the rain and ample fertilizer the horses left behind, our first hour and a half on the trail was a vertical slog through ankle-deep mud, mud topped with a thin carpet of ants. The ants didn’t bite, but they did make it hard to stop and take a break without the sensation of being swarmed.

Arriving at the summit, our discomfort quickly paid off. We had a fantastic panorama of Anaho Bay and Helios anchored in the deep blue water. We could see tropic birds from above and the contour of coral lining the shore. We could follow the coastline as it peaked into mountains and pulled itself into peninsulas forming bays beyond Anaho. We enjoyed the now familiar sight of sea stretching to the horizon. After taking a few pictures, we slipped and slid down the opposing slope, grateful to find a paved road halfway through the descent.

We spent about half an hour wondering through Hatiheu, enjoying the black sand beach, and marveling at how much more developed it is than Anaho: a wide paved road, many houses, some under construction, and a restaurant! We enjoyed a long, delicious lunch at Chez Yvonne’s. We ate on a large terrace with a thatched roof. The teenager at a nearby table held a baby goat in his lap. As with the rest of town, the occasional chicken or rooster would stroll through without thinking much of it. We consumed every bite of my mixed seafood platter (though I would come to regret my exuberance as I hiked home with a mild tummy ache) and Dominic’s grilled fish.

After lunch we took advantage of Hatiheu’s main attraction, some of the most extensive and best preserved Polynesian ruins in the Marquesas. We spent about an hour hiking through the two sites. The first was mainly a large glade, the perimeter lined with stacked stones, with a horse grazing at the far end and two large tikis. Despite being religious sculptures, it’s tough to describe the two tikis we saw without making reference to amphetamines or hyperthyroidism. The central figures both had huge, circular, ringed, kind of strung-out looking eyes, and jagged, toothy grimaces. Each central figure was holding one or two smaller, child-like figures in a way that seemed more menacing than nurturing. We could glimpse another statue from this location: through the palm fronds we could see the basaltic spires that line Hatiheu Bay; atop the nearest stands a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary with a crown of coral. The vista seemed to symbolize the transition from traditional Polynesian culture to Christianity. Further up the road, we came to the remnants of what had been a densely populated Polynesian village. All that remained were the foundations of homes, stones that had been stacked into square platforms, at the center of which was the largest banyan tree either of us have ever seen.

We were surprised to learn how recently the islands had become inhabited. The geographic origin of Polynesians is disputed, the most popular theories including South East Asia and South America as places of origin, but evidence of human civilization dates back only as far as 700 or 800 CE. Also surprising was how populous the islands were before the arrival of Europeans. The Marquesas have about 10,000 people today, but estimates put the population over 100,000 in the early 1700s.

After leaving the archeological sites, we strolled through town and trekked back to Anaho, the trail having dried out considerably in the day’s sunshine. Once back in the dinghy, Dominic faced a 20 minute upwind row back to Helios. We spent the evening resting, knowing that the minor discomforts were well worth the adventure.