Monday, May 28, 2012

Daniel's Bay

The beauty of Daniel’s Bay is hard to describe.  There are 2 lobes within
the bay, each with sandy beaches surrounded by dense forests of coconut
palms and towering, emerald green cliffs.  A portion of the bay was used
as the site of one season of the “Survivor” television series.  The
Marquesan name for the bay is Hakatea but cruising sailors commonly refer
to it as Daniel’s, named after a friendly gentleman who lives in a modest
home on the northeast corner of the bay and provides a warm welcome to
anyone coming ashore.  Aside from the beauty of the bay itself, the area
is famous among adventurers for a jungle hike that leads up one of the
nearby valleys to the world’s 3rd highest waterfall.  Cruising friends
that arrived here before us said that the 3-plus hour, roundtrip hike to
the falls was a “must do” so we joined the crews from 3 other boats for
the hike the next day.  After taking our dinghy ashore and dragging it
across the sand to where we could tie it to a palm tree, we set out on the
walk that passed through a small community of homes surrounded by the
lushest gardens imaginable.  As we passed by them, several friendly locals
greeted us and enquired if we were going to the waterfall and if we would
like some fruit on the return trip.  We all answered yes and continued
along the trail that meandered through the jungle.  The hike, although not
strenuous, involved several stream crossings.  Friends had told us that
they had seen locals feeding 4 foot long eels in the fresh water streams
so we tried to block that image from our minds as we waded through murky,
knee deep water and hopped from slippery boulder to slippery boulder.  As
the trail continued up the narrowing canyon to the falls, the terrain grew
more and more dramatic.  Eventually, the canyon walls closed in around us
and were, in places, overhanging.  If ever there was a place for a lost
civilization, this seemed to be a perfect location.  As we neared the
waterfall, we passed a sign warning us of the danger of falling rocks and
soon came upon a cache of plastic, construction- type hard hats for hikers
to don as protection.  We would find out later that a tour operator in
Taiohae occasionally brings hearty clients to the canyon to view the falls
and leaves the hard hats for anyone to use.  After donning the rather
silly looking helmets, we all chuckled at the sight of each other and
joked about how they would really not offer much protection for a falling
rock bigger than a golf ball.  A little farther up the trail, we were
rewarded with the first views of the water cascading hundreds of feet down
a near- vertical cliff face.  We all stood in awe at the sight, doing our
best to take many photos that might convey the grandeur of the scenery.
Before long, we reached the pool at the base of the falls, made murky by
near constant rain runoff from high above.  Not being deterred by the
thought of eels in the water, we all swam across the first pool and
scrambled over boulders to another pool at the base of the falls itself
where we frolickedin the water like children.  The force of the falling
water created wind and spray that was nearly impossible to swim against
but several of our group managed to get right to the base of the falling
water itself.  Before the hike back down the canyon, we took time for a
few snacks while taking more photos and marveling at the majestic

 By midafternoon, we had reached the settlement near the bay and were
greeted by one of the Marquesan women we had spoken to on our way in.  She
motioned us into her yard and to the covered patio of her simple house
where she offered us a treat of fried bananas and lemonade.  We were all
happy to purchase some home-grown fruit from her before saying a heartfelt
“merci” and bidding her “au revoir”.  Our next stop was at the home of
colorful gentlemen who lived with his wife and two boys along the path to
the falls.  Even though he wore modern surf trunks, he resembled an
ancient Marquesan warrior with a chiseled, muscular physique and
interesting tattoos over half of his face and other parts of his body.  He
wore around his neck a necklace made of shells and boar’s tusks.  Before
long, he had engaged all of us in a demonstration of the art of husking
and opening coconuts.  The tops were sliced off several green ones and
they were passed around so that all of us could drink the sweet coconut
milk inside.  He then showed us how to shave the coconut meat from inside
one of the nuts producing what we often see sold in markets in the U.S.
The time spent with him and his family was thoroughly entertaining but we
were soon motivated to return to our waiting dinghies so that we could get
back to our boats before dark.  Before reaching the beach, we walked
through a grove of coconut palm trees where the sandy soil around them was
pockmarked with large golfer-style holes.  Anne squealed when she saw an
animal disappear into one of the holes and we all began to look more
carefully, finding most of the holes occupied by large coconut crabs.
Several of their dead carcasses lay nearby, some measuring 6 inches across
and making us glad that we would be sleeping aboard our boat that night
rather than in sleeping bags on the beach.
Our plan had been to leave the next day for the Tuomotu Archipelago, a
passage of about 450 miles but, when our friend Tucker, from the boat
“Convivia” that was anchored nearby, suggested that everyone meet ashore
that night for a beach bonfire, we happily postponed our departure until
the following day.

The next morning we awoke and began readying “Blue Rodeo” for another open
water passage.  While we enjoyed our visit to the Marquesas immensely, we
were now eagerly anticipating the time we would spend in the Tuomotu where
we would find nearly-deserted, palm-covered, coral atolls and crystal
clear water for diving.  Undersea world…her we come!

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